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How to Write Sales Letters that Work

By: Mary Sweeny

Mary Sweeny is a marketing writer and consultant who believes in studying her clients' businesses to maximize the power of the message. Mary owned a service business (employing 27 people) for ten years. Since selling the business in 1993, she's been writing advertising copy for, and consulting with, clients across the country. Her copy and strategies have brought sales increases of as much as 276 per cent for her clients. To learn more, visit her Web site at

What can you do to improve the effectiveness of your sales letters? AIDA. Advertising copywriters have developed a formula called AIDA. AIDA stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. You can put this "tool of the advertising trade" to work for you.

Here's how.

Get Attention

If your letter is going to have an effect, it must first get the reader's attention. You can do this with a hard-hitting lead paragraph that goes straight to the point. Or you can even start your letter with an intriguing question or attention-getting headline. For instance, "Do you know the top ten ways to cut employee theft?" would keep most managers reading. Who wouldn't want to read on and learn the answers to that age-old problem?

A good headline for a letter promoting a weight loss program might be: "Now, you can lose 20 pounds in 3 weeks and it's easy!" This headline solves a problem, plus offers a quick and easy solution. The copy could begin by getting right to the point . . . "This revolutionary program can have you two sizes smaller by swim-suit season!"

You see, your reader wants to know "What's in it for me?" . . . "Why should I invest my time in reading on?". If you let him know right away, at the start of your letter, he'll keep reading. And that's half the battle. After all, it really doesn't matter what you write in your second or third paragraph-if the reader never gets that far!

The bulk of your letter-writing effort should go into the headline and opening paragraph. Take plenty of time to think about the benefits to the reader, of what you have to offer. Then feature your most compelling benefit in the headline, the others should be featured in the opening paragraph.

First, brainstorm. List as many headline ideas as you can come up with.Don't think too much, don't try to edit them. Just list as many as possible. Then set them aside for a day or two. When you look at them again, you'll have a fresh perspective. When you do look at them, try to be as objective as possible.

Once you've narrowed your list to 3-5 headlines, show them to several different people. Ask them which one would inspire them to read more about your product.Work hard to develop the most effective, benefit-oriented headline and opening paragraph within your power. It will pay great dividends.

Let's say you've grabbed your reader's attention with your headline. Now what?

Gain Interest

You must hook the reader's interest by showing her why she needs your product or service. In the case of the weight loss program, show her why she needs your program. Why is it easier? Why is it so quick? What makes it different than the vast number of other weight loss programs available?

Remind her of what can she do with her slimmer, healthier body. Get further ahead on the job? Do more with her family? Wear more beautiful clothes?

Here, you must prove yourself. You can state your case by using testimonials (credited to a specific person in a specific place), case histories (tell the story of a successful experience one of your customers had with your program), or by stating your company's successful history or credentials (only as it pertains to the reader).Remember, you know everything there is to know about your program and "stale news" to you may be "fresh news" to your reader.

Create Desire

O.K. you've gotten the reader's attention and hooked her interest. Next,you've got to create desire. Tell the reader how she'll benefit from what you're offering. Stress those benefits even more definitely than you may have already done earlier in the letter.

Paint a clear portrait of those benefits in action in the reader's life.Get him to see your product, service or policy in use, what it will do for him, how easy it is for him to get it-and be specific.

Generalities are less credible. Specific details are easier to believe.For example, in selling the book on lowering employee theft . . . "By the end of this quarter, you could see your rate of employee theft dropby more than 27%. Imagine the dramatic effect on your bottom line! The compliments of your colleagues as they wonder how you did it!" . . . This part of your letter serves to remind. To reiterate. To sum up. It should set the stage for the final step

Ask For Action

What do you want the reader to do next? Send in a reply card? Place an order? Call for more information? Schedule an appointment? Tell her. It's surprising how many advertisements and letters fail to tell the reader the next step.

You've worked hard so far-you've gotten her attention, hooked her interest, created desire-doesn't it make sense to ask for action? Don't make the mistake of assuming your reader knows what to do next-be specific. Ask and you shall receive.

As an aid to getting the desired action, you shouldalways include a reply card with your letter. I have tested this myself, and letters sent with a reply card out­pulled letters sent without, by 12 per cent. Always include a reply card.


The P.S. is one element of a letter that always gets read. You're reading this one, aren't you? Use your P.S. to reiterate your most powerful benefit, or restate your guarantee. Don't waste it on frivolity. Used wisely, it could be the final nudge that turns the buying decision in your favor.

Does effective letter-writing sound like a lot of work? It's really not-once you make it a practice. Actually, it's common sense communication. Think about it: when someone approaches you with something new, don't you want to know a few things first? Like, "What's in it for me? Why should I trust you? What makes this product or service different?" And finally, "How can I get it?"

Follow the AIDA formula on your next sales letter. You'll be pleasantly surprised by the results!

  1. Get the reader's attention
  2. Create an interest in the product
  3. Turn that interest into a strong desire to own the product
  4. Ask the reader to take action

© Copyright 2000, Mary Sweeny

Other Articles by Mary Sweeny

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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