Monday, May 19, 2008

Notes from Robert Collier Letter Book

Robert Collier Letter Book

Pages 1 to 99

Getting the results you set out to accomplish with a letter is no more a matter of rule of thumb than is landing a fish with a rod and hook. You know how often you have seen some ragged urchin pull in fish after fish with the crudest of lines, when a “sportsman” near by, though armed with every piscatorial lure known to man, could not even raise a bite!

It’s a matter of bait, that’s all. The youngster knew what the fish would bite on, and he gave it to them. Result? A mess of fine fish for dinner. The “sportsman” offered them what he had been led to believe fish ought to have – and they turned their fishy noses up at it.
Hundreds of books have doubtless been written about the fine art of fishing, but the whole idea is contained in that one sentence: “What bait will they bite on?” Thousands of articles have been written about the way to use letters to bring you what you want, but the meat of them all can be compressed into two sentences: “What is the bait that will tempt your reader? How can you tie up the thing you have to offer with that bait?”

For the ultimate purpose of every business letter simmers down to this:
The reader of this letter wants certain things. The desire for them is, consciously or unconsciously, the dominant idea in his mind all the time.

You want him to do a certain definite thing for you. How can you tie this up to the thing he wants, in such a way that the doing of it will bring him a step nearer to his goal?

It matters not whether you are trying to sell him a raincoat, making him a proposal in marriage, or asking him to pay a bill. In each case, you want him to do something for you. Why should he? Only because of the hope that the doing of it will bring him nearer to his heart’s desire, or the fear that his failure to do it will remove that heart’s desire farther from him.

What is the right way to approach him? How would you do it if you were approaching him in person? If he were talking to someone, you’d listen for a while, wouldn’t you, and get the trend of the conversation? Then when you chimed in, it would be with a remark on some related subject, and from that you would bring the talk around logically to the point you wanted to discuss. It should not be much more difficult in a letter. There are certain prime human emotions with which the thoughts of all of us are occupied a goodly part of the time. Tune in of them, and you have your reader’s attention. Tie it up to the thing you have to offer, and you are sure of his interest.

Your reader glancing over his mail is much like a man in a speeding train. Something catches his eye and he turns for a better look. You have his attention. But attention alone gets you nowhere. The something must stand closer inspection; it must win his interest; other his attention is lost – and once lost, it is twice as hard to win the second time. Again it’s a matter of bait – you may attract a fish’s attention with a gaudily painted bauble, but if he once nibbles it and finds it made of tin, you will have a hard time reaching him again with anything else of the same kind.

Every mail brings you reader letters urging him to buy this or that, to pay a bill, to get behind some movement, or to try a new device. Letters as letters are no longer objects of intense interest. They are bait – neither more nor less – and to tempt him, they must look a bit different from bait he has nibbled at and been fooled by before. They must have something about them that stands out from the mass – that catches his eye and arouses his interest – or away they go into the wastebasket.
Your problem, then, is to find a point of contact with his interests, his desires, some feature that will flag his attention and make your letter stand out from all others the moment he reads the first line.

But it won’t do to yell “Fire!” That will get you attention, yes – of a kind – but as far as your prospects of doing business are concerned, it will be of the kind a drunken miner got in the days when the West wore guns and used them on the slightest provocation. He stuck his head in the window of a crowded saloon and yelled “Fire!” – and everybody did!
Study your reader. Find out what interests him. Then study your proposition to see how it can be made to tie in with his interest.

Bait – all of them. Find the thing your prospect is interested in and make it your point of contact, instead of rushing in and trying to tell him something about YOUR proposition, YOUR goods, YOUR interests.

What is the first thing to do in writing any business letter?
Before you put pen to paper, before you ring for your stenographer, decide in your own mind what effect you want to produce on your reader – what feeling you must arouse in him.
Your whole effort must be centred on arousing the feeling in them: “Let’s go!”
For back of every successful letter, as back of every sale, is a created feeling that impels the reader to act as you want him. It is the whole purpose of every business letter, whether it be sales, collection, adjustment, or complaint, to make your reader WANT to do the thing you are urging upon him.

How are you to arouse that feeling in him? How would you have to feel yourself before you would place such an order as you have in mind, before you would grant such an extension, before you would send a payment to this man in preference to all others, at a time when it was an effort to send a dollar to anyone?
What would you want first to know? What about the proposition would interest you most? What would you feel you had to gain by accepting? What would you lose by refusing?
The Parisians have a formula for love letters: “Begin without knowing what you are going to say, and end without knowing what you have said.” That may be good medicine for love letters, but it was never meant for business. To do the Frenchmen justice, however, such of their letters as appear in print indicate that although they may not know what they are going to say, they have a pretty clear idea of the emotion they want to arouse in their reader, and they leave no stone unturned in the doing of it.
And after all, isn’t that the whole purpose of a letter? Books have been written about the importance of attention, and interest, and argument, and clinchers, but aren’t these mere details? When you come down to it, isn’t the prime requisite arousing in your reader the FEELING that HE MUST HAVE the thing you are offering, or that he cannot rest until he has done the thing you are urging him to?

When it is action you want, go after emotions every time!

The religion that brings masses of converts, that sweeps whole cities, is not appeal to the intellect – but to the emotions!

You want action of some kind. And to get action, you need to arouse emotion on the part of your reader. You may convince his intellect that the thing you want him to do is right and is for his best advantage, but until you arouse in him an urgent desire to do it, until you make him feel that whatever effort it requires is of no account compared with the satisfaction it will bring him, your letter is lacking in its most important essential. It may have everything else, but if it lacks that faculty of arousing the right feeling, you might as well throw it away. It will never make you money.

Appeal to reason, by all means. Give people a logical excuse for buying that they can tell to their friends and use to salve their own consciences. But if you want to sell goods, if you want action of any kind, BASE YOUR REAL URGE UPON SOME PRIMARY EMOTION!

What the world wants, and has wanted since the beginning, is NEWS – something to flag its jaded interest, something to stir its emotions.
Tell a man something new and you have his attention. Give it a personal twist or show its relation to his business and you have his interest.
If you want his attention, go after it as the newspaper paragrapher does. He knows he has to compete with a thousand other distractions, so he studies his reader and then presents first that side of the story most likely to attract the reader’s interest.
You have to compete in the same way for your reader’s attention. He is not looking for your letter. He has a thousand and one other things more important to him to occupy his mind. Why should he divert his attention from them to plow through pages of type about you or your projects?

You have, we shall assume, decided upon the emotion your letter must arouse in your reader to get him to do as you want. You know that ever man is constantly holding a mental conversation with himself, the burden of which is his own interests – his business, his loved ones, his advancement. And you have tried to chime in on that conversation with something that fits in with his thoughts. But some propositions do not lend themselves readily to this. What are you to do then? Look for news value! Look for something in or about your proposition of such news interest that it will divert the reader’s mind temporarily from his own affairs, then bring it back by showing how your proposition fits in with those affairs or is necessary to their successful accomplishment.

Catch phrases outside of an envelope the same as newspaper headlines purposes are to arouse the reader’s curiosity and make him go further into the story. So they have to be judged like any other headline, by the one standard – how successfully are they in doing their job? And the only way to find out is to test them against other headlines, or against plain corner cards.
When you have written a successful letter, when you have your appeal right, and you are looking only for ways to get more orders, then you will be surprised how these minor details can make that order record mount!

Lead him gently from one point of interest to another, with word pictures so clear, so simple, that he can almost SEE the things you are offering him.
Getting your reader’s attention is your first job. That done, your next problem is to put your idea across, to make him see it as you see it – in short, to visualize it so clearly that he can build it piece by piece in his own mind as a child builds a house of blocks, or puts together the pieces of a picture puzzle.
Take some familiar figure his mind can readily grasp, add one point of interest here, another there, and so on until you have built a complete word picture of what you have to offer. It is like building a house. You put up your framework. You add a roof, floors, sides, windows, doors, stairs, until you have your structure complete. You would not start with one side, or the roof. You get a solid foundation first; then you add to it logically, piece by piece, until you have your finished building.
Just so it is in building word pictures.
The ability of visualizing a proposition and of painting it in words so the reader can see it as you see it is one of the important factors in a successful letter, for it means describing your proposition in terms of things the reader knows.

Your sale must be made in your reader’s mind. Before you can get his order, it is necessary for your to register a sequence of impressions in his mind, the combined result of which will be to make him want the thing you are offering more than the money or trouble it costs him. And the method of registering those impressions lies in first picking something with which he is familiar, and building on that. It is the difference between having a foundation to build upon and resting your edifice upon shifting sands.

Put life into your descriptions – life, and when possible, a smile. Give your reader something that will stir him out of his indifference, arouse his emotions.
They revel in emotion at any and all times. So give them a thrill. If you want to describe your mustard, weave it into a story. Get the story back of your product. Give your reader a laugh or a tear or lump in his throat. Stir up his emotions! You will have no trouble interesting him then!

Most people like automobiles can be pushed or pulled along, or they can be moved to action by starting their own motive power from within, in either case YOU must provide the fuel. And the only fuel that will start the sort of action from within you want is DESIRE. Arousing that desire in your reader is known as the gentle art of exercising persuasion.
What is persuasion? Nothing but finding the motive that will impel your reader to do as you wish, then stirring it to the point where it is stronger than his inertia, or his economical tendencies.
To do that, you must show how he is going to benefit, and you cannot do it unless you have the faculty of putting yourself in his place. Would YOU be richer, healthier, happier for having done the thing you ask? Would it help your standing with others? Would it enable you to do anything, write anything, say anything better than you could before? Is it something every one should have? Would it gratify any passion? Would it enable you to help those you love? Would it prevent loss of money or of the respect of others?
Only the new letter writer selects the arguments that are nearest to hand – the viewpoints that appeal to his own selfish interests. The experienced writer asks himself such questions as those above, then picks the motive that is strongest, and presents it from the viewpoint of the reader alone. He shows what it will do for the reader, what it will add to his prestige, to his power, to his comfort, to the well-being of those he loves.
Description of your products is necessary, but description, no matter how interestingly done, will never sell your product by the thousands. It is what it will do for the one who buys it that counts!

There are six prime motives of human action: love, gain, duty, pride, self-indulgence, and self-preservation. And frequently they are so mixed together that it is hard to tell which to work on more strongly.

The more motives you can appeal to, of course, the more successful you will be, but it is important that you differentiate between the motive that makes him desire a thing and the one that impels him to take the action you desire, for the whole purpose of your letter is to make your reader act as you wish him to. He may not want to pay a bill, for instance. He may need the money badly for himself, and all his inclinations may be toward keeping it in his pocket. But if you can “sell” him the idea that his credit means more to him than the possession of the money or anything it can buy him, you have touched the right motive.
What has he to gain by doing as you wish? What to lose by refusing?

Summed up, arousing the right motive comes down to making the reader want what you have to offer, whether that be merchandise or money or credit or merely a clean bill of health – NOT merely for what it IS, but for WHAT IT WILL DO FOR HIM!
When you can get him thinking along those lines, when you can bring home the advantages that will accrue to him from doing as you wish, in so effective a way that he wants these more than anything or any trouble they may cost him, then you can feel that you have demonstrated the gentle art of exercising persuasion.

…for their main argument they used PROOF

In the beginning, of course, it was more difficult. They had no ten thousand customers to refer to. So at the start they depended for their proof upon the “free-examination-no-money-until-you-have-tried-it-for-a-week” plan. That helped to establish confidence. And as fast as they got an order they did their utmost to turn it into a satisfied customer from whom they could get a testimonial. The testimonials were bait, and with them they tempted every man in the town or state where the writer lived.
That the idea was sound was proved by results.
Statements that, coming from themselves, would have been laughed at, were accepted at face value when they came from the mouths of their customers.
…backed up these statements with the “free-examination-no-money-until-you-have-tried-it-for-a-week” idea, which showed they not only believed the statements to be true, but had every confidence in the ability of the goods to back them up.

Let some third person make the statement apparently from excess of enthusiasm over the wonderful value or service he has received and we prick up our ears. Let that statement be backed by positive proof and we are ready to risk our money. For that reason it usually pays to put a testimonial into every letter you write.
For why doesn’t your customer pay his bill? Frequently because he is not satisfied with your product, not quite sold on the idea that it gives as good value for the money as he had expected. More than anyone else, he needs to be convinced of this, and what surer way to convince him than through the mouth of someone who has used the product?

There will never be a time when a testimonial that has the ring of truth about it will not be a potent factor in dispelling doubt in the mind of a hesitant customer.

In every sale there comes that same critical moment. Your prospective customer is almost convinced. You have his attention, you have aroused his interest, you have just about persuaded him that he must have the thing you are offering, you have proved to him beyond question that it is the best or the cheapest; but he is not quite ready to sign on the dotted line. Caution, inertia, call it what you will, urges him to hold back. Desire, the appeal of a bargain, is goading him on. He is hesitating, teetering, first this way and then that. Too much urging will make him draw back. Too little will leave him where he is. What are you to do?
Give him a push without seeming to do so. Supply the impulse that will make it easier for him to go forward with the crowd than to stand still or draw back. How are you to do it?
You already know the motive it is necessary to arouse to make your sale, so look for some easy preliminary task on which you can set that motive busy. Then see if you can make it easier for your customer, already started, to keep going forward than to stop and turn around and go back.
“Come and look at our beautiful new models” – that’s all. “No obligation whatever. It will be a pleasure to show them to you.”
You go, and what happens? Does the salesman urge you to buy? No, indeed! He shows you around most readily, notes the car you like, gets you to sit in it, try the hydramatic drive, to sense all the comfort and luxury of the car. Then he asks you if you would like to drive it out to the country next Sunday – “just to see how beautifully it runs.” He has it in front of your house at the appointed time or a little before. He gives up the driver’s seat to you at once. He says nothing about the sale – just calls your attention to the gentle purr of the motor, to the way it breasts the hills, to this little comfort and that knickknack. And when he gets you back to your door, he gently insinuates: “Now, what time shall I send it around tomorrow,” or “Well, let’s take a look at the old car now, and see how much we could allow on it.” And almost before you know it, you have a new car.
That is salesmanship. And that is the sort of salesmanship you must put into every letter. Just remember that nearly every man balks at making a decision that is going to cost him money. He wants time to think it over. He hates to commit himself definitely. So humor him. Tell him frankly: “Don’t decide now. Plenty of time for that later. Just fill in your height, your weight, and your collar size on the enclosed card, and we’ll send you a Keepdry Coat in your exact size. Try it out. WEAR it for a week. Take it down town and compare it with anything you can find in your local stores. THEN decide.”
Nothing to worry about, no decision to make – just look at the coat when it comes. If it fits nicely and you like it, wear it down town and compare it for value with coats in the stores there. After all, there is nothing final about it. If you change your mind, you can easily send it back.
But when the coat comes, what happens? You may be away, or the weather is warm, so you do not wear it. And it lies around the house for a week or two. Then along comes a bill. My, you will have to get at that coat and try it! You get it out. You are reasonably pleased. You wear it a few times and get some spots on it. Seems a shame to send it back then, and anyhow, many of those who bought it said they could not equal it at twice the price. Of course, you have not had the time or energy to go in and compare prices yourself. Oh, well, it’s a pretty good bargain, and too darned much trouble to send back now whether it is or not. Box it came in is probably thrown away. And so another sale is made. Not just the best kind of sale, of course, but probably the average sale.
Certain it is that the same principle holds true of almost any kind of selling. Wherein is the difference? The yacht sale ran into bigger figures and employed a bit more finesse – that’s all. In its essence, it was the circus barker and his helpers all over again. And though the method may vary, the psychology back of it is necessary in every sale that is made.
Your reader, in short, is interested, but hasn’t quite made up his mind. He balks at putting his name on the dotted line. “Some other time!” “Tomorrow!” That little word “Tomorrow” – “Manana” – is said to have been the cause of the Spanish people’s decline. Certainly it has cost many a salesman and sales letter writer his job, for more than all other causes put together, it has lost sales.
So do not give your prospect the chance to spring any “Manana” on you. Beat him to it. Tell him not to decide now – ON YOUR MAIN PROPOSITION. Instead, put his mind to working on some minor point – and you will find that a favourable decision on it will, in three cases out of four, carry the major proposition along with it!

As the tail is to the kite, as the rudder is to the ship, so is the close to any important letter. It may be a perfectly good letter aside from that. It may fit right in with the reader’s thoughts, it may win his interest, it may spur him to action, but if it does not tell him WHAT to do, if it does not provide a penalty for his not doing it, your prospect will slip away from you like a fish off an unbarbed hook.
There is just one reason why anyone ever reads a letter you send him. He expects a reward. That is the key to holding his interest. All through your letter you keep leading him on, constantly feeding his interest, but always holding back something for the climax.
You come to it. You make your special offer. Your reader is impressed. He promises himself he will give it favourable consideration. But you do not want favourable consideration. You want an order or a payment. How are you going to get it? Start your impulse, as outlined in the last chapter. But if that does not work, what then? PROVIDE A PENTALTY!
There are only two reasons why your reader will do as you tell him to in your letter. The first is that you have made him want something so badly that of his own volition he reaches out for your order card to get it. The other is that you have aroused in him the fear that he will lose something worth while if he does not do as you say.
It may a delinquent debtor in fear or court action or loss of credit standing. It may be a buyer fearing to lose his chance at a bargain. It may be the merchant fearing to lose your trade. It may be the ambitious youngster fearing to lose an opportunity for advancement. But unless your close can arouse in your reader the fear that he will lose something worth while if he does not do as you tell him, you will get no results.
So when you want to inspire fear, BE DEFINITE! Be specific! If you are threatening suit, tell your reader that unless you have his remittance or a satisfactory explanation by a certain date, the account goes to your lawyer. If you are going to advance your price, and want to corral all the orders possible at the old figure, set a definite date for your advance. Or if you have only a few articles left, give the exact quantity.

A successful close has two parts. The first is the persuasion and inducement. It shows your reader the gain that is his by ordering, the chance of loss he takes by delay. It emphasizes the guarantee and minimizes the cost.
When your reader gets that far, he is almost ready to act, but your close lacks a hook. What must you do to get all these things? TELL HIM! Make is so plain and easy he will not have a reason for not ordering. If you do not, you have not finished your letter, and lacking the barb of that hook, your reader is likely to lapse from his “almost ready” attitude back into indifference.

To sum up, every good letter contains these six essential elements:
1. THE OPENING, which gets the readers’ attention by fitting in with his train of thought and establishes a point of contact with his interests, thus exciting his curiosity and prompting him to reader further.
2. THE DESCRIPTION OR EXPLANATION, which pictures your proposition to the reader by first outlining its important features, then filling in the necessary details
3. THE MOTIVE OR REASON WHY, which creates a longing in the reader’s mind for what you are selling, or impels him to do as you want him to, by describing – NOT your proposition but WHAT IT WILL DO FOR HIM – the comfort, the pleasure, the profit he will derive from it.
4. THE PROOF OR GUARANTEE, which offers to the reader proof of the truth of your statements, or established confidence by a money-back-if-not-satisfied guarantee
5. THE SNAPPER OR PENALTY, which gets immediate action by holding over your reader’s head the loss in money or prestige or opportunity that will be his if he does not act at once
6. THE CLOSE, which tells the reader just what to do and how to do it, and makes it easy for him to act at once
…after a time [these rules] come to be almost second nature so that you weigh each of these features without being conscious that you are doing so. You may even mix them all up into one grand goulash, so that to the beginner they will seem to be not there at all, but they – or their close relatives – are in every successful letter.

Rules, however, are merely the start. They are the mechanics of a letter. Real letter writing only starts here. It is getting the FEEL of your message that counts.

Our first letter pulled so well, we tried a number of others to determine how many follow-ups we could profitably send on these old leads.

You have seen as good or better ones many a time. But they had this virtue. They brought back what they went after – the orders. They sold many hundreds of thousands of dollar worth of books. Why? Because they set out with a definite goal in mind and they made every word carry them one step nearer that goal.

The first sale is the hardest. After it, the rest come easily. When you try by mail to interest a man in your product, your most difficult task is to win his confidence, his belief in your statements. That is the reason for the free-trial offer. That is what makes necessary the money-back guarantee.
So when you have made on sale to a man, your hardest job is done. From then on, your real profit should begin. Where it may have cost you 10, 20, or even 50 per cent of your selling price to make the first sale, your second one should seldom cost you more than 5 to 10 per cent. Why? Because your customer believes in you! You have sold him something; it has proved to be all you claimed for it; therefore he feels safe in trusting anything you may say to him in the future.
That is why the big mail order houses will cheerfully spend several dollars to get a customer’s first order. That is why experienced users of the mail oftentimes offer to the general public only small units of sale like $1 or $2, knowing that a man will much more readily take a chance on a low-priced item with someone he does not know, and that a satisfactory transaction at this low figure tends to establish confidence just as surely as a big sale.

Once you have won your customers’ confidence with an article that has done all you promised for it and more, you should be able to sell 10 per cent of them any related product. Of course, if you keep going back to them every month you are not going to sell 10 per cent each time. But if your offering is something a large percentage of your customers can use to advantage, you will get a profitable volume of orders every time you write them.

What was responsible for this big sale? The same thing that is responsible for any sale – making your reader WANT it! … we gave him enough of the stories themselves to arouse his own interest. We gave him enough, but not too much. Then we told him that everybody was reading them, that they were the equal of a university course in practical psychology, that even without their story interest they were worth all they cost just as a study in human nature. And finally we gave him a reason why he must order at once or lose a really worth-while free premium. In short, we aimed first at making the reader want the stories for themselves alone. When we felt we had succeeded in that, we gave him as many excuses for buying them as we could think of, and a real reason why he must do it right away. And lastly, we made it easy. We sent him a post card that brought the books to him without cost or obligation for a week’s free reading. We told him he could browse through them as much as he liked, see for himself how interesting, how invaluable, the books would be to him. THEN decide!

It was not more effective copy that made all the difference. IT WAS THE PLAN BEHIND THE COPY!
We had been trying to sell the books as the most graphically interesting and authoritative history of the war, and they wouldn’t go. Why? Because the war was but recently over and most people felt, rightfully enough, that the facts were not all out yet and that they would wait to get their history until the real, inside story was available. So we had to find a reason why they should order at once.
We found it in a premium: six little volumes of intensely interesting true stories of the war. We offered them free if the reader would send in his order at once. Instead of 5000 sets in more than two years, we sold nearly 35000 in less than one year!
Then the sale dragged. What should we do? What had succeeded on O. Henry? A last-chance offer? So the second year we made it “Your last chance to get True Stories FREE!” and sold another 25000 sets!
After the sale was all over, and neither “True Stories” nor any other premium seemed able to resurrect it, we still sold about 10000 with the old standby – the damaged-set letter. That is one letter that has never failed us after any big sale.

How is it that a letter which sells histories and O. Henry stories in unusual volume is just as successful in selling bed blankets and travelling bags?
Because the one constant factor in selling is human reactions. We seldom try to sell merchandise. We sell ideas. And my experience has been that a fundamentally sound idea that will sell books in great volume will be just as successful in moving travelling bags or bed blankets or any other merchandise, if properly adapted to them.
The adapting is the job. Many writers make the mistake of thinking that if they copy the WORDING of a successful letter, their letter is bound to pull too. There is no bigger mistake. The wording counts for little. It is the way you adapt the idea back of the successful letter that counts.

They thought mere words could do the trick. Words are empty sounds. It is the images back of them that count!

There has to be something remarkable about the work itself, as a rule, although it is even more important that there be something remarkable about the advertising, as proved when Nelson Doubleday took an ordinary book on etiquette and sold a million copies of it by extraordinary advertising.
Not every book will lend itself to such a sale even with the finest advertising, but the sale of any book can be greatly stimulated by the proper kind of advertising. It is merely a matter of finding the primal human motive to which your book appeals – be it love or gain or fear or ambition – and then directing your appeal at that motive.

Testimonials alone will not sell books by mail. You need more than that to arouse the interest of the average reader.

What should we do next? Many people would have been satisfied with that, but after the way we had been able to sell $1,000,000 worth of O. Henry stories for two years in succession, we were not going to give up Wells without getting a lot more out of it than a single year’s sale.
But we had to change our offer. We had been over all our regular lists twice, with different letters and circulars. Now we must get not only a different letter, but a new reason for buying.
…so we decided to bring out the new edition in four volumes, and price them at $9 if bought alone, or $12 with a year’s subscription to our magazine.
Then came the question of how to sell them. The circular was easy, for Tut-ankh-Amen was then very much in the public eye. So, since there was not much in Wells about him, we based the circular upon his great father-in-law, Akhnaton.
…but the important thing was the letter. We had already worn out the bargain appeal and the special reservation and all the usual mail order stunts.

The point would seem to be that if you can tie in with what people are thinking about and interested in, you can sell anything. And that particular form that your letter takes is far less important than the chord it happens to strike.

The easiest man to sell is the one who previously bought books by mail. Circularize lists of people who have bought kindred books by mail.

Get an idea that is psychologically sound and it will work on anything.

I had read somewhere the account of a manager whose company had been at swords’ points with a certain competitor for years. It was very much to the interest of this man’s company that the two should get together, but no one had ever been able to heal the breach. Finally, it occurred to him one day that the man we feel most kindly toward is the one for whom we have just done a favor, so he went to see his competition and asked the rival manager if he would do him a favor. Certain of their customers were taking advantage of their terms. It had to be stopped, but he didn’t know how to do it without incurring their ill will. The other manager was more experienced than he. Would he not do him the favor of telling him how he handled similar cases?
The rival manager opened up like a rose to the morning sun, and their little talk started up a friendship that quickly healed the breach between the two companies.
Well, it occurred to us that there was sound psychology back of the first manager’s action, and it ought to work with letters as well as in person, in overcoming indifference as well as enmity.
You see, the product is of minor importance. There was scarcely a man in the whole place who did not know more about raincoats than I. But it was not raincoats we were selling. It was an idea – in this case, the idea that by specializing on one grade of coat, one cloth, one style, and making it in every conceivable size, we could not only save you money, but give you a better coat and a more perfect fit than you could get at double the price in stores.
We did not need to know anything about coat manufacture to convince you of that. All we needed to understand was human reactions to certain ideas, and these are what we studied.

To give a convincing reason why you are able to offer a lower price than your competitor is one of the most important essentials of selling. Mere reductions are not enough. There are too many ways of skimping on quality and taking it out in a bargain price. You must have a logical (and convincing) reason why your price is low.

Of course, there was nothing damaged about the coats, but the odd sizes and colors furnished just as good an argument, and, as it proved, just as effective bait in landing orders.

Notice how readily the idea adapts (ie damaged-set letter) itself to overcoats, just as though it had never been used for anything else. That is my experience with most basic ideas. If they are good for selling one product, they can be adapted to selling almost any other product.

What did you do to keep your customer sold AFTER you had received his order? We met that problem by using every opportunity to re-sell the customer on his purchase. In acknowledgement letters, in bills, in the enclosure that went with each product, we had in mind the truism that the sale is not made until the goods are paid for, so we tried to put salesmanship into each of these.

If you offer one article you will usually get more orders than if you offer a choice of two or more articles.
You see, making choice involves hesitation. And in selling by mail, the customer who hesitates is lost to you. Even in giving free premiums, we found that offering the customer a choice of two or more premiums cut the number of orders.
So I have always been an advocate of selling one thing at a time – a travelling bag or a coat or a set of shirts at a unit price for the lot.

The best mail order buyer is the one who has already bought other products by mail.

It is ideas that sells goods – not mere descriptions of the goods themselves. Ideas are the only things that count, and the idea that will sell vast numbers of books can be used just as effectively in selling raincoats or travelling bags or overcoats or shirts!

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Individual opinions counted for little with us, no matter whose they were. It was not one of us we were trying to sell. It was the consuming public. So the only voice we heeded was the voice of a customer.

One of the things we had learned, in sending mailings to our customer lists ten or twelve times a year, was the need for varying the appearance of our letters and circulars. We found that if we used the same style of envelope and the same old letterhead month after month they were never even opened; but when we changed everything about them, even their size and color and the corner cards, it was like circularizing a brand new list – so much better were the results.

An idea that will sell one product successfully is just as potent in moving others. (ie ‘Once in a Blue Moon’ announcement for bringing out a book of unusual interest as well as working even more successfully in announcing a new feature on a travelling bag)
…there were two or three details about the giant letter that added materially to its pulling power. The same of the cowhide was one. We found that by putting it on the letter added from 15 to 30 per cent to the number of orders. The numbered special features with arrows pointing to each helped, as did the “Plain Arithmetic” showing the savings. But probably most helpful of all was the $1,000 Reward that, with a picture of the bag, occupied the last page.
This reward created more comment and seemed to do more toward satisfying prospective buyers that the bag was all we claimed than any other feature of the letter. It worked so well that we used it later on other items such as raincoats, overcoats, and the like.

“Will you do me a favor” appeal

The only limit to its sales was the limit of its ingenuity in presenting its sales appeal. That – and the number of names it could lay hands on of people who had bought other products by mail.

What was it sold these? The bargain appeal, of course. But a bargain offer is of no use unless you make it convincing. We had a real reason for our bargain, so it succeeded. And we backed up the bargain with seven points, which showed the buyer that despite the low price, he was getting every feature of a fine shirt.
That is even more essential, you know, than the bargain, for though low price is a lure, it never gets far unless backed by reasonable quality.

The only thing about selling by mail you can be sure of is that you never know what you can do until you try. So we tried anything at once. And some of the things we learned were surprising.
…he stated that no one but a fool would try a certain form of mailing, our tests showed that his particular form added 35 per cent to the pulling power of our circulars!
We determined early in the game that we would be guilty of every sin in the Decalogue rather than the one unpardonable sin of knowing it all. So nothing was too bizarre for us to try.
…and the trend of all these tests seemed to be that anything which tended to make your letter seem more personal added appreciably to the number of your orders.
There were literally hundreds of tests. A book could be written about them alone. But by the time it came out it would be of little value. For the fascinating thing about this selling by mail – the thing that makes it impossible for any man or set of men to know all about it – is that it is continually changing. What you learn today you must unlearn tomorrow. You have to keep trying – and testing – and then just when you reach the point where you can arise and state with authority: “This you can do; that you cannot,” along comes some darned fool who knows none of the rules and sells a million on the very plan you just said could not be worked!

The bag was really so convenient and such a bargain that we felt sure if we could once get it into a doctor’s hands he would never let a little matter like $7.95 interfere with his keeping it. So we started looking around for a premium that would not cost us much, yet would have a universal appeal to every doctor.

“Will you accept this little gift?”

A little knowledge can drop money faster selling by mail than gambling in the stock market.
And yet, properly run, there is no safer business on earth. You need never risk anything but the cost of a test.
…gambled the cost of a couple of tests, found that they could sell so many sets to each thousand names they circularized, multiplied that by the number of names available, and knew just what they could safely contract to do.
There were no manufacturing costs, no inventories to worry about, no commitments. If the test had been a failure, they would have bought enough of the bookstore edition to fill the orders received and been out nothing but the small cost of the tests. If the bookstore edition had not been available, they would have returned all money received, notified those who ordered that circumstances made it impossible to go ahead with the project, and closed the matter. Is there any other business where future projects can be forecast with such certainty and at such small expense?

The real profit in selling by mail lies not in the first sale but in the succeeding ones. If you cannot sell a second product to a fourth of the people who bought your first one, then there is something wrong with your methods or your product. Repeat sales on books or merchandise are analogous to the renewing subscribers on a magazine. The magazine that cannot renew somewhere near half its subscribers is headed for a fall, and the same is true of the mail order merchandiser who cannot sell a second time to a high percentage of those who first bought from him.

As usual when we had a new product to offer, we tried half a dozen letters, then used the best of them.

But when we delivered the lesson, we sent with it a copy of another one that elaborated the same idea and thus left the reader even better satisfied because he got more than he expected.

All of us, he points out, are consciously or unconsciously using ‘Tested Selling Sentences’ morning, noon, night. Some of us use them to sell ideas, others service, and others actual merchandise.
Little Willy wants an extra slice of bread and jam; sister wants 35 cents for the movies; Dad is scheming how to get out of the house for lodge that night; and Mother is planning to have Dad sweep out the cellar – while around the corner the preacher is planning a visit on the household to make it more church conscious … and one and all they have their own pet “Tested Selling Sentences” they plan to use on one another!
The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, all trades and professions have their “Tested Selling Sentences.” The dentist says, “Now, Willy, this won’t hurt you – MUCH!”
The doctor, the lawyer, the undertaker use them. The barber says: “And now how about a NICE shampoo?” When you refuse with your best “Tested Selling Sentence” about being in a hurry to meet your wife, he proceeds to poke you in the eye with his elbow.
Hidden in every spool of thread, or row of safety pins, are reasons why customers will buy.
One sales person says: “These safety pins will not burst open in the garment and injure baby”
Another says: “This thread is waxed, Madam, and will not twist in the hand while sewing”
Another has found real magic when he says: “This suit has long pants, Sonny, like your Dad wears”
Another says: “This fly swatter is square, not oval, and gets them in the corners!” How many times have you missed a fly by only a fraction of an inch? Well, they are making fly swatters square now, to get ‘em in the corners!
“This union suit is buttonless, and the child can put it on by himself!” What a “tested selling sentence” for the woman who has to dress and undress little Johnny five times a day!

“How about a pipe today, Sir, only $1.00?”
“Not interested,” said I.
I surmise the clerk has had many a refusal that day as a result of using the inane approach, since he began to tap nervously on the counter with the pipe; just then a man came up and said, “Say, is that pipe non-breakable?” “It sure is!” said the clerk, coming to sudden life, “Why I’ve been tapping it on the counter all day!” “I’ll buy one,” said the man!
By accident, the clerk had hit upon a real “Tested Selling Sentence” He sold so many pipes that week using the sentence that he was placed in the advertising department of this national chain of stores, and this is a true story!
Why not give this salesman, and all others, sentences tested to make sales more sure-fire, so that sales persons will say something else of our products than, “How about a pipe today, Sir, only $1.00?”
Just the fact that a sentence sounds reasonable to you does not necessarily indicate it will sell! Why gamble with unknown sales phraseology? Why not take advantage of modern science?
…What he said of word-of-mouth selling is just as true of the printed word. We have found for instance in selling through the printed word a number of tested openings that almost invariably win the attention of the reader. (i.e. the “How” appeal seems strongest, a book on success would sell twice as many if it were titled How to Win Success as it would if were called merely The Rules of Success)

Beware of the letter everyone admires for its cleverness. It may bring you a great meed of praise – but few orders. The good letter is one that leaves your reader hardly conscious of the letter itself, so interested is he in doing the thing you want him to do.
Of course, there is the occasional letter that combines cleverness with a really effective appeal.

We all like to feel important. Anything that raises our ego, that makes us feel more necessary to the general scheme of things, is sure to please us. The cleverness of the foregoing letters lies in their ability to feed our vanity, without making it too apparent that this is the real purpose of the letter.

When you find an approach that is unusually successful, it pays to develop it to the utmost; to develop it – and then extend it as far as possible to ideas of similar nature.

There is no one best method of approaching your reader. And no one person knows all the successful methods. But experienced advertising men have learned a number of ways that work well in a large majority of cases, and unless you know better ones, it pays to use these tested methods. They go far toward taking the guess out of advertising.

The one thing that should always be borne in mind is that it is not merchandise you are selling, but human nature, human reactions. The movie people have found that people always respond to certain motivations, so they have their guaranteed laugh producers, their guaranteed methods of turning on the tears, and so on.
They can show the little boy kneeling at his mother’s knee, praying – “God bless Daddy and bring him back safe,” and be sure of wringing a tear from every woman in the audience.
In the same way, you can take an approach that has successfully sold a set of books, and with very little change, adapt it to selling shoes or socks or luggage or any one of a thousand other products – and be just as successful in disposing of these!
A knowledge of your product is essential, of course. But familiarity with human reactions, human response to familiar stimuli, is even more important.
Oftentimes when we have been asked to write a letter about some new product, we have sketched the first rough draft of it without seeing the product at all, or knowing any more about it than our average reader. We put into that first draft everything that we should want in the product if we were buying it. Then – after we had our mental picture of the ideal product from our point of view as a user – we took the product itself, studied it, and determined how it compared with our ideal. Many times it has been an approach developed in this way that has proved the most effective way of selling the product.

…the headline of an advertisement accounts for 60 per cent of the pull of that advertisement. In the same way, the start of a letter makes or breaks the letter, because if the start does not interest your reader, he never gets down to the rest of your letter.
Personally, out concern starts with the outside of the envelope.
…after these come the stunt letters, like those with a penny pasted at the top, or a new dime or German mark or what-not. All are designed to win attention and thus get themselves read.
As to the motives to appeal to when you have won the reader’s attention, by far the strongest, in our experience, is vanity. Not the vanity that buys a cosmetic or what-not to look a little better, but the unconscious vanity which makes a man want to feel important in his own eyes and makes him strut mentally. This appeal needs to be subtly used, but when properly used, it is the strongest we know.
Next to it, perhaps, is the premium of “Gift” idea – starting your letter with a gift of some unimportant article, to lead your reader on to the buying of your real product.
Selling, you know, is just a matter of making people WANT some one thing you have, more than they want the money it costs them. And the easiest way to make them want it is by sugar-coating your offer as a doctor sugar-coats a bitter pill – for oftentimes it is bitter to dig up money for something you do not really need. This sugar-coating takes many different forms, of which the gift or premium is the most common.
Gifts or premiums can just as readily be used to sell dental supplies or groceries or furniture or lots. In fact, the principle is as old as selling.

To sum up – one of the strongest traits in human nature is the desire to be somebody, to feel important, to be necessary to the community and those around us. And many proved ways have been found of successfully approaching people through this harmless strain of vanity that is in all of us. Why blaze new trails when there is a paved road already laid?

“The enclosed card is of real value to you, and has been registered in your name. It is for your personal use only. If you cannot use it, we should feel obliged if you would return or destroy it. For it brings to you and a select group of well-known book-lovers the chance to examine that new this or that, etc.”

Follow in the footsteps of some of these users of TESTED approaches, PROVED appeals, and you will take the guess out of your advertising and put profits into your tills.

Letters that will work on such difficult accounts must have back of them a fundamentally sound idea, and it seems to us these four had. For what impels a debtor to pay you? Two things only – fear or persuasion. If you can stir up in him the fear that he will lose his credit, if you can hold over him the threat of a judgement and foreclosure or garnishee, you will get your money if it possible for him to pay it. You will get your money, but you will lose his good will – and his trade when he is able to buy elsewhere.
How much better then to use the sort of persuasion that leaves a smile in its wake, that extracts the money, but instead of an aching void, leaves in its place the pleasant glow of a favor done for a friend.
But the fact that it is pleasantly expressed need not take the firmness out of your letter. On the contrary, it makes it the more necessary that you put it there plainly, unmistakably. If there is anything better calculated to lull a debtor into a sense of security than a “Trusting to hear from you” letter, I hope never to meet it.

…the idea back of them is sound – that the difficult part, and the important part, is to get your debtor’s attention, and anything that will attract his attention long enough to get you a hearing will add greatly to your collections.
…when you are selling something that requires further work on the buyer’s part, it is frequently necessary to re-sell him on the desirability of your product before you can collect.
…then there are always premiums for prompt payment, and cash-ups on instalment accounts.
…of course, the most successful collection series is the one that combines all these features to the greatest possible extent, alternating one form with another. When you threaten, for instance, you frighten a certain number of your debtors into paying, but the chances are you simply anger the others. If you next letter contains a stronger threat, or even the action implied in your previous one, its principal effect is going to be to make the recipient angrier than they were before.
…Ruffle them up with a threatening letter, you will land a certain number of payments. Smooth them over with a cash-up or inspirational letter or a stunt like a pin or string letter, you land a lot more payments. Stir them up again with a stronger threat, and keep alternating one with another and you will get every cent it is possible to collect from them.
In collection letters, as in everything else, it is well to remember that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. And another thing – the threat of action is even more effective than the action itself – provided your debtor believes your threat is not mere bluff. The law is the last resort, and unless a large amount of money is involved, it is seldom a profitable resort. A letter from a lawyer, on the other hand, is one of the most effective collection of delinquent accounts that there is. But is seldom pays to go beyond the letter.
Close collections, as a rule, are good collections. If you follow up a man the moment his account starts to lag, if you camp on his trail and keep reminding him courteously, BUT FIRMLY, of that overdue balance, the chances are that as soon as he is able to pay you will get it.

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Showmanship always does get a hearing. The most successful bit of showmanship we have ever seen was the famous Dollar Bill letter.
…for no matter how well you maintain the mailing list and prepare copy – it’s all wasted if your message isn’t read when it reaches your prospect’s desk.
What are such gadgets? They are attention-getters or eye-openers attached to the top of the letter.
Why? To keep that letter or circular on top of the desk where it has some chance of accomplishing results. Such letters have increased circulation, sold goods, brought inquiries, because they are read and shown to others.
How? Hook up the main idea of the letter to the appropriate gadget, so the reader will keep the idea in mind and even talk about it to others.
…catch the eye and win the interest of their readers…(i.e. perfuming your letter, handwritten name, brush script, wedding ring, pen script…)
…a carbon copy used as a follow-up often will out pull the original letter. The strategy is to use a memo form to call attention to the fact that since no reply has been received, it was assumed that the letter had been lost or mislaid.

The purpose of all such “stunts” is to attract the reader’s attention and get him into your letter. But like all stunts, they must be handled in such a way that the reader’s interest, when won, may be guided quickly to the main idea of the letter.
A circular letter is like a door-to-door canvasser in that its most difficult job is to get a hearing. Gift offerings and stunts and unusual openings help in this.
But the main job is still ahead – to SELL your idea or your product to the reader. Your stunt may soften him up, just as the Fuller salesman’s brush may make his approach easier, but it makes all the other steps in selling none the less necessary.

…Pipes are a good stand-by at any gift-giving time and at any other time that you can get a hold of a list of pipe-smokers…

Every day someone works out a new approach that makes possible the sale by mail of some product for which such sales have never been attempted. The approach is the thing.

Fundraisers have learned this, which is why they so often send you a picture of a crippled child, or a starving baby, or a badly injured woman against the background of some great catastrophe. They appeal first to the emotion, and follow that with a swift shift to the intellect. They work up your feeling of pity, and follow it with a logical reason why you should give, lest similar catastrophe come close to you.
…what helps one helps all, so even though the benefit be indirect, we all benefit from any good that may be done for the children of the slums, we all benefit from any help that may be given them to grow into healthy happy successful men and women. Know that, there is an appeal to our reason, so all we need is a strong enough emotion of sympathy to make us dig down into our jeans and give ‘til it hurts.

There are dozens of other methods of getting people to give – the principal among them being the appeal to vanity. Many a man will give freely, if it means seeing his name blazoned across a newspaper page, when he will give for no other reason. Even small contributors can be given this same satisfaction.

People will give, when you have stirred their emotions. People will invest, when you have aroused their cupidity. And people want to know the future, so if you can persuade them that you are any sort of a Seer or a Prophet, they will buy your forecasting series.
It all comes back to the point we made in the beginning – “WHAT DO THEY WANT?” What is the bait that will attract your fish and make him bite? Find that – and you will be as successful in brining back orders as any angler can be with a properly baited hook in bringing in the fish.

No matter what the product or service you are writing about, first put yourself in the place of your prospective customer. Think of every property you could possibly desire in such a product or service. Think of everything you would like to have it do for you. Work out the ultimate ideal, then write a letter that stresses every desirable point of that ideal product.
When you have your ideal letter written to your satisfaction, let it cool for a day. The next day, go over it and cross out every descriptive phrase and adjective that cannot honestly be applied to your product. You will be surprised at how many you have left – more than enough to write the finest sort of letter that will build a picture in your reader’s mind so desirable that he will scarcely be able to refrain from ordering.

The only difference between an expensive product and one of ordinary price is usually one of degree. They look alike in a general way, they are made of much the same type of material, they will do the same things. The difference is in the degree of pleasure or satisfaction they will bring. And this is largely in the mind of the buyer.

So your job is to build a picture in his mind’s eye of what he will get from your product or service. Build it with bricks he can handle i.e. with words and mental images that are familiar to him. Do not exaggerate – or he will refuse to believe in it and will kick the whole structure over disgustedly, like a child trying to build with blocks a house that will not come out right. But keep it attractive. Keep it desirable – more desirable by far than the money or time or the trouble it takes to build it.
Do not make the mistake of trying to stress in your letter all the points of your product. You can list them in a separate folder and make your letter the stronger for it. But find the one point on which your sale is likely to hang and build your letter around it. Let that be the focal point of your mental image, your picture, and let every word in it be a brush stroke that adds clearness and power to that one focal point.
Then remember it is not enough merely to tell your reader to order now, or “Mail the enclosed card at once” Why must he do this? What will he gain by doing it now? What will he lose by delay?
You must dangle certain bait before his eyes. You must hold over his head a sword the thread of which may be cut at any moment. Set a time beyond which orders will not be accepted. Or give a valid reason why the supply is strictly limited. Or announce an increase in price that takes effect on a certain date. Or make a special combination offer, good only for a limited time.
But whatever you do, make it sound as though you mean it. If you set a time limit, say positively that no orders will be accepted beyond that date. If you announce a raise in price, tell him there will be no last-minute concessions. Be definite – and be positive!

These are the important factors of a successful letter. There are others, however, that add to or take away from its effectiveness.
First essential is to get your reader to look inside the envelope. (As a general rule, it is better to try to make your envelope so personal looking and so attractive that the reader will at least want to know whom it is from and what it is about) (Novelties are invaluable to the man who does much circularizing for they keep his appeal from going stale. People never throw away his letters unopened because they are never able to discount in advance what is inside them. But when they have taken your reader into your letter, their job is done. From there on, it is up to you to win his interest and turn it into a sale.)
What is the most important factor in making of your sale? Your letter! The circular helps, and the order card makes it easier – but the letter must carry the load. If you have not the stuff in it, it does not matter where else you have it. It will not do you much good.
So put your best efforts into your letter. Keep an “idea file” of good starters, good descriptions, good closers, good pointers of all kinds – not to copy, but to inspire you to new and better ideas. There is nothing like glancing over a few such ideas to stimulate your own brain cells into action.

And always remember that the point that sells your customer is not what your product is, but what it will do for him!
Remember, too, that the purpose of a letter is to put ideas into your reader’s head, so be careful not to put in negative ones that you will have to take out again before you can make a sale.

As a general proposition, it is advisable to make your letter short and snappy when you are trying for inquiries and all you want is to win enough of the prospect’s interest to make him ask for further particulars.
Before a man will definitely commit himself to buy, however, he wants to know all about the thing you are offering, and you cannot tell him that in a short letter. So tell your story, no matter how long or how short it may be, striving simply to keep it interesting. The only safe measure you can apply is the one Lincoln gave when asked how long a man’s legs should be: “Long enough to reach the ground.”

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