Maybe the most unwelcome piece of mail people receive--besides a jury summons or an IRS inquiry--is a sales letter. It's the pulpy intruder in cheap black and white that's always trying to peddle something. But why should a well-meaning purveyor's honest effort to sell you his or her wares draw so much flak?
First, it's unsolicited. Like a salesperson at the door or a telemarketer on the phone, it's an intrusion and a nuisance. Second, sales letters are routinely boring, presumptuous, cliché-ridden, overwritten and undermotivating. Thus, most end up in the nearest trash can.
But there was a time when sales letters were more welcomed. That was when they were a more sincere, often folksy, art form that charmed the reader. What kind of language did they contain? A lot of it was similar to that used in this sales letter I found in an old advertising book:
"Dear Customer: People do the darnedest things, don't they?
"We know of a man who hadn't kissed his wife in five years . . . and then shot another man who did.
"By the same token, I overheard two businesspeople grousing the other day because their customers were so disloyal. Yet neither person ever bothered to thank customers for their business or wish them happy holidays. Maybe loyalty and friendship are only supposed to work one way. But I always figured that a person couldn't expect to receive friendship unless he or she gave friendship in return.
"That's why I feel that a warm, personal, wholehearted message to customers during the holidays is one of the best investments a firm can make."
Unfortunately, such warm letters have become rare. Most people who write sales letters assume they can say "Here I am--love me." That doesn't work in matters of the heart, nor does it work in that other great flirtation: selling. You need an opening gambit that draws favorable attention, followed by a wooing that sustains interest. That means using words that pull the reader in instantly. This is my message to Tyrone Childs, who wrote recently. Childs runs Taylor Communications, a distributorship in Antioch, California, that offers a rather unique communications device called Telechron 2000. According to the product literature, Telechron 2000 automatically routes phone calls to the lowest-priced carrier morning, noon or night, seven days a week.
Childs says of his own efforts, "My low-budget, homemade marketing material and cover letter are absolutely terrible . . . Help!" Actually, Childs' product fact sheet is meaty and interesting. However, he's left a lot of room for improvement in his cover letter. Let's discuss some of the changes he can make.
This letter has the essence of a good sales argument, but it needs to be more personal.
1. The letter is much too "quick and dirty." The sales points are solid, but it looks like it was dashed off in fifteen minutes.
2. The writer doesn't address the reader directly anywhere in the letter. Letters need to be me-to-you to be effective. The missing salutation and signature make the letter even less personal.
This revision attracts attention with a provocative lead-in and then proceeds with a me-to-you message.
1. This letter hooks readers with a scenario virtually everyone can relate to -- annoying calls from telemarketers.
2. You can never go wrong by using "you" and "your" as much as possible in a sales letter; that's the reader's favorite subject!
Jerry Fisher is an advertising copywriter, consultant and author of Creating Successful Small Business Advertising ($39.95), available by calling (800) 247-6553. If you'd like Jerry to consider your materials for a makeover in this column, send them to "Ad Workshop," Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614, or e-mail him at Jerry228@aol.com