* * * * *
* * * * *
The discount card should be filled-in with the name of the person written and stamped with a serial numbering machine. The date the special offer expires should also be stamped on the circular. In making a special offer to a "limited number of persons," the enclosure describing it and the return order blank should not be too elaborate or carefully prepared. It is more effective to make them inexpensive and give a careless appearance. Aim to carry the impression that with a hundred or so you could not afford to do it better.
Do not let an opportunity pass to give the enclosure the same personal touch that you aim at in the letter. Some houses even sign the reader's name to the card. A pencil or pen mark over some particular feature of the enclosure is another way to suggest personal attention.
Refer to the enclosure in a way that indicates individual attention. A correspondence school takes off the weight of the overload of enclosures by inserting this paragraph:
"So in order that you may properly understand our proposition I am enclosing these circulars and application blanks. It is impossible to tell one whole story in a single letter, or even a series of letters. To make them perfectly plain I have asked my stenographer to number them with a pen, and I will refer to them in this letter in that order."
* * * * *
A manufacturer who has succeeded in the mail-order business turns down a page in his catalogue, and refers to it in this way:
"I have turned down the corner of a page—39—in my catalogue that I particularly want you to read. On this page you will find pictured and described the best value in a single-seated carriage ever offered to the public. Turn to this page now and see if you can afford not to investigate this proposition further."
* * * * *
A successful campaign prepared by a wholesale house consisted simply of a letter and a cheap-looking yellow circular, across the top of which had been printed with a typewriter duplicating machine this heading:
"There is no time to prepare an elaborate circular—the time limit set on this offer is too short."
* * * * *
This idea was further strengthened by additional typewritten notes on the top and sides of the circular. The special offer and order blank appeared in typewriter type on the back of the circular.
Another scheme which pulled results for a tailor was this typewritten postscript:
"The enclosed is a circular letter. If I sent it to you without this personal note, I fear you would be too busy to give it the attention it deserves. So I ask you now—in justice to your interests—to read this circular as carefully as if I had put the whole thing in a personal letter to you."
* * * * *
It is an easy matter to enclose a few typewritten names, so a paper manufacturer says in his answer to an inquiry:
"I'm sending you a list of the printers in your immediate vicinity from whom you can secure our bond papers."
* * * * *
A land concern refers to an enclosed list in this way:
"So you can investigate for yourself just what our proposition will do for you, I am having my stenographer make up a list of a few purchasers in your vicinity from whom you can secure first hand facts."
* * * * *
Another concern typewrites the note "Personal Matter" on the enclosed return envelope to give added individuality to it. Thus the return envelope contributes to the general impression of the one-man message. But whether it is the superscription, the body of the letter, the closing or the enclosure, there is one general principle that must be followed: first consider how you would handle the individual letter, then make the form letter similar. Make the form letter talk as though it were intended for one man. Keep this rule in mind and your form letters will pull.
Making Letterheads and Envelopes DISTINCTIVE
PART IV—THE DRESS OF A BUSINESS LETTER—CHAPTER 12
The dress of a business letter reflects the character and the standing of a house no less than the dress of its personal representative. The quality of the paper, the kind of printing or engraving, the mechanical make-up—all these things contribute to the IMPRESSION a letter makes upon the recipient even BEFORE THE MESSAGE IS READ. Many letters come to nothing because their dress is unattractive, cheap, slovenly; and so progressive business men are learning to select their stationery with care to insure for it both tone and dignity. The kind of paper to select—the size, the tint and the quality—is described and explained in the following chapter
* * * * *
The first impression created by a business letter is based upon its outward appearance—upon its mechanical make-up, the quality of its paper, the grade of its printing or engraving; upon the superficial qualities that are apparent at a glance.
The externals do not necessarily reflect the quality of the message within the letter. But the experienced business man, who is trained to make his estimate quickly, gets an impression of some kind—good, bad or indifferent—of every letter that comes before him, even before a word of that letter is read.
In other words, the general appearance of the letter is the first appeal that it makes to the average man. The nearer that appearance conforms to the appearance of the letters from reputable concerns with which he is familiar, the more favorably he is impressed with it. The farther its appearance departs from the established and approved standards, the more forcibly will that letter force itself upon his attention. But whether the recipient is favorably or unfavorably impressed by this prominence depends upon the skill and ingenuity with which the letter is made up mechanically.
Generally speaking, business correspondence paper may be classified as follows:
First: The conventional stationery, that conforms to the established rules and the principal variation of which is in the quality of its paper and printing.
Second: The individualistic stationery, that departs from the usual styles and is good to the extent that it meets the unusual requirements for which it is designed.
Third: The eccentric stationery, which is usually merely a fanciful violation of the conventions for the purpose of being conspicuous.
Of these three types of business stationery, the first is essentially practical and sane; the second is forceful if it does not violate the fundamental rules of color and design, and if it has a peculiarly apt application; while the third is almost invariably in as poor taste as eccentricity in dress.
The first consideration in the preparation of business stationery is the paper, or "stock."
The quality of this "stock," like the quality of material of a suit of clothes, largely determines the taste, if not the resources of the owner. Important messages may be written on cheap stationery; big men with big plans are sometimes clad in shoddy garments. But ninety-nine out of a hundred are not, and the hundredth man, who does not conform to the accepted order of things, is taking an unnecessary business risk of being wrongly classified. After a man has delivered his message, the quality of his clothes is not an important item. After a letter has been read, the quality of its paper is insignificant. But as the man is seen before he is heard, and the letter before it is read, it is good business to make both dress and stationery conform to approved styles.
For instance, the average financial institution, such as a bank or trust company, takes every precaution to create an impression of strength and security. The heavy architecture of its building, the massive steel bars, its uniformed attendants the richness of its furnishings, all tend to insure a sense of reliability. Does it use cheap stationery? On the contrary, it uses rich, heavy bond. The quality of its paper conforms to the dignity and wealth of the institution; indeed, so long has the public been trained to expect good letter paper from such concerns that it would be apt to mistrust, perhaps unconsciously, the house that resorted to cheap grades of stationery which is almost invariably associated with cheap concerns or with mere form letters issued in large quantities.
Stationery should be representative of the business from which it comes. The impression created by a well-dressed man, as well as of a well-dressed letter, is seldom analyzed; the first glance is generally sufficient to establish that impression. A letter soliciting an investment of money, if printed on cheap stock, may create such a tawdry impression as to be discarded instantly by the average business man, although the letter may come from an entirely reliable house and contain an excellent business proposition on good, substantial paper. For this reason, the letter that departs from the usual standards must assume unnecessary risks of being thrown away unread.
To discriminate at a glance between important and inconsequential business letters, is what most men have been trained to do. It is not exaggeration to claim that the success of many business letters often depends upon the paper. The difference between the letter of an obscure country merchant or lawyer, and that of his well-known correspondent in the city, lies often in its mechanical appearance. The one, who is not trained to observe what he considers trifling items, uses paper that is cheap and easily available; the other, experienced in the details that tend to increase the dignity of the house, selects his stationery with care from a wider assortment. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred the two letters may be identified at a distance. The message of one letter may be just as important as the other; but one is properly and the other is improperly "clothed."
What the firm thinks about business stationery is not so important as what the recipients think. Do not buy good stock because it pleases the "house," but because it influences the man to whom the house writes. First impressions are usually strongest and the first impression produced by a letter comes from the paper upon which it is written.
Some men seem to feel superior to creating a good impression. They do not want to stoop so low as to go to the best hotel. They will not buy a hat or an umbrella that can help them get business. Their general idea is to bang their way into the market and succeed in their shirt sleeves, as it were, and on the strength of the goods. Of course, if a man has time to succeed in his shirt sleeves, there is no objection to it. The idea of having as one's address the best hotel, or in writing one's business on the best paper, is not that a man could not succeed in his shirt sleeves, if he set out to, but that he has not time. He gets little things out of the way and proceeds to business.
The quality of the paper must be largely influenced by the purpose, as well as by the quantity of the letters to be written. A firm that sends out hundreds of thousands of form letters to sell a small retail article in the rural districts, will not use an expensive stock; it will use a cheaper quality of paper. If the form letter goes to business or professional men in the city, the quality of the paper will be determined accordingly. In every instance, stock should be selected which will meet the expectations of the recipient.
The fact that the recipient knows a form letter as such, largely nullifies its influence. A business man who sends out a large number of form letters a year claims that when he gets a reply beginning, "In response to your form letter," he knows that the effect of that letter is absolutely lost on a large percentage of this list who seldom or never bother to read such communications. And one of the distinguishing marks of such a letter is the poor quality of its paper.
Different grades of stationery may be used for the various departments. For inter-house or inter-department correspondence, an inexpensive paper is desirable. For many purposes, indeed, a low-priced stock is entirely permissible. But the higher the quality of paper, the more exclusive and personal that letter becomes, until, in the cases of executive heads of corporations, the stock used is of the best. One well-known corporation regularly uses six different grades of paper for its letters; one grade is engraved upon a thin bond of excellent quality and used by the president of the company when writing in his official capacity; another grade is engraved upon a good quality of linen paper and is used by the other officers, sales managers and heads of office departments when writing official letters to outside parties; when writing to officers or employees of their own concern, the same letterhead, lithographed on a less expensive grade of paper, is used; A fourth grade of bond paper is used by officers and department heads for their semi-official correspondence. The sixth grade is used only for personal letters of a social nature; it is of a high quality of linen stock, tinted. Thus, the size, shape and quality of the paper and letterhead in each instance is made to conform to the best business and social usages.
For business correspondence, custom allows but little leeway in the choice of paper. For print shops, advertising concerns, ink manufacturers, engravers, or paper manufacturers, stationery offers an opportunity to exploit their taste or products in an effective and legitimate manner. For most houses, however, a plain bond, linen, or the vellums and hand-made papers that are coming into favor, furnish the best letter paper.
Colors on correspondence paper are seldom used to good effect; the results are frequently glaring and cheap. When in doubt as to what tint to use in the paper stock, use white, which is always in good taste. Tinted stock is occasionally used to good advantage as a "firm color." In such cases all the correspondence of that house has a uniform tint, which thus acquires an advertising value in attracting attention to itself among a mass of other letters. Aside from this occasional and often doubtful advertising value, tinted stock tends toward the eccentric except in the cases of paper dealers, publishers, or printers who have a purpose in displaying typographical effects.
Many concerns use paper of various tints, each of which identifies the particular department from which it comes. Thus, white paper may mark the letters from the executive department, blue from the selling department, and brown from the manufacturing department. But, even in such cases, the colors are used ordinarily only for inter-house or inter-department communications.
The sheet should be of standard size; that is the letter sheet should be folded to fit exactly into the envelope that is used.
Only such paper stock should be selected as can hold ink readily. Never select a stock that is not entirely serviceable on a typewriting machine. Never sacrifice the practical to the eccentric in business stationery.
An inferior quality of stationery is sometimes accepted by the shrewd observer either as a deliberate act to economize or as an indication of poor taste or indifference. A man who gets an estimate, for example, written on cheap paper, may be led to believe that the man who skimps on letter paper is apt to skimp on his work. So long as the paper represents the sender, just so long will the sender be judged by it.
From a semi-business or social standpoint, stationery often plays an important role; many instances are recorded where a man's private note paper has been the means of eliminating his name from select, social lists. The lady who, in writing to an employment office for a butler, used her private stationery with the remark, "that is one more way of giving them to understand what sort of a butler I want," knew the effect produced by proper letter paper.
In other words, the stationery of a business house—the size, the proportions, the tint, the quality of its correspondence-paper— offers the first of the several opportunities for the correspondent to put the recipient into a receptive state of mind toward the communication. It is an item that the shrewd correspondent does not ignore, because it offers him an opportunity—and the first opportunity—to score.
The Typographical Make-Up Of BUSINESS LETTERS
PART IV—THE DRESS OF A BUSINESS LETTER—CHAPTER 13
All business houses recognize the necessity for having printed letterheads and envelopes, but the variety of designs and styles are infinite. Nothing, not even the paper, affords such an index to the character of the individual or firm as the typography of the envelope and letterhead. An impression, favorable or otherwise, is created BEFORE THE LETTER IS READ. This chapter describes the methods of printing, engraving and lithographing; the advantages of each process, and the difference in prices; the proper placing of date, name and address, the width of margins, spacing between lines—little points that contribute to the appearance of the letter and give it tone
* * * * *
The feature of a business letter that invariably commands the first conscious attention of the recipient is the name—printed or written—of the firm or individual from whom the letter comes.
Except when the correspondent intentionally omits this information for the purpose of inducing the recipient to notice a circular letter that he might otherwise ignore, the name and address of the sender is printed on the envelope.
This is done for two reasons: it brings the name of the correspondent before the recipient immediately upon receipt of the letter; it tends to secure favorable attention, and it enables the post office authorities to return letters to the senders in case of non-delivery because of removals, death, wrong address or other causes.
In either case, the interests of the correspondent are best served by printing this information in the upper left corner of the face of the envelope. It is this side of the envelope that bears the address and the stamp, and consequently the only side, under ordinary circumstances, that receives attention from either the postal officials or the recipient. When the sender's name is printed in this position, it is brought prominently to the attention of the recipient as the letter is placed before him. But even a more practical reason for putting this data in the upper left corner is that such a location on the envelope permits the post office rubber stamp, "Return to Sender," to be affixed, in case of need, without the confusion and annoyance that is caused when this address is printed on the back of the envelope, as is sometimes done.
As a rule, the printed matter that appears on the envelope should consist merely of the name and address of the sender in plain, legible letters.
In no case should the address be ambiguous. However many branch offices the firm may have, the use of more than one address on the envelope is apt to be confusing and may result in a communication's being returned to an office other than that from which it comes. To avoid this, only one address should be printed on the envelope, and that should be the address to which the correspondence is to be returned by the postal authorities in case of non-delivery to the addressee. The trade mark or other similar distinctive imprint of a firm may properly be used on the envelope, but only in cases where it will not tend to confuse or crowd the essential wording. The name of the person to whom the letter is to be returned is of considerable more practical value to the postman than a unique design with which the envelope may be adorned.
The letterhead offers wider opportunities for an array of data. Pictures of offices, buildings and factories, trade marks, lists of branch offices, cable codes and the names of officers and executive heads may be used, but too much reading matter leads to confusion. The tendency today is toward simplicity. The name and address of the firm, and the particular department or branch office from which the communication comes, is regarded as sufficient by many houses. The day of the letterhead gay with birds-eye views of the plant and much extraneous information seems to be passing, and money that was once spent in elaborate designs and plates is now put into the "quality" of the letter paper—and quality is usually marked by dignified simplicity and directness.
Letterheads may be mechanically produced by several different processes that range widely in costs. The principal methods of printing letterheads are:
First: From type.
Second: From zinc or half-tone plates made from drawings—generally designated as "photo-engraving".
Third: From plates engraved on copper or steel.
Fourth: From lithograph plates, engraved on stone.
Fifth: From photogravure or similar engraved plates.
Generally speaking, letterheads printed from type are the cheapest. The costs of type composition for an ordinary letterhead will vary from fifty cents to four or five dollars, dependent upon the amount of work. The printing ranges in cost from one dollar a thousand sheets for one color to several times that amount, dependent upon the quality of ink and paper, and upon local conditions. Many concerns are discarding letterheads printed from type, as more individuality can be shown in some form of engraved or lithographed work.
Good results may often be secured from "line cuts" or zinc plates— which cost from five to ten cents a square inch, with a minimum charge ranging from fifty cents to a dollar—made from pen-and-ink drawings. Good and distinctive lettering may often be secured in this way, where type matter does not offer the same opportunities. The cost of printing from zinc plates is practically the same as the cost of printing from type. If the drawings are made in water color, "wash" or oil, or if they contain fine crayon or pencil shadings, the reproductions must be made from half-tone plates. These cost from twelve cents to twenty cents a square inch, with a minimum rate that usually is equivalent to the cost of ten square inches. Half-tones, however, can be printed only on an enamel or other smooth-surface paper, and cannot be used satisfactorily on a rough-surface paper as can zinc plates.
Copper or steel engravings are made from designs furnished either by the engraver or by some other designer. For simple engraved lettering such as is customarily used on business stationery, the cost of a copper plate is about ten cents a letter. For elaborate designs the costs increase proportionately. Steel plates, which are more durable, cost about sixty per cent more. Printing from such plates is considerably more expensive than the two processes previously described. Engraved letterheads cost from six dollars upward a thousand for the printing, while the envelopes cost approximately two dollars and fifty cents a thousand. The envelopes are usually printed from steel dies, which cost about ten cents a letter.
For large orders of stationery, exceeding 20,000 sheets, lithography offers economies in price and other advantages that render it more practical than metal engraving. The design is engraved upon stone and printed from the stone block. While the initial costs of lithography are high, ranging from $25.00 to $100.00 for the engraving (with an average cost of about $50.00), the price of printing is so moderate as to make this form of production popular among extensive users of business paper. Lithography gives a smooth, uniform and permanent impression on the paper, and permits of an indeterminate "run." The cost of printing from lithographic plates is practically the same as from steel or copper plates. The savings effected in large orders is in the cost of the plates, for copper and steel must be renewed as they become worn down.
The photogravure process is costly both in the plate-making and in the printing. While it gives a rich and uniform impression on the letter paper, and is highly valuable for reproducing pictures and ornate designs, it is adaptable only for special purposes and is not generally regarded as suitable for commercial work. A photogravure plate costs from seventy-five cents to one dollar and twenty-five cents a square inch, or about $12.00 to $50.00 for a letterhead. The printing costs about the same as for other engraved stationery. With other processes, somewhat similar in the market, this method of printing letterheads has not yet won extensive favor.
It is now almost universally recognized that a letter should be written on one side of the sheet only.
A copy should be kept of every communication that leaves the office. Either a carbon copy may be made at the time the letter is written—six good copies can be made simultaneously on the average typewriter, although one is usually sufficient—or a letter-press copy can be made from the sheet after it is signed. Both forms have been accepted by the courts as legal copies of correspondence.
Such copies are usually filed alphabetically either by the name of the company or individual to whom the letter is addressed.
Letter-press copies must necessarily be filed chronologically, even when separate books for each letter of the alphabet are maintained. In either case the search through the files for a letter copy is facilitated by placing the name, address and date of a letter at the top.
For the same reason the date of a letter should be placed in the upper right corner of the page; the recipient must know when the communication is sent; it may have a bearing on other communications. The name and address of the addressee, similar to the address on the envelope, should in all cases be placed, as the formal salutation, in the upper left corner of the sheet, whether the correspondent be greeted "Dear Sir" or "Gentlemen." Not only does this establish at once the exact individual for whom the communication is intended but it facilitates the filing of the correspondence, both by the recipient and by the sender.
The margins of a business letter, owing to the limitations of the typewriter, are usually variable. The space occupied by the letterhead must, of course, determine the margin at the top of the sheet. Theoretically, the margins at the left and right should be exactly the same size; practically, however, the typewriter lines will vary in length and cause an uneven edge on the right side. In printing, the use of many-sized spaces not only between words but at times, between the letters themselves rectifies these variations, but the typewriter does not permit this. The more even the right margin is and the more uniform it is to the left margin, the better the effect. The margins should be about one and a half inches in width. The margin at the bottom should not be less than the side margins. Should it be smaller, the page will appear cramped for space as the reading matter will be really running over into the margin—a typographical defect that is as noticeable on typewritten as on printed pages.
The spacing between the lines and between the paragraphs of a business letter may vary to suit the tastes of the individual, although considerations of a practical nature tend to establish a few general principles.
Both for purposes of convenience and of economy, a letter should be as compact as possible, both in words and in mechanical production. It should not take up two sheets if the message can be written on one without undue crowding. Hence most business letters are single spaced; that is, only one space on the typewriter separates the lines. Even when a letter is short, it is advisable for purposes of uniformity, to use single spaces only.
The first line of each paragraph is usually indented from five to fifteen points on the machine. Each business house should establish exactly what this indentation shall be in order to secure uniformity in its correspondence. Instead of indenting the first line, some concerns designate the paragraphs merely by separating them by double spacings, beginning the first line flush with the left margin. The best practice, however, seems to embody both of these methods, but the average business letter usually has its paragraphs separated by double spacing and indenting the first line.
The address on the envelope, to which the salutation at the top of the letter should correspond, either exactly or in slightly condensed form, may be properly typewritten in various ways. The style that is most observed, however, and which has the stamp of general approval, provides for an indentation of about five points on each line of the address.
Between the lines the spacings may be either single or double but the latter is preferable. Greater spacing tends to separate the address too much to allow it to be read quickly.
Another approved, though less popular form of address does not indent the lines at all.
Any radical departure from these forms should be made cautiously, especially if the various items of the address are separated from each other.
The address, like a paragraph, is generally read as a unit—as a single, distinct idea. The closer the address conforms to the generally accepted forms, the more readily are the envelopes handled by the postoffice and the less danger of delay.
Getting a UNIFORM Policy and Quality in Letters
PART IV—THE DRESS OF A BUSINESS LETTER—CHAPTER 14
Every correspondent naturally reflects his own personality in his letters. His distinguishing characteristics, good, bad and indifferent, inevitably tend to find expression in his correspondence—UNLESS THOSE TENDENCIES ARE GUIDED. That is exactly what the modern business house does. It directs the work of its correspondents by means of general and specific rules as well as by instruction in the policies of the house until ail of its letters are uniform in quality and bear the stamp of a consistent personality—the personality of "the house"
* * * * *
A number of years ago, the president of a company manufacturing carriages felt that he was not getting adequate results for the money he was spending in the mail sales department. One day he called a meeting of all his correspondents and asked each man what arguments he used in writing to prospects. He discovered that eight correspondents were using eight different lines of talk. One emphasized this feature of the carriage, a second based his argument on another feature, and no two correspondents were reaching prospects from the same angle or making use of the same arguments.
"Here are eight different approaches," said the president. "It is certain that one of these must be more effective than the other seven. They can't all be best. It is up to us to test them out and determine which one is best and then we will all use it."
When the proposition was presented in this way, it was so elementary that everyone wondered why it had not been thought of before. A series of tests followed with the different arguments and presentations and by a process of elimination the company proved conclusively which was the strongest approach. Then all of the correspondents used it in the first letter and the second strongest argument was used in the second letter, and so on through the follow-up. It was no longer left for each man to develop his arguments and his selling talk according to his own ideas. Through tests, consultation and discussion, every point was considered and all the correspondence was on the same level.
By adopting a uniform policy the efficiency of the sales department was increased, the quality of the letters was raised and the work was handled more expeditiously and more economically.
One cannot write to all his customers and prospects; that is why it is necessary to have correspondents in the various departments. It is an easy matter to adopt rules and establish policies that will make their letters of a much higher standard and give them greater efficiency than if each went his own way without rule or regulation to guide him. Every correspondent represents the house in a dignified manner and handles the subjects intrusted to his care in a way that will reflect the best thought and the most successful methods of the house. Not everyone can be developed into a master correspondent but it is possible to establish a policy and enforce rules that will give quality and at least a fair measure of salesmanship to all letters.
Many businesses have grown so rapidly and the heads have been so absorbed in the problems of production and extending markets that little time or thought has been given to the work of the correspondents. And so it happens that in many concerns the correspondence is handled according to the whims, the theories and the personality of the various men who are in charge of the different departments. But there are other concerns that have recognized the desirability of giving individuality to all the mail that bears a house message. They have found that the quality can be keyed up and the letters, even though they may be written in a dozen different departments, all have the family resemblance and bear evidence of good parentage.
And it may be certain that when all the letters from a house impart this tone, this atmosphere of quality and distinction, it is not because of chance. It is not because the correspondents all happen to use a similar policy. Such letters imply a deliberate, persistent, intelligent effort to keep the correspondence from falling below a fixed level. Such a policy represents one of the finer products of the process of systematically developing all the factors in modern business—the stamping of a strong individuality upon all of the correspondence of a large organization.
To secure this uniformity in policy and in quality, it is necessary to adopt a set of clear, comprehensive rules and to impress upon the correspondents the full significance of the standing, the character and the traditions of the house.
There are certain tendencies on the part of some correspondents that can be overcome by a general rule. For instance, there are the correspondents who try to be funny in their letters. Attempts at humor should be forbidden for the day has gone when the salesman can get orders by telling a funny story. Another correspondent may deal too largely in technicalities in his letters, using words and phrases that are not understood.
Then there is the correspondent who has an air of superiority in his letters and writes with impudence and his letters suggest a condescension on his part to explain a proposition; or the complaint department may have a man who grants an allowance or makes an adjustment but puts a sting into his letter that makes the reader wish he had never patronized the house. All such tendencies may be eradicated by a set of rules giving specific instruction on how to handle every point that comes up and the attitude that is to be assumed in answering complaints, collecting accounts, making sales, and so forth.
And in order to have the letters reflect the house, rules have been adopted in some cases that cover every conceivable point from a broad policy in handling arguments to a specific rule regarding the use of commas.
For instance, it is no longer left to the discretion of the correspondent to start his letter "John Smith." A rule provides that all letters shall begin "Mr. John Smith." For the sake of dignity, a western mail-order house decided to use "Dear Sir" and "Dear Madam" in the first three letters that went to a customer. But on the third and succeeding letters this house uses the salutation "Dear Mr. Smith" or "Dear Mrs. Smith."
This is a matter of policy, a rule that will keep the letters up to a fixed standard.
* * * * *
Page from One Firm's Book of Rules:
_In a long letter, or where two or more subjects are treated, each subject must be introduced with an appropriate subhead.
All letters, long or short, must carry a general subject head between the address and the first paragraph. This general head and the subheads must be in capitals, underscored with a single line, and as nearly as possible in the middle of the sheet from right to left.
Carefully avoid even the appearance of sarcasm.
Be wary of adjectives, particularly superlatives. "Very," "great," "tremendous," "excellent," etc., have marred many an otherwise strong phrase and have propped needlessly many a good word, all-sufficient of itself.
Never use the first personal pronoun "I" when writing as Blank Company. "We" is the proper pronoun. Where a personal reference is necessary, "the writer" may be used; but even this should be avoided wherever possible.
Don't forget that certain small words are in the language for a purpose. "And," "a," "the," are important, and their elimination often makes a letter bald, curt, and distinctly inelegant.
Carefully avoid such words and stock phrases as "beg to acknowledge," "beg to inquire," "beg to advise," etc. Do not "beg" at all.
Do not say "kindly" for "please."
Do not say "Enclosed herewith." Herewith is superfluous.
Do not "reply" to a letter; "answer" it. You answer a letter and reply to an argument._
* * * * *
In determining a uniformity in policy and quality, the rules may be grouped in three classes: those which determine the attitude of the writer; those that relate to the handling of subject matter; and then there are specific rules, such as the style of paper, the salutation, the subscription, signature, and so forth.
The attitude and policy of the house must be determined according to the nature of the business and the ideas of the management. The same rules will not apply to all houses but this does not lessen the desirability of an established policy. For instance, one large corporation, selling entirely to dealers and to large contractors, forbids the use of the first person singular. Under no consideration is the correspondent permitted to say "I". And if a personal reference is absolutely necessary, he must refer to "the writer". The rule is to say "we" and the correspondents are urged to avoid this personal pronoun, using the name of the company, as, "It has always been the practice of the Workwell Company," and so on.
Most mail-order houses, on the other hand, get just as far away from this formal attitude as possible. Here it is the policy to get up close to the reader by a "you-and-me" attitude. Some mail-order houses have letters written in the name of the company, signed by the writer as department manager, sales manager, or other officer. Then there are other houses that omit the company name entirely in order to get away from the "soulless corporation" idea as much as possible, and letters to a customer are always signed by the same individual to get a personal relationship that is considered a most valuable asset. This does not mean merely the matter of the signature, but the entire attitude of the letter. "Address your reply to me personally" is the spirit of these firms—a policy that has been adopted after tests have demonstrated that it is the one appeal most effective with the average mail-order customer.
A large concern aims to make its points stand out more clearly by having the arguments presented in a one, two, three order, and each paragraph is introduced with a subject printed in capitals at the beginning of the first line, such as Location, Terms, Guarantee. This company, dealing in lands, usually finds it necessary to write rather lengthy letters and the subject heads serve as guide-posts and tend to concentrate attention.
One firm has barred all superlative adjectives, not merely to guard against exaggeration but because the superlative degree lacks conviction. The statement that "This is the best collar ever made" is not believed, but to say that it is a "fine" collar or a "good" collar for it is five-ply, and so forth, rings true. It is a better selling talk and so the superlative is not permitted.
Then there are other general policies that concerns have adopted, such as a rule that the price of articles cannot be mentioned in a letter. A printed enclosure gives this information and reference may be made to it, but the dollar mark does not appear in the letter itself. This policy has been adopted to emphasize upon readers the fact that the company quotes but one price to all, and it makes an effective selling talk out of the point that special discounts and "inside prices" are never given. As confidence is always the first essential in building up a mail-order business, this policy has done much towards increasing the standing and reputation of the houses using it.
And then come certain specific instructions covering a multitude of details. For instance, the style of paper is a matter that progressive business houses no longer ignore. The policy of the house may be revealed in the envelope and letter paper before one has had time to read even the date line. Some firms provide different grades of stationery for different departments, the sales letters going out in a much finer dress than letters from other departments.
The style to use is largely a matter of personal taste and preference. The significant thing is not in the kind that is used by certain companies but the fact that progressive business houses now appreciate the necessity for a uniformity in stationery and in the manner of handling it.
Harmony of color is especially desirable—the tint of the paper, the color of the lithographing, embossing or printing, the color of the typewriter ribbon used and the color of the ink used in signing. None of these points are too small to be considered in the progressive business houses today.
The closing is no less important than the opening and most rule books relieve the correspondent of all responsibility in deciding on what subscription to use or how to sign the letter. For instance, he is told that the house policy is to close with "Yours truly" and that the name of the company is written with the typewriter followed by the signature of the writer and his title, such as "President," or "Sales Manager."
A publishing house in the east for years clung to the established policy of having all letters go out in the name of the president. But it was finally decided by the executive committee that this policy tended to belittle the house, for it was obvious that no institution of any size could have all its mail handled directly from the president's office. It was argued that if the president's name were used only occasionally, greater prestige would be given to the letters that actually came from his office, and thereafter letters were signed by different department heads as "Manager of Sales," "Advertising Manager," "Managing Editor," "Manager of Collection Department," and so forth.
And just so one could go through the book of rules of any business house and find a good reason for every policy that has been adopted. For while it is desirable to have a "family resemblance" which is possible only through established rules, and while letters written under specific instructions have added dignity and character, yet there is back of each rule some additional significance, the force of some tested argument, the psychological effect of some timely suggestion.
No longer do large manufacturing and mercantile houses send out their salesmen and allow each one to push his line as he sees best. Many concerns require the salesmen to take a regular course of training to learn thoroughly the "house" attitude, and they are given instructions on the best way to present arguments and overcome objections—just so the men who sell by letter are now instructed in the best methods for getting results.
The best way to secure a uniform policy is a practical question. Some houses employ a correspondent expert to spend a few weeks in the correspondence department just the same as an expert auditor is employed to systematize the accounting department. In other houses the book of rules is a matter of evolution, the gradual adding of new points as they come up and as policies are tried out, a process of elimination determining those that should be adopted. In some concerns the correspondents have regular meetings to discuss their problems and to decide upon the best methods of meeting the situations that arise in their work. They read letters that have pulled, analyze the arguments and in this way try to raise the quality of their written messages.
While it must be admitted that some men have a natural faculty of expressing themselves clearly and forcibly, the fact remains that letter writing is an art that may be acquired. It necessitates a capacity to understand the reader's attitude; it requires careful study and analysis of talking points, arguments and methods of presentation, but there is no copyright on good letters and any house can secure a high standard and be assured that distant customers are handled tactfully and skilfully if a uniform policy is worked out and systematically applied.
Making Letters UNIFORM In Appearance
PART IV—THE DRESS OF A BUSINESS LETTER—CHAPTER 15
Business stationery should reflect the house that sends it out but unless specific rules are adopted there will be a lack of uniformity in arrangement, in style, in spelling, infolding—all the little mechanical details that contribute to an impression of CHARACTER and INDIVIDUALITY. Definite instructions should be given to correspondents and stenographers so that letters, although written in a dozen different departments, will have a uniformity in appearance. What a book of instructions should contain and how rules can be adopted is described in this chapter
* * * * *
Just as progressive business houses now aim to have their correspondence uniform in policy and quality, so too, they aim at uniformity in letter appearance—the mechanical production. It is obvious that if the letters sent out by a house are to have character, one style must be adopted and definite rules must be formulated for the guidance of the stenographers. The authorities differ on many points such as the use of capital letters, abbreviations, the use of figures, and so forth, and it is not to be expected that stenographers, trained at different schools and working in different departments, could produce uniformity unless they all follow specific instructions.
And so the more progressive firms have adopted a fixed style and codified certain rules for the guidance of stenographers and typists. In the writing of a letter there are so many points that are entirely a matter of personal taste that a comprehensive rule book touches an almost infinite number of subjects, ranging from an important question of house policy to the proper way of folding the sheet on which the letter is written.
It is not the purpose of this chapter to give a summary of the rules for punctuation and capitalization or to pass judgment on questions of style, but to emphasize the necessity for uniformity in all correspondence that a house sends out, and to call attention to a few of the more common errors that are inexcusable.
As far as the impression created by an individual letter is concerned, it really makes very little difference whether the paragraphs are indented or begin flush with the line margin. But it is important that all the letters sent out by a house follow the same style. A stenographer should not be permitted to use the abbreviation "Co." in one part of her letter and spell out the word "company" in the following paragraph.
In formulating the rules, two things should be kept in mind— clearness, to make the meaning of the writer plain; and a pleasing appearance that will make a favorable impression upon the reader. The sole purpose of punctuation marks is to help convey a thought so clearly that it cannot be misunderstood and experienced writers learn to use the proper marks almost intuitively. The rules are applied unconsciously. Many correspondents in dictating designate the beginning and the close of each sentence but others leave this to the intelligence of the stenographer, and there is no better rule for those to whom such matters are left than to be liberal in the use of periods. Avoid long, involved sentences. There is little danger of misunderstanding in short sentences.
Most of the rules can be made hard and fast—a simple regulation to do this or to avoid that. They should begin with the date line. Instructions should be given as to the place for the date line: whether it should be written on one or two lines and whether the month should be expressed in figures or should be spelled out, and whether the year should be printed in full or abbreviated. There is a growing tendency to use figures, such as 10-15-10, and supplementary letters, such as "rd," "th," and so forth, are being eliminated. Some firms are placing the date at the bottom of the letter at the left hand margin, although for convenience in making a quick reference the date line at the top of the letter is much to be preferred.
* * * * *
A Page of Instructions to Stenographers:
_City and date must be written about three spaces below the lowest printed matter on letterhead, as follows: Chicago, date single space below, regulated so that it will precede and extend beyond "Chicago" an equal distance, the end of date being in line with margin of body of letter; spell the month in full, followed by the date in figures, after which use comma; add year in figures and end with period.
Commence letter by addressing customer, then double space and follow with city and state (do not give street address) except where window envelope is to be used; double space and address as "Dear Sir" or "Madam." Also double space between this salutation and first paragraph.
Paragraphs must begin ten points from margin on a line with city. Use single space, with double space between paragraphs.
In closing use the phrase "Yours very truly" and sign "The Wilson-Graham Company." Have correspondent's and stenographer's initials on line with margin on left hand side of sheet. Margins must be regulated by length of letter to be written, using your judgment in this respect.
The half size letterhead should be used for very short letters.
Envelopes must be addressed double space, with beginning of name, street address, city and state on marginal line, as per sample attached._
* * * * *
The points that are suggested here, however, are entirely a matter of taste. There is no court of last resort to which appeal can be made as to the better method. Each house must use its own judgment. The important thing is to secure uniformiy.
Rules should govern the name of the addressee, whether it should be prefaced by such titles as "Mr." or "Messrs." The form of the salutation, the size of the margin, the spacing between lines and between paragraphs, the indentation of paragraphs, if any—all of these points should be covered by rules. The subscription, the placing of the dictator's and the stenographer's initials are all proper subjects for the instruction book.
The use of capital letters is a disputed question with writers, printers and proofreaders. But there is a growing tendency to use the small letters wherever possible. One large firm in the east has this rule:
"When in doubt regarding the use of a capital letter, don't. Use a small letter."
A great many business houses, for the sake of emphasis, capitalize the names of their own products. For instance:
"In this Catalogue you will find listed a very complete line of Countershafts, Magnetos, Induction Coils, Lubricators, Mufflers, Spark Coils, and a complete line of automobile accessories."
* * * * *
There is no rule that justifies such capitalization but it is a common practice in business correspondence.
There are some correspondents who write a word or a sentence in capital letters for emphasis. Occasionally this may be done to advantage but the tendency is to overwork the scheme. At best it is a lazy man's way of trying to secure emphasis without the mental exertion of thinking up some figure of speech or some original expression that will give force to his thought.
The rule book should help out the stenographer in the use of numbers and prices. Usage and a practical viewpoint both commend the use of figures for expressing sums of money. "Twelve hundred dollars" may be understood but it takes longer to write and does not make such a sharp image in the mind of the reader as $1,200. A common rule for figures is to spell out numbers under one hundred and to use numerals for larger amounts.
The use of abbreviations should be restricted and an inflexible rule should be never to use a man's initials or abbreviate his given name if he spells it out. If you find by a letterhead that the one to whom you are writing spells out the name of his state it is wise to follow the trail.
The errors in punctuation found in business correspondence are of infinite variety, although a surprising number of stenographers make similar errors in using hyphens for dashes and in misplacing quotation marks. Here is a common error:
"A model No. 8,—the one we exhibited at the Business Show last week,—has been sold to a customer in New Zealand."
* * * * *
There is no excuse for the comma used in connection with the dash and yet this construction is found in letters every day.
Unfortunately most typewriters do not have a dash and so the hyphen is used, but stenographers should be instructed to use two or, better yet, three hyphens without spacing (—-), rather than a single hyphen as is so frequently seen. Here is a sentence in which the girl was versatile enough to combine two styles in one sentence:
"The auto—-although it was completely overhauled a few days ago—-could not be started."
* * * * *
In the first place, the single hyphen gives the appearance of a compound word, and placing a space on each side is scarcely less objectionable. Insist upon two or three hyphens without spaces when a dash is wanted.
Quotation marks are another stumbling block. There is no occasion to put the name of well-known books, magazines, and newspapers in quotation marks. If you refer to Harper's Monthly the reader will get your meaning just as well without the quotation marks. Many stenographers in writing a sentence that ends with a quoted word place the quotation mark first and the period or question mark following, as:
Johnson's last words to me were: "I will accept your terms".
* * * * *
Put the period inside the fence where it belongs. This is a rule that is violated more often than it is observed, the confusion coming from an occasional exception where a punctuation mark has nothing to do with the quotation, as in the sentence:
"May we not send you a trial order of our "X Brand"?
* * * * *
Here it is plain that the question mark should follow the quotation mark. There is no excuse for the frequent misplacing of these marks, for the quoted part of a sentence invariably shows the proper position for each mark.
A chapter could be filled with errors to be avoided—only a few of the most common ones are mentioned here. This reference to them may suggest to the heads of correspondence departments the range of points to be covered in a rule book.
Some rule books go further and devote pages to faulty diction that must be avoided and print lists of words that should not be used and words that are "preferred".
The folding of the typewritten page usually comes in for a rule and instructions are generally given regarding corrections—whether the pen can be used at all or if letters must be rewritten.
With these rules laid down for the guidance of the stenographer, her mind is left free for other things that will contribute to her usefulness. It is no reflection on their knowledge of correct English to say that the majority of correspondents, working under high pressure, make mistakes that the stenographer must catch. It is extremely easy in dictating to mix up the tenses of verbs and to make other slips which most letter writers look to their stenographers to correct. It should be a hard and fast rule that an ungrammatical letter must never be sent out under any circumstances. Some correspondents not only look to the stenographer to edit their "copy" but to come back for a new dictation if the meaning of a letter is not perfectly clear. The thought is that if the stenographer does not understand it, there is danger of its being misinterpreted by the one to whom it is addressed.
Many rule books include a list of trade terms and phrases that the most expert stenographer may never have met with in their previous work. Legal terms are especially difficult to take down until a girl has become familiar with the unknown Latin words. This may also be said of technical terms, mechanical terms, architectural and building terms, and so forth. It is a saving of time and annoyance in many offices to have a list of frequently used words that the new stenographer can study before she attempts to take dictations.
It is not likely that any two business houses could adopt the same rules throughout. But this does not lessen the desirability of having specific instructions covering all these points, for without uniformity, the letters will not have the character, the dignity and the individuality that is desired by every concern.
How to Write the Letter That Will "LAND" the Order
PART V—WRITING THE SALES LETTER—CHAPTER 16
Selling goods is considered the biggest problem in the business world. Hard as it is to close a deal with the prospect right before you, it is infinitely harder to get his order when he is miles away and you must depend upon a type-written sheet to interest him in your proposition sufficiently to buy your goods. Methods that have succeeded are described in this chapter and samples of order-bringing letters are given
* * * * *
The letter that is sent out unaided to make its own approach, open its own canvass and either complete a sale or pave the way to a sale may be called "the original sales letter." There has been no inquiry, no preliminary introduction of any kind. The letter is simply the substitute for the salesman who voluntarily seeks out his own prospect, presents his proposition and tries to land an order.
Such a letter undertakes a big task. It has a more difficult mission than the personal salesman, for it cannot alter its canvass on the spot to suit the prospect's mood. It must have its plan complete before it goes into the mail. It must be calculated to grip the attention, impel a reading, prompt a favorable decision and get back, in the return envelope, an order or at least a request for further information.
The letter that can do that, a letter so clever and so convincing that it makes a man a thousand miles away put his hand into his pocket, take out his hard earned cash and buy a money order; or makes the shrewd man at the desk take up his pen, write a check and send it for the goods you have to sell, is a better employee than your star salesman because it gets the order at a fraction of the cost. And the man who can write the letter that will do that is a power in the business world—his capacity is practically unlimited.
Original sales letters are of two kinds: those that endeavor to perform the complete operation and secure the order and those that are intended merely as the first of a follow-up series or campaign. Which to use will depend upon the nature and cost of your proposition. A simple, low-priced article may be sold with a single letter—the margin of profit may not warrant more than that. On an expensive, complicated article you cannot hope to do more in the initial letter than win your prospect's interest, or possibly start him toward the dealer who sells your goods.
Consider first the former. You are to write a single letter and make it an attention-getting, interest-winning, complete, convincing, order-bringing medium. There is no better way to do this than to put yourself in the position of the salesman who must do all these things in a single interview. You really must do more than the salesman, but this is the best way to get in your own mind the proper attitude toward your prospect.
Say to yourself, "I am now going into this man's office. He does not know me and does not know I am coming. This is the only chance I have to see him and I shall probably never see him again. I must concentrate all my knowledge of my proposition on this one selling talk and must tell him everything I can about it that will make him want to buy. I must say it in such a way that he will clearly understand; I must give him a good reason for buying today and I must make it easy for him to do so."
Then picture yourself in his office, seated beside his desk and proceed to talk to him. Above all, keep in mind that you are talking to one man. No matter if your letter is to go to ten thousand people, each letter is individual. Remember, it goes to one person. So when you write it, aim directly at one person.
And see him in your mind's eye. Get as clear an idea as you can of the class your letter is going to and then picture the average man in that class. The best way is to pick out some friend or acquaintance who most nearly represents the class you want to reach and write the letter to him. You'll be surprised how much easier it is when you have a definite person in mind. And your letter will then be sure to have that much desired "personal touch."
Of prime importance in this single sales letter is the close, the clincher. Your one big purpose is to get the order, and no matter how clever you may be three-fourths of the way through, if the letter falls short of clinching the order in the end, it may as well not have been written at all.
Here is an excellent example of one of these complete letters. Note particularly the summing up, the guarantee offer and how easy the writer makes it to order:
HOW TO GET A POSITION AND HOW TO HOLD IT
Is the title of a little book that business men and editors say is the most sensible and helpful thing ever printed on its subject Contains the boiled-down experience of years. Written by an expert correspondent and high-salaried writer of business literature who has hunted positions for himself, who has been all along the road up to places where he, in turn, has advertised for employees, read their letters, interviewed and engaged them—who is now with a company employing 2700 of both sexes and all grades from the $3 a week office boy to a $75 a week specialist.
HOW TO GET A POSITION AND HOW TO HOLD IT treats of what one should be able to do before expecting to find a good position; takes up the matter of changes; advises how long to hold the old position; tells what kind of a new position to try for; explains the various ways of getting positions; suggests how the aid of prominent people can be enlisted; shows the kind of endorsements that count; teaches how to write letters of application that COMMAND attention; gives hints on preparing for the interview and on how to make the best impression; tells what should be done when you are selected for a position and take up your duties; deals with the question of salary before and after the engagement; with the bugbear of experience; the matter of hours; and gives pages of horse-sense on a dozen other important topics. The clear instructions for writing strong letters of application, and the model letters shown, are alone worth the price of the book. Not one in a hundred—even among the well- educated—can write a letter of application that convinces.
How many of yours fail? The engagement usually depends on the interview; and the interview cannot, as a rule, be obtained without the impressive letter. Consequently, the letter is of tremendous importance.
If you carry out the suggestions set down in plain language in this little book, you can hardly fail to land a position. And I am offering the book for twenty-five cents a copy. Just think of it! The principles and plans outlined in its pages have been the means of securing high-salaried positions for its author and for others, and this valuable information is yours for the price of five car rides.
This is my offer: Send me a 25-cent piece in the enclosed coin-card, or twenty-five cents in stamps, and I'll mail you a copy of HOW TO GET A POSITION AND HOW TO HOLD IT. If, after reading the book, you do not feel it is worth many times its cost, just tell me so and return the copy in good condition. I'll send your money back without any quibbling. Could any offer be fairer?
Order today—now. Next week there may come to your notice an opening that may be the chance of a lifetime—when my little book will be worth its weight in gold. Besides, it tells how to create openings when none are advertised. You need not write me a letter. Just write your full name and address on the back of this sheet and wrap your stamps up in it, or put your name and address on the coin-card after you have enclosed the 25-cent piece. I'll understand.
Write plainly. I am selling the book so cheaply that I cannot afford to have any copies go astray in the mails.
Yours truly, [Signature: Charles Black]
* * * * *
Now as to the other kind of original sales letter—the one that is merely the first of a series of three or more letters skillfully planned to build up interest until the climax, the purchasing point is reached. This letter is really a combination of the two kinds. If you can land the order with the first letter, you want to, of course. But you know you can expect to do this only in a small percentage of cases. So while you must put into the initial letter enough information to make your proposition clear and must give at least one good reason for buying, you must keep good convincing sales talk in reserve for the succeeding letters. And you must plan this first letter so that the re-enforcements to follow will logically support your introduction.
This can best be illustrated by a clever first letter from a very successful series. The manufacturer of a $5 fireless cooker planned a letter campaign to induce hardware dealers and department stores to buy a stock of his product.
The first sales letter of the series scored strongly on one or two points and at the same time paved the way for the second letter:
Are you ready for the woman who wants a fireless cooker but can't pay ten or fifteen dollars?
The aggressive advertising done by the manufacturers of fireless cookers and the immense amount of reading matter published in women's magazines about the fireless method of cooking has stirred up a big demand.
But just figure out how many of your customers can't afford to pay $10, $12 or $15.
Think of the sales that could be made with a thoroughly reliable cooker at $5—one that you could feel safe in standing back of.
We had the $15-idea, and we worked out the prettiest cooker you ever saw at any price. But we got together one day and figured out that the big market was for a low-priced cooker that every woman could buy.
How to get a Jenkins-quality cooker, one that a retailer would be proud to sell, down to the retail price of $5 was the question. But we figured our manufacturing up into the tens of thousands, and the enclosed folder tells about the result.
Our advertising next month in the Woman's Home Companion, Ladies' Home Journal, Ladies' World, Good Housekeeping, Everybody's, Cosmopolitan and McClures will do big things for you if you have the Jenkins $5 Fireless Cooker in your window.
We have a good sized stock on hand but they won't last long the way orders are coming in from far-sighted retailers.
How would a dozen do as a starter for you?
Yours truly, [Signature: Black & Black]
* * * * *
A letter of this kind should be effective because it gives enough information to make a sale in case the reader is an unusually good prospect, and at the same time it lays a good foundation for the second letter.
Are you willing to make more money on soap?
Yes, we suppose you are carrying many soaps, but when a distinctive soap is advertised as thoroughly as we are advertising WESINOD, it actually creates new trade, and of course you aren't sorry to see new faces in the store.
WESINOD SOAP has the curative and beneficial effects of Resinol Ointment, which is now used so extensively by the medical profession.
WESINOD SOAP is more than a cleanser: it is a restorer, preserver and beautifier of the skin, and as such is attracting the favorable attention of women.
Enclosed is a reproduction of our advertisement in the magazines this month and a list of the magazines in which the copy appears.
We are educating 10,000,000 readers to feel the need of WESINOD SOAP.
A supply of our liberal samples and a trial order to be used in a window display will show you the possibilities.
May we send samples and a trial gross?
Yours for more soap money, WESINOD SOAP COMPANY
* * * * *
This is a strong selling letter that interests the reader, disarms his natural objection to adding an additional line of soap and presents briefly convincing reasons for stocking with Wesinod. While this letter is intended to get the order, it effectively paves the way for further correspondence
* * * * *
It is unnecessary to take up here the elements that should go into the sales letter—attention, interest, argument, proof, persuasion, inducement and the clincher. But it is well to emphasize three points that are especially important in the original letter in the series: confidence, price and the close.
You may be sure, that unless you win the confidence of your prospect from the start, your whole campaign is going to be a waste of time, paper and postage. Distrust and prejudice, once started, are hard things to overcome by mail, particularly when you are a concern or individual unknown to the man to whom you are writing.
''If your magazine pulls as well as the Blank Monthly I will give you a twelve-page contract.''
That remark wasn't meant for our ears, but one of our solicitors couldn't help overhearing it. It was made by a prominent advertiser, too. We wish we could give his name, but when we asked permission to quote he smiled and said he'd rather not. So, we'll have to refer you to our advertising pages.
But the remark speaks pretty well for the Blank Monthly, doesn't it? It's not surprising, though. The Blank Monthly goes into 151,000 homes. It is taken and read by the best class of technical, scientific and mechanically inclined men, representing one of the choicest classes of buyers in America.
Our subscribers are great buyers of things by mail. Dozens of our advertisers have proved it. They don't sell shoddy or cheap goods, either. That's why we believe your advertising will pay in the Blank Monthly. If we didn't believe it, we shouldn't solicit your business.
Try your copy in the June issue, which goes to press on April 27— last form May 6.
If you send copy TODAY, you will be sure to get in.
Very truly yours, [Signature: M. O. Williams]
* * * * *
The quoted language gives the opening of this letter an interesting look. The first three paragraphs are strong. The fourth paragraph is merely assertive, and is weak. A fact or two from some advertiser's experience would be much better
* * * * *
And so with this in mind, be careful of the tone of your letter. Be earnest, make reasonable statements, appeal to the intelligence or the experience of the reader and deal with specific facts rather than with mere assertions or claims. There is no inspiration to confidence in the time-worn claims of "strongest," "best," and "purest". Tell the facts. Instead of saying that an article is useful in a dozen different ways, mention some of the ways. When you declare that the cylinder of your mine pump is the best in the world, you are not likely to be believed; the statement slips off the mind like the proverbial water from a duck's back. But when you say that the cylinder is made of close-grained iron thick enough to be rebored, if necessary, you have created a picture that does not call for doubt. But watch out that you don't start an argument. Brander Mathews gives us a great thought when he says that "controversy is not persuasion." Don't write a letter that makes the reader feel that he is being argued into something. Give him facts and suggestions that he can't resist; let him feel that he has convinced himself. This paragraph fails of its purpose, simply because it argues. You can almost picture the writer as being "peevish" because his letters haven't pulled:
"This stock is absolutely the safest and most staple you could buy. It will positively pay regular dividends. We stand back of these statements. You must admit, therefore, that it is a good buy for you. So why do you hesitate about buying a block of it?"
* * * * *
On the other hand, this appeals to the investor because it has genuine proof in it:
"No stockholder of ours has lost a dollar through fluctuation in the price of the stock, though we have been doing business for fifteen years. Our stock has been readily salable at all times. No dividend period has ever been missed. The quarterly dividend has never been less than 2-1/2 per cent. During the depression of 1907-1908 our stock maintained itself at 40 per cent above par when other industrial stocks were dropping to par or below. Surely, here is an investment worth your investigation."
* * * * *
Telling specific facts helps to produce conviction as well as to create confidence. Not every one is a genius in the handling of words, but every writer of a letter that is to bristle with conviction must use his imagination. He must put himself mentally in the place of the typical customer he is addressing and use the arguments and facts that would convince him. The writer should try to see himself enjoying the foods or service—picture his satisfaction. Then he has a better chance of reproducing his picture in the mind of the reader.
For instance, read this paragraph of idle assertions:
"Buy our hams once and you will buy them always. All of our meat is from young hogs, and is not tough, but is high-grade. Nothing but corn-fed stock is used. We guarantee the quality. We use good sugar in curing our hams, the best quality of saltpeter and some salt. The result is a natural flavor that can't be beat. We challenge competition."
* * * * *
And now contrast it with this real description of the same product, calculated to create confidence in the trademark it bears:
"This mark certifies that the hog came from good stock, that it was corn-fed in order that it might be firm and sweet—that it was a barrow hog, so that the meat would be full-flavored and juicy—that it was a young hog, making the ham thin-skinned and tender—well-conditioned and fat, insuring the lean of the ham to be tasty and nutritious. The mark certifies that the ham was cured in a liquor nearly good enough to drink, made of granulated sugar, pure saltpeter and only a very little salt; this brings out all the fine, rich, natural flavor of the carefully selected meat, and preserves it without 'salty pickling.'"
* * * * *
Note how much more graphic the second paragraph is than the first, and every statement is backed up by a logical reason.
The testimony of other people, especially of those in positions of authority and those who would not be suspected of bias, has much convincing power. There is nothing in the contention that "testimonials are out of date." They constitute the strongest kind of support. But get testimonials that really say something. The man who writes and says that he got out of the book he bought from you an idea that enabled him to make a profit of $50 the first week, says a thousand times more than the man who writes and merely says that he was pleased with his purchase.
Let price come in the letter just about where it would come in an oral canvass. The skillful salesman of high-priced shirts doesn't talk about the $3 price until he has shown the shirt and impressed the customer. If price is the big thing—is lower than the reader is likely to imagine it would be—it may be made the leading point and introduced at the outset, but unless it is an attraction, it should be held back until strong description has prepared the reader for the price.
The method of payment and delivery must be treated effectively in the closing paragraphs. The following plans all have their use:
Offer to send on free trial for ten days or longer;
Offer to send for free examination, payment to be made to express agent when examination has shown article to be satisfactory;
Offer to send on small payment, the small payment to be a guarantee against trifling, balance payable on examination;
Offer to sell on easy-payment plan;
Offer to sell for cash but with strong refunding guarantee;
Offer to supply article through local dealer on reader's authorization. With such an authorization, the advertiser has a good opening to stock the retailer.
The price feature offers one of the best opportunities to give the letter real inducement. If the price is in any sense a special price, make it clear that it is. Sometimes you can hang your whole letter on this one element.
Reduced price, if the reduction is set forth logically, is a strong feature. One publisher uses it in this fashion:
"We have just 146 sets of these books to sell at $18.50. When the new edition is in, it will be impossible to get a set at less than $25. The old edition is just as good as the new, but we are entirely out of circular matter describing the green cloth binding, and as we don't want to print a new lot of circulars just to sell 146 sets, we make this unusual offer. Now is your chance."
* * * * *
Advance in price is almost as strong. It's a lever to quick action:
"On the 1st of October the rate of the MESSENGER will go up to one dollar a line. If you place your order before the thirtieth of this month you can buy space to be used any time before January 1 next at seventy-five cents a line. After the thirtieth, positively no orders will be accepted at less than one dollar a line. As a matter of fact our circulation entitles us to a dollar a line right now.
"Don't let this letter be covered up on your desk. Attend to this matter now, or instruct your advertising agent to reserve space for you, and get a big bargain."
* * * * *
Price, in this case is, in fact, a part of the close. It spurs the reader to "order now."
Setting a time limit, in which a proposal holds good, is also a strong closer. A large book publisher finds it effective to make a discount offer good if accepted within a certain number of days.
Guarantee offers are strong. Don't content yourself with the old "absolutely guaranteed" expression. Be definite. "Order this buggy, and if, at the end of a month, you are not entirely satisfied that it is the biggest buggy value you ever had for the money, just write me, and I'll take the buggy back without quibbling. Could any offer be fairer? I make it because I've sold 246 of these buggies since January, and so far no man has asked for his money back."
The sum-up is as important a part of the sales letter as it is of the lawyer's speech or brief. It should concentrate the whole strength of the letter at the close, as, for instance:
"So you see that though our machine is apparently high-priced it is really cheaper by the year than another machine. Our offer of a free trial right in your own plant gives you absolute protection. It is quite natural, of course, for us to be desirous of getting your order, but we do not see how you can, from your own point of view, afford not to put the Bismarck in your factory."
* * * * *
And finally, help the prospect buy. The sales letter designed to bring the order must provide an easy method of ordering. In the first place, a great many people do not understand how to order. To others, making out an order is a task that is likely to be postponed. By making it easy for the reader to fill out a blank with a stroke or two of the pen, while the effect of the letter is strong, a great many orders will be secured that would otherwise be lost.
It should be axiomatic that if a letter is expected to pull business through the mails it must place before the recipient every facility for making it easy and agreeable to reply and reply NOW. How this can best be done will be taken up more fully in a separate chapter on "Making It Easy to Answer."
One thing to remember particularly in the case of the original sales letter is that if possible it should have a definite scheme behind it. A reason for the offer, a reason for the letter itself.
A safe-deposit vault was well advertised by sending out letters that contained a special pass to the vault with the name of the reader filled in. Of course the letter gave a pressing invitation to call and allow the custodian to show the vault's interesting features.
Still another clever letter soliciting rentals of safe-deposit boxes proposed that in case the reader now had a box elsewhere, they would take the lease off his hands. In reality they merely gave him free rental until his other lease expired, but the scheme was cleverly planned.
A buggy maker wrote enclosing duplicate specifications of a buggy he had just had made for his own personal use, and suggested that he would have another made for the reader exactly like it and turned under the same careful supervision.
Letters that give the reader something or offer to give him something have similar effect. The letter about a new facial cream will command extra attention because of the small sample of the cream enclosed. In fact, one cold cream company finds it an effective plan to send a sample and a sales letter to druggists' mailing lists or to names taken from telephone books, telling the reader in the final paragraph that the cream can be purchased at the local drug store.
A letter offering a sample can of a high-grade coffee for the name of the reader's favorite grocer will bring a good response and afford the advertiser a strong hold on the grocer.
A favorite method of securing savings depositors is to send a good "savings letter" that offers a free home-savings bank or a vest-pocket saver.
Even calendars may be given out more effectively by sending a letter and telling the reader that a good calendar has been saved for him and asking him to call at the office.
A striking paragraph of a real estate dealer's soliciting letter is one that asserts that the dealer has a client with the cash who wants just about such a house as the reader of the letter owns.
A real estate dealer, whose specialty is farms, has this telling sentence in his original letter: "Somewhere there is a man who will buy your farm at a good price; I should like to find that man for you."
There is hardly a product or a proposition that does not offer opportunity to put some scheme behind the letter. And such a plan doubles the appeal of the original sales letter. But once more, remember, not to put all your ammunition into the first letter. Be prepared to come back in your second and third letters, not simply with varied repetitions, but with more reasons for buying. Make your first letter as strong as you can, but at the same time—pave the way.
The Letter That Will BRING an Inquiry
PART V—WRITING THE SALES LETTER—CHAPTER 17
Comparatively few propositions can be sold in the first letter; in most campaigns it is enough to stimulate a man's interest and get him to reply. This chapter gives specific schemes that have proved successful in pulling answers—in making an opening for the heavy artillery of the follow-up
* * * * *
Think what a problem you would have if you started out as a salesman to sell a certain article with no definite idea of where to find your prospects. You might interview a hundred men before you found one who was interested. That would be pretty slow and pretty expensive selling, wouldn't it?
And think what it would mean if you were to send out broadcast a thousand expensive booklets and follow-up letters only to receive one reply from the one man with whom you effected a point of contact. That, too, would be a prohibitively costly method of selling.
Yet one or both these methods would in many cases be necessary were it not for the inquiry-bringing letter. The inquiry letter is a "feeler"—the advance agent of the selling campaign. It goes broadcast to find and put its finger on the man who is interested or who can be interested, and his reply labels him as the man whom it is worth while for your salesman to see, or, who is at least worth the expense and endeavor of a follow-up series.
The inquiry letter is like the advertisement which asks you to send for a catalogue or booklet. The advertisement writer believes that if you are interested enough to write for the booklet, you will be interested enough to read his sales letters, and possibly become a purchaser. It is the same with the inquiry-bringing letter. It is simply a sieve for sifting out the likely prospects from the great mass of persons, who for many reasons cannot be brought around into a buying mood concerning your proposition.
The great advantage of the letter which induces the recipient to express his interest in an inquiry, is that you not only make him put himself unconsciously under an obligation to read further details, but you give time for the thoughts that you have started to get in their work.
The fact that a man has decided to ask for more information and has put that decision in writing is of considerable psychological value.
The one thing the salesman hopes to find, and the one thing the letter writer strives to create, is a receptive mood on the part of his prospect. The moment a man answers the inquiry-letter, he has put himself into a frame of mind where he waits for and welcomes your subsequent sales talk.
He looks forward with some interest to your second letter. At first there was just one person to the discussion. Now there are two.
In this respect the letter is like the magazine advertisement. Give all the details of a $500 piano in an advertisement of ordinary size, quoting the price at the close, and it is extremely unlikely to bring the reader to the point of deciding that he will buy the piano. It is better to deal with some point of interest about the piano and offer a fine piano book free.
And right here it is worthy of mention that interesting books with such titles as "How to Select a Piano," "How to Make Money in Real Estate," "Bank Stocks as an Investment," or "The Way to Have a Beautiful Complexion," make letters as well as advertisements draw inquiries of a good class.
In other words, offer an inducement, give your man a reason for answering.
When you have written a letter calculated to draw inquiries, put yourself in the position of the man who is to get it and read it through from his standpoint. Ask yourself whether you would answer it if you received it. Test it for a reason, an inducement, and see if it has the pulling power you want it to have.
If you are offering a book, for example, impress the reader with the real value of the book, magnify its desirability in his mind. A paper company does this admirably when it writes:
"The new Condax specimen book is a beautiful thing—not a mere book of paper samples, understand, but a collection of art masterpieces and hand-lettered designs, printed with rare taste on the various kinds of Condax papers. Many have told us it is the finest example of printing they have ever seen come from the press.
"We feel sure you would treasure the book just for its artistic merits, but we are not sending you one now because there is such a tremendous demand for it that we do not like to chance having a single copy go astray and we want yours to reach you personally. We are holding it for you and the enclosed card will bring it, carefully wrapped, by return mail."
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Of course such a book must be designed to do the proper work when it gets into the hands of the reader.
It is a mistake to tell a great deal in the inquiry-bringing letter, unless you can reasonably hope to close a sale. A man will act on impulse in ordering a dollar article, but he isn't likely to be impulsive about an insurance policy. If you give him the entire canvass on an insurance policy at the first shot, it will have to be of extraordinary interest and convincing power to close the sale. The subject is new. The prospect has not had a chance to think over the facts. He is suspicious of your power; afraid of hastiness on his own part. He is likely to give himself the canvass and decide "No," before giving you any further chance.
Appeal to curiosity. Arouse interest and leave it unsatisfied.
Remember that your inquiry letter is a definite part of your campaign. Therefore it must be consistent with what is to follow and must pave the way naturally for it. Seek replies only from those who can use and can afford to buy the article you have to sell.
A maker of a specialty machine got out an inquiry letter along this line:
"If you are tired of a salaried job, if you want to get into a big-paying, independent business of your own. I have a proposition that will interest you."
* * * * *
Of course he got a big percentage of replies, for what man does not want a big-paying, independent business of his own? But when in his follow-up letter he stated his proposition, offering state rights to his machine for $5,000, he shot over the heads of 99 per cent of the men who had answered his first letter. His inquiry letter had completely failed of its purpose. It was not selective, it was general.
I should like to have you consider buying the enclosed series of talks on advertising for use in your paper.
I am an expert advertising man and I have spent a great deal of time and energy on these talks. I know that they will produce results that will be very satisfactory to you for they are based on the real experience of an expert.
The price of these talks—that is, the right to use the talks and illustrations in your city—is $15, which you must admit is dirt cheap, considering the quality of the matter.
All the progressive publishers are jumping at the chance to get these talks at the low price I am quoting them.
If you do not accept my offer, one of your competitors will certainly do so, and you will lose prestige.
Hoping to hear from you at once and promising careful attention to your valued favors, I am
Truly yours, [Signature: G. L. Lawrence]
* * * * *
This letter has an unfortunate beginning. The writer starts by considering his own interests rather than those of the publisher. It is not tactful to begin with "I want-to-sell-you-something" talk. The second paragraph is merely an egotistic statement. No facts are furnished to impress the publisher. In the third paragraph price is introduced before desire is created. The fourth paragraph is a palpable boast that will not be believed and an insinuation that the publisher addressed may not be progressive. The suggestion about the competitor is likely to arouse antagonism. The close is hackneyed and the entire letter is rathsr an advertisement of the writer's inability rather than of his ability
* * * * *
Do not deceive. Nothing is gained by deception in a high grade venture. Your offer to give away a first-class lot in a first-class suburban real estate campaign will make a good class of readers suspicious of you. And though you may get many inquiries from those who are looking for something for nothing, the chances are that the inquiries will be of a very poor quality. Better get two per cent of first-class prospects than ten per cent that will only waste your time. You must not forget that it costs money to solicit people either by mail or by salesmen.
HOW TO INCREASE YOUR ADVERTISING RECEIPTS
[Sidenote: Heading and first sentence introduce a subject of vital interest to publishers.]
What would it be worth to you to have a dozen more local advertisers buying your space regularly?
[Sidenote: Facts and arguments which show that the writer knows conditions.]
How much money would it mean to have in the paper regularly just a few of those who advertise poorly and spasmodically for a short time, then drop out and whine that "advertising doesn't pay?"
[Sidenote: As he has had such wide experience he understands the situation and his words carry conviction—touch a tender spot with every publisher.]
I know your problems. I have had soliciting experience as well as broad copywriting experience. I served three years on the advertising staff of THE BALTIMORE NEWS—the paper for which Mr. Munsey recently paid $1,500,000. I know how hard it is to get a certain class of local advertisers started. I know how hard it is to keep them going after they once start. Of course YOU know why some advertisers come in the paper but won't stay. They can't see where their money comes back, AND THE PLAIN TRUTH IS THAT OFTEN IT DOESN'T COME BACK simply because these advertisers don't advertise intelligently.
Your solicitors are not all skillful copywriters. Soliciting ability and copy-writing ability rarely go together. Even if your solicitors were all good copy-writers, they wouldn't have time to study each advertiser's proposition exhaustively.
But if you expect to keep your advertising receipts up to the high-water mark, you can't always do ALL SOLICITING and NO HELPING. You must assist the advertiser to get the full value of the money he spends with you. How? This letter answers the question.