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  Writing for Business and Pleasure

  Copyright 2014 by
Stephen Wilbers

Column of the Month



Persuasive writing involves connecting with your reader. Here are some thoughts on how to make that connection.


First published March 31, 2000

Effective sales letters put interests of readers first

By Stephen Wilbers

A sales letter has four objectives: to capture the reader’s attention, create interest in a product or service, establish the seller’s credibility, and explain how to take the desired action.  Of those, which do you think is the most challenging for the writer?

Let me ask the question another way.

Which of the following items do you open first? Which do you read with greatest interest?

1. Letters from friends and family

2. Catalogues and magazines

3. Sales letters and other advertising

4. Bills

5. Checks made out in your name (presumably for large amounts of money)

Of the five categories, my guess is that sales letters rank next to the bottom, just above bills.

If you’re the person writing those letters, you must compete with other types of mail that are more likely to attract your reader’s attention. To do this, you must overcome two increasingly significant obstacles: volume and prospective buyer fatigue. Over time, prospective buyers, tired of the same old pitches and attention-getting ploys, become less responsive and more difficult to reach. The best way to overcome these obstacles is to put the reader first.

Consider the following openings to sales letters. Which is more likely to capture your interest? Which would cause you to continue reading the letter?

1. “The E-Z Credit Company has established a reputation for professionalism and good service to its clients. We have been in the financial planning business for 45 years, and we take pride in our long-term service to the community. In fact, last year we won the Dale Goodman Award for Community Development through Responsible Lending Practices.

“Enclosed please find a brochure that explains our new quick-credit personal application card and how it can provide you with a $5,000 line of credit at below-market interest rates.”

2. “If like millions of Americans you are burdened by credit-card debt, the E-Z Credit Company has a simple solution for you. Use our new quick-credit personal application card to apply for a credit line of up to $5,000 at below-market interest rates, and consolidate your debts into a single monthly payment.

“Let the friendly, professional people at E-Z Credit help you with your financial planning needs. A proud member of the financial planning community for 45 years, E-Z Credit won the 1999 Dale Goodman Award for Community Development through Responsible Lending Practices.”

The first letter opens by touting the company’s reputation, the second by appealing to the reader’s interests and needs. Because the second letter starts with the reader, chances are you liked it better.

Here’s another illustration. Compare the following openings:

1. “Big Bad Bob’s New and Used Cars is having a spring extravaganza! Meet Big Bad Bob in person! ‘There’s only one Big Bad Bob,’ says Big Bad Bob, ‘and that’s me!’

“Shake the hand of the man whose smiling face you have seen on countless billboards around town! It’s an event like none other! Don’t miss this special opportunity! Come join in the fun!”

2. “Big Bad Bob’s New and Used Cars is celebrating spring by slashing prices, and you’re invited to the party!

“‘Come say hello to me,’ says Big Bad Bob, ‘and I’ll hand you a coupon for 10% off any vehicle on the lot, including our new line of high-mileage, smooth-riding SUVs.’

“Don’t miss this special opportunity for incredible savings! Come join in the fun!”

Successful sales letters open by appealing to the reader’s interests and concerns. First they capture the reader’s attention, and then they establish the seller’s credibility.


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