I've been thinking about what it is that makes us read things . . . or, more specifically, what makes me read things. I am at the moment reading a novel which is incredibly badly written - jam packed with cliches, the characters cardboard cut-outs, and a few real howlers (such as a shape being described as "an eight sided octagon" - presumably to distinguish it from an eight-sided square!). But what is truly amazing is not how badly written it is, but the fact that I'm over three-quarters of the way through it. So, why? Why am I wasting my time when there are so many better books around. And the answer is simple . . . it's an extremely good story-line and I want to know what happens.
Now, whether this is transferrable to the 'genre' of sales letters is debatable - but something tells me that, even if you're not an expert writer, it should be possible to hold the reader's interest for something that is, after all, a great deal shorter than a 500 page novel. However, I'm all too well aware that I very rarely read my way through a long sales letter. Either I lose interest halfway through or else I cut to the chase and scroll to the bottom to find out how much it is. So my first rule of sales letter writing is: It's Got to be Short!
And, let's face it, most sales letters seem to be remarkably repetitive. I may not have the most retentive memory in the world, but I can remember things from one paragraph to the next and if I'm told the same thing three times in quick succession, I'm going to stop reading. Again, to give this novel its due (and, no, I'm not going to tell you its title!), it doesn't veer away from the action. The author keeps the story line going . . . his eye is firmly on the ball, if not on his grammar.
OK, so a letter needs to be short, concise and to the point. What else can we learn from this novel? Well, because it's so badly written, it tends to be quite funny in places (I laughed out loud at the octagon). And a bit of humour never comes amiss, I think. I was looking, this morning, at an internet marketing website, and there was an article with the fairly dreary title of "The growth and evolution of the performance marketing industry". What drew me to read the article, though, was the accompanying graphic. At first glance, it looked exactly like the London Underground map. But on closer inspection, the names of stations had been replaced with 'Social Media', 'Blog', 'Google', 'Newsletters', 'Adsense', 'Photosharing' and other keywords relevant to internet marketing. I thought it was clever and amusing - and, as a result, I read the article.
Now, internet guru Jo Han Mok says "When you’re writing headlines, don’t attempt to be cute This is not the place for humour." And, obviously, that's true. You've only got a limited number of words for your headline and they've got to be hard-hitting. But if you can write the actual letter in a witty way, the reader will enjoy it and will, for the moment, lose sight of the fact that you're trying to sell something . . . and thus (we hope) will be much more likely to read to the end.
Perhaps it's just about expressing why you love the product you're selling and letting the reader share in your enjoyment. But please don't think I'm advocating great long screeds about how you've made X number of dollars and bought Y number of houses and Z number of cars. I don't know about you, but when someone starts bragging about his earnings, I lose interest. Because, as it always says at the bottom of the letter in very, very small type, the fact that he made zillions is no guarantee that I'll make any money at all. I don't want to know what it's done for him - I want to know what it can do for me.
So . . . that's my ideal sales letter . . . short, concise, witty, readable and focussed on the buyer and not the seller. And I suppose the fact that it's really quite difficult to produce such a letter is why so many people employ professional copywriters. However, those of you who know my high opinion of Armand Morin, will not be surprised if, at this point, I mention his new WordPress Sales Letter Plugin which, I first mentioned here on June 7th. If you can't afford a copywriter this, to my mind, is the next best thing. And, even if you can, this is a whole lot cheaper! The great thing about it is that it comes with built-in ideas for headlines, introductions, closing statements and so on which can be modified according to your needs. So you don't have to worry about the actual construction of the piece because it offers the bones of the letter and all you have to do is to flesh out with a little humour and a lot of enthusiasm!