* * * * *
Such a letter is an insult to anyone who receives it, for it really tells him that he is a "mutt" and does not know it. Compare the preceding paragraph with this forceful appeal:
"Remember, the men now in positions you covet did not tumble into them by accident. At one time they had nothing more to guide them than an opportunity exactly like this one. Someone pointed out to them the possibilities and they took the chance and gradually attained their present success. Have you the courage to make the start, grasp an opportunity, work out your destiny in this same way?"
* * * * *
This is persuasion by pointing out what others have done. It is the persuasion of example; an appeal that is dignified and inspirational.
And here, as in all other parts of the letter, there is the tendency to make the appeal from the selfish standpoint—the profits that will accrue to the writer:
"We strongly advise that you get a piece of this land at once. It is bound to increase in value. You can't lose. Won't you cast your lot with us now? It is your last opportunity to get a piece of this valuable land at this extremely low price. Take our word for it and make your decision now before it is too late."
* * * * *
A manufacturer of folding machines got away from this attitude and cleverly combined persuasion and inducement in an offer made to newspaper publishers during the month of October:
"You want to try this folder thoroughly before you buy it and no better test can be given than during the holiday season when heavy advertising necessitates large editions. Now, if you will put in one of these folders right away and use it every week, we will extend our usual sixty-day terms to January 15th. This will enable you to test it out thoroughly and, furthermore, you will not have to make the first payment until you have opportunity to make collections for the December advertising. This proposition must be accepted before Oct. 31st."
* * * * *
Such an inducement is timely and doubly effective on this account. The appeal reaches the newspaper man at the season of the year when he is busiest; just the time when he most needs a folder, and the manufacturer provides for the first payment at the time of year when the average publisher has the largest bank account.
Occasionally the most effective persuasion is a ginger talk, a regular "Come on, boys," letter that furnishes the dynamic force necessary to get some men started:
"There is no better time to start in this business than right now. People always spend money freely just before the holidays—get in the game and get your share of this loose coin. Remember, we ship the day the order comes in. Send us your order this afternoon and the goods will be at your door day after tomorrow. You can have several hundred dollars in the bank by this time next week. Why not? All you need to do is to make the decision now.
"Unless you are blind or pretty well crippled up, you needn't expect that people will come around and drop good money into your hat. But they will loosen up if you go out after them with a good proposition such as this—and provided you get to them before the other fellow. The whole thing is to get started. Get in motion! Get busy! If you don't want to take time to write, telegraph at our expense. It doesn't make much difference how you start, the thing is to start. Are you with us?"
* * * * *
Now, there really is nothing in these two paragraphs except a little ginger, and a good deal of slang, but this may prove the most effective stimulant to a man's energy, the kind of persuasion to get him in motion.
One thing to be constantly guarded against is exaggeration—"laying it on too thick." Concerns selling goods on the instalment basis through agents who are paid on commission, find their hardest problem is to collect money where the proposition was painted in too glowing colors. The representative, thinking only of his commission on the sale, puts the proposition too strong, makes the inducement so alluring that the goods do not measure up to the salesman's claims.
Then the correspondent should be careful not to put the inducement so strong that it will attract out of curiosity rather than out of actual intent. Many clever advertisements pull a large number of inquiries but few sales are made. It is a waste of time and money to use an inducement that does not stimulate an actual interest. Many a mailing list is choked with deadwood—names that represent curiosity seekers and the company loses on both hands, for it costs money to get those names on the list and it costs more money to get them off the list.
The correspondent should never attempt to persuade a man by assuming an injured attitude. Because a man answers an advertisement or writes for information, does not put him under the slightest obligation to purchase the goods and he cannot be shamed into parting with his money by such a paragraph as this:
"Do you think you have treated us fairly in not replying to our letters? We have written to you time and again just as courteously as we know how; we have asked you to let us know whether or not you are interested; we have tried to be perfectly fair and square with you; and yet you have not done us the common courtesy of replying. Do you think this is treating us just right? Don't you think you ought to write us, and if you are not intending to buy, to let us know the reason?"
* * * * *
If the recipient reads that far down into his letter, it will only serve to make him mad. No matter what inducement the company may make him later, it is not probable that it can overcome the prejudice that such an insulting paragraph will have created.
Some of the correspondence schools understand how to work in persuasion cleverly and effectively. Here is a paragraph that is dignified and persuasive:
"Remember also that this is the best time of the entire year to get good positions, as wholesalers and manufacturers all over the country will put on thousands of new men for the coming season. We are receiving inquiries right along from the best firms in the country who ask us to provide them with competent salesmen. We have supplied them with so many good men that they always look to us when additional help is required, and just now the demand is so great that we can gurantee you a position if you start the course this month."
* * * * *
Persuasion plays a small part in selling general commodities, such as machinery, equipment, supplies, and the articles of every-day business, but correspondence courses, insurance, banking, building and loan propositions and various investment schemes can be pushed and developed by an intelligent use of this appeal.
Merged with the persuasion or closely following it should be some inducement to move the reader to "buy now." Description, explanation, argument and even persuasion are not enough to get the order. A specific inducement is necessary. There are many things that we intend to buy sometime, articles in which we have become interested, but letters about them have been tucked away in a pigeon-hole until we have more time. It is likely that everyone of those letters would have been answered had they contained specific inducements that convinced us it would be a mistake to delay.
In some form or another, gain is the essence of all inducements, for gain is the dynamic force to all our business movements. The most familiar form of inducement is the special price, or special terms that are good if "accepted within ten days." The inducement of free trial and free samples are becoming more widely used every day.
The most effective letters are those that work in the inducement so artfully that the reader feels he is missing something if he does not answer. The skillful correspondent does not tell him bluntly that he will miss the opportunity of a life time if he does not accept a proposition; he merely suggests it in a way that makes a much more powerful impression. Here is the way a correspondence school uses inducements in letters to prospective students in its mechanical drawing course. After telling the prospect about the purchase of a number of drawing outfits it follows with this paragraph:
"It was necessary to place this large order in order to secure the sets at the lowest possible figure. Knowing that this number will exceed our weekly sales, we have decided to offer these extra sets to some of the ambitious young men who have been writing to us. If you will fill out the enclosed scholarship blank and mail at once we will send you one of these handsome sets FREE, express prepaid. But this offer must be accepted before the last of the month. At the rate the scholarship blanks are now coming in, it is more than likely that the available sets will be exhausted before November 1st. It is necessary therefore that you send us your application at once."
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It is not necessary to offer something for nothing in your inducement. In fact, a good reason is usually a better order getter than a good premium. Make the man want your proposition—that is the secret of the good sales letter. If a man really wants your product he is going to get it sooner or later, and the selling letters that score the biggest results are those that create desire; following argument and reason with an inducement that persuades a man to part with his hard-earned money and buy your goods.
It is a never-ending surprise—the number of correspondents who cleverly attract the interest of a reader, present their proposition forcibly and convincingly, following with arguments and inducements that persuade him to buy, and then, just as he is ready to reach for his check book, turn heel and leave him with the assurance that they will be pleased to give him further information when they could have had his order by laying the contract before him and saying, "Sign here."
There are plenty of good starters who are poor finishers. They get attention but don't get the order. They are winded at the finish; they stumble at the climax where they should be strongest, and the interest which they worked so hard to stimulate oozes away. They fail because they do not know how to close.
As you hope for results, do not overlook the summary and the climax. Do not forget to insert a hook that will land the order.
Time, energy and money are alike wasted in creating desire if you fail to crystallize it in action. Steer your letter away from the hold-over file as dexterously as you steer it away from the waste basket. It is not enough to make your prospect want to order, you must make it easy for him to order by enclosing order blanks, return envelopes, instructions and other "literature" that will strengthen your arguments and whet his desire; and more than that, you must reach a real climax in your letters—tell the prospect what to do and how to do it.
The climax is not a part distinct from the parts that have gone before. Persuasion and inducement are but elements of the climax, working the prospect up to the point where you can insert a paragraph telling him to "sign and mail today." How foolish to work up the interest and then let the reader down with such a paragraph as this:
"Thanking you for your inquiry and hoping to be favored with your order, and assuring you it will be fully appreciated and receive our careful attention, we are."
* * * * *
Such a paragraph pulls few orders. Compare the foregoing with the one that fairly galvanizes the reader into immediate action:
"Send us a $2.00 bill now. If you are not convinced that this file is the best $2.00 investment ever made, we will refund your money for the mere asking. Send today, while you have it in mind."
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Here is a paragraph not unlike the close of dozens of letters that you read every week:
"Trusting that we may hear from you in the near future and hoping we will have the pleasure of numbering you among our customers, we are,"
* * * * *
Such a close invites delay in answering. It is an order killer; it smothers interest, it delays action. But here is a close that is likely to bring the order if the desire has been created.
"Simply wrap a $1.00 bill in this letter and send to us at our risk."
* * * * *
A writer who does not understand the psychology of suggestion writes this unfortunate closing paragraph:
"Will you not advise us at an early date whether or not you are interested in our proposition? As you have not replied to our previous letters, we begin to fear that you do not intend to avail yourself of this wonderful opportunity, and we would be very glad to have you write us if this is a fact."
* * * * *
How foolish to help along one's indifference by the suggestion that he is not interested. Just as long as you spend postage on a prospect treat him as a probable customer. Assume that he is interested; take it for granted that there is some reason why he has not replied and present new arguments, new persuasion, new inducements for ordering now.
A firm handling a line very similar to that of the firm which sent out the letter quoted above, always maintains the attitude that the prospect is going to order some time and its close fairly bristles with "do it now" hooks:
"Step right over to the telegraph office and send us your order by telegraph at our expense. With this business, every day's delay means loss of dollars to you. Stop the leak! Save the dollars! Order today!"
* * * * *
Another unfortunate ending is a groveling servility in which the writer comes on his knees, as it were, begging for the privilege of presenting his proposition again at some future time. Here are the two last paragraphs of a three-paragraph letter sent out by an engraving company—an old established, substantial concern that has no reason to apologize for soliciting business, no reason for meeting other concerns on any basis except that of equality:
"Should you not be in the market at the present time for anything in our line of work, we would esteem it a great favor to us if you would file this letter and let us hear from you when needing anything in the way of engraving. If you will let us know when you are ready for something in this line we will deem it a privilege to send a representative to call on you.
"Trusting we have not made ourselves forward in this matter and hoping that we may hear from you, we are,"
* * * * *
It is a safe prediction that this letter was written by a new sales manager who will soon be looking for another job. Such an apologetic note, with such a lack of selling talk, such a street beggar attitude could never escape the waste basket. The salesman who starts out by saying, "You wouldn't be interested in this book, would you?" takes no orders. The letter that comes apologizing and excusing itself before it gets our attention, and, if it gets our attention, then lets down just as we are ready to sign an order, is headed straight for the car wheel plant.
Avoid in the closing paragraph, as far as possible, the participial phrases such as "Thanking you," "Hoping to be favored," "Assuring you of our desire," and so forth. Say instead, "We thank you," "It is a pleasure to assure you," or "May I not hear from you by return mail?" Such a paragraph is almost inevitably an anti-climax; it affords too much of a let-down to the proposition.
One of the essentials to the clinching of an order is the enclosures such as order blanks and return envelopes—subjects that are sufficiently important to call for separate chapters.
The essential thing to remember in working up to the climax is to make it a climax; to keep up the reader's interest, to insert a hook that will get the man's order before his desire has time to cool off. Your proposition is not a fireless cooker that will keep his interest warm for a long time after the heat of your letter has been removed—and it will be just that much harder to warm him up the second time. Insert the hook that will get the order NOW, for there will never be quite such a favorable time again.
"STYLE" In Letter Writing— And How To Acquire It
PART III—STYLE—MAKING THE LETTER READABLE—CHAPTER 8
SPECIFIC STATEMENTS and CONCRETE FACTS are the substance of a business letter. But whether that letter is read or not, or whether those statements and facts are FORCEFUL and EFFECTIVE, is dependent upon the manner in which they are presented to the reader—upon the "style." What "style" is, and how it may be acquired and put to practical use in business correspondence, is described in this chapter
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Letter writing is a craft—selecting and arranging words in sentences to convey a thought clearly and concisely. While letters take the place of spoken language, they lack the animation and the personal magnetism of the speaker—a handicap that must be overcome by finding words and arranging them in sentences in such a way that they will attract attention quickly, explain a proposition fully, make a distinct impression upon the reader and move him to reply. Out of the millions of messages that daily choke the mails, only a small per cent rise above the dead level of colorless, anemic correspondence.
The great majority of business letters are not forcible; they are not productive. They have no style. The meat is served without a dressing. The letters bulge with solid facts, stale statements and indigestible arguments—the relishes are lacking. Either the writers do not realize that effectiveness comes only with an attractive style or they do not know how a crisp and invigorating style can be cultivated. Style has nothing to do with the subject matter of a letter. Its only concern is in the language used—in the words and sentences which describe, explain and persuade, and there is no subject so commonplace, no proposition so prosaic that the letter cannot be made readable and interesting when a stylist takes up his pen.
In choosing words the average writer looks at them instead of into them, and just as there are messages between the lines of a letter, just so are there half-revealed, half-suggested thoughts between the letters of words—the suggestiveness to which Hawthorne referred as "the unaccountable spell that lurks in a syllable." There is character and personality in words, and Shakespeare left a message to twentieth-century correspondents when he advised them to "find the eager words—faint words—tired words—weak words—strong words—sick words—successful words." The ten-talent business writer is the man who knows these words, recognizes their possibilities and their limitations and chooses them with the skill of an artist in mixing the colors for his canvas.
To be clear, to be forceful, to be attractive—these are the essentials of style. To secure these elements, the writer must make use of carefully selected words and apt figures of speech. Neglect them and a letter is lost in the mass; its identity is lacking, it fails to grip attention or carry home the idea one wishes to convey.
An insipid style, is responsible for much of the ineffectiveness in business letters. Few men will take the time to decipher a proposition that is obscured by ambiguous words and involved phrases. Unless it is obviously to a man's advantage to read such a letter it is dropped into the waste basket, taking with it the message that might have found an interested prospect if it had been expressed clearly, logically, forcibly.
The first essential for style is clearness—make your meaning plain. Look to the individual words; use them in the simplest way— distinctive words to give exactness of meaning and familiar words to give strength. Words are the private soldiers under the command of the writer and for ease of management he wants small words—a long word is out of place, unwieldy, awkward. The "high-sounding" words that are dragged in by main force for the sake of effect weigh down the letter, make it logy. The reader may be impressed by the language but not by the thought. He reads the words and misses the message.
Avoid long, unfamiliar words. Clothe your thoughts in words that no one can mistake—the kind of language that men use in the office and on the street. Do not make the reader work to see your point; he is busy, he has other things to do—it is your proposition and it is to your interest to put in that extra work, those additional minutes that will make the letter easily understood. It is too much to expect the reader to exert himself to dig out your meaning and then enthuse himself over your proposition.
The men who write pulling letters weigh carefully every sentence, not only pruning away every unessential word but using words of Anglo-Saxon origin wherever possible rather than words of Latin derivation. "Indicate your selection" was written as the catch line for a letter in an important selling campaign, but the head correspondent with unerring decision re-wrote it—"Take your choice"—a simpler, stronger statement. The meaning goes straight to the reader's mind without an effort on his part. "We are unable to discern" started out the new correspondent in answering a complaint. "We cannot see" was the revision written in by the master correspondent—short, concise, to the point. "With your kind permission I should like to say in reply to your favor"—such expressions are found in letters every day—thousands of them. The reader is tired before the subject matter is reached.
The correspondent who is thinking about the one to whom he is writing starts out briefly and to the point by saying, "This is in reply to your letter," or, "Thank you for calling our attention to, and so forth." The reader is impressed that the writer means business. The attitude is not antagonistic; it commands attention.
Letters are unnaturally burdened with long words and stilted phrases, while in conversation one's thoughts seek expression through lines of least resistance—familiar words and short sentences. But in writing, these same thoughts go stumbling over long words and groping through involved phrases.
Proverbs are sentences that have lived because they express a thought briefly in short, familiar words. Slang becomes popular because of the wealth of meaning expressed in a few words, and many of these sayings gradually work their way into respectability— reluctantly admitted into the sanctuary of "literature" because of their strength, clearness, adaptability.
While short words are necessary for force and vigor, it may be very desirable at times to use longer and less familiar words to bring out the finer shade of meaning. A subtle distinction cannot be ignored simply because one word is shorter than another. "Donate" and "give" are frequently used as synonyms, but "give" should not be used because it is a short word when "donate" expresses the meaning more accurately. As a usual thing, "home" is preferable to "residence," but there are times when the longer word should be used. "Declare" and "state," "thoroughfare" and "street"—there are thousands of illustrations on this point, and while the short, Anglo-Saxon word is always preferable, it should not be used when a longer word expresses more accurately the thought which the writer wishes to convey.
Many letter writers think that these rules are all right for college professors, journalists and authors, but impractical for the every-day business correspondent. Some of the most successful companies in the country, however, have recognized the importance of these very points and have adopted strict rules that give strength and character to the letters that are sent out. For example, here is a paragraph taken from the book of instructions issued by a large manufacturing concern in the middle west:
"Don't use a long or big word where a short one will do as well or better. For example: 'Begin' is better than 'commence'; 'home' or 'house' better than 'residence'; 'buy' better than 'purchase'; 'live' better than 'reside'; 'at once' better than 'immediately'; 'give' better than 'donate'; 'start' or 'begin' better than 'inaugurate.'"
The selection of words is not the only thing that the writer must consider. The placing of words to secure emphasis is no less important. The strength of a statement may depend upon the adroitness with which the words are used. "Not only to do one thing well but to do that one thing best—this has been our aim and our accomplishment." In this sentence, taken from a letter, emphasis is laid upon the word "best" by its position. The manufacturer has two strong arguments to use on the dealer; one is the quality of the goods—so they will give satisfaction to the customer—and the other is the appearance of the goods so they will attract the customer. This is the sentence used by a clever writer: "We charge you for the service quality—we give you the appearance quality." The strength comes from the construction of the sentence throwing emphasis on "charge" and "give."
"Durability—that is our talking point. Other machines are cheaper if you consider only initial cost; no other machine is more economical when its durability, its length of service is considered." Here the unusual position of the word "durability," thrown at the beginning of the sentence, gives an emphasis that could not be obtained in any other way. And so the stylist considers not only the words he uses but he places them in the most strategic position in the sentence—the beginning.
In the building of a climax this order of words is reversed since the purpose is to work up from the weakest to the strongest word or phrase. The description, "sweet, pure and sanitary," gives emphasis to the sanitary feature because it comes last and lingers longest in the mind.
After the study of words, their meaning and position, the writer must look to completed sentences, and the man who succeeds in selling goods by mail recognizes first of all the force of concise statements. "You can pay more but you can't buy more." This statement strikes home with the force of a blow. "We couldn't improve the powder so we improved the box." There is nothing but assertion in this sentence, but it carries conviction. Not a word is out of place. Every word does duty. The idea is expressed concisely, forcibly. The simplicity of the sentence is more effective than pages of prosaic argument.
Here is a sentence taken from a letter of a correspondence school: "Assuming that you are in search of valuable information that may increase your earning capacity by a more complete knowledge of any subject in which you may be interested, we desire to state most emphatically that your wages increase with your intelligence." This is not only ungrammatical, it is uninteresting. Contrast it with the sentence taken from a letter from another correspondence school: "You earn more as you learn more." It is short, emphatic, thought producing. The idea is clearly etched into your mind.
Short sentences are plain and forceful, but when used exclusively, they become tiresome and monotonous. A short sentence is frequently most striking when preceding or following a long sentence—it gives variation of style. Following a long sentence it comes as a quick, trip-hammer blow that is always effective. And there are times when the proposition cannot be brought out clearly by short sentences. Then the long sentence comes to the rescue for it permits of comparisons and climaxes that short sentences cannot give.
It is the long, rambling sentences that topple a letter over onto the waste basket toboggan. But the sentence with a climax, working up interest step by step, is indispensable. By eye test, by mechanical test, by erasure test and by strength test, Orchard Hill Bond makes good its reputation as the best bond on the market for commercial use. There is nothing tiresome about such a sentence. There is no difficulty in following the writer's thought.
* * * * *
THE LETTER THE VEHICLE WORDS SHORT SAXON SPECIFIC INDIVIDUAL PHRASES VIVID NATURAL FIGURES IDIOMS SENTENCES CLEAR FORCEFUL CLIMATIC POLISHED PARAGRAPHS SHORT UNIFORM LOGICAL ORDERLY THE LOAD IDEAS GRAPHIC TECHNICAL CLEAR COMPLETE STATEMENTS FACTS PROOFS REFERENCES TESTIMONY EXPLANATIONS SPECIFIC TECHNICAL CLEAR COMPLETE ARGUMENTS LOGICAL CLIMATIC CONCLUSIVE CONVINCING
There are two elements in every letter: the thought and the language in which that thought is expressed. The words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs are the vehicle which carries the load—explanations, arguments, appeal. Neither can be neglected if the letter is to pull
* * * * *
Here is another sentence showing the force to be attained through the use of a long sentence: "Just as the physician may read medicine, just as the lawyer may read law, just so may a man now read business—the science of the game which enables some men to succeed where hosts of others fail; it is no longer enveloped in mystery and in darkness." There is no danger of the reader's becoming confused in the meaning and he is more deeply impressed because his interest has been gained by the gradual unfolding of the idea back of the sentence, the leading up to the important thought.
And after the choice of words, the placing of words and the construction of a sentence comes that other essential element of style—the use of figures of speech, the illustrating of one's thought by some apt allusion. Comparison adds force by giving the reader a mental picture of the unknown, by suggestions of similarity to familiar things. The language of the street, our conversational language, secures its color and expressiveness through figures of speech—the clever simile and the apt metaphor light up a sentence and lift it out of the commonplace.
"Don't hold yourself down," "Don't be bottled up," "Don't keep your nose on the grindstone"—these are the forceful figures used in the letters of a correspondence school. The most ignorant boy knows that the writer did not mean to be taken literally. Such figures are great factors in business letters because they make the meaning clear.
Here is the attention-getting first sentence of another letter: "Don't lull yourself to sleep with the talk that well enough should be let alone when practical salary-raising, profit-boosting help is within your reach." The sentence is made up of figures; you do not literally lull yourself to sleep with talk, you don't really boost profits, you don't actually reach out and grasp the help the letter offers. The figures merely suggest ideas, but they are vivid.
A sales manager writes to the boys on the road regarding a contest or a spurt for records: "Come on, boys. This is the last turn round the track. The track was heavy at the start but if none of you break on the home stretch you are bound to come under the wire with a good record." The salesman will read this sort of a letter and be inspired by its enthusiasm, when the letter would be given no more than a hurried glance if it said what it really means: "Get busy! Keep on the job! Send in more orders." By framing your ideas in artistic figures of speech you bring out their colors, their lines, their fullest meanings—and more than that, you know your letters will be read.
But in the attempt to add grace and attractiveness by some familiar allusion, one must not overlook the importance of facts—cold, plainly stated facts, which are often the shortest, most convincing argument. In the letter of an advertising concern is this plain statement: "Last year our business was $2,435,893 ahead of the year before." No figure of speech, no touch of the stylist could make such a profound impression as this brief, concise statement of fact.
The average correspondent will agree that these are all essential elements of style—his problem is practical: how can he find the right words; how can he learn to put his proposition more clearly; how think up figures of speech that will light up the thought or illustrate the proportion.
To some men an original style and the ability to write convincingly is a birthright. Others have to depend less on inspiration and more on hard work. One man carries a note book in which he jots down, for future use, phrases, words and comparisons that he comes across while reading his morning paper on the way down town, while going through his correspondence, while listening to callers, while talking with friends at lunch, while attending some social affair—wherever he is, his eyes and ears are always alert to catch a good phrase, an unusual expression or a new figure of speech. At his first opportunity a notation is made in the ever-handy memorandum book.
Another man systematically reads articles by Elbert Hubbard, Alfred Henry Lewis, Samuel Blythe and other writers whose trenchant pens replenish his storage with similes, metaphors and crisp expressions.
The head of a mail-order sales department of a large publishing house keeps a scrapbook in which he pastes words, phrases, striking sentences and comparisons clipped from letters, advertisements, booklets, circulars, and other printed matter. Each month he scans the advertisements in a dozen magazines and with a blue pencil checks every expression that he thinks may some time be available or offer a suggestion. It is but a few minutes' work for a girl to clip and paste in these passages and his scrapbooks are an inexhaustible mine of ideas and suggestions.
Another man, after outlining his ideas, dictates a letter and then goes over it sentence by sentence and word by word. With a dictionary and book of synonyms he tries to strengthen each word; he rearranges the words, writes and rewrites the sentences, eliminating some, reinforcing others and devising new ones until he has developed his idea with the precision of an artist at work on a drawing.
The average correspondent, handling a large number of letters daily, has little time to develop ideas for each letter in this way, but by keeping before him a list of new words and phrases and figures of speech, they soon become a part of his stock in trade. Then there are other letters to write—big selling letters that are to be sent out by the thousands and letters that answer serious complaints, letters that call for diplomacy, tact, and above all, clearness and force.
On these important letters the correspondent can well afford to spend time and thought and labor. A day or several days may be devoted to one letter, but the thoughts that are turned over—the ideas that are considered, the sentences that are written and discarded, the figures that are tried out—are not wasted, but are available for future use; and by this process the writer's style is strengthened. He acquires clearness, force, simplicity and attractiveness—the elements that will insure the reading of his letters.
And one thing that every correspondent can do is to send to the scrap-heap all the shelf-worn words and hand-me-down expressions such as, "We beg to acknowledge," "We beg to state;" "Replying to your esteemed favor;" "the same;" "the aforesaid;" "We take great pleasure in acknowledging," and so on. They are old, wind-broken, incapable of carrying a big message. And the participial phrases should be eliminated, such as: "Hoping to hear from you;" "Trusting we will be favored;" "Awaiting your reply," and so on, at the close of the letter. Say instead, "I hope to hear from you;" or, "I trust we will receive your order;" or, "May we not hear from you?"
Interest the man quickly; put snap and sparkle in your letters. Give him clear and concise statements or use similes and metaphors in your sentences—figures of speech that will turn a spot-light on your thoughts. Pick out your words and put them into their places with the infinite care of a craftsman, but do not become artificial. Use every-day, hard-working words and familiar illustrations that have the strength to carry your message without stumbling before they reach their goal.
Making The Letter HANG TOGETHER
PART III—STYLE—MAKING THE LETTER READABLE—CHAPTER 9
The letter writer looks to words, phrases and sentences to make the little impressions on the reader as he goes along. The letter as a whole also has to make a SINGLE IMPRESSION—clear-cut and unmistakable. The correspondent must use this combination shot-gun and rifle. To get this single rifle-shot effect a letter has to contain those elements of style that HOLD IT TOGETHER; there must be a definite idea behind the letter; the message must have a unity of thought; it must be logically presented; it must have a continuity that carries the reader along without a break, and a climax that works him up and closes at the height of his enthusiasm
* * * * *
Thinking is not easy for anyone. And it is too much to expect the average business man to analyze a proposition in which he is not interested. His thoughts tend to move in the course of least resistance. If you want him to buy your goods or pay your bill or hire you, present your arguments in a way that will require no great mental exertion on his part to follow you.
A single idea behind the letter is the first requisite for giving it the hang-together quality and the punch that gets results. The idea cannot be conveyed to the reader unless it is presented logically. He won't get a single general impression from what you are saying to him unless there is unity of thought in the composition. He cannot follow the argument unless it has continuity; sequence of thought. And, finally no logic or style will work him up to enthusiasm unless it ends with a strong climax.
These five principles—the idea behind, logic, unity of thought, continuity, climax—are the forces that holds the letter together and that gives it momentum. Because these principles are laid down in text books does not mean that they are arbitrary rules or academic theories. They are based on the actual experiences of men ever since they began to talk and write. Essay or sermon; oration or treatise; advertisement or letter; all forms of communication most easily accomplish their purpose of bringing the other man around to your way of thinking, if these proved principles of writing are followed. Merely observing them will not necessarily make a letter pull, but violating them is certain to weaken it.
You cannot hit a target with a rifle unless you have one shot in the barrel. The idea behind the letter is the bullet in the gun. To hit your prospect you must have a message—a single, definite, clearly-put message. That is the idea behind the letter.
Look at the letter on page 61. It gets nowhere. Because the writer did not have this clear, definite idea of what he wanted to impress upon his prospect. Not one reader in ten would have the shallowest dent made in his attention by this letter, as he would have had if the writer had started out, for instance, with one idea of impressing upon the reader the facilities of his establishment and the large number of satisfied customers for whom it does work.
With this dominant idea in mind, a correspondent has got to explain it and argue it so logically that the reader is convinced. Here is a letter from a manufacturer of gasoline engines:
I understand you are in the market for a gasoline engine and as ours is the most reliable engine made we want to call your attention to it. It has every modern improvement and we sell it on easy terms.
The inventor of this machine is in personal charge of our factory and he is constantly making little improvements. He will tell you just what kind of an engine you need and we will be glad to quote you prices if you will call on us or write us, telling us what you need.
Hoping to hear from you, we are,
Yours truly, [Signature: THE MADEWELL ENGINE CO.]
* * * * *
The letter is illogical, disjointed and lacking in that dominant idea that carries conviction. Yet the writer had material at hand for a strong, logical selling letter. To have interested the prospect he should have told something specific about his engine. Here is the letter, rewritten with due regard to the demands of unity, sequence, logic and climax:
A friend told me yesterday that you want a gas engine for irrigating, so I am sending you bulletin "B."
Do you notice that all its parts are in plain view and easy to get at? Mr. Wilbur, who invented this engine, had a good many years of practical experience installing gasoline engines before he started to manufacture his own, and he knows what it means to tighten up a nut or some other part without having to send to the factory for a special man with a special wrench to do the work.
Sparkers sometimes get gummed up. To take the Wilbur sparker out you simply remove two nuts and out comes the sparker complete, and you cannot get it back the wrong way. It isn't much of a job to wipe the point off with a rag, is it?
And the governor! Just the same type of throttling governor that is used on the highest grade of steam engine, allowing you to speed her up or slow her down while the engine is running. That's mighty handy. Few engines are built like this. It costs a good deal of extra money but it does give a lot of extra satisfaction.
Nothing shoddy about the equipment described in the bulletin, is there? No. We don't make these supplies ourselves, but we do watch out and see that the other fellow gives us the best in the market because WE GUARANTEE IT.
This sounds very nice on paper, you think. Well, we have over four thousand customers in Kansas. Mr. W. O. Clifford, who lives not so far from you, has used a Wilbur for three years. Ask him what he has to say about it.
Then you will want to know just what such an engine will cost you, and you will be tickled to death when you know how much money we can really save you. I don't mean that we will furnish you with a cheap machine at a high price, but a really high-grade machine at a low price.
I await with much interest your reply telling us what you want.
Very truly yours, [Signature: L. W. Hamilton]
* * * * *
The commonest cause of a lack of punch in a letter is the temptation to get away from the main idea—unity of thought. This is what a mail-order house writes:
"This is the largest catalogue of the kind ever issued, it will pay you to deal with our house. Every machine is put together by hand and tested, and we will ship the day your order is received.
"An examination of the catalogue will prove our claim that we carry the largest stock of goods in our line. Should our goods appeal to you, we shall be glad to add you to our list of customers."
* * * * *
There is neither unity nor logic in a letter like this, although there is the suggestion of several good ideas. The fact that the house issues the largest catalogue of its kind might be so explained to me that it would convince me that here is the place I ought to buy. Or, the fact that every machine is tested and put together by hand, if followed to a logical conclusion, would prove to me that I could rely on the quality of these goods. But when the writer doesn't stick to one subject for more than half a sentence, my attention will not cling to it and my mind is not convinced by a mere statement without proof.
Unity does not necessarily mean that the whole letter must be devoted to one point. A paragraph and even a sentence must have this quality of unity as much as the entire letter. And the paragraphs, each unified in itself, may bring out one point after another that will still allow the letter to retain its hang-together.
In the letter quoted, not even the individual sentence retained unity. This writer might have presented all his points and maintained the unity of his letter, had he brought out and simplified one point in each paragraph:
First: The size of the catalogue as an indication of the large stock carried by the house and the convenience afforded in buying.
Second: The quality of the machines; the care exercised in their assembling; the guarantee of the test, and the assurance that this gives the far-away purchaser.
Third: Promptness in filling orders; what this means to the buyer and how the house is organized to give service.
Fourth: The desire to enroll new customers; not based solely on the selfish desires of the house, but on the idea that the more customers they can get, the bigger the business will grow, which will result in better facilities for the house and better service for each customer.
And now, giving a unified paragraph to each of the ideas, not eliminating subordinate thoughts entirely, but keeping them subordinate and making them illuminate the central thought—would build up a unified, logical letter.
In the arrangement of these successive ideas and paragraphs, the third element in the form is illustrated—continuity of thought. Put a jog or a jar in the path of your letter and you take the chance of breaking the reader's attention. That is fatal. So write a letter that the reader will easily and, therefore, unconsciously and almost perforce, follow from the first word to the last—then your message reaches him.
How to secure this continuity depends on the subject and on the prospect. Appealing to the average man, association of thoughts furnishes the surest medium for continuity. If you lead a man from one point to another point that he has been accustomed to associating with the first point, then he will follow you without a break in his thought. From this follows the well-known principle that when you are presenting a new proposition, start your prospect's thoughts on a point that he knows, which is related to your proposition, for the transition is easiest from a known to a related unknown.
An insurance company's letter furnishes a good example of continuity of ideas and the gradual increasing strength in each paragraph:
"If you have had no sickness, and consequently, have never felt the humiliation of calling on strangers for sick benefits—even though it were only a temporary embarrassment—you are a fortunate man.
"Health is always an uncertain quantity—you have no assurance that next week or next month you will not be flat on your back—down and out as far as selling goods is concerned. And sickness not only means a loss of time but an extra expense in the way of hospital and doctor bills."
* * * * *
In the next paragraph the idea is further strengthened; a new thought is presented with additional force:
"If there is one man on earth who needs protection by insurance against sickness it is you. There are two thousand one hundred and fifty ailments covering just such diseases as you, as a traveling man, expose yourself to every day."
* * * * *
These are specific facts, therefore decidedly forceful. Then, while interest is at its height, another paragraph presents a specific offer:
"We will protect you at an extremely low annual cost. We guarantee that the rate will not exceed $9.00 a year—that's less than two and a half cents a day. Think of it—by paying an amount so small that you will never miss it, you will secure benefits on over two thousand sicknesses—any one of which you may contract tomorrow."
* * * * *
Here is the logical presentation of subject matter by paragraphs, leading up from an interest-getting general statement to a specific proposition. Break this continuity of ideas by a space filler or an inconsequential argument and the reader loses interest that it will be hard to regain.
Make this the test of each paragraph: if it does not illuminate the central thought, fit into the argument at that point, or add to the interest of the reader, eliminate it or bring it into conformity with the "idea behind the letter."
And there must be an actual continuity of thought from paragraph to paragraph. Merely inserting a catch-word or a conjunctive does not build a logical bridge.
The letter from another insurance agent might have been saved if this test had been applied, for it was well written except where the writer forgot himself long enough to insert an irrelevant paragraph about his personal interest:
"We are desirous of adding your name to our roll of membership because we believe that every man should be protected by insurance and because we believe this is the best policy offered. We are endeavoring to set a new record this month and are especially anxious to get your application right away."
* * * * *
The continuity of thought is broken. The preceding paragraphs have been working up the reader's interest in casualty insurance by pointing out the dangers to which he is exposed, the humiliating position in which it will place him and his family to be the recipients of charity in case of sickness or accident, and so on. Then the writer short-circuits the reader's interest by a paragraph of generalities which call attention to his desire for profits— things in which the prospect is not interested.
Most propositions can be developed in different ways, along different angles. The problem of the correspondent is to determine upon the way that will prove easiest for the reader to follow. He may have his path smoothed for him if he understands how facts, ideas and arguments will cohere in the reader's mind. It is much easier to follow a proposition if it is developed along some definite channel; if it follows the law of continuity, the law of similarity; of association or contrast, or of cause and effect.
Some epigrammatic thinker once said, "When you get through, stop!" This applies to letter writing as well as to speech. But don't stop a letter on the down grade. Stop after you have given your hardest punch. This is what rhetoricians call the climax.
A letter constructed along these principles of style will almost inevitably have a climax. If there is an idea behind the letter, if it is carried out logically, if the letter sticks to this one idea, if the argument is carried along step by step, proceeding from the general statement to the specific, from the attention-getting first sentence to the inducement, then you are working up your reader's interest to the point where with one final application of your entire idea to his own individual case, you have accomplished your climax, just as was done in the re-written letter about gasoline engines.
A letter from a firm manufacturing a duplicating machine starts out by calling attention to the difficulty the personal salesmen has in getting an audience with the busy executive. The second paragraph shows how his time and "your money" is wasted in call-backs and in bench warming while the solicitor waits for an opportunity to be heard. The third paragraph tells how over-anxious the salesman is to close a sale when a few minutes is granted—and usually fails, at least the first time. The fourth paragraph shows how this costly process of selling can be reduced by using the mails; then follow a couple of specific paragraphs telling about the advantage of the company's machine. A paragraph on the saving on five thousand circulars that would pay for the machine brings the proposition home to the reader and then, with interest at the height, the last paragraph—the climax—urges the reader to fill out a post card to secure the additional information regarding capacity, quality of work and cost. Logic, unity, sequence, climax—each does its part in carrying the load.
The principles of style and form in letter writing do not reach their highest pulling power as long as the correspondent handles them like strange tools. The principles must, of course, first be learned and consciously applied. But to give your letter the touch of sincerity and of spontaneity; to give it the grip that holds and the hook that pulls, these principles must become a part of yourself. They must appear in your letters, not because you have consciously put them in but because your thinking and your writing possesses them.
How To Make Letters ORIGINAL
PART III—STYLE—MAKING THE LETTER READABLE—CHAPTER 10
The average business letter is machine-made. It is full of time-worn phrases, hackneyed expressions and commonplace observations that fail to jolt the reader out of the rut of the conventional correspondence to which he is accustomed: consequently it does not make an impression upon him. But occasionally a letter comes along that "gets under the skin," that STANDS OUT from the rest because it has "human interest;" because it is original in its statements; because it departs from the prescribed hum-drum routine; because, in short, it reflects a live, breathing human being and not a mere set of rules
* * * * *
Study the letters the janitor carries out in your waste-basket— they lack the red blood of originality. Except for one here and one there they are stereotyped, conventional, long, uninteresting, tiresome. They have no individuality; they are poor representatives of an alert, magnetic personality.
Yet there is no legerdemain about writing a good letter; it is neither a matter of luck nor of genius. Putting in the originality that will make it pull is not a secret art locked up in the mental storerooms of a few successful writers; it is purely a question of study and the application of definite principles.
A lawyer is successful only in proportion to the understanding he has of the law—the study he puts on his cases; a physician's success depends upon his careful consideration of every symptom and his knowledge of the effect of every drug or treatment that he may prescribe. And it is no different with correspondents. They cannot write letters that will pulsate with a vital message unless they study their proposition in detail, visualize the individuals to whom they are writing, consider the language they use, the method of presenting their arguments, their inducements—there is no point from the salutation to the signature that is beneath consideration. You cannot write letters that pull without hard study any more than the doctor can cure his patients or the lawyer win his cases without brain work.
So many letters are insipid because the correspondents do not have time or do not appreciate the necessity for taking time to consider the viewpoint of their readers or for studying out new methods of presenting their proposition. Yet the same respect that would be given to a salesman may be secured for a letter. Any one of four attitudes will secure this attention. First of all, there may be a personal touch and an originality of thought or expression that commands immediate attention; in the second place, one can make use of the man-to-man appeal; then there is the always-forceful, never-to-be-forgotten "you" element; and finally, there are news items which are nearly always interest-getters.
By any one of these appeals, or better, by a combination of appeals, a letter can be given an individuality, a vitality, that will make it rise above the underbrush of ordinary business correspondence.
To begin with, vapid words and stereotyped expressions should be eliminated, for many a good message has become mired in stagnant language. So many correspondents, looking for the easiest road to travel, fall into the rut that has been worn wide and deep by the multitudes passing that way. The trouble is not the inability of writers to acquire a good style or express themselves forcibly; the trouble is mental inertia—too little analytical thought is given to the subject matter and too little serious effort is made to find an original approach.
Most business letters are cold, impersonal, indifferent: "Our fall catalogue which is sent to you under separate cover;" "We take pleasure in advising you that;" "We are confident that our goods will give you entire satisfaction," and so on—hackneyed expressions without end—no personality—no originality—no vitality.
The correspondent who has learned how to sell goods by mail uses none of these run-down-at-the-heel expressions. He interests the reader by direct, personal statements: "Here is the catalogue in which you are interested;" "Satisfaction? Absolute! We guarantee it. We urge you not to keep one of our suits unless it is absolutely perfect;" "How did you find that sample of tobacco?" No great mental exertion is required for such introductions, yet they have a personal touch, and while they might be used over and over again they strike the reader as being original, addressed to him personally.
Everyone is familiar with the conventional letter sent out by investment concerns: "In response to your inquiry, we take pleasure in sending you herewith a booklet descriptive of the White Cloud Investment Company." Cut and dried—there is nothing that jars us out of our indifference; nothing to tempt us to read the proposition that follows. Here is a letter that is certain to interest the reader because it approaches him with an original idea:
"You will receive a copy of the Pacific Coast Gold Book under separate cover. Don't look for a literary product because that's not its purpose. Its object is to give you the actual facts and specific figures in reference to the gold-mining industry."
* * * * *
A correspondence school that has got past the stage where it writes, "We beg to call attention to our catalogue which is mailed under separate cover," injects originality into its letter in this way:
"Take the booklet we have mailed you and examine the side notes on Drawing for Profit and Art Training that apply to you individually and then go back over them carefully."
* * * * *
The reader, even though he may have had nothing more than the most casual interest is certain to finish that letter.
Here is the way a paper manufacturer puts convincing argument into his letter, making it original and personal:
"Take the sheet of paper on which this letter is written and apply to it every test you have ever heard of for proving quality. You will find it contains not a single trace of wood pulp or fillers but is strong, tough, long-fiber linen. Take your pen and write a few words on it. You will find the point glides so smoothly that writing is a pleasure. Then erase a word or two and write them again—do it twice, three or four times—repeated erasures, and still you will find the ink does not blot or spread in the least. This proves the hard body and carefully prepared finish."
* * * * *
Even if a person felt sure that this same letter went to ten-thousand other men, there would be an individuality about it, a vividness that makes the strongest kind of appeal.
In a town in central Indiana two merchants suffered losses from fire. A few days later, one sent out this announcement to his customers:
"We beg to announce that temporary quarters have been secured at 411 Main Street, where we will be glad to see you and will endeavor to handle your orders promptly."
* * * * *
The second firm wrote to its customers:
Dear Mr. Brown:
Yes, it was a bad fire but it will not cripple the business. Our biggest asset is not the merchandise in the store but the good-will of our customers—something that fires cannot damage.
Our store does not look attractive. It won't until repairs are made and new decorations are in, but the bargains are certainly attractive—low prices to move the stock and make room for the new goods that have been ordered. Everything has gone on the bargain tables; some of the goods slightly damaged by water, but many of the suits have nothing the matter with them except a little odor of smoke that will disappear in a couple of days. Come in and look at these goods. See the original prioe mark—you can have them at just one-half the amount.
Very truly yours, [Signature: Smith and Deene] 82
* * * * *
Here is originality; emphasis is laid on "good will" in a way that will strengthen this "asset." The merchant put a personal element into the letter; gave it an original appeal that made it not only a clever bit of advertising, but proclaimed him a live-wire business man.
Here is the letter sent out by a store fixture manufacturer:
"If one of your salesmen should double his sales slips tomorrow you would watch to see how he did it. If he kept up this pace you would be willing to double his wages, wouldn't you? He would double his sales if he could display all his goods to every customer. That's the very thing which the Derwin Display Fixture does—it shows all the goods for your salesman, yet you don't have to pay him a higher salary."
* * * * *
A merchant cannot read this letter without stopping to think about it. The appeal strikes home. He may have read a hundred advertisements of the Derwin fixture, but this reaches him because of the originality of expression, the different twist that is given to the argument. There are no hackneyed expressions, no involved phrases, no unfamiliar words, no selfish motives.
And then comes the man-to-man attitude, the letter in which the writer wins the reader's confidence by talking about "you and me." A western firm handling building materials of all kinds entered the mail-order field. One cannot conceive a harder line of goods to sell by mail, but this firm has succeeded by putting this man-to-man attitude into its letters:
"If you could sit at my desk for an hour—if you might listen a few minutes to the little intimate things that men and women tell me— their hopes, their plans for the home that will protect their families—their little secret schemes to make saved-up money stretch out over the building cost; if you could hear and see these sides of our business you would understand why we give our customers more than mere quality merchandise. We plan for you and give expert advice along with the material."
* * * * *
There is nothing cold or distant in this letter; it does not flavor of a soulless corporation. It is intimate, it is so personal that we feel we are acquainted with the writer. We would not need an introduction—and what is more, we trust him, believe in him. Make the man feel that you and he are friends.
Write to the average college or university for a catalogue and it will be sent promptly with a stereotyped letter: "We are pleased to comply with your request," and so forth. But a little school in central Iowa makes the prospective student feel a personal interest in the school and in its officers by this letter:
My dear Sir:
The catalogue was mailed to you this morning. We have tried to make it complete and I believe it covers every important point. But I wish you could talk with me personally for half an hour—I wish you might go over our institution with me that I might point out to you the splendid equipment, the convenient arrangement, the attractive rooms, the ideal surroundings and the homelike places for room and board.
Won't you drop me a line and let me know what you think about our school? Tell me what courses you are interested in and let me know if I cannot be of some personal assistance to you in making your plans.
I hope to see you about the middle of September when our fall term opens.
Very cordially yours, [Signature: Wallace E. Lee] President.
* * * * *
This letter, signed by the president of the institution, is a heart-to-heart talk that induces many students to attend that school in preference to larger, better-equipped colleges.
A large suit house manufacturing women's garments uses this paragraph in a letter in response to a request for a catalogue:
"And now as you look through this book we wish we could be privileged to sit there with you as you turn its pages. We would like to read aloud to you every word printed on pages 4, 5 and 6. Will you turn to those pages, please? Sometimes we think the story told there of the making of a suit is the most interesting thing ever written about clothes—but then, we think Columbia suits are the most wonderful garments in the world."
* * * * *
The letter creates a feeling of intimacy, of confidence in the writer, that no formal arguments, logical reasons or special inducements could ever secure.
Important as these two attitudes are—the personal appeal and the man-to-man appeal—they can be strengthened manifold by making use of that other essential, the "you" element in letters. The mistake of so many writers is that they think of their interests in the transaction rather than the interests of the men to whom they are writing. It is "we" this and "we" that. Yet this "we" habit is a violation of the first rule of business correspondence. "We are very desirous of receiving an order from you." Of course; the reader knows that. Why call his attention to so evident a fact and give emphasis to the profit that you are going to make on the deal? To get his interest, show him where he will gain through this proposition—precious little he cares how anxious you are to make a sale.
Mr. Station Agent—
As soon as you have told the fellow at the ticket window that the noon train is due at twelve o'clock and satisfied the young lady that her telegram will be sent at once and O.S.'d the way freight and explained to the Grand Mogul at the other end of the wire what delayed 'em, I'd like to chat with you just a minute.
It's about a book—to tell the truth, just between you and me, I don't suppose it's a bit better book than you could write yourself if you had time. I simply wrote it because I'm an old railroad man and telegrapher myself and had time to write it.
The title of the book is "At Finnegan's Cigar Store," and the hero of the fourteen little stories which the booklet contains is Mr Station Agent. The first story in the book, "How Finnegan Bought Himself a Diamond," is worth the price of that ten-cent cigar you're smoking, and that's all the book will cost you.
I know you'll like it—I liked it myself. I'm so sure of it I am enclosing a ten-cent coin card for you to use in ordering it. A dime in the card and postage stamp on the letter will bring you the book by first mail. "Nuff said."
"73" E. N. RICHARDSON.
P. S.—I am enclosing another card for your night operator, if you have one—I'd hate to have him feel that I had slighted him.
* * * * *
This letter, sent out under a one-cent stamp to 80,000 agents, pulled 22,000 replies with the money. The writer did not address them individually, but he knew how to flag the interest of a station agent—by working in familiar allusions he at once found the point of contact and made the letter so personal that it pulled enormous results
* * * * *
No other appeal is so direct, so effective, as that which is summed up in the words "you," "your business," "your profits," "your welfare." "It costs you too much to sell crockery, but your selling expense can be cut down by utilizing your space to better advantage;" "Your easiest profits are those you make by saving expense;" "Did you ever figure up the time that is wasted in your mailing department by sealing and stamping one letter at a time?"— these are the letters that will be read through. Keep before the reader his interest. Show him how your proposition would benefit him.
This letter was sent to lady customers by a mail-order house:
You want a dress that does not sag—that does not grow draggy and dowdy? Then you want to make it of Linette—the new dress goods.
You have seen the beautiful new look and rich luster charm of a high-priced fabric. You can find this same quality in Linette at only thirty-nine cents a yard, and then—just think—it will stay in your dress through wearing, washing and wetting, and you will be surprised to see how easily dresses made of it may be washed and ironed and what long service the material will give.
Very truly yours. [Signature: Anderson & Anderson]
* * * * *
In this letter there is not the faintest suggestion of the profits that the writer hopes to make by the sale. A man is going to listen just as long as you talk about him; a woman will keep on reading your letter as long as you talk about her. Shout "You" and whisper "me" and your letter will carry home, straight to the heart of the reader.
A capitalized "YOU" is often inserted in letters to give emphasis to this attitude. Here is a letter from a clothing concern:
Remember this—when we make your suit we make it for YOU just as much as if you were here in our work roomed and, furthermore, we guarantee that it will fit YOU just a perfectly as if you bought it of an individual tailor. We guarantee this perfection or we will refund your money at once without question, and pay the express charges both ways.
We have tried hard to make this style-book interesting and beautiful to you and full of advantage for YOU.
Your friends will ask "Who made your suit?" and we want you to be proud that it is YOUR suit and that WE made it.
Yours very truly, [Signature: Adams & Adams ]
* * * * *
And there is yet another quality that is frequently most valuable to the correspondent in making his letter personal. It is the element of news value. News interests him especially when it is information about his business, his customers, his territory, his goods, his propositions. Not only does the news interest appeal to the dealer because of its practical value to him, but it impresses him by your "up-to-the-minuteness" and it gives a dynamic force to your letters.
Tell a man a bit of news that affects his pocket book and you have his interest. Offer to save him money and he will listen to your every word, and clever correspondents in manufacturing and wholesale establishments are always on the alert to find some selling value in the news of the day.
One correspondent finds in the opening of lake navigation an excuse for writing a sales letter. If the season opens unusually early he points out to the retailer just how it may affect his business, and if the season opens late he gives this fact a news value that makes it of prime interest to the dealer. A shortage of some crop, a drought, a rainy season, a strike, a revolution or industrial disturbances in some distant country—these factors may have a far-reaching effect on certain commodities, and the shrewd sales manager makes it a point to tip off the firm's customers, giving them some practical advance information that may mean many dollars to them and his letter makes the reader feel that the house has his interests at heart.
Another news feature may be found in some event that can be connected with the firm's product. Here is the way a manufacturer of stock food hitches his argument onto a bit of news:
"No doubt you have read in your farm paper about the Poland China that took first prize at the Iowa State Fair last week. You will be interested to know that this hog was raised and fattened on Johnson's stock food."
* * * * *
This is the way a manufacturer of window screens makes capital out of a new product:
"Throw away that old, rusty, stationary fly screen that you used last season. You won't need it any more because you can substitute an adjustable one in its place.
"How many times when you twisted and jerked at the old stationary screen did you wish for a really convenient one? The sort of screen you wanted is one which works on rollers from top to bottom so that it will open and close as easily and conveniently as the window itself.
"That's just the way the Ideal screen is made. It offers those advantages. It was placed on the market only a few months ago yet it is so practical and convenient that already we have been compelled to double the capacity of our factory to handle the growing business.
"All the wood work is made to harmonize with the finish of your rooms. Send the measure of your window and the colors you want and get a screen absolutely free for a week's trial. If you are not perfectly satisfied at the end of that time that it's the most convenient screen you ever used, you need send no money but merely return the screen at our expense.
"The Ideal screen is new; it is improved; it is the screen of tomorrow. Are you looking for that kind?"
* * * * *
The news element may have its origin in some new feature, some attachment or patent that is of interest to the prospect. A manufacturer of furniture uses this approach effectively:
"The head of my designing department. Mr. Conrad, has just laid on my desk a wonderful design for something entirely new in a dining room table. This proposed table is so unique, so new, so different from anything ever seen before, I am having the printer strike off some rough proofs of this designer's drawing, one of which I am sending you under separate cover."
* * * * *
This letter is manifestly a "today" product. It wins attention because it is so up to date, and a new article may possess the interest-compelling feature that will lead to an order.
Then there are the letters that tell of the purchase of goods. A retailer puts news value into his letter when he writes that he has purchased the entire stock of the bankrupt Brown & Brown at thirty-eight cents on the dollar and that the goods are to be placed on sale the following Monday morning at prices that will make it a rare sales event. This is putting into the letter news value that interests the customer. It is original because it is something that could not have been written a week before and cannot be written by anyone else.
Then there are other elements of news of wide interest—the opening of a new branch office, the increase of facilities by the enlargement of a factory, the perfecting of goods by some new process of manufacture or the putting on the market of some new brand or line. These things may affect the dealer in a very material way and the news value is played up in the most convincing style. The correspondent can bear down heavily on the better service that is provided or the larger line of commodities that is offered. Search through the catalogue of possibilities, and there is no other talking point that it seized upon more joyfully by the correspondent, for a news item, an actual occurrence or some new development that enables him to write forceful, interest-impelling letters, for the item itself is sufficient to interest the dealer or the consumer. All that is required of the correspondent is to make the most of his opportunity, seize upon this news element and mount it in a setting of arguments and persuasion that will result in new business, more orders, greater prestige.
Making The Form Letter PERSONAL
PART III—STYLE—MAKING THE LETTER READABLE—CHAPTER 11
Over ONE-HALF of all the form letters sent out are thrown into the waste basket unopened. A bare ONE-THIRD are partly read and discarded while only ONE-SIXTH of them—approximately 15 per cent—are read through. This wasteful ratio is principally due to the carelessness or ignorance of the firms that send them out— ignorance of the little touches that make all the difference between a personal and a "form letter." Yet an increase of a mere one per cent in the number of form letters that are READ means a difference of hundreds—perhaps thousands of dollars to the sender. This article is based on the experiences of a house that sends out over a million form letters annually
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There are three ways by which you can deliver a message to one of your customers: you can see him personally, you can telegraph or telephone him, or you can write him a letter. After you have delivered the message you may decide you would like to deliver the same message to 252 other customers.
To see each customer personally, to telegraph or telephone each one, or to write each a personal letter, would prove slow and expensive. So you send the same letter to all your customers, since you wish to tell them all the same story.
But you do not laboriously write all these letters on the typewriter; instead, you print them on some kind of duplicating machine.
But it is not enough to print the body of the letter and send it out, for you know from your own point of view that the average man does not give a proposition presented to him in a circular letter, the same attention he gives to it when presented by a personal appeal. And so little plans and schemes are devised to make the letter look like a personally dictated message, not for the purpose of deceiving the reader, but to make your proposition more intimate. This form of presentation is merely a means to an end; just because a letter is duplicated a thousand times does not make the proposition any the less applicable to the reader. It may touch his needs just as positively as if he were the sole recipient. The reason the letter that one knows to be simply a circular fails to grip his attention, is because it fails to get close to him—it does not look personal.
So, if form letters are to escape the waste basket—if they are to win the prospect's attention and convince him—they must have all the ear-marks of a personally dictated communication. If a proposition is worth sending out it is worthy of a good dress and careful handling.
All the principles of making the individual letter a personal message hold good with the form letter, except that greater pains must be taken to make each letter look personal. Nothing should be put into the letter to a dozen or a thousand men that does not apply to each one individually.
From the mechanical standpoint, there are five parts to a letter: superscription, body of the letter, signature, enclosures and envelope. In each of these five parts there are opportunities for original touches that make letters more than mere circulars.
The superscription and the way it is inserted in a form letter is the most important feature in making it personal. No semblance of a regularly dictated letter can be given unless the date, name and address are filled in, and if this is not done carefully it is far better to open your letter with "Dear Sir," and thus acknowledge that it is a circular.
To the left, and in exact alignment with the paragraphs in the body of the letter, should appear the name and address of the reader. If this superscription appears a fraction of an inch to either side of the margin the fill-in is evident. The style of type and the shade of the typewriter ribbons used in filling-in must match with absolute accuracy. This is vital and yet the most common error in form letters is imperfect alignment and conspicuously different colors of ink.
To secure an exact match between the filled-in name and address and the body of the letter, it is necessary to use ink on the duplicating machine which matches your typewriter ribbon. The ink used on the duplicating machine can be mixed to correspond with the color of the ribbons. Long experience has shown that violet or purple shades of ink are best for form letters, for these colors are the easiest to duplicate. Black and blue are very difficult to handle because of the great variety of undertones which are put into these inks.
Duplicating machines which print through a ribbon give variable shades and the typist in filling in must watch carefully to see that her typewriter ribbons match the impressions made in the body of the letter, especially where the form letters are printed several months in advance and exposed to changing conditions.
In departments where the stenographers fill in only a few letters a day, a piece of a "fill-in" ribbon is attached to the end of the regular ribbon and used for this purpose.
For speed and better work, typists who do nothing but fill in form letters, overlay their work—that is, before one sheet is taken out of the machine another is started in. A scheme which is slower but gives accuracy, is to work backward on the name and address, writing the "Gentlemen" or "Dear Madam" first, beginning flush with the margin. The town or city is next written, beginning on the paragraph or established margin line and then the name and the date are filled in. Guides may be secured so that all sheets will be fed into the machine at one place, thus assuring an exact margin.
Too much emphasis cannot be laid on the necessity of doing this fill-in work carefully, or not at all. If letters are printed by means of some duplicating machine which prints through a ribbon, care must be taken that the first run from the fresh ribbon is filled in on the typewriter with an equally fresh typewriter ribbon. Later when the machine ribbon is worn, giving a lighter impression, an older ribbon is used on the typewriters.
This fill-in work is difficult, and even when done properly many firms adopt all kinds of little schemes to help out the personal appearance. Separating the superscription from the body of the letter so that the immediate contrast is not so great, accomplishes this purpose.
One familiar scheme is to print the shipping or sales terms of the company across the letterhead so that the first paragraph comes beneath the printed matter and the filled-in superscription above. Then if there is a slight difference in shades of ink it is not so apparent. The same care must, however, be taken with the alignment.
Mr. L. B. Burtis, 1034 Elm Ave., Ravenswood, Ill.,
In reply to your letter of July 3d I take pleasure in enclosing the free book asked for.
All that I ask is that you read the book— no longer letter is necessary.
Everything I could say to you in this letter about my chest is in my book. I wrote every word of it so when you read it, I wish you would take it as a personal message from me.
We deliver this chest to Ravenswood at the price quoted in the book.
This is all I am going to say. When you have selected the chest you wish, simply check it on the enclosed post card, and mail to me. Promptly upon its receipt the chest will go to you subject to your approval.
I shall be looking for your post card.
Very truly yours, OLD ENGLISH CHEST COMPANY.
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New York, July 7, 1910,
Mr. L. B. Burtis, 1034 Elm Ave., Ravenswood, Ill.
I enclose with pleasure the free book you asked for in your letter of July 3rd.
All that I ask is that you read the book—no longer letter is necessary.
Everything I could say to you in this letter about my chest is in my book. I wrote every word of it so when you read it, I wish you would take it as a personal message from me.
Tho prices quoted you in this book include freight prepaid to Ravenswood.
This is all I am going to say. When you have selected the chest you wish, simply check it on the enclosed post card, and mail to me. Promptly upon its receipt the chest will go to you subject to your approval.
I shall be looking for your post card.
Very truly yours, OLD ENGLISH CHEST COMPANY [Signature: Edward Brown, Pres. Dict EB-ERS.]
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The wrong and right way of handling form letters. In the first letter the type of the fill-in does not match and the lines are out of alignment. Wide white space at both sides of the date "July 3d" and the town, "Ravenswood," calls attention to the poor fill-in. The second letter shows the same fill-ins coming at the end of paragraphs. The second letter has a date line, personal signature and initials of dictator and stenographer—little touches that add to the personality of the letter
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A similar scheme is to write the first paragraph or sentence in red ink. This is a somewhat expensive process, however, for the letter must be run through the duplicating machine twice and skill is required to secure an exact register.
Now that two-colored typewriter ribbons are in such general use the name and address and date are printed in red, eliminating the necessity of matching the ink of the body of the letter. This is an effective attention-getter, but unless carefully printed the impersonality is apparent.
In certain kinds of communications where the more formal customs of social correspondence are sometimes employed, the letter is often opened with the salutation, "My dear Sir." The full name and address is then written in the lower left corner, in alignment with the paragraphs of the body of the letter.
Some businesses, presenting a proposition to a limited number of persons, write the entire first paragraph. It is usually short and of course should be made pointedly personal. "Typing" the name and address onto the form letter is another familiar scheme to make it more personal.
Use of a body fill-in is always effective. But the right way to do this is to phrase the letter so that the name, or date, or word, to be inserted, comes at the beginning or end of the paragraph, preferably at the end. Otherwise the fill-in may be too short for the space allowed and the result is farcical.
Here is an all too common mistake:
"You may be sure, Mr. Hall, that this machine is just as represented."
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The advantage of having the fill-in at the end of the paragraph is because names vary so much in length that they seldom just fill the space that is left and when there is a long blank space, as in the sentence given above, the scheme is anything but effective.
A manufacturer of automobiles, writing old customers who might wish to exchange their machines for newer models, added a real personal touch by filling in the serial number of each machine at the end of a line. Another individual touch was added in this way:
"You will be interested to know that we have recently sold one of our machines to a near neighbor of yours, Mr. Henry C. Smith of Rock Creek."
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This sentence was so phrased that the neighbor's name came at the end of a line and could be easily filled in.
A furniture manufacturer works in a personal touch by closing a paragraph of his letter with this sentence:
"You can find our liberal offer to ship freight pre-paid to Rogers Park on page 3 of the catalogue."
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The name of the town and page number of the catalogue came at the end of the sentence. Another manufacturer opened his letter with this sentence: "On April 2, we received your inquiry." In this case, "On April 2," was filled in at the beginning of the sentence. Both schemes give the "one-man" attitude. A personal touch in the body of the letter indicates an individual communication—as it really is.
There are four ways for making the body of the letter look like a regularly typewritten message: it may be typewritten, printed on a printing press, printed through a ribbon or printed by means of a stenciled waxed paper.
Firms sending out only a few form letters typewrite them so that no effort is necessary to give an individual touch.
But the letter printed from typewriter type by means of an ordinary printing press is obviously nothing more than an ordinary circular. Filling in the name and address by a typewriter is absolutely useless. It is usually advisable to print form letters by means of some duplicating process which prints through a ribbon.
Where a stencil is used, the waxed paper is put in the typewriter and the letter is written on it without a ribbon. Here the stenciled letter replaces the usual type, and the impression secured can seldom be detected from a typewritten letter. A stencil can be made more quickly than type for the same letter can be set. Then the exact touch of the typist is reproduced on the duplicated letters through the stencil. No stenographer can write a letter without making some words heavier than others, the distribution of the ink is not the same throughout, so absolute uniformity in the printed letter is not advisable.
In printing the body of the letter select some process which gives the appearance of typewriting and then match the fill-in. One merchant secured an effective matching of fill-in and body by printing the form with a poorly-inked ribbon on the duplicating machine and then filling in the name and address with a typewriter ribbon that had been well used. While the general appearance of the letter was marred by this scheme, the impression was that of a letter written on a poor typewriter and it was effective.
The business man, the clerk and the farmer—everyone visited by the postman—is becoming more and more familiar with letters. The day has passed when anyone is deceived by a carelessly handled form letter. Unless a firm feels justified in spending the time and money to fill in the letter very carefully, it is much better to send it out frankly as a circular.
Nor is this always a weakness, for a clever touch can be added that introduces the personal elements. One mail-order house sent out a large mailing with this typewritten notice in the upper left corner of the letterhead:
"You must pardon me for not filling in your name and address at the beginning of this letter, but the truth is I must get off fifty thousand letters tonight, and I have not the necessary stenographic force to fill in the name and address on each individual letter."
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In spite of the fact that each man was frankly told that 49,999 other persons were receiving the same letter, the appeal was as personal as an individual message. Another writer opened his communication in this way:
"This letter is to YOU. and it is just as personal as If I had sat down and pounded it off on the typewriter myself, and I am sure that you, as a business man, appreciate that this is a personal message to you, even if I am writing a hundred thousand others at the same time."
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This letter struck a popular and responsive chord, for each reader took it to himself as a frank, honest appeal, from a frank, honest business man. It was a direct personal communication because each reader felt that although it was duplicated a thousand times it nevertheless contained a live message.
But the care that some writers take to make the form letter look personal, is the very thing that kills it. They make the letter too perfect. To avoid this result, leave an imperfect word, here and there, throughout the body of the letter. Watch the setting up of the type to be sure the lines are not spaced out like a printed page. Many correspondents imitate the common mistakes of the typewritten letter from the mechanical standpoint and in the language.
Time spent in correcting these errors with pen and ink is usually considered a paying investment. The tympan of the duplicating machine is sometimes made uneven so that the impression of a typewriter is still further carried out. Some duplicating machines advertise that their type print "loose" for this very purpose. A favorite scheme with firms where letter presses are used is to blur the letter slightly after it has been filled in and signed. A word "XXX'd" out as by a typewriter lends an impression of the personal message, as does also the wrong spelling of a word, corrected by pen and ink.
But fully as vital to the individuality of the letter is the manner in which it is closed. The signature of the form letter is a subject that deserves as careful consideration as the superscription and the body of the letter. The actual typewritten letter to Henry Brown is signed with pen and ink. Even where the name of the company also appears at the end of the letter, the personal signature in ink is desirable. And when you write all the Henry Browns on your mailing list, you should apply the pen-and-ink signature to every letter. That is the only effective way.
It is not so essential that the signature should be applied by the writer personally. Often a girl writes the signature, saving the time of a busy department head. Many firms use a rubber facsimile stamp for applying the signature, but it is not as effective, for it is seldom that the stamped name does not stand out as a mechanical signature. One concern adds the name of the company at the bottom of the letter and has a clerk mark initials underneath with pen and ink.
The form letter has a heavy load which carries a row of hieroglyphics at the bottom of the page—the "X-Y-Z," the "4, 8, 6," the "Dictated WML-OR" and the twenty and one other key numbers and symbols common to the form letters of many houses. When a man receives such a letter, he is impressed by the mass of tangled mechanical operations the message has undergone; on its face he has the story of its mechanical make-up and its virility is lost, absolutely.
Then consider the various notes, stamped in a frankly mechanical manner at the bottom of the letter, such as, "Dictated, but not read," "Signed in the absence of Mr. So-and-So." To the average man who finds one of these notes on the letter, there is the impression of a slap in the face. He does not like to be reminded that he may converse with the stenographer in the absence of the president. When a letter says "Not read" he feels that the message was not of sufficient importance to warrant the personal attention of the writer. Eliminate all such notes from the form letter.
Sometimes a postscript may suggest a note of personality. For instance, one firm writes underneath the signature: "I want you to look especially at the new model on page 37 of the catalogue." This is effective if done with pen and ink, but if printed or stamped, it gives no additional tone of individuality to the letter. One manufacturer had a postscript written on an extra slip of paper which he pasted to the corner of the sheet.
Another concern writes out on a piece of white paper the blue-penciled postscript: "I'll send you this three-tool garden kit free (express prepaid) if your order for the patent roller reaches me before the 5th." This is made into a zinc etching and printed in blue so perfectly that the postscript appears to have been applied with a blue pencil.
Still another postscript scheme is to write the form letter so that it just fills the first page, then to dictate and sign a paragraph for a second page—a most effective plan.
Then you must consider the enclosure that often goes with the letter. This frequently stamps it a circular. If you are offering a special discount or introductory sale price, for instance, it would be ridiculous to say in your letter, "This is a special price I am quoting to you," when the reader finds the same price printed on the circular. Print the regular price, and then blot out the figures with a rubber stamp and insert the special price with pen and ink, or with a stamp.
If you offer a special discount it is best to say so frankly:
"I am making this special discount to a selected list of a few of our old friends. And in order that you may be sure of this discount I am enclosing the discount card which will entitle you to the special prices."