“The king is dead — long live the king!”
“The sales letter is dead — long live the sales letter?”
So Rainmaker, I think yesterday’s post about The Death of the Sales Letter stirred up some curiosity…
After all, whether you’re a copywriter or a direct response entrepreneur, sales letters (or variations on the format) probably make up a great deal of your livelihood.
And apparently my abrupt close and cliff hangar did catch at least a few folks by surprise…
Cyndee commented, “All I’m sayin’ is AAACK!! You got me with your cliff hanger and I don’t for a second think it just happened. 🙂 It was on purpose…”
Nope — it was 100% real!
But once I got the idea, I loved it!
Reminds me of the time when I was working with a client who I wrote a sales letter for that was doing gangbusters.
It was for a brand new product… And sales were coming in so fast they were concerned about keeping up with demand.
They’d always just made products available for sale. And once the product was out there, it stayed out there. There was never any false scarcity, or shutting down a launch.
So when I suggested to the President of the company that they shut down sales…
I was met with extreme hesitation.
I thought it was a great idea. They didn’t want to get a reputation for using gimmicks to sell.
I emphasized that it wasn’t a gimmick… That this was based on a very real supply and demand situation… And that if they were just honest about it, it would be great for them and their customers…
The next day I got a call saying that they’d finally agreed.
The product was just selling so fast, they’d have to shut it down.
We wrote a couple emails to the list, and put a “close date” on the launch.
The sales in the last couple days — from the same sales letter — were even higher!
It wasn’t that I came at that campaign with the idea of creating a gimmicky “doors closing soon” situation. It’s just that the circumstances required it, and so we did it.
That’s basically what happened with the email yesterday, and why I’m writing part two today…
What comes next for the online sales letter?
Yesterday I laid out a bunch of points against the traditional text-on-page online sales letter, and a bunch of points for…
Today, the straight talk.
My opinion is that the rumors of the sales letter’s death are greatly exaggerated.
However, they are not unfounded.
Remember, your readers want to be EXCITED!
Some copywriters can do it with just their words. They very best certainly have no trouble doing so.
But that ignores some very real truths of what gets humans excited.
We all love bright shiny objects. We all benefit from visual demonstrations. We pay attention to moving pictures (video) in a way we don’t pay attention to black text on a white background.
Adding a visual element — making your copy look more like a “landing page” than a plain letter — can definitely up the excitement factor.
You shouldn’t do excitement for excitement’s sake. That just disguises the fact that you don’t know what you’re doing — but it won’t increase sales.
But if you’re able to supplement and compliment your sales message with exciting visuals, it will likely increase conversions.
This doesn’t mean it’s not longer written as a letter. Quite the contrary, in fact. Just imagine what would happen if you had a friend who had a really great letter to write you, but who also loved putting together every relevant visual they could to support their point.
That is definitely consistent with the kind of visually-enhanced sales letters I’m seeing doing well online. Some industries call for it more than others (fitness vs. finance, for example), but it doesn’t hurt to ask, “how can I make my point visually, as well as with my words?”
Also, classic sales skills win every time…
Right now there are a million and one variations on the sales letter that I’ve seen working well.
— The “sideways sales letter” of Jeff Walker’s Product Launch Formula.
— The “video sales letter.”
— Documentary-style or interview-style high-production selling videos.
— Infomercials (online or on TV).
— Of course, landing pages.
— Email sequences.
And so on…
None of these are a 1-to-1 fit with the format of a text-on-page sales letter, but that doesn’t mean the sales letter is dead.
I heard John Carlton talking a while back that a sales letter he’d written over a decade ago had been reformatted from direct mail… To magazine space advertising… To an internet landing page… And, most recently, into a video sales letter. (With probably some other media thrown in there that I’m forgetting.)
The same copy. Being used over, and over, and over again. With minor, minor tweaks for each new medium or format.
Ultimately that’s because the underlying principles of selling don’t really change.
We need to reach our target prospect… Get them to pay attention to our message… Build their interest in us, what we’re saying, and what we’re offering… Stimulate their desire to buy our product or service… And get them to take action with a compelling offer.
Whether you say “Dear friend,” at the top and put a signature at the bottom or not has little bearing on that process.
It’s about the selling process you’re executing in between — that’s what really matters.
And that’s why Dan Kennedy can write high-converting emails and web pages, when he doesn’t even have an email account, and prefers to have web pages printed before he reads them.
Why my first magalog attempt — having never written that type of direct mail — performed neck-in-neck with one of the most-skilled and under-appreciated direct mail copywriters of the last few decades.
If you get the STRUCTURE of a selling message right, the superficial details as to whether it’s formatted like a letter or whatever else are mostly irrelevant.
Which leads to my last major point — it’s all about context and congruency!
In direct mail, the rise of the magalog marked an end to the reign of the sales letter as the #1 tool of the world’s best consumer direct marketers and mail order publishers.
Just like many formats seem to be battling it out today as the tool of choice for direct response internet marketing.
But there’s an important lesson here.
The direct mail sales letter never went away.
In fact, many mail order publishers still prefer it… Rely on it… And enjoy windfall profits coming in through the door every month, because they still fill Americans’ (and others’) mailboxes with good ol’ fashioned direct mail sales letters.
For some, the format feels more personal. It works for them. And importantly, it works for their audience, their prospects, and their customers.
The same thing is happening online.
In some contexts, sales letters are still hugely important for driving sales. Other marketers have pretty much abandoned them, in favor of any number of different formats — the visually-stimulating landing page being just one.
Part of this is being congruent with their brand. As much as we live and die by results as direct marketers, brand does matter — as a way to describe the total experience a customer has with us.
We tend to attract customers whose preference for marketing is congruent with our style.
Another direct mail lesson.
My friend, client, and colleague Brian Kurtz made an interesting discovery in the heyday of Boardroom’s mailing operations. When they had a huge winner, they’d look for every possible mailing list they could send it to profitably.
The obvious selectors were things we as direct marketers know a lot about. Things like a history of buying products like ours.
But some mailings would be so successful with those lists, they’d want to go to an even bigger audience. Looking for those bigger audiences is how they made a very interesting discovery. Independent of subject matter, they could mail to lists made up of people who’d bought from marketing in the same format as their control.
So if Boardroom had a huge winner in a 5”X8” bookalog promo for a health product, they could look for ANYBODY who’d responded to 5”X8” bookalog promos, on any subject.
The congruency of format could be used as a predictor for finding responsive lists.
And ultimately, this helped their biggest winners mail to audiences that were many times as big as the more obvious audience would be. Which meant more sales and more profits!
(Side thought: if you’ve got a killer VSL, for example, you might look to others who have very successful VSLs — even in other markets — for a JV arrangement. I believe this format congruency works online just as well as it worked in direct mail.)
All of this to say that some formats will still continue to be successful in the right context, and with attention paid to the congruency to the other messages your market and list is receiving.
Final thought: don’t close the casket lid on sales letters…
If you operate under the assumption that sales letters are dead, you’re going to be ignoring two very important things.
First, you’re going to be ignoring the fact that it’s still a very relevant, effective, even powerful tool in the right context…
Second, you’re going to be ignoring the fact that the discipline of being able to craft an effective, order-pulling sales letter is STILL the single-most valuable tool in selling and marketing — even if you apply that discipline to creating sales messages in other media.
Claude Hopkins famous definition for advertising was that it was “Salesmanship in print.”
Very quickly, radio, TV, and other media made the “in print” part antiquated. Social changes — and the rise of incredibly talented female advertisers and marketers — also made the “man” part antiquated as well.
Today’s best definition? “Selling multiplied.”
Regardless of format. Regardless of media. The idea of copy is that it’s putting a selling message into repeatable and scalable media, and using that to do the job of 1,000 or 1,000,000 sales people at once.
And THAT WILL NEVER DIE!
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets