By Emily Shea, VP/Partner & Executive Creative Director
June 10, 2014
One day, a handful of executives at large companies were hand-delivered life-sized cutouts of Justin Bieber directly to their offices.
Justin arrived bearing envelopes with the execs’ names on them, and inside those envelopes were sales letters from Ugly Mug Marketing.
The campaign garnered a 60% response rate and enough new business to warrant a waiting list. Four of the execs even posed with their fake Biebers for a picture, which they emailed to the marketing company in exchange for a discount.
Plenty of marketing gurus will tell you there’s a precise formula that must be followed when writing sales letters. But the truth is that the best sales letter is the one that works. The one that gets attention, connects with its audience and inspires action.
I’m not saying every marketing company should start investing in celebrity cutouts. But maybe there are some lessons here. At the very least, maybe it’s time to think about whether your sales letters could be doing more for you—or, if you don’t use sales letters, why you’re turning your back on potential business.
Do sales letters work?
Despite lots of debate in the marketing world about whether sales letters are dead, no one disputes the fact that, when used correctly, they do actually work.
Of course, not all sales letters are created equal. The most successful ones have a few key advantages:
Familiarity. How well was the seller connected with the audience prior to the letter? Are they following each other on social media channels? Unsurprisingly, sellers with an established, devoted following have a much easier time getting traction, regardless of any other factors surrounding the letter’s ability to sell.
Authority. Is the letter coming from a reputable brand, or at least a company that seems well-established? For example, does the company have a professional-looking website and a blog?
Preexisting interest. The ideal scenario, of course, is to have your sales letter fall into the hands of those who are already considering a purchase and just need an extra little push. Audience targeting and timing are everything. Is there a time of year when your products/services are naturally in higher demand? Are there certain events that make your products/services more necessary?
Staying out of the trash can
The first and biggest obstacle for most sales letters, of course, is actually getting read. One of your first questions might be about the delivery vehicle: digital or direct?
Many people’s knee-jerk response to that question would be to go digital—obviously. And in many cases, email is a great solution. It’s simple, inexpensive, fast and convenient. Plus, unlike direct mail, you can measure things like open rate, bounce rate and click-through rate, to see how far recipients are actually getting into your sales funnel.
But as Ugly Mug Marketing discovered through their Justin Bieber campaign, there’s still a place for direct delivery.
Ugly Mug listed these reasons for choosing direct over digital:
- Big Impact. Something physical, if it’s well thought out, can be more powerful than just another email—if for no other reason than the fact that we typically get less snail mail than email. (And we certainly get far fewer celebrity cut-outs…)
- Harder to Dismiss. It’s easy to let emails drift into the abyss of the endless inbox. Even if someone reads your sales letter and is legitimately interested in your offer, he can easily stall long enough to lose the email forever. On the other hand, a physical letter will only go away as a result of action, never inaction.
- Greater Control. With direct mail, you can send out an offer to a specific person without risking the possibility that that person might forward it on to 20 friends.
Cliff notes for sales letter writing
Now, how do you actually write a sales letter, for either email or direct mail?
In his book 2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success, Malcolm Decker explained his writing process like this: “I develop as clear a profile of my prospect as the research offers, and then match it up with someone I know and ‘put him in a chair’ across from me. Then I write to him conversationally.”
Another great tip comes from storied copywriter and author Robert Collier, who famously made this suggestion: “Always enter the conversation already taking place in the customer’s mind.”
What is your ideal customer—the guy in the chair across from you—thinking about right now? What does he need, what does he want, what are his primary interests, concerns, problems, and dreams?
Now, how can you address one or more of those things with your product or service, via a juicy promise? This is the solution to his problem, the trigger that can put his dreams in motion or the thing that all guys like him should have.
To make the juicy promise come to life, introduce it through a story that touches on the right emotion. How does your ideal customer feel about his current problem?
Here are six more elements of powerful sales letters:
- Real benefits (not features). How are you solving the readers’ problems?
- A no-risk offer. Encourage the reader to take one small (ideally, free) step toward you. Make it valuable to him, or at least fun (a la Justin Bieber selfies). From there, he’ll be subconsciously motivated to continue on the same path to justify his initial step.
- A ticking time bomb. Infuse your offer with urgency to show the reader that he’d better act now, or miss out.
- Razor-sharp customer focus. It’s tempting to try to sell what you would want, but unless you’re a perfect cookie cut-out of your customer, what you want is irrelevant.
- Instructions. Aka a call to action. Never underestimate the power of just asking people to do what you want them to do.
- The P.S. It’s cliché to include it, but everyone does anyway because it works. People—especially skimmers—just can’t resist reading that P.S. at the bottom of a sales letter. It feels personal, even when we see it coming a mile away.
And although the grand Ugly-Mug-style gestures aren’t necessarily always appropriate…what if you did think a little further outside the box?
Why do you think Ugly Mug’s campaign worked so well? Have you ever implemented an unusual delivery method for a sales letter? What are some other keys to a solid sales letter?