B-to-B Insights: Powerful Prose
Write your letters so readers slide into the response pool. Joe Sugarman, the founder of the famous JS&A tech gadget mail-order company, shared a critical insight about letter copy. He said, “The only job of the first sentence is to get the reader to continue to read the second sentence. The job of the second sentence is to get the reader to continue on to the third sentence, until ultimately, they’ve read every sentence in your letter and are overwhelmed with facts and emotions and compelled to take action immediately.”
Look at your letters as you put them through this evaluation filter. Sugarman believed that short, pithy, curiosity-provoking first sentences helped to start the reader down the slide of his copy. Here are some examples from his book:Losing weight is not easy.It’s you against a computer.It’s easy.It had to happen.Hats off to IBM.
Write in a personal one-to-one manner. You to me. Direct marketing requires you to write to thousands of individuals who will read your copy one at a time. So, before you sit down at the keyboard to talk to them, make sure you know who they are and what they want. What are they afraid of? What wakes them up at 2 a.m.? What is driving them forward? What is holding them back? To find out, turn to the trade publications. They broadcast the emotional concerns of the industry by having dozens of reporters in the field speaking to the market. Want to know what CIOs are interested in? Read what they read! If you’re marketing to mothers, read parenting books. If you’re marketing to hunters, read hunting magazines. You get the idea.
Write like you talk. Brand promises don’t drive response behavior. Direct marketing allows you to have an intimate communication. The tone of voice is one-to-one, not blasting your brand from the rafters. You talk to friends in a conversational tone. You sell in a conversational manner. Direct response is salesmanship in print. So write the way you talk. Tell prospects friend-to-friend why they should consider your offer. Ignore internally generated brand or design standards when they get in the way of your ability to engage one-to-one. Remember, the “brand essence book” was written by a design firm and an advertising agency—neither ever having had direct responsibility to sell anything. As direct marketing professionals, we don’t have that luxury. We either produce or get fired.