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The good old three act sales letter

There are thousands of good articles around describing how to write a good sales letter. Some are more than 50 years old and still hold true. From the many which I have read, one message gets repeated more than any other: structure your messages like a three-act play. In this construction, known to every dramatist, the story has exposition, then action, and finally a resolution. If you’re interested, I’d recommend reading around the subject.

So, how does the three-act structure apply to the sales letter or marketing email? It’s fairly simple. In Act One, we establish that the recipient has a challenge (I’m not alone in detesting being told that I have a ‘problem’, by the way. I don’t). In Act Two, we show how our product or service can meet that challenge, perhaps by an example. And in Act Three, we make it easy for the recipient to get the same results, by doing what we want them to do.

You might start by pointing out that every sprocket escalation engineer is under pressure to increase the output of their flange amplifiers. This gets your sprocket escalation engineer readers onside, because you know they have that challenge, and everyone likes to be part of a gang.

Then you show how the new Blue Widget has been shown under test to reduce trestle dimensions. As all sprocket escalation engineers will be aware, reduced trestle dimensions leads to increased output from flange amplifiers.

Finally, you give them the chance to get the information they need to make a decision on whether they want to use Blue Widgets. You offer the most direct route possible to ask you for more details: I like an email link which fills in the subject and body, or a link to a two-field (name and telephone number) form to request a call.

This won’t be revelatory to you, but it’s amazing how many seasoned marketing professionals drift away from such a tried-and-tested formula. Instead, they lapse into a single act. “The new Blue Widget has been shown under test to reduce trestle dimensions”, their sales letter will say. Then there’ll be lots of technical facts, some of them of little relevance, and… well, that’s it really. No reference to the recipients. No clear call-to-action.

If you find yourself doing this, don’t be surprised if the audience walks out.

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