Like it or not, we live and work in a society where looks matter. Particularly in sales, appearance is important. For example, in a competitive situation, all else being equal, the appearance of the salesperson may very well be the deciding factor in who gets the business. And that may come down to the smallest of details, such as who had the better shine on his or her shoes.
Appearance is also an important factor in the success of your sales letter. And the marketer with a good mailing list, offer and copy — and who pays careful attention to how his letter looks — will have better results than the person who focuses solely on content, with no regard to how it’s presented.
This is akin to a master chef who slaves to produce a sumptuous meal and then dumps it on a paper plate with no regard for presentation. The meal would be every bit as delicious, but you might be a bit hesitant about taking that first bite. And in direct mail, he who sends out a letter that makes the prospect hesitate…loses!
Now let me be clear, your words are the heart and soul of your sales letter and absolutely crucial to its success. So you want to do everything you can to make sure your prospect reads those words. That said, here are five tips for making your sales letter look more attractive. Put these tips to work and you’ll significantly increase the likelihood of your sales letter getting read — and, most importantly, acted on.
1. Always use a reader-friendly typeface. Look at the major news magazines, such as Time and Newsweek and you’ll see that they use mostly serifed typefaces for their editorial content. (Serifs are the little knobs you see on the ascenders and descenders of individual letters.) That’s because typefaces with serifs (Times Roman, Courier, Century) can be read more easily than sans serif typefaces (Arial, Helvetica).
2. Make your first sentence a short sentence. The first line of your sales letter is the most important line in your entire letter. You’re at point-blank range with your prospect. So don’t blow your chances for success by starting off with some interminably long 20 – 30 word sentence. Here’s an example opening from my own files: “I know you’re busy so I’ll get right to the point.” Eleven words.
3. Limit the length of your paragraphs to between five and seven lines. You want your letter to have an easy-to-read appearance. Remember, there are probably at least 14 other things your prospect has to do that are seemingly more important to her than reading your letter.
I usually never go over six lines in any paragraph and I try to keep most between one and five lines. Also, always double-space between paragraphs.
4. Vary the length of your paragraphs. The last thing you want is for the layout of your letter to have a boring sameness about it. Use the “print preview” mode on your word processor. You don’t want every paragraph to have five sentences; neither do you want every paragraph on page one to consist of only three sentences. Varying your paragraph length will make your letter look more interesting and appealing.
5. Set the body copy in 11-12 point type and use sub-heads, bullets and other call-out devices. Keep in mind the audience you are writing to. If you’re writing to young Gen-X computer programmers 11-point type is just fine. On the other hand if you’re targeting the “mature” market you may want to consider using a 13-point type size.
Keep in mind that many people will scan your letter before making a decision to read it. That’s why centered, bold-faced sub-heads and other call-out devices can increase readership.
Sub-heads, bulleted lists, underlining, and other devices can help you attract attention to key parts of your letter. But take care to use these devices sparingly. Overuse of them can negate effectiveness. Apply these five tips and you’ll make your sales letters more attractive, attract more readers, and, generate more leads and sales.
Ernest Nicastro is president of Positive Response, Dublin, OH.