How to avoid writing a poor sales letter

What makes a poor sales letter? Here are six pointers:

1. The headline and copy fails to explain what is special or unique about the product

2. There are no example extracts for the reader to assess

3. Ordering is complicated, takes too long or there are too many options

4. The description of the product can be applied to other products in the same market

5. A great opportunity has been missed

6. No benefits are communicated

The example letter and brochure from Esquire magazine fails all six tests. The mailing is celebrating the new editor, Jeremy Langmead. Something tells me that Jeremy did not write his letter:

“Intelligent, stylish, sexy, funny – what every man wants in a magazine. And now Esquire has got a new look, new editor, and loads of new features.
We have created a magazine that we want to read. One that, for us, doesn’t already exist. We’re bored and embarrassed with the plethora of men’s magazines with puerile features and tacky pictures of B-list celebrities with D-list breasts on the cover. We have created a magazine that you will be proud to have sitting at home., on your desk at work or in your hands on a commode. Like you, we don’t have time to do everything we want, read everything we want and access all the information we want. Esquire aims to edit down and provide all that information for you. And entertain you with good writing, witty columnists and attractive visuals. At the end of a hard day, we all need a treat. And Esquire is just that. A treat with meat.”

Jeremy Langmead, Editor of Esquire

A catch-all description
Take out the title Esquire and those words could be describing GQ. Or Jack for that matter if it hadn’t folded a while ago.

Change the bit about breasts and you could be reading about The Grocer magazine:

“We’re bored and embarrassed with the plethora of magazines with puerile features and tacky pictures of chicken breasts on the cover.”

(Note for the marketing people at The Grocer – you could nick that bit.)

Jeremy Langmead is no doubt a great editor. His writing in the Guardian etc. is honest stuff (do you realise how unusual that is? See below), but editors should be marketers too if they want to grow circulation. The newstrade isn’t the only way of doing that – especially for Esquire magazine.

If he doesn’t know what ingredients a direct marketing letter must have to maximise response (and editing a magazine is a different discipline), then Jeremy should ask someone who does.

Think how proud Jeremy would be if his direct mail pack pulled in thousands of new subscribers and could be repeatedly sent out over the years to build a massive new circulation? What a great start to his editorship – and a great opportunity missed (number five on our list above).

Should writing be perfect?
Writing cannot be perfect. We all make slips. But what you write must capture the interest of the readers and move them along to where you want them to be. If a good number get to the end of your piece, then you have succeeded.

Special K
I usually read Jeremy Langmead’s articles to the end. He wrote a great piece on being on holiday with a house full of Ketomine (that’s a horse tranquilizer used for recreational purposes known on the street as ‘Special K’. Haven’t tried it.)

In a later article he refers to his penis as ‘wibbly wobbly’ and hopes for some ‘action’ in Shoreditch. Sounds a bit ‘Ripper’ but I wasn’t there.

The mistake editors often make is to underestimate the importance of marketing. Jeremy could spot a poor journalist or designer instantly, I am sure. But he can’t spot poor marketing – or if he can, he was unable to stop it going out.

Marketing is not difficult. But good marketing is the toughest of disciplines. It lies at the heart of publishing, just as it lies at the heart of any business. Because if your marketing isn’t any good, the money stops.

Bit tougher than being a writer isn’t it? You can spend years writing and editing and no-one would care.

Plenty of magazines sell subscriptions well and pull way ahead of their competitors. There are some good case studies showing how it’s done in the Subscriptions Strategy newsletter.

If you want to see some further examples of how easy it is to create a poor sales letter, the link below will take you to the Know-How Exchange forum to see how even serious marketers say the wrong thing to the wrong people:

Creating a Sales letter

About the Subscriptions Strategy newsletter