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WHAT DO SALES LETTERS NEED TODAY?

By PAUL MUCHNICK

November 1941

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Much debunking of general advertising has taken place in recent years. Now Sales Letters are in for a going-over. They are no less in need of a thorough and critical examination in the light of today's knowledge about buying and selling to consumer and industrial markets.

Sales Letters today lack a vital ingredient.

This deficiency may briefly be described in one word and that is - believability.

Yes, I said believability! You may call it anything you want - sincerity, honesty, conviction or what have you. It all comes down to the same thing.

For a long time mail selling has been associated with all kinds of unethical, shady and plainly dishonest practices. Not for unjustified reasons did the expression "Oh, that's some kind of mail order racket!" originate and flourish as a by-word among mail order buyers of all kinds. In fact, only in recent years has the stigma attached to mail selling been appreciably lessened.

It's still not gone completely!

Partly governmental regulations of all kinds and partly self-censorship by progressive business houses helped to clean up the mail order business. Today that process of cleaning-up is still going on. Every indication is that it will continue to where, some day, mail order advertising will stand free of major criticism in its own right!

The sales letter is probably the strongest single factor in mail order and direct mail advertising. Here much of the old fault of mail advertising was usually found. There is less of it in the greater number of sales letters today. And there is need for still less!

First of all, sales letters are supposed to sell!

You'd never realize that simple fact by reading some of the letters going through the mails. Instead, you'd think people were morons!

True, some of them are. But, not by a long shot, are we entirely a nation of morons. Some day all mail sellers will learn that fact!

Remember this - people are NOT ignorant!

They don't believe exaggerated claims . . . they don't "fall" for cure alls . . they quickly discredit dishonest claims . . . they're educated; no longer gullible.

The time is gone when a sales letter could sell anything to anybody on the strength of extravagant promises and low prices. What's more important, the time has passed when people believed EVERYTHING they read just because it was in print!

Today the sales letter that sells is the one that's believed.

Any old chunk of words from the dictionary won't do. Any old way of writing them won't do. Any old way of mailing them won't do.

Sure, making a letter believable is a tough job. No one ever said it wasn't. But a sales letter must be believable or it will inevitably fail in the job it's sent out to do. It must be honest and sincere and carry conviction. It must be pleasant and cheerful and persuasive. But, above all, it must be believable.

Right off the reel then, this eliminates the well known "baloney" that has and still does appear in too many sales letters. Colossal claims are out! They may still be effective in selling the movies to the great American public - but they don't convince or impress or move to action the vast group of mail order buyers of everything from paper clips to pre-fabricated houses!

"We the people" simply don't believe superlative claims in sales letters, folders or anything else printed and sent through the mails. Learn and believe that fact and you'll be just that much closer to making your sales letters sell more of your product or service!

All this sounds simple perhaps and therefore may seem like the useless rehashing of an old subject. The amazing point of the whole thing is that it isn't trivial. It's mighty important!

You see, people don't believe that your book is the greatest book ever published . . . the most complete book . . . the finest book the world has ever known; they don't believe that your service is actually the best that ever existed; they don't believe that your product will never break down . . . or lose its color . . . or never tarnish . . . or last a lifetime.

Do you?

Well, neither do the millions of people you write to. They're not "dopes"! The sooner mail order sellers stop thinking the American is a moron with no more than 12-year old intelligence and coldly correct their "pet" claims, the sooner they'll make more money by mail. And the sooner all mail order advertising will become believable!

You might say that sales letters today need a dose of good old-fashioned honesty and simplicity. That doesn't necessarily mean simplicity of format. It means simplicity of fundamental principles of selling . . . the use of honest virtues . . . real facts. Not distorted truth . . . half- truths . . . exaggerated claims.

Great advances have been made in letter format. The use of color, die cutting, interest-capturing folds, illustrations and better envelopes are all good. If they fit into your scheme - of - things and budget, use these sales-stimulating helps with skill, care and intelligence.

But, in the sales letter itself, inject believability. Make it ring true! Write as you'd talk to your prospect face-to-face. Tell him about what you have to sell in plain, honest language. Use words that convey your full meaning with clarity and justice to your selling effort. Believe it or not, the dictionary is full of words of this type. The time and trouble in finding them is well justified. It pays intelligent mail sellers big dividends.

Today buying of most commodities is pretty much standardized. In the months ahead, standardization will increase as defense demands dig deeper into consumer production schedules. And mail order methods of selling will, of course, be affected by these changes.

For one thing, standardization reduces the competitive advantages of one mail order dealer over another. In a good many cases, it really doesn't matter where you buy. You can get the same product, of the same specifications, at the same price from any number of sources.

What does this mean to the mail order man?

Plenty! It means that he has to make more friends than he's ever had before. All things being equal, you see, the buyer will deal with the firm towards which he is most kindly disposed. He'll buy from the fellow he considers his friend. He'll buy where he's best treated. Where he gets the best service. Where he gets prompt and courteous attention to his inquiries and orders and - yes, complaints, if they should arise.

Naturally then some mail order firms will have to mend their ways. If they don't, they'll find their customers "crossing the street" to the mail dealer who gives some extra measure of service with what he sells. Who, briefly, treats his customers like a welcome friend returning to his old home!

To make a friend you must be one. To a great degree, too, customer-friend making can be accomplished by your sales letters . . . your inquiry answering letters . . . your handling of complaints . . . your prompt shipment of orders, subject, of course, to unavoidable delays arising through defense priorities.

This development of friends is much more than just putting words on your letterhead, signing your name to it and mailing. Trying to be friendly on paper without being friendly in actuality falls flat. It's void and dull and lifeless. Today's buyer sees right through sham!

Friendliness in sales letters must and can be only the result and expression of a spirit of friendliness. That attitude is vital . . . it's dynamic . . . it's contagious. It radiates and invigorates and lights up a letter. It makes it live and breath, and it sells merchandise, ideas and services.

Friendliness obviously isn't some thing definite or tangible that you can pick up and insert into a letter. It's an attitude . . . a way of doing business, if you wish. If you have or can acquire it, it may - with skill - be made a part of your letters. Of course, it works both ways! Being friendly doesn't mean that you'll automatically write a friendly letter. Letting the other fellow know you're friendly is a job in itself. It requires patience and skill and expressive writing. But it can be done and it pays well when it is done!

Now, let's see what all this boils down to!

Sales Letters face a hard selling job today. They need to be good letters in every respect to sell in today's tough conditions. We should remember that while more money may be in circulation and buying may be freer, people are not buying gullibly or wildly.

Your sales letter must be friendly and honest and sincere. It must offer a good product at a fair price. It must describe that product so well that its value becomes far greater to your reader than the price. Your sales letter must be convincing and competitive. Accompanying this, your service . . . your method of doing business . . . should unmistakably be fair and square as well as friendly and attentive.

Carried to its proper completion, this attitude will help to make your letters believable.

Your sales letters will then befriend, inform and persuade people. When they do that, they'll be acted upon.

Then, and only then, will your sales letters ring up sales in steady, profitable volume.

And that's what you want, isn't it?

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This page was updated January 2010