Rieck's Response Letter from Direct Creative at www.DirectCreative.com
April 2008
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Rieck's Response Letter is a publication of Direct Creative

Contact: Dean Rieck
Phone: 614-882-8823
E-mail: Dean@DirectCreative.com

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Occasional errors in this newsletter exist to bring joy to those readers who find them and point them out. Please don't spoil their fun by demanding perfection from me.


"The most powerful element in advertising is the truth." -William Bernbach


My subscriber survey revealed some interesting facts.
According to last month's survey, subscribers to this newsletter are a mix consisting mostly of copywriters, freelancers, business owners, sales directors, and ad managers. Few are interested in radio or TV, but there's strong interest in direct mail, print, e-mail, and the Web.

The most interesting result: 100% of those who responded wanted me to recommend products and services. I've listened to you and will begin suggesting products and services immediately. But don't expect a deluge. I'm very picky and want only to suggest items that I use myself, have experience with, or can vouch for. Much of what's out there is complete crap and I refuse to recommend anything that does not pass muster.

Here are a few to get you started. I heartily recommend them all.

Carbonite Online Backup — I've had several computer disasters, one of which vaporized everything on my system and nearly shut down my business. None of the backup methods I've tried over the years have been reliable or practical for me, until I tried Carbonite. It's simple, automatic, and dirt cheap. This may be the best product or service I've used in the last ten years. Please try their free 15-day trial. They don't even ask for a credit card!

GoDaddy.com Web Hosting — To market your products and services, you need a good host for your Web site. I use GoDaddy for pretty much everything because not only are they cheap and easy to work with, but they offer all kinds of free software and tools, such as WordPress, for anyone with a hosting plan. To start my blog, for example, I just clicked a button and WordPress was installed automatically on my domain. I manage this newsletter through GoDaddy too. Check out their hosting plans.

Soundview Executive Book Summaries — I don't know about you, but my days go by in a flash and I don't have time to read everything I want to. Soundview is sort of "Cliff Notes" for grown ups. You get summaries of the hottest business books with all the takeaways boiled down to a few minutes of reading. You can try it out free. Read or listen to a free summary of one of today's top selling business books!


Have a big idea, not a concept.

Concepts are the lifeblood of the typical ad agency or in-house advertising department. But they are usually little more than creative indulgence for copywriters and designers who want to create cool looking blather to pad their portfolios.

People respond only to what is relevant and meaningful in ad messages. So concepts as generally practiced are a waste of time. Instead, have a "big idea." A big idea is a dramatic but meaningful center for your words and pictures.

If you have a strong guarantee, your big idea could be to build a direct mail package around your guarantee. If you have a lot of good testimonials, your big idea could be to create an ad that features your customers. If your ordering process is easier than your competitor's, your big idea could be to create a catalog that looks and feels easy to use and friendly.

A concept puts the emphasis on some irrelevant joke, image, metaphor, or other notion in your head. But a big idea forces you to deal with relevant marketing issues.


Become a speedwriter!
Some writers are naturally blessed with the ability to write fast. Unfortunately, I'm not one of those people. However, I've analyzed my writing habits and come up with solutions to boost my productivity. Read these speedwriting ideas at my blog.

Is "click here" necessary for links?
This is another issue I deal with at my blog. It's a debate that has waged for years. But I think it's less a debate than a misunderstanding, and it's easy to clear up IF you understand that there are actually 3 different types of links.

Use sense when using cents.
If you have a price of $100, should you show it as $100 or as $100.00? My advice is to use the cents when you want to emphasize savings. But omit the cents if you want to downplay cost.

Be careful with fear as a motivator.
Some direct marketing consultants suggest that fear is a top motivator. But I would add a caveat: the idea of fear could be misleading. Fear is a strong emotion and could be inappropriate in many cases. Anxiety is more accurate, with fear on the upper end of the anxiety spectrum. For example, if you're a victim of violent crime, fear could motivate you to buy a taser or home security system. But if you are fighting weeds in your garden, mild anxiety is closer to the mark for the emotion that drives you to purchase a new weed killing spray.

Personalization is tricky in e-mail.
According to MailerMailer, personalization may backfire in your e-mail campaigns. "...e-mails that had only the subject line personalized did worse than those with no personalization at all, probably because spammers often gear their subject lines toward recipients." It's just another reminder how spammers are screwing things up for the rest of us.


Writing the Perfect Sales Letter

Despite the variety of formats we have available to us and all the hoopla over new media these days, the letter remains one of the most effective means of delivering a powerful sales message. At its simplest, it is little more than a personal message from me to you.

Here are a few basics for writing the perfect sales letter.
  • Consider using a headline or Johnson Box. Not every letter will have these elements, but they are ideal for telegraphing your offer or a clear benefit statement. Just remember that they make your letter look less personal and more like advertising.
  • Use an appropriate salutation. Personalization is best when you can do it. Otherwise, use a salutation that connects with the reader as closely as possible. "Dear Friend" is safe but general. "Dear Cat Lover" is more targeted and specific. If you're mailing to a business audience, use the occupational or professional title.
  • Make your first sentence short and attention-grabbing. You must instantly involve the reader. Make a startling statement. Tell an interesting story. Hit an emotional hot button. Or just state the offer and get to the point. This last approach is often the best tactic and offers the least room for error. Following sentences will expand on this first sentence to pull the reader into the body copy.
  • Present your offer on page one. If you don't give your offer in the headline or first sentence, you should put it somewhere on page one. Be clear and specific about what your reader will get by responding.
  • End the first page in mid-sentence. Whether it's curiosity or an urge for "closure," cutting a sentence in two at the bottom of a page helps encourage the reader to flip the page and finish the sentence — and, you hope, keep reading. You can also use this technique on successive pages where the reader must turn a page over or go to a separate sheet.
  • Keep your copy on-track. You're not writing a novel, but your main idea should be a thread that weaves through the whole letter. At minimum, present your theme on page one and end on a similar note on the last page.
  • Make the body of the letter work hard. If you've grabbed your reader's attention and generated interest in your offer, follow immediately with benefits, details, word pictures, testimonials, and proofs to eliminate doubt.
  • Call for action. Quickly restate the main points of your offer and ask for the response you want — clearly and directly. Restate information on involvement devices, motivators, incentives, etc. Restate the big benefit.
  • Make response easy and clear. How should the reader respond? Give your toll-free number. Explain the ordering process one, two, three.
  • Guarantee your offer. Assure the reader that there is no risk. State your guarantee in strong terms. This should directly follow your call to action.
  • Stress urgency. Why should the reader respond now? Is it a limited-time offer? Are supplies limited? Are prices going up soon? Give a logical, sensible, honest reason why this is the best time to respond. And be clear about what will happen if the reader does not respond — the lost opportunity, the consequences.
  • End the letter when you're finished. Just as you shouldn't have a long wind up at the beginning of a letter, you shouldn't prattle on at the end. End a letter as bluntly as you began it. Often this is a quick restatement of your instructions for responding or a simple "thank you."
  • Have the right person sign your letter. Your letter should be signed by the highest authority person available or by someone relevant to the reader. Ideally, the signature should be in blue ink. (Hint: Consider how the signature looks. Does it suggest confidence and believability, or is it shaky and uncertain?)
  • Use your P.S. effectively. The postscript is one of the most-read parts of a letter. It should present an important message, a prime benefit, a restatement of the offer, a reminder of the deadline, a sweetener, or whatever you feel is most effective in this prime spot. Some call the P.S. a headline at the end of the letter. Ideally, it should be short, one to three lines long.

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Dean Rieck is an internationally respected copywriter, designer, and consultant who has created direct mail and ads for over 200 clients.

Phone: 614-882-8823
E-mail: Dean@DirectCreative.com
Web: www.DirectCreative.com

Copyright 2008 Dean Rieck. All Rights Reserved.