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How long should your sales letter be?

One of the very common questions I get about internet marketing is “How long should my sales letter be?” I actually got this question again just last week. I was talking with one of my private consulting clients who told me that he recently read in a marketing book that a sales letter ought to […]

One of the very common questions I get about internet marketing is “How long should my sales letter be?”

I actually got this question again just last week.

I was talking with one of my private consulting clients who told me that he recently read in a marketing book that a sales letter ought to be about as long as one printed typewritten page. I don’t recall the name of the product or “expert” he was quoting from, but it seemed to me that anyone who knows what they’re talking about with marketing knows that ‘short’ is not the answer.

Neither is ANY specific length. Your letter needs to be as long as it takes to tell your story. No more. No less.

The reason WHY your sales letter should not be artificially shortened touches on a few important marketing lessons that you need to know and remember.

For example, you might believe that “people hate reading long sales letters.” That’s probably based on your own feelings that you don’t like reading long sales letters, either.

And my guess is that if you asked 100 people, MOST of them would agree with you. Few people “like” reading a long sales letter because, generally speaking, they don’t have the time, are busy, and don’t like to feel “manipulated”, which they think a sales letter is trying to do.

In other words, you might be right.

But here’s the shocking news: it doesn’t matter!

That’s because surveys are different from split tests. A survey asks someone “do you like to read long sales letters” and tallies the opinions. But a split test shows half of a large group a long sales letter, and the other half a shorter sales letter, and then totals up the actual sales resulting from each.

More money made determines the winner.

More often than not, the long sales letter will win, over an artificially shortened one.

Why are peoples’ actions different from their opinions?

Well, lots of reasons. When we’re asked something, we take a survey of our own psyche usually in the character of our idealized self, and logically think through what our actions ought to be.

But when we’re voting with our actual bodies, or our time, or our money, we do what we really want. We’re driven by our own self-interest.

Economists call the answers we give about what we’ll do, our “expressed preferences” and what we actually do, our “realized preferences”.

And by and large, we think of ourselves differently than we actually are.

(I hope that’s not a cruel surprise to you).

In any case, we may SAY that we don’t like long sales letters, but we tend to buy from them anyway. And as you know, it’s the results that matter.

Why do they work so well?

I was having a discussion with a marketing friend of mine about an email that made the assertion that “your sales page sucks” (the email was for a landing page optimization product that I’ll tell you about some day soon.)

His point was that it would be insulting or presumptuous to people reading the email, because we don’t know if their sales page really “sucks” (for whatever you take that term to mean).

My point was that it doesn’t matter if the message was read by people who had high-performing landing pages, or if we insult them to some small degree. That’s because those people aren’t the target market. The target market includes those people who do have low-performing sales pages, or who suspect that they can make their sales page could perform better.

Those who aren’t the target can be as insulted as they want to be. The effect of that email would be that those who ARE the target market would be riveted, interested, and driven to read about why we’d make such a bold assertion.

And THOSE people will read all they can about why their site “sucks” and how it can easily be made better.

So the same holds true for your own sales letter.

Your letter is meant for people who are passionately interested in your toipc, and since they have that passion, they’ll read all they can, and devour every bit of information available in order to solve their problem or achieve whatever goal is important to them.

Yes, it is true: someone who is not very interested in your topic won’t read your long letter. But someone who is your target — the person you have the greatest chance of converting to a sale — that person will read as much as he needs in order to know if what you have is what he needs.

Coincidentally, I’m re-reading “Scientific Advertising” by Claude Hopkins. (If you’re a marketer and you’ve never read Scientific Advertising, you should buy it or download it now, and read it. If it’s been longer than a year since you’ve read it, read it again. It’s definitely worth your while.)

There’s a chapter in Scientific Advertising called “Tell your full story”, and it makes the case that people who test their results usually find that limiting what you say is a losing proposition.

Paraphrased, Hopkins says that if you limit what you tell your prospect at the time you’ve got his attention, you may never get his attention again. If he’s looking for benefit A, and you’ve only mentioned feature B, you’ve lost him forever.

If your product is simple, your letter will necessarily be short. If your product is large or complex, your letter will be long. Let your story be what it needs to be. Don’t cut it off unnecessarily short, like a car salesman who stops talking about his product after discussing the engine. It’s only part of the story.

So what are the important lessons here?

  • Market to the people who are your best prospects. Ignore the rest. (This also jives with the 80/20 rule, by the way).
  • Forget what people say. Instead, focus on what they do.
  • Don’t handicap yourself by going mute at the very time when your prospect wants to hear more.

So how long should your sales letter be?

You tell me!

I agree with Hopkins, and I agree with the results of split tests.

If you think different, I’d like to know about it. Leave your comments below.

To Your Success,

–Mark Widawer