Ray worked with B-2-B and Consumer clients throughout the world ... including USA, Canada, Mexico, Asia, the South Pacific, Europe, the Middle-East, Central & South America, Africa.

This website is a compilation of Ray's 10 years on the Web.

Baker's Dozen INDEX

13 Platinum Ideas for Writing Letters that Sell

Some say reading is a lost art. Not so.

It's not that reading is out, not at all. It's the choices we have to make. We have so much we could read, readers have become picky about what they choose to read.

Which means those of us who write need to write better. Beginning with the marketing and sales letter. The base in any successful direct mail marketing package.

Here are 13 Platinum Ideas for Writing Letters that Sell:

1. Think. Plan. Organize. FIRST!

Until you understand who you are writing to, and why, you cannot write effectively.

You must understand the marketplace, product and service, what the offer is, something about the competition. When you are thoroughly indoctrinated with the subject, you will write effectively.

So, first take time to Think what this is all about.
Then Plan ... outline, "write" what you are going to do.
Last, Organize yourself for writing -- get ready to attack the topic.

Think how people read. In languages that read left to right, people read left to right. Is this a surprise? I hope not!

Most read from top to bottom -- although in a "Z" fashion, vs. straight down the page. Understand "eye-flow" as you plan to write.

And know letters are the most effective communication tool. More so than brochures, flyers, other inserts, response pieces -- more than any other element. This means the writer has a responsibility to the reader to make the letter "good".

Some get ready by talking into a tape recorder. Some do it "scribbling" on butcher paper or a note pad. Some walk around the block. Some pound a keyboard. Some talk with a friend. Some talk with themselves.

It matters not HOW you do it. It matters a lot you DO it.

2. Write It Like You Say It

We talk in short sentences. With short words.

We rarely talk in "perfect" English. We talk to communicate. Your letter is a communication tool -- it too must be with short words and short sentences. And short paragraphs.

70% of your words should be 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 letter words -- because they are easier to understand.

Your sentences should average 14 words or less. With no more than 25 syllables per sentence. So they are easy to read, so they are understandable. Like conversation.

Your paragraphs should be no more than 7 lines. With a mix of length ... some 1 line, some 2-3-4-5-6 ... never more than 7.

Punctuation should be used sparingly. Enough to aid the reader -- not too much to slow them down.

Write so the 13 year old junior high school kid on your block will comfortably read your words. When you do that you will enjoy a high level of readership and communication.

The best way to write is the simple way. Write it like you say it. Make your writing human.

3. Dear Aunt Minnie

Letters are "personal". One person talking with another.

That's why they work -- they are true 1:1 communication.

So it stands to reason your best letters will be personal letters. Written from one person to another. With a "personal" message. And then multiplied and sent to all who should receive your letter.

The best thing about personalization can also be the worst.

By being personal your reader expects more of you. They expect you to know something about them. So when you make a mistake -- like mis-spell their name -- you've lost it.

Make 100% certain your data is accurate. And then write personal letters.

4. Octogenarians in Oshkosh

Doctors think and respond differently than plumbers.

Teen-agers from grandparents. Teachers from contractors. Women and men, old and young, highly educated vs. a high school grad, small business from big, musicians from architects -- they are all different.

Yes, we as people are more alike than unalike. Yet we do respond to mail, to letters, each in a different way. Because of our interests ... because we are "different".

Successful letter writing means knowing your audience. Knowing those "differences". Who they are, what they are interested in, what turns them on ... what does NOT. It means finding the common denominator. It means putting yourself in your readers frame of mind.

If your marketplace is octogenarians in Oshkosh, then you must think and write like an octogenarian in Oshkosh. To do any less means you will have less then stellar results.

Today we enjoy a marvelous array of sources to find, reach and talk with our audience. To begin, in-house computer systems are quick and easy to use. Which most often means we can access our current customer base, with all its' data, with ease. In the past this has not always been the case.

There are more "lists" available to buy and rent than ever before. More magazines and trade shows offering more selection. The old SIC system for business-to-business has a new and updated system ... North American Industry Classification System ( NAICS ).

So, we have choice. Make the right choice -- and write personal mail.

5. Offer an Offer

Make an offer.

An offer is a reason for your "suspect" to become a "prospect".

An offer says if you do this now these good things will happen to you. "Respond in 30 days and you earn a _____".

The offer is a reason for someone to consider you. To decide "Yes, I want to know more about this product". To raise their hand and be willing to communicate with you. To answer your letter.

When you write a business letter without an offer it becomes a sales pitch ... or nothing. Your reader may think "there is no reason, incentive, purpose or motivation to respond, so why should I"?

Don't even think about a letter without an offer. An offer will always improve your message, will always increase your response.

6. WII-FM ... the Worlds Most Listened to "station"

Know what's in it for the reader.

WII-FM = What's In It For Me. i.e., what does the reader gain by responding to your letter? What do they earn, make, save? How do they feel or look -- what do they gain?

Is your offer quick and fast? Is it convenient? Does it offer protection? Does it help them avoid criticism? To be recognized? To be appreciated? To be attractive? To be popular? To be important? To be healthier?

Do your benefits help them grow in their field? To gain control?

To support a cause they believe in? To satisfy curiosity? Does it fulfill their need?

Your product or service is the feature. What your buyer / user gets from doing business with you is a benefit. People do NOT buy red buttons. They buy what happens when you push red buttons.

Make certain your message is what happens when they push the button. Make certain your benefits are clear.

7. Headline Your Message

Headlines and sub-heads in print ads get attention. Ditto for letters.

A running headline at the top of your letter ( usually typeset vs. "typewriter" style type ) is the most read part of a letter. Which makes it the most important part of your letter.

Why? Because if this grabber does not grab, your read goes elsewhere. You've lost before you've begun.

What does this say? It says you had better pay careful attention to the opening, the beginning, the start of your letter. The running headline, or Johnson Box ( similar to the running head, set in a box like layout ) is the first thing most of your readers will see. It either pulls them into your body copy -- or chases them away.

When you use a generic salutation ( Dear Golf Lover, or Dear Business Friend, or Dear Purchasing Agent ) it is more important to have a strong opening headline.

When you personalize your salutation ( Dear Mrs. Moore, Dear Dr. Player, Dear Mr. Howard, Dear Rev. McCalley, Dear Sally, ) your running head is less important. Not unimportant -- just less.

Know your opening is vital. When you begin with a strong message, maybe a "tease", maybe a benefit, maybe a call to action, maybe a testimonial, maybe with a story, you "hook" your reader to stay with you.

Start strong. Use a powerful headline.

8. It's NOT long. It's NOT short. It IS interesting!

A few days ago I received a 16 page letter.

About 30 days ago a 24 page letter came to me.

Long, long letters.

This week I received a number of 1 page letters.

What's the difference?

Well, there is NO difference between a short letter and a long letter. Save one thing; A letter is either interesting, or it is not. Period. Period!

When you are selling a product or service, i.e., you're in the mail-order business, long most often out sells short. Business and consumer.

When you're looking for traffic to your store, shop, exhibit or special event short usually works best. And when you're seeking leads for your sales team, short is most often the winner.

A letter needs to be long enough to gain the sale ... short enough to get a response.

Letters are not long, they are not short -- they are interesting.

9. "Just the facts, Ma'am"

Humans have many characteristics.

One is we're attracted to water. Another is facts and figures and numbers get our attention.

So, use numbers in your letter. Specifics give your reader a reason to believe you. Facts make you credible.

And numbers make it easy to keep your reader with you. A list of 3 or 5 or 7 things, numbered 1, 2, 3, ++ is very likely to keep your reader reading.

The reader is seeking proof what you say is so. They are looking for all the reasons to respond to your offer -- to do business with you. Numbers and facts help.

And, have something to say. This may seem "funny" to say, yet many letters don't say very much. They are boring to the point of being uninteresting. Even to the right audience.

Don't beat around the bush. Have a message and say it. And use facts and figures to "prove" your message is true.

10. Talk "with" Your Reader

Never, but NEVER talk down to your reader.

Selling is done with dialogue -- not a monologue approach. That can only be successful when you look your reader in the eye, aim at them directly and talk straight.

The best sales reps listen 2/3rds of the time -- and only speak 1/3. Although that is not possible with the written word, what is possible is encouraging dialogue. Back and forth. Give and take.

Exchanges. Understanding. Response. Comments. Questions and answers.

And, never tell a lie. Share a story, be entertaining, weave a theme, be interesting, make your point -- and do it straight and honest. Be upfront. Be true.

Talking "at" your reader rarely works. Talking "with" the reader almost always works.

11. Write to be Read

Writing is technique. Here are a few.

Your opening paragraph should have no more than 11 words.

Your 2nd paragraph no more than 50.

Why? To pullll your reader in. To slip them into your copy easily. Short opening paragraphs allow the reader to get started. Quickly. When you get someone to read your first 50 words you will get them to read 500.

Lines of copy 40 -- 57 characters long are easiest to read. Our eyes find longer difficult.

For most readers a copy point size of 11 or 12 is best. Never less than 9. The reason most of us wear glasses or contacts is we cannot see. Larger helps seeing.

Indent the first line of every paragraph -- it gives the reader a place to begin. It pulls the eye to a point of reference. It allows the reader to know where to start reading.

A P.S. in your letter is mandatory. Why? Because 4 of 5 readers will read the P.S. first, before they read the body of the letter. So, have a strong P.S. that repeats your call to action, repeats a key benefit. Tells the reader what and where and when to respond.

There are more. Follow these and others briefed in this collection and you'll be well on your way to high readership, understanding and response.

12. A.F.T.O. -- and Make it Easy to Say "Yes"

There are 2 parts to getting a response;

1). asking for a response, and
2). offering several ways to respond.

First, Ask For The Order! Be specific -- ask your reader to raise their hand. To come to your store. To accept a trial. To take a demo. To visit your exhibit. To write you a check or send a purchase order. To call you for an appointment. To request a sample. To see your rep.

To do something ... that is the A.F.T.O. part.

To get the most response you need to be absolutely clear, very specific. "Tell" your reader what you want them to do -- and the benefit they get by doing so.

There is no "formula" for doing this. No set number of times or places. The only for certain is you must do it.

Part 2. is options you give your reader to respond.

The more ways you offer your audience to respond the more likely you are to get the response you are looking for. Choice increases response.

Mail, telephone and fax are obvious. For some a walk through your front door is appealing.

And today you need to add to the response list options E-mail and your WWW site.

You may prefer a phone call. Fine -- list that first. Yet, always include more than a single way to do business with you. The more options you give your readers the more response you can expect.

13. Write Today -- Edit Tomorrow

Think, Plan, Organize is how I began.

Think, Plan, Organize AND revise, Revise REVISE! is how I close.

No matter how good a writer you are, you will be better tomorrow. Write today. Speed through it. Think of anything -- everything. Pour all you have into it. Dump it all out.

And tomorrow look at it. Is this the best -- the very best! -- you can do? Unlikely! Rarely, so rare I might say never, is the 1st draft, or 2nd or 3rd for that matter, as good as it needs to be. You will make it better. ( There have been 13 versions of this paper before you see it! )

When you think you've got it, read it out loud. When you "hear" the bump in the road -- and you will -- fix it.

Sometimes you'll toss it out and begin all over again. Why waste your or the readers time with anything that is not persuasive? That's not interesting communication?

Revise, revise, revise.

That's it. The Baker's Dozen Collection --

13 Platinum Ideas for Writing Letters that Sell.

Let's summarize.

1. Think. Plan. Organize. FIRST!

As with anything, thinking about it first, vs. just doing, increases your likelihood of success.

2. Write It Like You Say It

Unless your audience are language experts, most readers do not care about "correct" writing. They all care about communication and understanding.

3. Dear Aunt Minnie

Learn the best way to be personal with your audience, and do it over and over again and again.

4. Octogenarians in Oshkosh

Learn the language of your audience. Talk with them the way they are most comfortable.

5. Offer an Offer

Any offer is better than no offer. An offer gives your readers a reason to respond.

6. WII-FM ... the Worlds Most Listened to "station"

People respond to benefits. Tell you reader what they will gain by doing business with you.

7. Headline Your Message

The marketplace is an overload of advertising, PR, sales promotion and marketing messages. You need to compete -- headlines will help you get attention.

8. It's NOT long. It's NOT short. It IS interesting!

When you send the right message to the right audience, there is no such thing as short or long. Only interesting.

9. "Just the facts, Ma'am"

Readers want to believe your news. Facts and figures offer proof.

10. Talk "with" Your Reader

A letter is personal. A communication step. Make it dialogue in nature.

11. Write to be Read

Learn and use the techniques to keep readers reading.

12. A.F.T.O. -- Make it Easy to Say "Yes"

When you ask for a response, and offer a multitude of ways to respond, you enjoy more response.

13. Write Today -- Edit Tomorrow

Write to be read. Be fun, enjoyable, entertaining and more. Still, "work" your copy for your readers benefit.

Baker's Dozen INDEX

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