The Sales Letter
By James Atkinson, LLB and Sarah Jamieson
Your Sales Letter is the culminating point of your reciprocal relations, persuasion strategy, and sales process.
However, even after a sale your job as SEO Copywriter is not at an end. You need to also reinforce the buying decision and reduce buyer remorse.
I’ve said throughout these articles that selling to prospects with whom you have built a relationship - is much easier than a “cold call” prospect reading a sales letter. By the time your prospects reach your sales letter or sales pitch, you should have addressed a number of issues and ensured that you have established TRUST.
In this article I want to review all of the persuasion psychology principles and Sales Letter Techniques mentioned earlier.
This is important because your search engine and social content prequels, and the sales letter itself are where you can really use those ideas - to make sales.
As I say above:
“Your persuasion process must begin at the “Hi” Point – when you first say "Hi" to your online prospect. Then, you must use every possible avenue to state your persuasion message – in blogs, videos, web content, social networks, and email campaigns.
Then, last of all – you complete the process in your sales letter.”
That is to say, your sales letter should NOT be written as a document in and of itself. It is really the last page of a series of documents which culminate in the sales page. And of course, the whole educative, social, and eMail process should be consistent and working as a whole.
All prospects – no matter whether they arrive at your site through search engines, a social site, or PPC - should be presented with a message consistent with that medium’s needs but also consistent with your overall persuasion strategy.
That is, don’t present sales messages IN your social network and search content– but rather guide your prospects to the sales pages through email and persuasion principles.
See SEO Copywriting - “Social Networks Are Very Different” and "Prospects and the Educative Process”.
It’s quite possible that your prospect’s journey to the sales letter has been initiated by some form of FAVOR you have done for your prospect. We are all deeply conditioned to treat favors or gifts as something we must reciprocate - so it does not hurt to have your prospects feel that they owe you a favor.
Reciprocation is a valuable tool in getting prospects to the sales letter. You can do so via all sorts of gifts and free samples. Helping a prospect in some way or giving them a personalized service of some kind should engage the reciprocation rule in a strong way. If you’ve done a favor for your prospect he or she will feel indebted to you - until that favor can be repaid with one of their own. This often means buying something from you.
With some prospects, the feeling of indebtedness is quite unpleasant and can often trigger a LARGER repayment than the initial small gift would suggest. How you trigger indebtedness in your prospects is a matter for you to think about long and hard.
Another way to employing the reciprocity principle is by making a concession to your prospect. Concessions work in a simple way. It may well be that the initial offering to your prospect is quite high priced – but you can offer your prospect a “personalized special” which is a very steep reduction.
The smaller less expensive offering can be presented as a concession. The concession activates the feeling of obligation to reciprocate. Of course, your lower-priced product may actually be the target of the sale all along.
If prospects are then presented with a lower price - that price can be presented as a concession – which should activate the reciprocity rule. So, think about how you present pricing – before the prospect gets to the sales letter.
Show Expensive Items FIRST
There is extensive proof and data that showing the most expensive price FIRST results in higher sales if a less expensive alternative is later provided.
If you have two expensive items and an expensive item is offered first, a lower-priced article that is seen immediately afterwards is perceived of as considerably less expensive.
With the internet, it’s super easy to test different versions of a concession – for example, does a 30% discount produce more sales and profits than a 15% discount?
You can have many different sales letters for the same product – just create a special link for each concession as it’s created. It’s a win for you because if the prospect buys at the higher price then you’ve done well.
You can also employ the concession persuasion principle in your ultimate pricing on the sales letter. You could start out with a somewhat exaggerated but still plausible price – from which you then “retreat” by offering a discount – over say the next day or so or other time limit.
There is also plenty of data to show that concessions on the part of a merchant increase customer’s satisfaction with the purchase. Thus reducing product returns.
The favor reciprocation principle is easy to misuse and so it should be exercised in an ethical manner.
Commitment and Consistency in Sales Letters
It is also helpful to use the commitment and consistency principle before prospects arrive at your sales letter. The commitment may have been established in an earlier “sale” of say $1 for an excellent value product.
This is the foot-in-the-door method. It’s designed to start the prospect thinking themselves as customers. When prospects make this commitment they are often open to making new and much larger commitments that are consistent with their newer self-image. In other words, commitment can actually change self-concept.
From a marketing perspective, consistency is extremely useful.
I suggest you get your prospects to commit to something. What that something is depends upon your own marketing creative. After a commitment the prospects’ own sense of consistency will lead them to follow through on their decision – no strong-arm sales tactics required.
Once someone has made a commitment, his or her own desire to honor that obligation will ensure it is fulfilled. You arrange for the commitment to be made, and the prospect’s own psychology does the rest. In fact, after making a commitment, prospects often create their own NEW reasons to justify the decision – see also "Why Buyers Buy".
We don’t require someone else to sell us on something we’ve committed to – we sell ourselves. The most influential commitments are active, public, and freely given.
Written commitments are especially potent. For example, you can get prospects to write – on your web site – some short reasons why they believe your product is good – perhaps in exchange for a prize drawing or gift.
The commitment thus made has the power to change self-image so the prospect is open to larger requests in the future that are consistent with the first commitment.
Once prospects have made a commitment, they tend to create their own new reasons to support their decision. Social networks are great places to do this sort of marketing. A programmer can write a script to do all sorts of commitment type programs on your social site. You can automate and reinforce the commitment with autoresponder emails and other content.
It’s best to devise pubic commitments perhaps to be shown on your web site or other social networks.
Cultural Differences in Commitment & Consistency
Because the internet allows an eBusiness to market in many different countries it’s important to note that there are cultural differences in the application of the commitment and consistency principle.
My research and the scientific data indicate that prospects in Western and European countries, exhibit a strong level of consistency to their own individualistic previous experience. That is, consistency with one’s own previous understanding and knowledge is a strong persuasion motivator.
On the other hand: Asian, Eastern European, and South American prospects exhibit a more familial or communal orientation. This is probably also the case in Africa.
These latter prospects appear to give a lot of weight to collectivistic rather than individualistic experiences. Thus, in designing your persuasion strategy you need to be aware of these cultural differences.
For example, if you are marketing to Mexican Americans you need to adjust your persuasion strategy to accord for cultural differences and perhaps use social proof as a motivator.
Don’t use the same strategy you have designed for a North American or British audience. You may be interested in Geert Hofstede’s studies. His ideas and research do have important implications for marketing to a globalized audience.
Social Influence in Sales Letters
Social influence is a superb persuasion mechanism. It works at the back of the prospect’s mind and is one of the best persuasion tools you can use in your sales letters.
This principle may have a stronger effect in different cultures but the principle is powerful motivator for sales nevertheless. The most common use of this technique online is the testimonial.
I can never get enough of testimonials and you’ll find that your sales will increase with lots of testimonials. It’s pretty straightforward to obtain a testimonial. Just ask!
Customers are usually quite pleased to provide testimonials – especially if they have a relationship with you or are happy with the product they have bought.
How to Use Testimonials
Many online merchants simply put their “best” testimonials on their sales page. But this is not the way to do this. You need to TEST different testimonials. They can make a very great difference to your sales and profits.
Testimonials are not about your ego – or how great YOU are. They are much more effective when they reflect the views of your target audience. This is the so-called bandwagon effect and it’s is all about the prospect being influenced by people “just like us”. This means that you need to seek and upload different testimonials for your different market segments. This is not a “one size fits all” process.
After you have obtained your different testimonials make sure you use a multivariate testing system to obtain the best result.
Items Sold Numbers & Social Proof
The social influence principle can be employed relatively easily if you show the number of sales of a product. For example, if you are selling an eBook or software - every time a sale is made publish the up-counting number on your sales pages. These sorts of scripts are not difficult to obtain – or have designed.
Just remember, social influence is a very powerful sales motivator. Put on your thinking hat as to how you can get as much social proof as you can obtain on your sales letter. See also “Groups Influence Buying” in Consumer Psychology.
Of course using this tactic may not work if you are seeking to use the exclusivity principle.
Online Auction Prices: Start Low or High?
Another aspect of the social influence is the online auction. This is where eMerchants put up items for auction – eBay being the most typical example. The bids are usually open for everyone to see.
One question many eMerchants ask: Do I start with a HIGH price to create a perception of value and therefore a higher end sale price? The data suggests you start off with a LOWER price.
Many online companies also put up auctions or bidding for: project completion, software requirements and so on. The data suggests that when the numbers involved are low and social proof is absent - the above outcome is less likely.
Liking and Partiality in Sales Letters
If your prospects like you they are going want to say: “Yes!” to you - and thus also buy from you!
So, build up the likability factor both before taking prospects to your sales letter and then also within your sales letter content.
Prospect and Customer Mirroring
If you are engaged with your prospects in a social context or you are video chatting with them on say Skype – try to MIRROR their gestures and postures.
For example, if they fold their arms, lean back in their chair, or touch their head – you follow suit. Repeating verbalizations can also significantly improve likability. Simply repeat the prospects whether the conversation concerns questions, orders, or complaints.
It takes a little practice to do this but it does significantly increase likability. It can be done subtly – YOU may know you are doing it but your prospect is likely to be unconscious of your mirroring.
There is a clear correlation between giving someone something and the level of likability. When you are generous and give things away, your likability factor increases significantly and the reciprocation principle kicks in too.
A significant aspect of the liking principle is your prospects’ belief that you want the same things they want – so keep this in mind as you write web and sales content.
Prospects are going to like you if you can show them how to solve their need / desire. Show them you’re on THEIR side.
I am a great believer in positive associations such as smiling. It’s simple, SMILE in all your videos and pictures you have of yourself. This type of likability works very well online and on sales pages.
But your smile has to be genuine! Don’t bother putting a face picture on your sales page if you are going to show a dull or inauthentic smile. You can influence prospects’ perceptions of similarity by presenting yourself as similar in your dress, lifestyle and hobbies.
Increasing your own “attractiveness” is in your best interests. I suggest you invest in a professionally-taken photograph to use on your web site. Ensure you are well-groomed for all your online photos and videos.
Similarity also increases liking and influence. We like people who are similar to us, and thus we’re more likely to say yes to their requests and agree with their opinions.
Use market research to dig into hidden motivations you can use to show you are similar to and understand your market.
Compliments are another factor we can use to increase liking. People tend to like those who compliment them. Make sure your compliments are sincere though, or they could backfire.
Familiarity also increases liking. We tend to like people and things we are familiar with – assuming the contact hasn’t been negative. You can increase prospects’ familiarity with you by staying in frequent contact with them - via email and social media.
Authority and Influence In Sales Letters
Authority is an important element in sales letters. It is the substance that cements online sales relationships. An authority in a particular market or demographic often encourages prospects to make the decision to buy.
We are all taught at a very early age to obey authority and thus establishing authority is a great way to build trust. I Persuasion Psychology that recognized structures of authority offer human societies massive advantages and so we are hardwired to accept authority.
The tools of influence are useful mental shortcuts that allow us to make faster and generally good decisions. These shortcuts are powerful persuasion tools because people employ them mechanically.
It’s much easier to establish authority before the prospect arrives at the sales letter. But of course, the sales letter reiterates the authority you have set up.
There are some dangers in setting up authority. It’s important not to appear boastful about one’s knowledge and expertise. I suggest you always run your authority building through an educative prism of “lending a helping hand” to the prospect.
See “Persuasive Content Writing” in SEO Copywriting and also “Emotional Benefits” in Consumer Psychology.
Being boastful, bragging, and arrogant does not establish authority. So it’s always helpful to have your expertise introduced by someone else.
For example, if you publish a video, speak on a webinar, or indeed at any event where you are showcasing your expertise – always have a colleague introduce you. A colleague can sing your praises without you looking boastful.
I know that the “aloneness” of running an internet business can make finding a colleague to introduce you and sing your praises very difficult. Nevertheless, this is something that I strongly recommend to you.
If you have any degrees or certificates related to your subject matter then publishing those credentials on your “About Us” page is very helpful in establishing authority and trust.
Some online marketers publish pictures showing themselves next to a luxury car or placing their hand on it to signify ownership. The implication of course is that they are successful and you will be too - if you follow their method, get their eBook, buy their software, and so on!
I’m not sure this type of authority building works.
Specialist clothes such as uniforms, business suits, white lab coats and so on, do furnish authority that people respond to. But this is a matter for your own expertise and marketing creative.
As a society we seem obsessed with “experts”. If you are an expert you can quickly establish that expertise through your social networks and search engine content.
Demonstrating expertise is a great way to show you are an authority. Providing some mildly negative information about your product makes you seem more trustworthy when you talk about its benefits.
Scarcity and Exclusivity in Sales Letters
Scarcity triggers an emotional response because humans find it difficult to resist wanting things that are scarce. Scarcity increases the fear of loss.
This is probably some atavistic throwback from the days when humans were hunter gatherers. Scarcity floods our emotions and generally makes clear thinking difficult. We feel the need - engineered or otherwise - to make a quick decision.
Thus for good reasons, scarcity is one of the most common persuasion tools used online. When prospects fear they are missing out on an opportunity it triggers a fear of loss – and this is a powerful motivator to act or to purchase.
As a persuasion tool it’s almost obligatory to use scarcity in your sales letter. But of course your use of the principle must be done in an ethical manner.
My own online research and experience shows that when access to a product is limited, prospects have a stronger desire for that product. They’ll often rationalize the reasons why they want that product. Persuasion becomes much easier in these circumstances.
In addition, after the purchase – there is much less buyer remorse for scarce products.
Let’s be honest here. With digital products, such as eBooks and software, if you can create ONE copy you can make MILLIONS of copies. So it’s difficult to show scarcity.
But there’s no reason why you can’t make an administrative decision to produce a limited number or to limit publication. Just take the example of de Beers – the diamond producers. The company maintains the value of diamonds by buying up or controlling search and production. It’s just good business for them to do so.
Few complain about this – least of all the owners of diamonds.
A drug company spends zillions researching a particular drug but after the drug is proved the actual replication and production cost is minimal. Aside from the moral issues of drug replication - few people would contest a drug company’s right to maintain scarcity through high prices - to pay off the original investment and risk.
Your eBook or software is no different. All products have a production cost. And there’s no reason why you shouldn’t limit production to enhance scarcity. Most people make an instinctive observation that scarcity increases value. So, it’s advisable to place some form of scarcity on your sales letter.
Limited Time or Deadlines
Even though I am well aware of this persuasion principle I fall for it almost every time. When an eMerchant has a discount for a limited time and I want the product – it makes me focus on that item to meet that deadline.
If there wasn’t a limited time I may simply “think about it” and perhaps never make the decision.
Again - like limited quantity – limited time also forces a mental shortcut creating “value” that may not be there otherwise! If a prospect believes they can’t have something - they’ll probably want it even more. So, knowing that a product is about to be withdrawn increases desire for it - and they’ll act to secure it for ourselves.
Countdown scripts for your sales pages are easy to obtain and install. These are great online persuasion tools. These scripts come in all sorts and I highly recommend them as persuasion tools.
Exclusivity is another tool that is often used online to good effect. It’s a very powerful form of scarcity that increases desire for a product.
Often this desire is so strong that prospects become desperate to get something they wouldn’t even want if it was not “scarce”.
It’s quite easy to create a form of exclusivity online. With the right expertise, you can set yourself up as scarce. This may be the case where your time and expertise is very valuable and it is only available to “gold” or “platinum” customers!
Many online gurus do this. They maintain they know many “secret” ways to do things – in a particular market. More often than not what they have to say is not particularly original.
Above I discuss the advantages of entering a market at the apex of complexity. This apex is a form of exclusivity. Positioning yourself at the apex of complexity is a powerful way to differentiate from competitors and own a bigger piece of the market.
Products and services that are simple and easy to copy have a much weaker position in the marketplace. When it’s tough differentiating yourself from competitors it’s difficult to give prospects a unique reason to buy from you.
The value of doing something simple and easy - is almost zero. Giving prospects unique benefits your competitors don’t offer can be tough but remember complexity is not the same as difficulty. Products and services at the apex of complexity help enhance exclusivity and therefore help to increase sales.
Price and Exclusivity
In my online business, I have found a clear correlation between price and exclusivity. Basically, if you are in a business that competes on PRICE – you have to find a different model – and very quickly! Do NOT compete on price alone. This is a race to the bottom where there are no winners.
In your sales letters, if you define yourself in a unique way you can set out to “own” a premium or a niche part of a market. Give prospects clear reasons to choose you over competitors.
Don’t think price, think value.
If you’re providing unique features and benefits that no one else offers, you can own a certain position in the market. In this case price drops out as an issue, because you provide value that no one else has. Thus, you can charge more and your position is less vulnerable to competitors.
In addition, you’ll find that selling to current customers with whom you have built a relationship and sold a product or two is much easier.
You’ll obtain a higher conversion rate with your current customers than from “cold call” prospects reading a sales letter without knowing you.
For more on Sales letters - see: Sales Letter Architecture and Sales Letter Techniques.
Gert Hostede - I find Hostede’s research very useful for understanding the overarching environment of a particular country. See here for Geert Hostede’s cultural research and note the drawbacks.
SEO Strategy > Buyer Persuasion Points > Sales Prospects Perceive a Need > The Search Continuum > Educating Online Prospects > Social Media Strategy > The Sales Pitch > The Sales Letter.
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