3 Marketing Cliches (and What Old-School Sales Letters Teach You About Modern Marketing)

sales-letter-copywriting-tips

It’s become a modern cliche – our attention spans are so short that there’s no point writing anything more than 500 words.

(It’s not true, by the way. Research from Medium found that 7-minute posts capture the most reading time, on average. Buffer puts the ideal word count at 1,600.)

And here’s another modern cliche – direct mail is dead in the age of digital marketing.

(Also not true. A direct mail specialist I worked with put it nicely – it’s the only channel that forces you to engage for more than a couple seconds, because you have to pick it up and walk from the door to the bin.)

Finally, here’s modern cliche number 3. We have such high expectations of marketing, that everything needs to look super polished and highly designed.

(You guessed it – also not true. A/B email testing has repeatedly shown that plain text outperforms image-laden HTML – here’s a test from HubSpot as an example. Even historical greats like David Ogilvy and Drayton Bird had similar results.)

This sales letter landed on my doorstep last week, and it’s a perfect case in point.

sales letter

Sales letter I received in 2016

This letter successfully ignores all 3 of those marketing cliches.

The font is courier, the bane of graphic designers but proven consistently to outperform other fonts. It’s 2 pages long, taking the time to say what it needs to say to get the sales message across. It doesn’t waste space with the words ‘Order Form’ – it ticks the box for you so the decision feels partially made already.

And there are classic copywriting techniques at work:

It flatters the reader

I have a confession – I don’t collect coins. But even so, I’m chuffed to be selected. Rationally, I know this mailing went to everyone on my street, but I feel special because the Product Allocation Department has authorised me to receive the offer.

(Note: The major failing? There’s no address or salutation, and this lets down the copy. How can they have selected me specially if they have no idea who I am?)

It uses storytelling

Storytelling is one of 2016’s marketing buzzwords, but the fact remains that humans are psychologically programmed to respond to stories. p2 starts with the story of the Royal Wedding, and makes me remember where I was on that bonus Bank Holiday.

It uses scarcity to inspire action

Only very limited quantities are available. This strike is almost sold out. I only have 10 days to claim mine or the set allocated to me will automatically go to someone on the B list.

I feel like I’m getting a deal

Not only is this limited edition collector’s item available at an immense discount (£39.55 off), but I get a bonus free watch!

This letter looks like an anachronism to people with 21st century marketing goggles on. But I’d bet a William & Kate commemorative strike (and bonus watch) that it delivered a return on investment to make most ‘modern’ marketers green with envy.

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I’m a Birmingham-based freelance copywriter and content strategist who helps companies achieve business goals. My previous experience includes copywriting and head of content roles at award-winning agencies. I'm also a member (and on the committee) of The Professional Copywriters' Network, and am inbound and HubSpot certified.

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