Watch Your Language: The Effective Sales Letter

Arnold Stockard asked:

What’s the most important instrument for building a successful online business? A. Homepage, B. Advertising, C. Email, D. Search Engine Ranking? Answer: All are important, but none is as important as language. And since the Web is primarily a medium based on written language — as opposed to audio and video — if your Website does not communicate your written message well in whatever language your target audience employs, you will fail.

It is puzzling to go to a site that displays flashy graphical presentations, only to run head-on into confusion when you try to discern the offer. Often, the attributes of a good product are buried beneath dangling modifiers, misspellings, run-on sentences and trite expressions. You cannot but judge the site owner as lacking pride and professionalism, and this leads to distrust by the consumer.

Solving this problem is easy, but a little effort is required. You can hire a professional to write the Web copy, or you can do it yourself and save some money. If you write your own copy, you will need a good guide to language usage, in this case the English language. One of the best is Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition — Complete Course. It is a classic, first published in 1951. This is no concise tutorial. It is nearly 800 pages, covering everything from parts of speech to letter writing. Yes letter writing. That’s right — letter writing.

Letter writing is a skill that has been lost to the informality of email and instant messaging. The typical email has no physical coherence. The “letter picture” is disjointed, with random spacing between parts of the message and inconsistent indentation. Warriner writes that a business letter is a means of achieving success. Success is built on relationships. If you want to build a business relationship, write a business letter. A sales letter promotes a one-time transaction. A relationship leads to repeated transactions.

Email, with volume reaching as high as 20 billion messages per day, is bound to have an effect on every other form of written communication. Unfortunately, the hurried, loose style that makes email such a user friendly tool is becoming a standard. Many Internet marketers ignore — or are not aware of — the need to be precise in their use of language; even an informal voice should maintain discipline of expression. While a sentence fragment might be tolerated and even used for emphasis, dangling modifiers, run-on sentences, ambiguity and misspellings should be purged.

A scan of promotional letters on the Internet shows most of them do not focus on building a relationship. Hyperboles are used throughout a long, meandering presentation that ends with an urgent appeal for the reader to “buy now!” The practiced surfer quickly learns that these letters cannot be avoided: They are everywhere and growing in number. Quite frankly, for anyone who has used the Internet as a source of income for any length of time, these letters evoke comedy whether than trust in the vendor.

Theories on writing an effective sales letter abound. Some say it is an art; others contend it is a science. Whether it is the former or the latter, a “pitch” should do one thing as quickly as possible: Get to the point quickly — and stay there. Power flows from clarity.

Copyright © Arnold Stockard

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