Long Copy Sales Letters

Dealing with the death of the long copy sales letters, I discussed this with one of my readers.

Question from a Reader on Long Copy Sales Letters

One area I’m really interested in is whether you think that in sales, “what works” changes over time.

I’m certainly finding that in my field (person to person selling for large, complex sales) what worked yesterday isn’t working so well today. People have got so used to approaches that used to be novel (e.g. talking about the financial benefits of a product rather than its features) that they tend to blank them out (rather like the “banner blindness” Jakob Nielsen talks about in the web world).

When everyone from photocopier salesmen to high end strategy consultants is using the “would you like to hear about an approach that could save you 10% of your costs” technique it becomes devalued.

Similarly, both Michael Fortin and James Brausch have written about the ‘death of the long copy sales letters’. My belief is that this definitely happens. Even the best techniques – once used by everyone – lose their power. Not that they become bad – just that they become the baseline that you must do even to play the game – but you need to do more to win the business. Your thoughts?

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My First Answer

My first thought was “Yes” if you do the same thing constantly or do exactly the same as everybody else, then your prospect does become immune and getting a response becomes that much harder.

Having said that, I still believe, and experience hasn’t changed that belief, importantly you must make your target market fully aware of every nuance of what you can do for them.  Whether a service or supplying a product, you have to ask them what they want to know.

For example, if you are in constant contact with your prospects and customers, informing and advising, interacting with comments and discussions – perhaps via a newsletter or web-based blog like this – then you may find that you don’t need to use extremely long letters or jaded selling techniques every time you make a new offer.

This is because you have already educated your prospect who has come to know you and what you supply; he has a relationship with you and, possibly, already trusts your judgement and advice. So when you put a new offer into the market place, you just need to clearly explain and how it impacts on your prospect’s life or business. You don’t have to do quite so much ‘selling'.

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So I think the ‘death of the long copy sales letters’ is subjective.

If you approach a cold audience; to people who don’t already know you or have any knowledge of what you can do for them, then the long copy sales letters with explanatory, informative-rich and value delivering (i.e. giving valuable free advice that is useful to the reader even if they don’t do any business with you), still has its place.

If your target prospect is much warmer and already has a relationship with you, then just making the new product or service available with a brief explanation of what it does for him may be enough. It is – like any other marketing approach – one that should be tested.

Readers Response

 “I’ve found a mixed approach does best. Whatever anyone says, there are people out there that will never sit down and read a 16 page letter and there are people who want to know every last detail before they decide.  Plus, of course, they get used to a big bulging letter coming to them every month and know it’s from us – think well I don’t need a… – so they probably don’t even open it.

The smallest full offer letter I’ve ever done was four pages, the longest 16 pages. I even rotate who the letters are from now to try and keep it fresh.

What I haven’t tried (which I will now because you’ve just given me the idea – so thanks!) is the same offer going out twice (maybe one week after another) one really shortened down in a short letter and one in a more explanatory long letter.”

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My Follow Up Response

As I’ve said previously there is no definitive answer to what works or doesn’t work in marketing. There are theories; there are proven activities generating results in certain industries or professions but when it comes to the crunch, the only action that works for you is the one that gets the sales. And you’ll only discover that by listening to what your customers and prospects have to say and testing different approaches on your own target market.

What to Include

Make your letters to clients and prospects interesting and information-packed.

By including useful tips, insider knowledge or understanding puts you at a higher level than your competitors, who do not do this, because you are giving value.

By giving value without obligation and making it freely available your prospects perceive you as the ‘go-to-expert’ when they decide to buy your type of product or services.

So what sort of information is useful to your prospect; what gives your long copy sales letters ‘added value’?

The actual content you can offer differs in your industry or profession compared to another. Let’s see if we can discover what would be useful for your target audience by going through a few questions:

  1. When you have a face-to-face meeting with a prospect do they ask you questions?  What questions do they ask? Are any of the questions generic to your industry or profession rather than specific to your product or service? Answer these in your letter. By doing so you provide valuable information to your reader. As an added benefit, you might be overcoming a possible objection of the reader.
  2. Along a similar vein – what tips do you share with your staff and customers? Again look for the more generic gems. Include these in your letters. Remember, something very simple and obvious to you can be a real eye-opener to a person who does not have your experience or knowledge. Sometimes we tend to forget the wealth of expertise we accumulate over the years.

Offering free advice, from a position of knowledge, goes a long way towards encouraging people to decide in your favor when they decide to buy!

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Two Audiences

When you’re writing a letter, bear in mind that there are two types of people who are likely to read it; the detail people – like engineers. They want to absolutely understand every detail about the offer. Then you have the skimmers; the busy people who won't read everything in your letter.

Now – think about it; what’s the real purpose of your letter?

It isn’t to be read. Its sole purpose is to get the recipient to take the action you want!

So you need to satisfy both types of audiences with one letter. The formatting of your letter – as well as the wording – comes into play. (I’m going to assume you are writing an interesting, benefits-crammed, focused-on-your-reader type of letter).

For the detail people you must give the answers to all the questions they may ask themselves...

  • ‘How will it help me?’
  • ‘Why should I buy this?’
  • ‘Will I regret spending the money afterwards?’ (known as buyer’s remorse)
  • ‘Who else has got results from this?’ (genuine testimonials are needed here)
  • ‘Will I get the same or similar result?’
  • ‘What’s the risk I take by buying?’ (your guarantee gets around this concern)

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Answering these questions can create long copy sales letters.

Within the letter, provide all the detail to back up their emotional decision to purchase. You can only do this in a long letter. For the skimmers, your sub-headlines give an overview of your offer.

If you get it right, as they scan your letter, they will pounce on the sub-headline that answers their burning question or catches their attention with a likable promise.

Imperatively, make sure at least one of your subheads clearly identifies how they can take up your offer; your call-to-action. Your skim-reader does not want to waste time searching for how to get whatever you are selling.

Something along the lines of ‘3 Easy Steps to Get Your…‘ or ‘How To Get Your…‘ or ‘What To Do Now…‘ is OK.”

I have had people contact me saying “I got your letter. I didn’t read it, it was too long copy sales letters"

Do you think I care? Not a jot – they got in touch, didn't they?

So my letter did exactly what I wanted, it’s compelled them to take action.

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4 Key Elements

1 – Only write to people who have expressed, or you have strong reasons to believe, are interested in what you have to offer.  Talking about your prospect and something that interests them is always fascinating to your reader.  If it is relevant, they read your long copy sales letters – certainly enough to decide.

2 – Your most interesting, though-provoking, benefit laden, action compelling points must be on your first page.  Your challenge is to get your reader on to the 2nd page.  Check your letter – is your exciting offer or compelling argument buried on page 3 or 4?  If so, your reader won’t reach it.  Re-structure your letter so it is on the first page.

3 – Use your sub-heads to re-capture the interest of the person skimming through.  Remember your prime reason for writing is to get your prospect to respond to your offer.  If he (or she) does that without reading the whole of the letter – it doesn’t matter. 

4 – Make absolutely sure the ‘instructions’ on how to respond are clear and easy to find – even for the skimmer.  Even a subhead as simple as 'What to Do Now' or 'How to get Your…' is enough to draw them in at the right point. 

Be careful about what you 'instruct' him to do.  Remember people don’t like forms – telling him to "fill in the form" may be regarded as hard-work by some.  Make it easy in your long copy sales letters – ask him to "pop your details onto the enclosed request, slip it into the envelope supplied and post today."

Review

Read your long copy sales letters.

Does it answer all the questions your prospect asks? Some people call it sales objections, but that seems a bit harsh to me. After all, he just wants to know enough that he’s making the right decision for him.

Check your sub-headlines; do they give the gist the offer? Do they draw the reader into  your letter? Are they succinct and supportive or just cute and clever without any substance?

Try this: Give your letter to other people to read.  Then ask them did they read the whole thing or just skim? If they skimmed, did they get a feel of what it was about? If they read the whole long copy sales letters, did they find it interesting or boring? Use their feedback to fine-tune your content, but don’t let the skimmers persuade you to shorten your letter just for the sake of doing so.

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How Long is Long?

Again, different views; some people say anything longer than 1 page is a long letter; others say 17, 20 or more pages proved to be their best sellers. It’s a matter of testing.

For one client, I upped their standard sales letter length from 1 uninteresting page to 4 reader-focused pages, and it almost doubled the response for them.

For another client, who always sent out very long letters, we tested a 1-page ‘announcement type’ letter that got a great result. It may be because it contrasted to previous letters he sent to his prospects.

There is no definitive answer.

Web Copy Length

So does the same apply to web-based  copy – should they be long copy sales letters?

At one seminar where I met a big marketer, which was hosted by a multi-million dollar internet marketing company, they said their best-selling letter was 55 ‘printed pages’ long!

Check what works for you. Whether online or offline, test both short and long copy in any marketing campaign.

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