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Imagine this: two sales letters are sent out to the same customer from two different companies. Both companies offer a product that fills the same need and send the letters on the same day of the week. But somehow, one sales letter ends up open on the customer’s desk – the other gets tossed in the garbage bin after a mere skim.
A similar fate befalls two sales emails: the customer opens and even replies to one, while the other is erased almost as soon as it’s received.
Why does the customer consider one and chuck the other? There are many possible reasons, but they all boil down to the same thing: how well the sales letter or email is written and presented.
A quality sales letter or email can put your company on the radar of new potential buyers. It can help you re-stimulate inactive leads and convert your leads into customers. On the flip-side, a poorly written sales letter or email can result in wasted resources and can even have a negative impact on your brand image.
We’ve written this blog post to help you make sure that you are writing the right kind of sales letter: the kind that your customers will open and act upon. Use this step-by-step guide with real-life samples to write a sales letter or email that will persuade your prospective B2C (business-to-consumer) customers to buy your product:
The first step to writing your sales letter is to tackle presentation by quickly formatting your letter or email. Most sources recommended that you format your sales letter the same way you would a normal letter. That means starting with the date and the contact information of both you (the sender) and the recipient in the upper left-hand corner. An optional heading may also precede the greeting. Following this setup looks something like so:
March 1st, 2018Jane Doe
1234 Mulberry Lane
Hometown, CA 00000
Subject: We Hear You Like Beer…. This Pint’s on Us!
Not all beers are created equal.
We know that. And from what we hear, so do you. Here at Big Bear Breweries, we do our very best to deliver our customers a product that we’re proud of: artisanal beer at an unBEARably low price (sorry, we couldn’t resist there….).
For just $12.99 per month, we will send you two six-packs of our finest home brewed beer. Choose from our traditional beers, including our ales, lagers, malt beer, or expand your palate by trying a beer that you’ve never tried before.
Yes, that’s right – we are partnered with small startup breweries from around the world….
This basic letter format works for companies of any size in any industry. However, you can still choose to break free from this mold and adopt something more eye-catching and on-brand. Check out, for instance, how Playboy does this below:
Source: J.C. Manheimer
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When playing with letter formatting for B2C recipients, feel free add or delete addresses and headings if it makes your letter look cleaner or more enticing. While including the recipient’s address adds a personalized touch, removing it may make it easier to send the letter out to hundreds if not thousands of consumers at a time.
With sales emails to consumers, you also have the option of playing with designs, links, and graphics. For a better idea of what this might look like, check out this sales email from CoSchedule:
Images and GIFs can be used successfully if they help you communicate with your audience. Just don’t go overboard – you don’t want to take the focus away from your email’s written content.
Use white space abundantly! Add spacing between lines to break up text in sales letters and emails to make them more readable, and guide your reader’s eye down the page.
In emails and letters to consumers, use bold text, underlines, and italics to call your audience’s attention to your most important points. Use these elements selectively, and avoid WRITING IN ALL CAPS – this can make your sales letter look spammy.
While not all sales letters have headings, all sales emails must have a gripping subject line.
The best email subject lines are compelling. They may contain a call to action, an intriguing question, a cryptic proposal – or really anything that might appeal to your recipient’s interests (or curiosities!).
Here are some examples of email subject lines that work:
Unlike B2C sales emails, by the time the user gets to the heading of a B2C sales letter, the letter has already been opened. Headings for sales letters should reflect a specific, enticing promise that is relevant to the letter’s content, and inspires the recipient to read on.
You can also play with making the heading stand out in your letter’s design. Check out how More magazine does this in their consumer-oriented publication below:
This on-brand heading quickly catches the reader’s eyes, familiarizing them with the logo and drawing them down to the body of the text.
In B2C sales letters, place your heading beneath the logo to help both stand out.
Be careful not to write an email sales letter subject line that is too spammy. Headlines like “FREE 100% GUARANTEED IT REALLY WORKS!” practically guarantee that your recipients will delete your sales emails without even opening them (and may land you in the junk folder anyway).
Whether you stick with a simple “Dear Reader,” or address your recipients by name is up to you. However, these are not the only options for addressing your readers. Here are some of the ways that real sales letters have addressed their target audience:
Relationship-based words like “friend” and “girlfriend” can help you create a sense of intimacy with your reader and ease them into the letter. Relevant words like “artist” and “bird lover” can help your audience identify right away whether this letter is or isn’t for them – and keep the right people reading. Recipients who relate to these words will also feel a sense of specialness and belonging as they continue to read (think about how well you take to something that describes you – “that’s me!”).
But that’s not all – depending on your brand’s persona, you can even use a bit of humor to address your readers and spark intrigue. In one sales letter, The New York Review of Books uses the following greeting: “Dear Intellectual Dinosaur.” This greeting brings the magazine’s on-brand use of sarcasm with empathy into the creative recognition of its reader. By inviting its prospective customers to participate in the joke, The New York Review of Books generates a sense of confidence between the reader and the brand.
Make sure that however you are addressing your readers is natural and on-brand – don’t force anything that is unlike your brand, or readers may feel put off by it.
In sales letters, instead of settling for “Dear Reader,” use other ways of addressing your target B2C audience to make them feel like part of an elite, appreciated group.
In sales emails, it is normal to address the recipient by their first name, since these are easy to send out with quality marketing automation software.
Your heading (or subject line) and greeting can get your prospective customer’s attention, but they can’t hold it. That’s why like high school essays, sales letters also need a gripping “hook”, or in other words, an interesting opening sentence.
A quality hook does just what its name suggests: it “hooks” the reader and keeps them from ditching your sales letter before they even get to read your offer. In sales letters and emails, the hook sentence often stands alone in its own line.
For an example of this, let’s look back at how More magazine begins their sales letter:
More’s hook sentence, “Maybe you’ve heard of them,” does exactly what it’s supposed to do: It makes its audience want to keep reading to answer the question, Maybe I’ve heard of who?
Hooks aren’t only for sales letters. Check out how another sales email from CoSchedule uses a hook to effectively bring the reader in:
“Plan your work. Then work your plan.” By starting with a fun play on words, this sales email gets the prospective customer thinking – and reading.
Here are some of the ways that you can hook your prospective B2C customers into your sales letter or email:
Your hook should be a line that you find interesting (and that your customers will too). Write a few different ones out, and see how each one sits with you.
For long copy B2C sales letters, the hook almost always ties into the overall story that you are trying to tell. Keep your story in mind as you write your opening line.
Standalone and to-the-point hooks are good for short sales letters and emails, where you don’t need a long anecdote to keep the reader’s attention.
Once you have your hook established, it’s time to expand into the overarching story that your sales letter is trying to tell.
Like the hook, the story is about keeping your prospective B2C customer absorbed in your sales letter. However, your story also has the function of creating an interest in or a need for your product. It takes your reader on a journey through your product’s history, its function, who it serves and/or what it offers.
For example, check out how More magazine expands past the hook to build their story:
Maybe you’ve heard of them.
Eleven women, ages 45 to 66, decided to raise money for leukemia research by submitting, on their annual garden calendar, tasteful pictures of themselves…naked.
More interesting was the response.
The women hoped to raise $2,000. They raised $550,000!
And around the world middle-aged women shouted, “Go, girls!” Why? Because these brave women acknowledged what you and I have known all along. Life isn’t about being really young, it’s about feeling really great!
The story that More’s sales letter tells is both attention-grabbing and introduces the reader to the magazine’s ultimate goal: to empower and create a community for middle-aged women. (Sadly, More magazine suffered the same fate as many printed publications, and printed its last issue in 2016).
One of the most famous sales letters in modern history tells a tale of “two young men.” The letter’s effective use of storytelling reeled in $2 billion worth of subscriptions to The Wall Street Journal. Below is an excerpt from that letter:
This story (which we referenced in the introduction) does its job beautifully by illustrating a seemingly ordinary scenario – the similar evolution of two similar people. But suddenly, it introduces a twist: despite these two men being alike in every way, one man manages to climb to the top of the corporate ladder – the other one doesn’t. The reader is left with a sticky question: Why? And, what can I do to have what he’s having?
Not all stories are as enthralling as the ones that More and the Wall Street Journal tell in their B2C sales letters. Still, when it comes to what story your company should tell in your sales letter or email, the sky is the limit. Just make sure that it is interesting, and that it relates to your offer.
Stories sell – just not to everyone. Some short sales letters and emails for need-to-know products may not require or even benefit from an overarching story, and that’s okay. If you are selling a straight-forward product and would rather cut to the chase, then go for it.
Keep your story alive by using active voice; keep it interesting by using memorable images and unexpected word combinations. (Think back to this line from Playboy’s sales letter: “Women who will make you growl, chew on your shoelaces and fan yourself with a celery stalk.”) Keep your story relatively short and to the point.
The Wall Street Journal’s sales letter story wasn’t unique – it’s premise was borrowed from a 1919 ad for the Alexander Hamilton Institute (and that ad was borrowed from another ad). Don’t be afraid to borrow story ideas from other successful B2C sales letters.
Before writing your sales letter, jot a few story ideas down. Do you dare to do something unexpected?
Once you have told a story that resonates with your audience, you can move on to presenting your product.
The product can be introduced in a number of ways. It might be evoked as a solution to the problem presented in the story. It might arrive as a bold promise made to the reader following an idyllic picture. It might appear in response to a portrait of the target audience (i.e. “You care about ___, you’re this kind of person… this product is for people like you”). The product can be presented in any way, so long as it corresponds with the story told in the introduction.
Let’s look back at how The Wall Street Journal’s sales letter presents their product following the story of the two men:
Here, The Wall Street Journal demonstrates an expert transition from the story to the product. By evoking the paper, the sales letter implies that The Wall Street Journal – a want-to-know product – can drastically change its reader’s life path with what it brings to the table: knowledge. This persuasive move causes the reader to reflect on both the possibilities that The Journal might bring them should they subscribe (knowledge that will take them to the top of the corporate ladder), and the potential consequences that might unfold should they not subscribe (getting stuck in a lower-level position while their colleagues succeed; not realizing their full business potential).
Once you have introduced your product, you can begin to delve further into why your customer needs it. Here, you can explain the product’s benefits, your business’ practices (if this would be of interest to your audience), and the kind of experience they can expect to receive from your product.
Let’s look again at how The Wall Street Journal’s sales letter continues below:
Here, the Wall Street Journal does several things right:
In doing these things, The Wall Street Journal gives a bit of background on the paper while actively persuading its customers to take on its product.
When telling your customers about your product in a short copy sales email or letter, consider using a bulleted list to guide the reader through your product’s top benefits. With sales emails, you might embed a video or a link to help deliver that information.
Remember the sales email example from CoSchedule? Let’s look back at that sales email to observe how it guides the reader through product information:
Once you get past this email’s missing spaces, you can see that it organizes the top benefits of its product into a simple, condensed list that the recipient can read and understand quickly. This presentation of information is great for the digital world, where the recipient is just a click away from switching to another internet page. CoSchedule’s sales email also includes links, which can guide prospective customers to more marketing material.
When selecting which of your product’s benefits you will include in your sales letter or email, put yourself in your customer’s shoes. What would you want to hear if you were the customer? (For example, would you want to hear about how many pages each edition of The Wall Street Journal has, or would you rather hear about what’s inside?) While you may be tempted to mention every amazing thing about your product, will all of those things be of utmost importance to your audience?
Rather than compiling a large list of product’s robust features, make your sales letter or email about the customer. How will the product benefit your target audience? (For example, notice how CoSchedule didn’t bore the reader with technicalities –it dove straight into what its product could help them with.)
Once you have taught your customer about your product and instilled the need for that product, it’s time to make your offer. What exactly will your customer get, and for what price?
Here is how The Wall Street Journal’s sales letter presents its offer:
The letter starts by offering the customer the cheapest subscription. It then follows up with a more expensive package that is a better deal and helps the customer save over $40. This offer is clear, concise, and leaves the customer aware of what to expect from each option.
In long copy sales letters and emails, the offer is often made close to the end of the letter. However, in short copy sales letters and emails, the offer can be made as quickly as the opening line. This is especially true and works well for companies that are offering a low-cost, useful product that needs little introducing. In these instances, the price is so good that it is used as the clincher that pulls the reader in. Here is one example of how this might work:
Since this offer comes before any explanation, readers then need to read on to learn about the product and what that $7 investment would get them.
Word choice makes a difference. Use key words like “only,” “as little as,” “take advantage of,” “value,” and “save,” to make your offer more compelling.
Use multi-tiered offers to give your readers more options to choose from, and to sway them toward more expensive but better deals.
You aren’t sending out a sales letter or email purely to be consumed. You want your prospective customer to react, and to engage with you.
Follow up your offer with a clear call to action. Do you want them to mail in an order form? Set up a phone call? Contact you for more information? Initiate a trial period?
Be specific about what you want, and how the customer should do it. Don’t leave any room for hesitation or doubt. If you want your customer to mail back an order form, make sure that you include an envelope that is postage-paid, so that they won’t have anything to stop them from doing what you’ve asked. If you want a fast, direct reply, make sure you give your potential customers multiple options for contact. If you want to arrange a phone call, ask your customer to let you know what time you can reach out. If you want your customers to initiate a trial period, tell them exactly where to click to get started.
The Wall Street Journal’s call to action directly follows their offer:
This call to action conveys urgency using words such as “without delay,” “now,” and “immediately.” It also reduces the risk of the action by telling the reader that they can cancel the subscription at any time should it not suit their liking.
Here is another example of a call to action in a sales letter by American Express:
This call to action makes the process of filing for an American Express credit card seem so easy, it’s just a matter of “well, why not?”
Here are some of the ways that you too can inspire immediate action from your readers:
Action can come in all forms: a click, a response, a call, a purchase. Make sure to keep tabs on engagement – especially with sales emails – and to follow up accordingly. (For example, if a customer clicks on the link for the free trial but then navigates away, you can send a follow-up email to help ease their doubts or reignite interest.
Remember the doubts that your audience will be facing when they read your sales letter or email. These may include some of the following:
When writing your B2C sales letter or email, don’t be afraid to pull some tricks out of your persuasion bag to convince readers otherwise. Consider adding attractive bits like the following to convince your reader to take the sales plunge:
Use these sales tactics when you can, but don’t compromise the quality of your letter or email by forcing them in there. Take what serves you and leave the rest.
Different sales tactics work best with different audiences and different products. Consider what will truly help your products case before pulling all the sales ropes.
Once you have addressed all your main selling points, wrap up your letter with a conclusion. Tie up any loose ends, tackle any last doubts, and make your final references to your selling story.
Once your letter is done, don’t forget to sign it with your name and your company title (the latter is optional).
Oh, and don’t forget your P.S.
In sales letters and emails, the postscript is the last chance to say something that will inspire your reader to buy.
The P.S. could be used to throw in a final incentive to act – such as an additional discount or freebie. It could also be used to remind the reader of an important selling point.
Take a look here at how The Wall Street Journal ends the sales letter and adds the post script:
The Wall Street Journal concludes this sales letter by bringing their story full-circle. They add a final honest disclaimer, a last guarantee, and then sign off. And beneath it all, they add a postscript that says that the paper may be tax deductible: a great final incentive for their audience.
Although briefer, sales emails can also have a conclusion and/or a postscript. A second email from CoSchedule uses the following signoff:
In this case, the P.S. serves as a final call to action, and a reminder of what the product entails.
The Wall Street Journal and CoSchedule both use effective, but relatively tame signoffs. Another publication – a health magazine called Prevention – shows us that there is (technically) no limit to what or how much you can write in your postscript:
As long as it successfully serves your ultimate goal: selling your product, you can put it in the conclusion or postscript.
In the conclusion, reference your story (if you have one) one final time to bring the letter together.
Go easy on the P.S – sometimes, unlike in Prevention’s case, less is more.
A well written sales letter or email to consumers can help you convert your leads, put you on the radar of new customers, and – as the Wall Street Journal has shown – go down in sales letter history.
We hope that you use these steps and sales letter examples to win over your audience. Who knows, maybe someday we’ll even be able to reference your powerful B2C sales letter or email in our next blog post.
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