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The Lost Art of Letter Writing

Oct 10, 2007
Think back to when you were a child for a moment - how did you feel when the postal worker delivered a letter addressed just to you? Most kids feel excitement, enjoyment and enthusiasm when they get a letter. It doesn't matter what the letter contained - the important thing was that it was addressed to them.

Now fast forward to today - how do you feel when you sort through your mail? Days when you get nothing but bills - I am betting you don't feel so great. But what happens when you get a cheque, an unexpected prize or a lovely long newsy letter? Do you stop and read the letter and get a feeling of warmth and happiness?

Now - think about emails. In today's society, email has replaced a lot of how we communicate. We email each other with our news and happenings. But how do you feel when you open your email? Do you get the same excitement and enthusiasm?

What does all of this have to do with business and life?

For managers, a hand written note of thanks to a great employee on a job well done means a whole lot more than an emailed note.

In life, think about writing your news down, rather than emailing it. A written letter builds strong relations and feelings - think of the old-fashioned love letters. Email letters don't really have the same appeal.

Most businesses today rely on email as their main form of communicating with their customers. It doesn't matter how great and how newsy your email is - it just doesn't give your customers the same warm feeling as a letter, personally addressed to them, in their mailbox.

A few years ago, all the marketing stats leant towards email as the most potent form of marketing. Now they are tending to head the other way. Email marketing is still strong, but we are seeing a resurgence of direct mail as a way of communicating (and selling).

The challenge is many of us have lost the skill of writing a great letter. A letter that is full of news, interest and excitement that moves towards a logical conclusion. We have been trained to write for email - short, sharp bites of information that fit onto the screen that can be scanned in one view.

The good news is that if you are interested in building your business and getting ahead of the trend there are a few ways you can do this.

Postcards are a great way to grab attention. Make them colourful, make them interesting and personally address them. Ideally put a proper stamp on them rather than a franked or postage paid approach. Each time you add in a touch that makes it feel like it was personally addressed to the customer, you add in a percentage point for the card to be read.

Postcards don't take many words to write, so even if you are not a copywriter you will still have an effect. Keep it short, interesting and make sure you include a call to action -something along the lines of call now, visit my website or email me for more information.

The other good part is that postcards don't have to be expensive to buy or have made up. On-line printing companies have great templates already loaded (or you can load your own). All you have to do is put in your text and from $42 for 100 you can send out postcards to your clients.

But what if what you want to say won't fit on a postcard? Direct mail is still one of the most powerful advertising mediums today. Just join the Readers Digest direct mail list and you will see what I mean. Great copy, lots of interactive parts - all designed to get you to sign up for a subscription or buy a book.

Direct mail has its own rules (you can do entire courses on how to write direct mail pieces). Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your direct mail (all based on the lost art of letter writing).

* Keep it personal - include the persons name throughout the copy. If you don't know the persons first name either try and find out or go for a title that identifies them. For example - Dear Fellow Guitar Enthusiast. Your best letters were addressed to you remember!

* Use lots of "you"s in the copy - Direct mail is not the time to go all formal with your writing - keep it chatty and direct, just like the letters you used to get from your friends.

* Lose the jargon - you may know what your jargon means, but err on the side of caution and cut the jargon out of your copy.

* Tell a story - stories are some of the most powerful psychological triggers known. Think back to fairy stories when you were a child. What stories can you include about your service or product?

* Prove it - you need to include proof about your goods and services, so include testimonials, awards or other information to prove your claims. If you just say you are great - this is not as powerful as Mrs Mary Jones of Blackwood St, Mitchelton saying you are great.

* Don't waffle (enough said on this point).

* Call to action - make sure there is a point to your letter and get to it. Make sure it is crystal clear what you want the person to do as a result of your letter. Don't assume that people will know what to do after reading your letter - spell it out.

If you are not confident in your letter writing ability, then have a copywriter look over your letter and refine it for you before it goes out.

The bottom line is to put pen to paper and write letters, in whatever way you can. You will be surprised at the results you will achieve.
About the Author
Ingrid Cliff is a Freelance Copywriter, Business Development and Human Resources Consultant to Small and Medium Businesses. Ingrid has just published Instant HR Policies and Procedures for Small and Medium Businesses www.heartharmony.com.au
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