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Writing Letters that Get Attention and Results

Online Clutter Makes it More Important than Ever That Your Direct Marketing Letters are Written Effectively

By Christopher J. Bachler

You may need to write sales letters, customer reminders, complaints, collection letters, and more. But all of that writing will accomplish nothing unless you grab and hold your reader’s attention! That’s because people are too busy to read anything that’s not important or very interesting.

Begin your letters with a reference to your reader. “I’m responding to your recent inquiry about our products…” or “Thanks again for your attention to my complaint the other day…” People are always interested in themselves, and if you make them a key part of the subject matter, they’ll be too curious to ignore your letter before they know what it’s about.

Use enticements that will pull the reader into your letter. Follow them by further inducements that will pull the reader all the way to the point you’re trying to make. Think of your letter as a baseball diamond. Following your initial starting point—that initial appeal—you need to touch a number of other bases before bringing your reader back to that home plate, where you get the reader to act upon your wishes. Think of all of those bases as interesting points that support whatever case you are trying to make.

“Dear Commissioner Bryan:

(Home plate) “Although your current budget is tight, you can still manage the refurbishments to the courthouse…

(First base) “We’ll do the job for less than half the amount charged by the previous contractor…”

(Second base) “We require no advance for our service…”

(Third base) “We can start work now, even before you reopen the east wing…”

(Home plate) “Contact me now, while we can still act on this proposal!”

Keep your letter easy and as short and compact as possible. Use no unnecessary words, and add no content that isn’t essential to your purpose. Also, don’t try to impress with big words or fancy rhetoric. The reader will be most interested if your letter is easy and enjoyable to read. Besides, a letter can only accomplish so much, no matter how long it is. Matters that require you to cover lots of details will probably require you to arrange a personal meeting. The letter is just a way to open a door. So don’t try to make your letter do too many things.

Shun formality. Yes, contracts or legal notices need to follow a formal format. But formal letters are stiff and boring, and generally not what people want to read. Formal writing also makes the writer sound as though she is talking down to her readers. Choose a tone that sounds natural and respectful towards your readers.

Appeal directly to your reader’s interests. To do that, you’ll need to know what those interests are—or at least have a pretty good idea. That may require some research. For instance, a collection letter should clarify why it is in the interests of the reader to pay the overdue bill. Likewise, a sales letter should focus on how the purchase will satisfy the reader’s needs.

Be sincere and professional. Don’t make your letter sound like a script for a snake oil vendor! Keep it real, sincere, down to earth, and interesting! Show readers respect, treat them like adults, and level with them.

Tell a story that reinforces your point. Just keep the letter short and on target. “One Tarrytown man didn’t think he needed a professional home inspection—until his back deck collapsed! A Springfield woman purchased a $400,000 house without consulting a certified home inspector. But what a nightmare she faced when she had to spend another $100,000 on repairs, just to get what she thought she was getting in the first place!”

Start with a question, and end with an answer. Questions are very effective ways of pulling people into a piece of writing, because they appeal to a person’s curiosity. They also stimulate a person’s thinking process. Once a question is posed, it’s hard for most people to walk away until they learn the answer. “What do you suppose is the FIRST thing most people do when they lose their health insurance…?”

Finally, ask people to do what you want them to do, and give them a powerful incentive to do it. “If you pay your invoice by the 31st, you can avoid additional late charges…” Never assume that people will see your point or share your interest. Always keep their interests in mind, and spell them out! HBM

Christopher J. Bachler is a 20+-year veteran business writer and editor, based in Drexel Hill, PA.

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