Rage Against the Sales Letter

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badsalesletter

Long sales copy is the #1 cause of death in the U.S…

Or, so a vocal few would have you believe. Attributed often as the vile creation of online scamsters, long format sales copy has been simultaneously reviled and exalted. Yet, still, it endures. So, let’s clear a few things up.

First, it’s not the invention of internet marketers…

It may have been co-opted and pushed to the level of backlit garishness by many, but it’s been the centerpiece of direct-response marketing for the better part of a century and sold billions of dollars of everything from Blue Blocker sunglasses to the Wall Street Journal. It’s even been used to raise hundreds of millions for a wide variety of charitable causes. And, certain mega direct response guys have taken it to an insane level by creating what they call magalogs, those 40-60 page often health or investment related pseudo catalogs that inform and sell at the same time. Rodale has used it, the Wall Street Journal, Agora, Boardroom, Wiley and tons of others still use it.

But, why? Why is long format still around?

Surely, with our ADD lifestyles, nobody reads it anymore, right?

Wrong. It’s still here because a big enough chunk of the RIGHT people still not only read it, but act on it. Direct response marketers, both on and offline, are fanatical testers. They split test and even mulitvariate test every option. And, time after time, even today in the online world, these marketers continue to use long format for one and only one reason…

It outsells everything else.

They don’t really care about how many people rage against the format, they do really care about the bottom line. And, until other formats start consistently outselling long format they’ll keep using it. Interesting enough, video and video mixed with copy are now starting to mount a serious challenge, but they’re still not working consistently well enough to dump the long format (or, at least very few people are doing video well enough yet to make the jump).

But, what about us folk in social media who actually care about our personal brands and community bonds?

The challenge comes when certain people (like me) infiltrate social media, which has long been a culture driven by the “sanctity” of conversation. What happens when someone who’s a wacky hybrid of (1) social community leader with distinct brand and (2) marketer, tries to earn a living by maximizing revenue while maintaining personal integrity and honoring the community (something that’s not a huge driver for many other direct-response and internet marketers).

That’s one hell of a tap dance.

So, what people like Chris Guillebeau, Naomi Dunford, Brian Clark, Pam Slim, Sonia Simone and I do when we roll out info-products, membership sites or events is try our best to bridge the gap. To integrate the copy format we know sells better than anything else, while simultaneously working to prove our integrity by toning some of the more aggressive techniques and design elements down a bit and couching the sales content within the greater consistently authentic, value-driven content of our brands.

No doubt, some people, including some of our readers may not like that. But, most who’ve been with us long enough will also forgive our desire to earn the best living possible while giving a tremendous amount of value over time. Especially if we structure the long format so that it’s highly informative, engaging and even entertaining.

Interesting example – back when I owned my yoga center in NYC, as I learned to write copy, I rewrote our teacher training page as a long format sales page. It was massive, but it was also selling a $2,500 service, sight unseen. Within weeks, the response rate shot up nearly 200% and that one page now generates a substantial 6-figure revenue.

You’d figure the touchy-feely, energy-sensitive, non-commercial yoga community that I know and love would’ve been the first ones to be repelled by a long format sales page. But, in fact, it was just the opposite. Many people loved the page.

Because it was done in a way that delivered so much information and answered so many questions and objections, we were consistently told it was like we were “reading the reader’s mind and answering everything they needed to know to make a decision” as they read. And, because of that, people plunked down thousands of dollars and got on planes from all over the world based almost entirely on what was on the page (and the brand we’d created to back it up).

And, that, done well, is what long format copy is all about. Mimic the live sales process and answer every conceivable objection, while informing and entertaining and leading to action. If you’re selling a $1-$5 product, long format is total overkill. For a $19 ebook, that shouldn’t take too long and the copy can be relatively short. But, the more expensive the product, the more work your copy needs to do, the more objections you need to overcome and desires you need to connect with.

So, if you feel the need to rage whenever you bump up against a long format sales page, you’ve got to wonder…

Is it the format that’s pissing you off, or the fact that the copy/design, long as it is, just plain sucks?

In almost every occasion, it’s the quality of the copy or the overuse of certain design “mechanisms” that play the role of agitator. When that happens, go ahead…feel free to shoot the messenger along with the message.

That said, as a copywriter, if there’s a way to shorten up my copy and convert better, I’m all for it. I’ll be experimenting a lot with this and video over the next year.

Curious what you think…

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66 responses

66 responses to “Rage Against the Sales Letter”

  1. Mike CJ says:

    I have raged against the format, but your explanation that it should take the place of a one to one sales presentation has made me realise that it wasn’t the format, but the execution of it by some people that was causing me a problem.

    So, leave out the fake crossings out and the highlighter pen, and tell me all about the product, pre empting my objections, and I’ll be fine. 🙂

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Mike,

      The best sales letter join in the conversation that’s already going on in your head, then lead and track all of the needs and questions that would naturally come up and resolve them effectively. If you do that with your copy, the reader largely sells themselves

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jonathan Fields, Online PR. Online PR said: RT @jonathanfields: Rage Against the Sales Letter…. http://is.gd/4QSem […]

  3. I am one of those who am instantly turned off by long sales letters. Doesn’t it say something about the average Western consumer is most likely to buy because of them. They are tacky, manipulative and boring and yet they still work on some. Intriguing. 🙂

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Gordie,

      It’s not just Western consumers, it’s human beings across the globe. And, as I mentioned, done well, they are often considered enjoyable and informative. But, rarely are they done well. All it really says is that we are creatures of longstanding behavioral patterns. The old saying that people don’t want to be sold is just plain wrong. We do, if the product or service being sold genuinely solves the problem we are looking to solve. The issue is that nobody likes to be sold BADLY, and that goes for print AND in person.

  4. People rage against the format because it is often done very poorly. Sales copy should be long enough to sell the product and no longer. If your sales copy is longer than your product, then you aren’t doing it correctly.

    The purpose of copy is to convince the person reading it that the product will solve their problems, overcome their objections, and move them to pull out a credit card.

    If you already have trust built with your readers, your copy can be shorter because they are willing to risk a certain amount of money based on that trust. If you are completely unknown, you have to start laying the foundation of trust and complete it by the end of the sales letter. That can take a while.

    Long copy could also work because people who read it have already committed a significant portion of time just to reading it. So they want to justify that decision by buying the product 🙂 Psychology can be a wonderful thing.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Scott,

      Great point, your more regular readers likely do NOT need as much credibility building. The challenge is that a single page must try to treat regular readers with respect, while simultaneously building trust and credibility in the eyes of the person who’s just come to your page for the first time and never heard of you before. It’s an extraordinarily challenging dance.

  5. Mirko Gosch says:

    Hey Jonathan,
    excellent blog post with a “killer-headline”. Not being a fan of long sales copy I am nonetheless free to admit, that some of the long sales copy examples I have come accross over the last 12 months or so since I am learning about IM has been so extraordinary compelling that I actually bought the products. So it is very valuable that you have pointed out that long sales copy still does work, has its eligibility BUT largely depends on the Quality of the copy and its writer. Once you have proof that something else works better than long sales copy, let us know, will you?!

    Thanks and rock on

    Mirko

  6. Thanks for the great post! Super duper timely for me as I’m tinkering with the first draft of my sales letter for a service that caters to those in the “touchy-feely, energy-sensitive, non-commercial” holistic health world.

    As a research junkie (especially when it comes to something I’d drop some serious cash on) it’s true that I really appreciate the loooong sales letters/pages when I feel like the person is addressing what all my questions are directly- rather than doing the razzle dazzle, internet marketer, heinous yellow highlighter with red text thing.

    Thanks for shining a light on how even the lowly sales letter is an authentic service to the communities we serve when the sleaze is dropped, and good copy is embraced.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Think “how can I make this sales letter as valuable piece of content in its own right?”

  7. If a sales page seems too long or unappealing to you, then you’re either the wrong audience for it… or it’s badly written and designed.

    As you pointed out, Jonathan, your yoga folks lapped it up and asked for more. Right message, right audience.

    I think it might have been Gary Halbert (if memory serves) who said the only thing a junkie needs to hear is that you have some junk — a crass but powerfully educational analogy.

  8. Jeff says:

    Ultimately, I think so many uncreative or lazy people have bought into sales letter templates and tricks that their copy comes off like a bad android. I don’t think there’s one “best sales letter” – a good sales letter is the one that will make your audience connect, be reassured, and buy. A lot of people miss that and use the web to mass-produce formulaic crap.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Yeah, I’ve seen some of the template software. Why would you ever want to create a message that’s nearly identical in format (and even substance) to thousands of others when you are trying like crazy to differentiate yourself? Dunno, never made sense to me. Either learn to do it right yourself or pay someone who doesn’t suck, lol

  9. Social comments and analytics for this post…

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  10. Kelly Watson says:

    Great post. I have been facing the same way toward sales letters lately: personally I hate them, but when done well, they do tend to outperform any other style of marketing.

    I think, as other commenters have pointed out, that it’s just done so poorly most of the time, with tons of hype and bad graphics. When done well, though, sales letters aren’t nearly so bad.

    I hope you’ll continue to write about your experiences as you do more experimenting! I’m curious to see what you find out.

  11. Jeffrey Tang says:

    I think part of the sales letter rage is because the format is so effective – even when used in sleazy ways. People get tired of being suckered into buying things they neither want nor need, so they take out that frustration on the messenger.

    Another part of it is overuse. Sales letters are everywhere, and most people who write them don’t actually take the time to learn the art behind it, they just swipe a few little tricks and flashy gimmicks and put up the copywriter for hire sign. It’s selling without respect.

    But you know, I don’t have the slightest problem with getting sales letters from people I respect. I enjoy reading those letters, because they’re fun, well-written, and come from someone that I already trust. That’s where the social media / brand building comes in, I think. All that marketing spiel about being friendly and personable and familiar (“Use the prospect’s name!”) – social media brings it all home.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      It’s an odd thing to say, but as not only a blogger and social media guy with a conscience, but a copywriter and, yes, a marketer, I love seeing all the awful sales letters all over, because it makes it that much easier for a well crafted one to really stand out

  12. Nice one Jonathan. Having written several sales pages in the past for products of my own the whole area of a sales page is a mixed bag. As while i agree that sales pages which are long can produce results. The amount of content is not what converts higher its the wording.

    Not all advertising today is long, i.e billboards, newspapers, signs in shops, tags in shops etc yet the reason we buy has very much to do with the human psyche, emotions and then people justifying purchases after.

    If anything that should be observed its the choice of words.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Yup, most advertising today is short. What we’re talking about here is one small slice of advertising called direct-response. And, the interesting thing is, on the web, a long format sales letter can actually be broken up into 4 or 5 pages that flow exactly the way a 1 page sales letter would flow and accomplish the same thing without people even realizing they’ve just been swept through 15 pages and all the necessary steps of a killer sales process

  13. I was always a little annoyed with long copy on 1 page sales sites, however, they often times can meet all of your questions and concerns on one page and offer some quality testimonials to help convert you in to a customers. I always wondered how well these websites converted…

  14. Twitter Lists are amazing, I have several twitter accounts and the larger ones definitely need to be organized.

  15. Joel McLaughlin says:

    Sorry, commented on the wrong page when tabbing back and forth through blogs, I am a nut this morning

  16. Joe Dager says:

    I enjoyed your post as I am in the middle of creating an auto-responder series for a client. It has inspired me for the day to create something unique. Enjoyed the post!

  17. ypadgett says:

    I am defiantely NOT fan of the long sales letter and frequently have to look past all that GARBAGE to find out what I need to know. The worst part of it for me are the massive amounts of REDUNDANT information where the same information is said over and over. And the stupid price cross throughs. AND when they say their “gurus” say they could charge a whole lot more, but they are not willing to. It’s all a crock. Just give us the facts and stop all the stupid gimmicks. People will still purchase (as I have) because I like what they are selling, not because I like their stupid sales letter technique. I realized they are just “going with the flow” and dont know any better and I feed bad for them.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Agree, there are a lot of sales letter packed with a whole lotta garbage, crazy claims and fabrications, but then there are also a far smaller number that, long as they may be, connect, inform, entertain and meet the reader exactly where they need to be met. They are still sales letters, just done with a different approach

      • I have been studying sales letters and internet marketing for longer than I care to admit, and they almost always repel me. That being said, I absolutely LOVE reading anything Chris Guillebeau releases. His style could become a perfect archetype for the anti-sales letter. Nothing he writes in any of his copy is annoying or offensive. He is so real.

        The problem with telling more people to follow his lead, however, is that pretty soon we will end up with a whole bunch of inauthentic clones scattered across the Internet. Would that be better or worse than what we have now?

  18. Hi Jonathan,

    This is something that I’ve really struggled with… coming from a business background that makes me appreciate the “bottom line focus” of the yellow-highlighter folks yet in my head loathing the sleazyness of it all.

    I think the most confusing (and sinister) part is the reports on earnings and “proof” that many of the IM gurus especially use. The idea that these guys are making squillions of dollars is mighty influencing on some folks.

    Whereas people like Chris Guillebeau actually publish their earnings (and it ain’t millions).

    I think I really want some proof that lame IM, long copy marketers are full of *%#@ about their earnings… just so I can stop paying attention to them and their more dodgy methods.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      First – love the new number…squillions!

      Second, The big IM gurus publish that stuff because it’s what they call “shock and awe” proof of concept. And, though it does look slimy to many, as you noted, they all do it because as much it annoys some, it still test better than not including it. Not saying I love it, but, again, sales letter (good and bad) are not designed to appeal to everyone, they are designed to appeal to the small percentage of people who are the precise avatar being written to in the ad.

  19. Nicky says:

    This post made me think of a great Ogilvy quote:

    “Short copy doesn’t sell, but if you want your long copy to be read, you had better write it well.”

    In Ogilvy on Advertising I also recall the example of, I think, a JP Morgan Ad that was the longest ad copy imaginable in the tiniest print possible. But it was giving real information about how the stock markets worked and finishing with something along the lines of, “if you don’t feel like dealing with all of this, get in touch with us and we’ll take care of it for you.”

    Genius.

    In an age of information, I have great respect for a company that can teach me something real in the process of selling their product.

    I think, as a few have mentioned, that the problem with the typical ad sales is not the length of the copy but the quality of the entire page.

    Guillebeau stresses the importance of design and he is dead on: I see the design first and read the copy second.

    Ramit Sethi is another who, in my opinion, knows how to create a sales page; I read it whether or not I’m interested in the product because it is just so easy for my eyes to float through his content.

    All elements of content and design are so intertwined and so damn important.

    -Nicky

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Spot on, Nicky. With Ogilvy & Mather being a massive firm, now, a lot of people don’t realize David Ogilvy was himself a master copywriter and came out of the world of writing long sales copy. Still, one of his most famous quotes that still resonates is…”Never Write an Advertisement Which You Wouldn’t Want Your Own Family To Read. You wouldn’t tell lies to your own wife[/husband]. Don’t tell them to mine. Do as you would be done by.”

  20. Taru Fisher says:

    I’m about to write my first sales letter for a group coaching on aging that’s geared to women 50+. I, too have really disliked the long sales letter; so much so that if the tone is over the top, I delete it immediately. I have, however, liked the few that were personally transparent, contained the truth, and were from people I respect. I just got one like this from Elizabeth Potts Weinstein and I thoroughly enjoyed it. While I don’t intend to copy her (a big no-no in my book), I intend to embody her transparent style and the truthful energy behind her letter.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Hey Taru,

      The best sales letters, just like the best live sales experiences, are the ones that sell by educating and entertaining. Done right, the sales letter, itself, should provide substantial value. So, think, what would folks in my market value as part of the writing process

  21. Kelly Watson says:

    I read this post earlier this morning. Later I came across a sales letter that really resonated with me, and I thought I should post a link. It’s by Mark Silver of Heart of Business. He manages to be incredibly persuasive while at the same time avoiding all hype and generally taking a warm, friendly tone.

    http://www.heartofbusiness.com/services/moneyflow/

    I’d love to see a blog post of other sales letters that manage to break through people’s negative stereotypes and get the job done.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Yup, Mark is another great example of someone who genuinely gives a lot to his community and does a great job of keeping, authentic, credible and valuable in his sales letters

      • Mark Silver says:

        Wow- thanks Kelly- I’m so touched that you liked that sales page enough to post it. And thanks, Jonathan- it feels great to hear that confirmation.

        Copywriting, sales letters, have such a big opportunity in them because it’s such a vulnerable contact point. We have the opportunity to make a real heart connection in love with the intention to serve and make things better, or we can lose the intention, give in to fear, and try to grab what our poor egos think they need at the other person’s expense.

  22. Way to go, JF. Like Nicky said, for me the actual copy and design are far more important than the format itself. If you’re going to sell anything above $19.95, you have to provide a fair amount of information.

    The people who say it’s too long are never the ones who would buy the product in the first place. Everyone else will have their purchase reinforced by the additional (hopefully relevant) content… but you know that.

    Props to you and the late great Ogilvy,

    cg

  23. Naomi Niles says:

    I think this makes a lot of sense. I admit to not being much of a reader of sales pages, but that’s probably because I only buy things after a lot of thought on my own terms. So, once I get to the page, I’m already ready to buy and read just the first one or two paragraphs just to do a final check.

    Those sales pages I really can’t stand are those ones with the obnoxious colors and bright red font. I’m probably extra sensitive to it because I’m a designer. For me, it’s like reading text in all-caps. It’s shouting at me. Not conducive to making me feel comfortable buying, for sure.

    That’s more of a design issue than anything else though. I understand why it’s done, but there are plenty of ways to place emphasis without being aggressive about it as you mention. I think you and the other fine people you mention have that down well.

  24. Dave says:

    I followed a retweet by Chris G. to this post and I’m glad I did. Wonderful read, especially considering I just spent a few days crafting my first sales page on the web.

    “To integrate the copy format we know sells better than anything else, while simultaneously working to prove our integrity by toning some of the more aggressive techniques and design elements down a bit and couching the sales content within the greater consistently authentic, value-driven content of our brands.”

    This is exactly the type of dance I tried to do, and I *think* I accomplished it, but I’ll have to see if anyone buys my product next month when it launches.

    In the meantime, it’s great to know that a happy medium can be reached. And you’re right, now that I think about it – the long sales pages I cringe at and run away from are usually poorly done, and for products that are far removed from my personal interests.

    PS – you have a new RSS subscriber.

  25. Adam King says:

    As one who is just starting to learn the tap dance, I cannot say thanks enough for a timely and thought provoking post. This raises my awareness of my sales copy to a level it needs to be. There’s a reason the format works. There’s psychology behind the whole thing. But, like you pointed out, the VALUE has to be so apparent.

    I agree that a great sales letter must stand on its own as a valuable piece of content. Thus, the immense challenge for newer copywriters (like me).

    I’m definitely looking forward to the results of your experiments. The more renegade a sales letter can be, the more I’m for adopting it. Which brings me to the question:

    What would a sales letter for a $50,000 sale look like? Am I gonna have to write a novel?

  26. Alex says:

    I have to admit I prefer a decent sales letter. Length isn’t an issue. I control the time it takes.

    I don’t appreciate sale pitches that start with, ‘you got to see this video, see it now’ without telling me what or why I should see it. More importantly how long it is. I don’t like giving away my time like that. Sales letters whether video or wordy take my time the first thing sales person need to do give me a reason for switching my focus away from what I’m doing.

  27. Jason Bowden says:

    Great post. Where I work we use long copy for ads. Every new designer comes in (including me) and wants to simplify, but we test and retest and retest again, and long copy ALWAYS wins.

    Your point about the right people reading and acting on it is key.

  28. Jonathan, I really love your blog layout and typeface choice [Verdana think.] and formatting.

    But the strangest thing happened. Your email shows up in my mailbox as Times Roman, single-spaced, probably 9pt. Font, with the headings bolded, and with no paragraph spacing anywhere. Horrible, right? But I loved it. [Usually I click the link to get to your blog in hopes of follow your training and engage in the comment area with something that contributes, if not be hugely and impressively useful. [You are all supposed to laugh here, right?] Well anyhow, I found myself getting through this dense easily read Times font material so comfortably I stayed with it to the end, just to see how the whole thing worked with my system. [I don’t read all that quickly, though I do know how.]
    What a shock to me and insight it was, since I love to dress my layout with softer blue-greens and pale gray-blues for headings with gray for the body of the copy type and even pastel reds occasionally and spacing that all seems to have a harmony that is easy on the eyes and sets up a balance to the energy of what it is am trying to communicate.

    Yes, were you not a good writer, it might have been extremely difficult reading, but for me, I was shocked at how much I liked the presentation that way. When there is balance within the material itself, because it supports the reader, then close format can be even more of a help than all the pleasant format spacing and arrangements.

    Anyhow, I hope this is useful to you or at least informative. It was a pleasant surprise for me as a part of this whole topic. By the way, I have been noticing recently that the e-marketer gurus are starting to use this same style of “old timey” font and spacing along with plain communication. Hummm.

    Yes, of course, you are very right about providing material in a manner, “as if you were living in my head”, which addresses my thoughts and questions or objections. It respects my intellect, or conversely, maybe what it really does is help it along, and in so doing builds trust or confidence in you as a support to me.
    Good luck all of you with your efforts.
    I am sure you all will do better than me.

    I am not having any luck at all with my commercial site nor even getting any comments on my blog. I can say that I have a constantly growing readership from Russian that is huge in numbers for me, but have no idea why, as their email hosting service is a no-reply set-up and I cannot correspond [using my trusty Google translator]. I don’t even know which posts they are reading. But the comments are great, like “brilliant” or “shining” or “makes think” etc. You are all supposed to laugh now at how perplexing all this all! But cheer up, I am getting a few great contacts via LinkedIn with people who “get it” about what I am trying to do and why I am writing about it.
    Thanks for a great post.
    the_IRF

  29. Dayne says:

    I agree with you, the bigger the price, the bigger the copy. The trick is not selling the product, but it’s benefits. Are long sales letters a turn off? They can be. To me, the design and copy has to be good and not like a used car salesman. Just be real, be transparent.

    Thanks for this fantastic post!

    Cheers,
    Dayne

  30. Steve Haase says:

    Great post, Jonathan. I think this conversation is at the vanguard of internet culture, your position (and the folks you mentioned in your post) are starting to go by the name “third tribe” where the conversation and revenue carry equal weight.

    And I think what we’re seeing now is just the tip of the iceberg as more and more people are trying to figure out how to use the internet to take their offline business, brand, and following online in a way that’s actually profitable. Many of them wouldn’t even think of using a long sales letter, but as more and more of us forge the path of writing great letters, well-designed, with a human tone (imagine that :), I think we’ll start to see a lot more willingness and interest in having the sales letter be part of someone’s online presence.

  31. Trent Hamm says:

    I think the “sales letter” is evolving. Some “sales letter” sites that don’t do anything different than printed sales letters give off some questionable vibes. It just doesn’t perfectly work online, for many of the reasons you gave.

    The “long sales letter” idea works, but it’s going to have to change a bit to hit the perfect sweet spot online.

  32. Great post, Jonathan. I wrote one similar earlier this year because I hear so often “Well, I just hate long sales letters and I won’t read them.”

    One thing I point out is that no one actually reads them–or reads all of them anyway. They scan for what’s most important to them…

    But what’s important better be there because they’re not going to call or email you to find out more.

    Since what’s important to someone will vary, you do have to cover a lot of ground. But if the letter is written and formatted well, it shouldn’t be a problem.

    Tracy

  33. Sally says:

    I don’t read long sales letters as I don’t want to read that amount of info on one product from one perspective.
    But I do (esp. with internet products) read reviews and testimonials from other sources before buying.
    At the end of which I have probably read as many words in total as one long sales letter – but spread over different sources.
    This leads me to wonder is there an ‘ideal’ number of words or ‘length of time’ we need to spend reading before we buy ?

  34. Long copy sales letters are an absolute turn-off for me, no matter how well they are done. They smack of sleaze and inauthenticity; dirty old marketing tricks that I really don’t want to deal with.

    I’m not surprised the yoga-bunnies went for it, and though I’m sure you were selling them something worth having, they bought the technique because it’s what they’d been trained to do.

    We’ve all been conditioned into these tired old marketing methods. And we’re starving for someone to show us some alternative ways of doing business ~ doing it in a way that’s really cool, and that really rocks.

    If you have an exciting, authentic product, you shouldn’t need to use a long copy sales letter. Building up a relationship of trust with your potential clients/customers might take longer this way, but it’s ultimately gotta be better.

  35. Andreea says:

    Thanks for this very informative post! I actually just launched my first ebook and decided to go with the long sales letter format. I hope I have done it well!

  36. J.D. Meier says:

    The bottom line is always an interesting measure … it’s tough to argue with results.

  37. Nancy Boyd says:

    This certainly gives me food for thought. What I want to do it test and track a couple of opposite approaches on my next products and see which way converts better.

    On one I’ll be using the “here’s what I have, here’s what it will do for you, and here’s how to get it” short version.

    On the other one I’ll be giving the long version that tells *everything you might ever want to know* about the product and how you can get it (with a strong call to action.)

    Numbers count. That’s what I’ll be measuring.

    Hope you’ll be updating this topic with more examples 🙂

  38. Ed Gandia says:

    Excellent post, Jonathan. I’m a B2B copywriter these days, but my early training was in direct-response copy — precisely the type of long format you’re talking about here.

    As you and other commenters have pointed out, great copy continues the conversation already going on in the prospect’s head. It addresses all her objections clearly. It touches on one or more core emotions. And it explains one core idea clearly.

    Problem with much of the long format that’s out there, is that the copywriter used long copy as a crutch, rather than taking the long road and doing his/her homework. In many cases, you can do a much better job with shorter copy. In others, it actually takes more copy.

    But few copywriters want to do the work required to figure this out…

  39. I wonder if the length of a sales letter doesn’t also have to do with the diversity of the audience that will be exposed to it?

    If the long copy sales letter originated in the direct-response (read: print) field, where I assume there was often a less personal relationship pre-existing between seller and buyer than we can achieve online, might not the number of objections to be overcome be greater because the appeal is to a wider audience that is not as well known by the seller – which logically would also dictate more copy?

    Seems to me the more targeted your audience, the less copy required to persuade?

    I’m sure that’s only a part of the equation here, but certainly explains a good chunk of the angst (and maybe some of the resulting crap) people have about writing sales letters to begin with.

    • Nicky says:

      Suzanne,

      That’s possible. But, also possible is the opposite case, similar to Jonathan’s experience with yogis.

      The more specific group meant that they would be genuinely interested in reading longer copy (assuming it’s copy worth reading).

      -Nicky

  40. Love this post. Thank you.
    Subscribed to your mail so I will remember to return.
    The comments are as good as the post. Particularly love this ‘take-away’…
    “Think ‘how can I make this sales letter as valuable piece of content in its own right?'”
    Thank you again. Cheers, Thea

  41. Love this post Jonathan. And will consider it a major honor when I earn a mention on your blog alongside Brian Clark, Pam Slim, et al for rolling out information in a conscious way.

    One day I’ll have to tell you about my big, big error with my very first long form sales letter. It was a big lesson in knowing your target market and not expecting something that works with one market to cross over and work with another target market. And in trusting my own instincts.

  42. […] Rage Against the Sales Letter (Jonathan Fields): The long sales letter is a tactic that you may not really appreciate, but some marketers swear by it. Read why Jonathan Fields considers long copy a must-have. […]

  43. Holly Mann says:

    When a “marketer, tries to earn a living by maximizing revenue while maintaining personal integrity and honoring the community” – in quoting you – I think if people can convey the truth in their sales letter, honestly sharing while tactfully selling – they will have success. Too many people over-hype and over-deliver, and when someone sees a sales page so very different, they take notice and stay a while. It has worked well for me for 5+ years and I think your product will “sell itself” if you do it right.

  44. Holly Mann says:

    Sorry, Correction – “Under-Deliver”

  45. […] Rage Against the Sales Letter (Jonathan Fields): The long sales letter is a tactic that you may not really appreciate, but some marketers swear by it. Read why Jonathan Fields considers long copy a must-have. […]

  46. Ken Caudill says:

    The sales letter is a vehicle for delivering your sales message. The reason it works is because it covers the things that need to be covered in a sales presentation. The format is secondary to the message. Surely we can be creative enough to be readable AND effective.

    We have video, audio, cartoons, graphics at our disposal.

    There has to be another way to skin that cat.

    If the medium is the message, the sales letter conveys way too many negative connotations.

  47. This is a Good Post. Knowing your Target Market and what makes them Tick is a Must. The Sales Letter will really write itself if that is mastered.

  48. Leisa says:

    Excellent post, Johnathan. I have always hated those letters, but knew there must be a solid reason so many people use them. And yes, I have many times found myself convinced by reading good ones. Learned something good here. See you in a few days. Thanks. Leisa

  49. Sales letters still play an important role in internet marketing.