I want to introduce you to 8.337 million people who can help you write a better sales letter.
They won’t tell you how to write a better headline, create the perfect call to action, or craft a compelling offer. Instead, they’ll help you master an often-overlooked, yet equally critical fourth element that can make a dramatic impact on conversions. . .
The fact that it’s a letter.
Shortly after my birthday a few weeks ago, I sat down to write thank-you letters to the family members who sent me gifts.
I write thank you letters because:
- They’re nice.
- I’m 26 years old, I haven’t lived with my parents for eight years, but I still know my mom will yell at me if I don’t.
Do you know what I had to do first before I could start writing?
Figure out whom I was writing to — because I wasn’t about to write to Grandma using the same tone and (colorful) language I use when writing to my sister.
Just like writing a thank you letter, writing a sales letter should start the exact same way — figure out whom you’re writing to.
How to figure out whom you’re writing to
Let’s start with the wrong way to pen a sales letter. When considering who will receive your letter, you should not be writing to:
- An amalgamation of catch-all demographics like “moms ages 35-44 who work from home.”
- A simple designation of one of your email list segments, such as “past buyers.”
- An alternate version of yourself. Hint: The road to ruin is paved with thoughts like, “Well, that headline would certainly make me want to keep reading.”
A sales letter should be written to one person.
One. Specific. Person.
Just like Kurt Vonnegut said in number seven of his classic “8 Tips on How to Write a Great Story” list, “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”
As it is with stories, so it goes with sales letters — you will do your best job when you write to one person.
Who is that person?
Your ideal customer.
How to meet your ideal customer
There are many fancy marketing terms for your ideal customer: customer avatar, customer persona, customer profile, to name a few.
Usually, this avatar or profile is the result of customer surveys, conversations with customers, quotes from customers taken from blog comments or social media posts, etc.
All of that data is distilled into one avatar (or sometimes multiple avatars) that represents your ideal customer, the biggest problems he or she is facing, and the type of solution he or she is seeking.
Creating a customer avatar will certainly help you find out more about who your ideal customer is. And I recommend you do them. All of the steps you have to go through to create an avatar (surveying, interviewing, etc.) will help you learn more about your ideal customer.
But there’s one problem — when you’re writing sales letter copy, it’s not enough to know who your customers are. You have to know why they are — you have to understand the experiences that have led them to need your product.
How in the world do you do that?
Easy — you remember they’re humans.
The human way to write a high-converting sales letter
Wikipedia has a good explanation of an old phrase you’ve probably heard — “the human condition:”
“The human condition encompasses the unique features of being human… It includes concerns such as the meaning of life, the search for gratification, the sense of curiosity, the inevitability of isolation, and the awareness of the inescapability of death.”
Whoa. . . heavy, man.
So why am I bringing this up?
Because it’s important to remember that — regardless of demographics, race, gender, creed, etc. — there are certain aspects of life all humans can relate to. There are certain characteristics of human behavior we all possess. To name only a few:
- The need to belong: we crave a sense of community and inclusion.
- The desire to avoid pain: self-explanatory — we’re pleasure seekers.
- The need for significance: we want to know we matter.
Regardless of your product, if people are interested in buying it, it’s — in some way — speaking to a basic human need.
While it’s easy to list these aspects of human behavior and say, “Yeah, I understand that my ideal customer identifies with these,” it’s another thing to take the crucial next step and actually consider how these basic needs impact your ideal customer’s life.
Doing so will enable you to really understand how your product or service can fulfill these basic needs.
Think about it. . .
When Apple advertises its latest product, are they speaking to people who need a new phone or people who want to feel creative and part of a group?
When Chipotle gets country music legend Willie Nelson to cover a Coldplay hit for a two-minute Super Bowl ad, are they speaking to hungry people who want a burrito right away or to those who want to make a difference and join the “slow food” movement?
This is why Dan Kennedy’s The Ultimate Sales Letter — one of the most well-known books on writing sales letters ever — starts with explaining the importance of walking a mile in your customer’s shoes.
So how do you walk a mile in your customer’s shoes? You just cruise on over to HONY.
Meet the 8.337 million people — the HONY Method for writing to your ideal customer
HONY, for the uninitiated, stands for Humans of New York. Even if that name doesn’t ring a bell, I’m willing to bet you’ve seen a HONY status update if you’re a Facebook user.
Why? Because Humans of New York posts regularly get hundreds of thousands of likes and tens of thousands of shares and comments.
Out of the 357 Facebook friends I have, 19 of them “like” Humans of New York. That’s over five percent. None of the other pages I “like” come close to that ratio.
The concept is simple. Photographer Brandon Stanton walks the streets of New York City and asks some of the city’s 8.337 million people if he can photograph them. He asks a few questions about their life and then pairs the most memorable quote or aspect of the conversation with one of the photographs he took. The photo + quote becomes a Humans of New York post.
Here’s an example that resulted in 631,049 likes, 5,119 comments, and 14,556 shares:
Here’s what I’m getting at — If you look through Humans of New York, you’re eventually going to find someone who feels exactly like your ideal customer.
For example, prior to working at LeadPages, I did freelance copywriting and content marketing for a variety of clients, many of which were in the personal development/entrepreneurship space. That’s when I started using this strategy.
Here are a few of the photos I used or filed away:
For some reason, seeing an actual face, a natural pose, and five honest words puts me in the zone. It’s easier for me to write to the gentleman pictured above than to an imaginary face.
Those five words in that context tell me more than any customer description I could ever write.
Need more than five words? Try this one:
And another I’ve studied:
Photos and quotes like these always remind me that I’m writing to a real person who has real problems. Hopefully, you’re writing to them about a product or service that offers a real solution. If not, I suggest you find one to write about that does.
There are many examples that work for other businesses and industries. For example, maybe you show artists how to make a living without selling out:
Or maybe you help people figure out what they want to do in life:
When I saw this next example, I couldn’t help but think that, had it been released in 1926, it may very well have inspired one of the most famous headlines of all time:
They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano… But When I Started to Play! —
The headline I’m referring to, of course, is from John Caples’ classic piano lessons advertisement:
I’m not saying this strategy should replace real numbers and demographics based on surveying and customer interviews. I’m saying that Humans of New York is a great place to find a face and feel you can apply to that customer data.
Although this particular method may be new, the idea of starting your quest to discover your customer with empathy is not. In fact, it’s literally Step #1 of Chapter 1 in the aforementioned The Ultimate Sales Letter: “Get ‘Into’ the Customer.”
Why does Kennedy think this is so important? As he says, “The goal is understanding. To persuade someone, to motivate someone, to sell someone, you really need to understand that person.”
Notice that he says “someone” and “person,” a singular pronoun and a singular noun — words aimed at the individual, not the group.
When Kennedy goes on to list his personal checklist of questions to always ask about your customer, the importance of knowing your customer from the inside becomes even more apparent. Five out of the 10 questions point right back to those basic human needs, the things that define the human condition:
- “What keeps them awake at night, indigestion boiling up their esophagus, eyes open, staring at the ceiling?”
- “What are they afraid of?”
- “What are they angry about?”
- “What are their top three daily frustrations?”
- “What do they secretly, ardently desire most?”
In short, these questions are all asking, “What’s stopping my customer from living the life he or she wants?”
When you can answer that question, your sales letter will improve every time.
Bonus: Other easy elements that can make your sales letter more human
Although empathizing with your sales letter audience starts with your copy, there are other elements that can go a long way in giving your letter a more “human” feel before the reader even gets to your opening sentence.
Check out the elements at play in this section of the Web 3.0 Sales Letter LeadPages template we created:
Let’s break these elements down.
1. Email-Style Info: The presentation of these details (“From” name, subject line, date) mirrors what people are used to seeing in their email inboxes, giving the letter even more of a “just for you” feeling. You’ll see this pattern repeated in the two examples below, one from Gmail and one from Apple mail.
2. Friendly Photo: Remember when I said seeing a real face always helps me write to just one person? That concept works both ways — seeing the writer’s face can also help establish a better connection with the recipient.
3. Handwritten-Style Signature: Sure, everyone knows this isn’t Clay’s actual writing, but still — it hearkens back to ye olde days of yore when we still sent handwritten letters to one another.
By the way, if you’d like a free copy of our Web 3.0 Sales Letter landing page template pictured above, click here and we’ll send it your way. (Note: Setting it up on your own outside of LeadPages does require some coding skills.)
Let’s hear from you
So, what’s your process for writing sales letters? How do you communicate in a human way? Do you think you’ll use this HONY strategy? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.