Slapping Salesletters Together Slaps Back

My 50-page report last week created quite a stir. Some people who did not read it may have misunderstood my point. However, I’m not going to make another blog post dedicated to the growing popularity of online audio or video. (I probably will, but I’ll save it for another time.)

But to summarize, while salesletters in principle are not dying — I’ve chosen “Death of the Salesletter” as a title to get people to read the report, among other things — and long copy is here to stay, the delivery mechanism is indeed slowly being replaced. (Granted, we still have a way to go, yet.)

By the same token, a certain type of salesletter is indeed dying.

The garish, poorly written, multicolored, suspicious, confusing, long-winded salesletter is definitely on its way out if it isn’t already. And many of these letters have a lot of copy not because they need more copy to make the sale but because they are purposefully long for a variety of reasons.

(Less-than-skilled copywriters will have a tendency to add more copy with the thought, or in the hope, that more copy is what’s needed. That is often not the case. It’s more often due to bad copy, pure and simple.)

The problem is not being long to cover all the bases and give the reader as much information as is needed to make the sale. The problem is, copywriters are lazy and often “pad their copy” with useless content — useless in that it’s irrelevant to the sale, and not necessarily to the reader or the offer.

(Mea culpa. I’m definitely guilty of this, too.)

Yes, copywriters are lazy. Just because you talk a lot let alone write a lot doesn’t mean you can sell. “Ugly websites are dying,” as John Reese once noted. So too are lazy copywriters. (My friend and copywriter Craig Perrine calls them “junior mint copywriters.”)

Contrary to popular opinion, the hardest part is not in the writing but in the editing. Here’s the thing: it’s harder figuring out what NOT to say than it is what to say. And that, my friends, requires skill.

If you were a salesperson in front of a prospect, and if you had all the time in the world, naturally you would say as much as you can. (Keep in mind, there is also a problem with “overselling.”)

Long copy is important because you would sell far more effectively if you had an hour to sell than if you only had 10 minutes. But similarly, you don’t need an entire day, either.

And now with the “ping factor,” which I talked about in my report, your readers’ environment on the web is plagued with more distractions and choices than ever before. So you need to be good not only at getting their attention but at keeping it, too.

I remember when I took public speaking coaching, and my mentor said that you should always charge your heaviest fees for the smallest speeches. For example, you would charge more for a one-hour keynote than you would, say, a two- or three-hour presentation.

At first, this baffled me. You’d think, the shorter the presentation, the lesser the fee. Right?

But then I realized that writing a shorter speech is definitely far more difficult because you still have to convey the same message in less words, and ultimately get people to take action with less words, too.

Copywriting essentially has two major functions: knowing what to say and knowing how to say it. The former requires a lot of research and digging. The latter is a lot easier. That’s why I always prefer rewriting or critiquing copy.

But given the changes we’re experiencing, knowing how to say it is going to become significantly more difficult over time. And thus, it will require a lot more skill to do, too.

Just as choosing what not to say is a skill in itself, you also have to skillfully choose the right words to do the job.

Salesletters that have the highest conversion rates aren’t those that are longer. Or to be more specific, they are not converting because they are long. They are converting because they are pithy — even if they are, by all appearances (and for some people), long.

When I said salesletters are getting shorter, I didn’t mean “short.” I didn’t mean a two- or three-paragraph salesletter as opposed to a two- or three-paged one.

I meant shorter than most long-scrolling, long-winded salesletters that never get to the point, and are therefore too confusing or labor-intense to read because they are clumsy, poorly written, and slapped together without any care or concern.

Brevity has a lot of power.

Jim Rohn said it best:

“For effective communication, use brevity. Jesus said, ‘Follow me.’ Now that’s brief! He could be brief because of all that he was that he didn’t have to say.”

In the same sense, what I want you to realize is that your salesletter can sell for you as much as the words do.

(Aside from targeting your audience and creating a powerful offer, this also includes your appearance, the quality of your content, the method of your message’s delivery, and above all, your credibility, i.e., the proof you bring to the table.)

Additionally, by brief I don’t mean to be abruptly short or terse. My friend and top copywriter David Garfinkel wrote an effective article on the subject of the differences between being concise and being curt.

My friend and top copywriter Peter Stone said it best: “Write fearlessly, edit ruthlessly.”

In the final analysis, I believe 2007 is going to be the year where we will see more and more marketers writing far more effective copy. They will tell better stories, edit their copy far more effectively, project a higher quality and believable sales presentation, and embrace the power of engagement and “samplification” on the Internet.

Thence the point: copywriters should think about marketing, salesmanship and understanding human behavior, not just writing. Copywriting is going to be increasingly important. Consequently, copywriters who are skilled and versatile are going to be even more in demand than ever before, too.

If anything, this should be a wakeup call to get off our anatomies and get better at copywriting. The power of copy lies not in the power of using words but in the power of choosing words. And it all boils down to understanding human behavior.

Opportunity is pouding at the door. Are you listening?

About The Author

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Michel Fortin is a certified SEO consultant, content strategist, and marketing advisor helping plastic surgeons, cosmetic surgeons, and medical aesthetic clinics attract more patients. Since 1991, he helps cosmetic and aesthetic professionals increase their visibility and grow their practices. He is the author of the More Traffic Memo™ SEO email newsletter.

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