Everybody likes getting mail. That’s why it’s no surprise that letter formats in direct marketing have such good ROI. But letters only work if they’re actually read. The longer you can keep someone reading, the higher the level of trust becomes (and willingness to listen to what you’re saying). Here are five practical and proven ways to help make your letter format a one-on-one conversation and promote active reading:
- Actually Write a Letter. Use left-justified text with tab indents and double spaced paragraphs. Not only is this the norm for the sincere letter-writer, but it is also a proven format for readability. Eye-camera studies show that having tab indents promotes the flow of reading and double spaced paragraphs provide “breathing room” for the brain to process information. Exclude all ‘sales’ material like graphs and starbursts—when was the last time you included a chart on a hand-written card?
- Make it Personal. Just like in a letter for Grandma, always include a salutation and never call her “Delores Rosenhiem.” Calling someone by their full name is the kiss of letter-format death; it proves that you don’t have a relationship. Either address them by their relationship to you, “Dear Grandma,” first name, “Dear Delores,” or title, “Dear Mrs. Rosenhiem.”
Say “I” or “we” and address the reader as “you.” In the end, 80% of pronouns used should be “you.” It’s a letter for the reader, so be sure to make it about them. And remember: if you act like you’re in a relationship with the reader, they are more likely to see one.
- Write as You, Not as the Product. If you have trouble writing in this format, try to write a letter with one specific person in mind, then go back and tweak it. Some people even record a phone conversation and then transcribe it to ensure that it has an ease and flow to it that’s natural.
The voice of the writer is crucial. Without it there cannot be a personal connection. Good ghost writers like to do research on the person they are scribing for by learning about their hobbies or spending time listening to them talk to pick up some of their favorite phrases and speech patterns to improve authenticity.
- Keep it Short and Sweet. Keep your paragraphs to 3-5 sentences and make sure they have a tight focus. Brain science teaches us that separating thoughts into quick, distinct paragraphs helps your reader to retain more information. Also be sure to keep your sentences brief. Use the “breath test”—if you can’t read the sentence aloud in one normal breath, it’s too long.
- Be Crafty. There’s a lot of research on creating effective letters—use it to your advantage! Facts like serif fonts help the eye flow and keep reading easy can be invaluable. The simplest things can keep someone engaged, like having a page end mid-sentence so that the reader has to turn the page over. Other techniques like putting the signature in blue ink and including a P.S. are all highly effective in creating a personal relationship with the reader while still getting your sales message across.
Readers aren’t dumb. They know that the CEO did not write a personal message to them on how to save hundreds. But if it looks like a letter, reads like a letter, and makes them feel like they are being communicated to by a person, not an ad, they are willing to put aside their reservations about listening to a salesperson and actually hear what you have to say.