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10 Sales Letter Rules

Chris Billington Hughes

Many people will tell you only experts can write brilliant direct mail. It takes years of concentrated effort and learning ... in addition to natural flair. If you ain’t got it, you just ain’t got it.

Here’s what we say to that!


Writing powerful, effective direct mail letters is one of the simplest, most common sense things you’ll ever do.

In fact, it’s so logical that those “in the know” have virtually developed a formula for it - a sure-fire way to create winning pieces on every project.

Here are just a few of the simple (but tried and proven) methods employed by the "gurus".
Apply them to your work and you’ll instantly see the difference.

1. Your Offer

Your offer must go on the first page and on the last page, near the end. If you bury your big benefit and offer, you give the reader no reason to read on. Sounds obvious and it is but look at how many direct mail pieces ignore (or are oblivious to) this fundamental point. Of course, many don’t even have an offer.

2. Another Way to Explain Your Benefits

If you can’t work your benefits into the early part of your campaign, try using a “Johnson Box”. A Johnson Box is a sentence or two, often in an asterisked box, before the start of the letter. It puts the benefit right up front so that the reader is tempted to read on to find out more.

3. Personalise Your Letter

Your letter should always start with a salutation (remember, even though it may be a direct mail campaign, it’s still a letter to one person).

If you can’t personalise it with the readers name try to get close by using a generic the reader can identify with, such as “Dear Birdlover”. Alternatively, just start with “Hello” or something similar. If nothing else, that’ll certainly get you noticed.

4. The First Few Lines

Your first few paragraphs must grab your prospect by the eyelashes. The first few lines will make or break the success of the letter. Get people to start reading and you’ve obviously got a far better chance of keeping them reading. The old saying goes ... "If they read the first 50 words, they’ll read the next thousand".

5. How to Get Readers to Turn The Page

Never, never, never end your page with a full stop. Instead, try to break the page mid-sentence so that the reader is virtually forced to keep reading. Ideally, try to break your page in the middle of a sentence and with as much drama as this line from a novel:

She looked up fearfully and saw the curtain move. Suddenly,

…please turn over"

6. Feature, Advantage, Benefit

In your body copy, you should concentrate on giving the benefits of your product - not just the features. You could easily take this next point as a throw away line.


Always keep in the back of your mind: “People don’t go into a store to buy a ¼” drill bit. They want the ¼”  hole it makes.”

To give you an example of how the features-advantages-benefits rule applies in selling a drill bit…

“The cutting edges are tungsten carbide tipped (feature) which means they last up to 7 times longer than a high speed steel bit (advantage) so you have much less costly downtime sharpening and replacing worn out drill bits (benefit).”

7. Credibility

Build credibility with a strong guarantee, testimonials and specific examples. And always, always talk to one person, not a crowd. Never use terms like, “As you all know”.

8. Your Close

Before closing, go back to your big benefit and major selling points again. As one old copywriter once said, “Tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em. Tell ‘em. Then tell ‘em what you, told ‘em.”
That’s good advice.

9. Before You Close

Just before you close, state the full details of your offer and make a clear call for action. Urge the reader to respond now, tell them how to do it, and offer them an incentive for doing so.

10. The "P.S."

Don’t think that direct response copywriters are absent minded just because they always finish with a “P.S.”. It’s just another technique that always seems to work.

Most people read the P.S., so even if you missed the reader with your opening statement, you can often pick them up again with a well thought out post script which stresses the key benefits, or introduces a new and important bonus. In fact, typically people read the P.S. before they get into the letter.

Too simple? Too obvious? Too basic? No way. These sample principles were used by the mail-order maestro’s 50 and 100 years ago, and those guys knew how to “sell off the page”.

Today, the principles still work. By simply applying these techniques and ideas to your own sales letters, you’ll immediately benefit from thousands of campaigns worth of experience.

Want to learn more about creating winning direct mail letters? 

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