Whether you write, approve or read and respond to letters and emails, I think you’ll agree the first sentence of copy is critical for grabbing your attention. It sets the bait for hooking scanners who become readers who then turn into responders.
The opening sentence can be both a hot spot and a rough spot.
It’s a hot spot for the reader because it’s one of the first places the eye looks for the answer to the question, “What’s in it for me?”
It also can be a rough spot for the writer for all the obvious reasons. There’s a lot of pressure to get it right, and we want to get it right the first time, which can be challenging and stressful. So, for writers, the opening sentence can be a very rough spot.
However, experience and experts have taught me there are solutions for writing successful letter and email openers.
Almost 19 years ago, Herschell Gordon Lewis wrote a mini-series of articles on “Fifty of the Easiest Ways to Begin an Effective Sales Letter.” I kept article No. 9 in the series and still refer to it. And, no surprise, I’ve discovered many of Lewis’ direct mail letter opening ideas can also be applied to email copy.
I recently asked Lewis—an internationally recognized author of more than 20 books on direct response writing also known as “The Godfather of Direct Marketing and Gore”—for a favor. I asked for permission to share a handful of his ideas with readers of this column. I’m also including a few of my own and some from direct response writers Dan Kennedy and Donna Baier Stein.
Notice most of these openers have a conversational tone, focus on you-the-reader, and make no attempt to be clever. According to Lewis, writing good direct mail copy isn’t about showing how clever you are. Effective direct response copy communicates, connects and generates response.