Secrets of a Master:
3 Ways to Give Your Letter the Proper “Voice”

I see a lot of sample writing from AWAI members and I must say, I'm encouraged.

There's a lot of fundamentally good writing going on out there, and it's evident many of you are "getting" the secrets and techniques we're sharing with you in our course.

But many times, I'll read a first or second try letter and – aside from the typical structure problems that are common with most new writers – there's something about the voice that misses the mark.

By "voice," I mean not so much what you're saying but how you're saying it. I happen to believe the voice of a sales letter is almost as important as all the other elements that go into it – the big idea, the promise, proof, testimonials, the false close, and the like. That's because the voice of the letter touches a whole different set of buttons in your reader. Something deep down inside. Something that makes him feel at ease, comfortable, and, most importantly, makes him want to trust you.

Every writer has a natural voice. But when we sit down to write a sales letter, we're often thinking so hard about all the technical stuff that goes into writing a letter that we forget to use it. Instead, we speak in "adspeak," that "how-ya-doin-have-I-got-a-deal-for-you" voice that used-car salesmen, infomercials, mattress barns, and others use. The problem with this voice – besides the fact that it doesn't make that all-important warm, trusting connection with the reader – is that it usually leads to a letter full of jargon and clichés. And we all know that usually spells death for a sales letter.

I want to share with you, today, three very simple tricks I use to naturally eliminate "adspeak" from my letters. If you use these tricks, I'm sure you'll be surprised to find that your letters have a more natural and warmer tone to them.

  1. Imagine the person you're writing to.

    The first thing I do when I sit down to write a letter (once I've researched the product and know what it is I'm selling), is close my eyes and imagine someone I know who would benefit from the product I'm selling. This is important. If you're selling, say, a whitewater rafting excursion, it can't be your 80-year-old aunt. It has to be someone you know who loves adventure and danger. If you're selling a financial advisory service, you can't imagine your 16-year-old son or your friend Joe who has no interest in the market whatsoever. It must be someone predisposed to investing who would like to have the edge that the product you're selling would give him.

    So you imagine someone who is perfect for the product. Someone you know. Someone whose face you can picture, as if he's sitting right across from you.

    Got him? (Or her?)

    Now simply do this. Imagine you're writing to that friend. Talk directly to that person. For example, if your friend were sitting across from you and you wanted to tell him about, say, an investment service, would you say to him, "Hey, hey, hey Bob! Hold onto your hat, because I'm about to tell you about something that's going to change your life forever and make you richer than you ever imagined!"

    If you did, you'd probably get a pretty strange look back from him.

    No. You'd be more apt to say something like, "Listen Bob, I know you like to invest. Let me tell you about an advisory service I just discovered. Over the last year, it made 120% returns and the guy behind it really seems to know his stuff. And there's one stock he's talking about that sounds like a real winner."

    See the difference? One sounds like a crazy man ranting. The other like a sincere friend who obviously wants to do something to help you.

    So that's tip No. 1. Always (and I mean at every point throughout your letter) imagine you're talking to that friend.

  2. Believe that the product you're selling will improve your friend's life.

    The second trick is quick and simple. Always believe that the product you're selling will make your friend's life infinitely better. Believe it with all your heart. If you can't believe it, tell your product manager that it's best you not write the letter. You're not doing him or your career any favors if you're writing about something you don't believe in.

    This ties closely to my first tip, imagining a real person who could benefit from what you're selling. For example, you may be selling an investment newsletter with a lousy track record – but the editor has some interesting perspectives on this bull market. How it's operating on a bubble and how it's all going to end.

    Naturally, it's tough to write this if you're imaging a guy who's in love with technology and the Internet and thinks the good times are never going to end. But imagine you have an older uncle who's been investing for years and has never seen anything like this market. He doesn't trust it, feels somewhat alone in his views, and would really benefit by having his feelings and concerns about the market validated by someone who's on the same page as he is. Plus, you know he'd love to know how to make a lot of money when the market finally does fall apart.

    So you write to your uncle.

    What do you do it you don't believe the market's going to tank – if, in fact, you hope it doesn't? This is where you, as a writer, have to become a little bit of an actor. You have to "play the role" of someone who believes in the doom-and-gloom scenario. If you're not willing to do that, don't take the job.

  3. Figure out what it would take to convince you to buy the product.

    Finally, there's this little trick. It's not directly related to the voice of the sales letter, but I truly believe it helps it.

    One of the problems with a lot of the sales letters I read comes during the part of the letter where you're talking about the benefits of the product. Again, it's a situation where we get caught up in the technical aspect of putting together a letter and we forget about common sense. So here's what you do …

    Stop for a moment.

    Take a step back.

    And think about what would it take to convince you to buy this product.

    For instance, if you were buying a car – and you knew you wanted something sporty and powerful – would you be convinced if the salesman told you "the engine is powerful" or if he told you "the engine has an air-cooled, 350-horsepower, turbo-charged engine with such and such that makes it extra responsive when you step on the gas, and that's why this beast does 0-60 in 3.9 seconds?" (My apologies … I'm not an engine guy.)

    Of course, you're going to be more responsive to the more detailed and more specific information.

    Now think, "What's everything I would need to know about this car to be convinced to buy it?" For me, it's good to know all that engine stuff. I like the idea of having a fast car that's comfortable and fun to drive. But I also would love to know that when I'm driving it, people are saying "Ahh, that's the Super-X Sportster we've been hearing about. What a car!" (That this car is, indeed, exclusive – something not everyone can have.)

    And think about what kind of voice would best convince you of that. Would you respond better to a loud man in a checkered suit screaming at you "350 horses baby!!!" or an official engineer-looking guy in a white lab coat telling you this car, because of its superior engine technology and 350 horsepower has all the power you will ever need? I can tell you, without hesitation, that I'd respond much better to the latter.

So remember these three things: Picture you're writing to a real person you know – someone you truly believe would benefit from the product you're selling. Believe that your product will make your prospect's (your friend's) life better. And try to imagine what it would take to convince you to buy the product you're selling.

I think this will help you develop a more effective voice in your sales letters. I know it's helped me

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Published: June 24, 2002

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