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Why Swearin’ and Cussin’ in a Sales Letter Can Make You RichViews: 817
Jun 14, 2007 11:37 pmWhy Swearin’ and Cussin’ in a Sales Letter Can Make You Rich#

Barry Densa
My 15-year old daughter, she of the high school English Honors and International Baccalaureate Program, wants to teach me how to be a better copywriter.

She doesn’t think I’m quite up to snuff yet.

“You can’t write that. That’s not even a sentence!” she complains, looking over my shoulder as I craft a salesletter for a client. “And sales letter is two words,” she snorts, as she reads further. “And thru is spelled t-h-r-o-u-g-h! And you’re not supposed to start a sentence with and!”

Oh, really!

My wrath is soon delivered, fast and true, and my honor saved at the point of a verbal blade.

“Listen, little Miss Muffet,” I says. “My pitiful grammar is gonna pay for your college education – and medical school – provided I let you live! So just turn around and don’t let the door hit ya’ in the asterisk on your way out!”

It’s a Simple Question: Money or Good Grammar?

This is the real world, my friend – the marketing and sales world.

So you’re gonna have to ask yourself: do you want to sell your products or services and make buckets of money... or do you just want to look smart and make your English teacher proud?

Me, personally, I vote for the money – by making more money for my clients – and let Funk and Wagnalls turn in their graves.

Now, of course, if you’re looking to produce a brochure, a white paper, press release or any other editorial or journalistic type of copy, then yes. Spelling and grammar are important.

You don’t want to come across as an uneducated dolt – because not only will it reflect badly on you, it’ll also reflect poorly on your product and company, and hence your bottom line.

But... when you’re writing a salesletter (or even a sales letter)... there just ain’t no rules, mate!

Anything and everything goes – so long as it gets the job done: which is to get your prospect, cum letter-reader, to buy, subscribe or call, as the case may be.

Belly-Up to the Bar, My Friend, and I’ll Tell You a Story...

You see, the best sales letters, the most effective, the biggest money-pulling sales letters (even if they’re emails) are personal letters.

It doesn’t matter that you’re sending the letter to 500,000 rented names; you’re still “talking” to one person at a time.

And based on your in-depth market research you should know that this person enjoys a particular life-style, inhabits a specific socio-economic niche, and has particular deep-seated wants, needs and fears.

And you should also know that this person is human in the deepest sense of the word: filled with strong emotions and adamant beliefs, noble strengths and foolish foibles.

So wouldn’t you think that this individual might appreciate a little honest-to-God hand-holding, and some heart-felt, one-on-one communication and understanding, too?

Now then... you could, if you choose, talk over this person’s head with cold and stiff corporate-speak, blind-siding him with your education, diction and superiority – and yet leave him unimpressed, uninspired, and with his money still in his or her pocket.


You can belly-up to the bar with him, kinda natural like. Buy him a drink – scotch or beer (you should already know what he likes before you invite him) and talk straight and easy with him, just like he’s an old bud of yours.

Don’t be a Fast-Talkin’ Stranger!

If your friend is a blue-collar worker, or a red neck good ol’ boy – you’re sure as shit gonna be throwin’ in some colorful language here and there in your “conversation” with him, because that’s the way they like to talk. And they like to hang and drink – and trust people – that talk the way they do.

Or, if you’re writing to a crusty old retiree, who’s been around the block a few times; who’s fielded sales pitches from the best of them since before you were born – are you going to waste your time, and his, trying to prove the superiority of your widget by snowing him with disrespectful, fast-talking, hype-filled sales prose, or technical mumbo-jumbo in perfect Queen’s English? (Now wasn’t that a beauty of a run-on sentence? But who cares if you got the point!)

Or, while nodding your head slowly and knowingly as you listen to his story, based on your in-depth research... are you going to show him thru colorful words that create vibrant images in his mind – thru words that comfortably compliment his core beliefs - how you can perfectly satisfy his specific wants or needs, or end, once and for all, his unbearable frustration, pain or anger? (Wow! Two humdingers in a row. Proust and Joyce, here I come!)

And if you can do that – do you think he’s gonna give a damn or even prefer that you write cannot instead of can’t, or does not instead of doesn’t? Will he even notice that you’ve begun a sentence with and, or hung a dangling participle out to dry at a sentence’s end?

The Point Is...

Your sales letter’s only job is to communicate in language that best gets thru to your prospect. And proper English and syntax be damned – if it gets in the way.

So if you’re writing a letter to a purchasing manager of a mid-size company, whose job is on the line every day, who’s under constant pressure from above and below, where one wrong big-dollar purchase can put his imminent retirement in the toilet... how are you going to talk to him?

Are you going to pay more attention to proper diction, correct punctuation, approved sentence structure, and arms-length formality?

Or are you going to get your message across by putting your arm around his shoulder, buddy-buddy like?

The answer will only be revealed when, based on your in-depth research, you discover what it’s truly like to live, work and communicate in the trenches – the mid-size corporate trenches – that have fed this man’s family, put his kids through college and paid for his wife’s recent cancer operation.

And only then, when you have heard his voice and understood his thoughts – only then will you know how to effectively, and thereby properly, phrase a letter to this person.

Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk

If your target market, whoever it may be, is impressed, moved, motivated and most of all – persuaded – by 10-cent words that might cause the average Joe to run to the dictionary, then by all means use them. If not, leave them out.

One of the best copywriters to ever write a sales letter said, your letter should be like a department store window. The customer should see through and beyond it, never once noticing it – seeing only what’s for sale, displayed in the most compelling light.

And the only way to do that is to write a letter in a way that the reader himself thinks and speaks when he is totally within himself, comfortable and at ease and open to suggestion.

Till the next time...



Marketing & Sales Copywriter

"Excite your customers - target their emotions, punch their hot-buttons - and you'll increase your sales. Guaranteed!"

Private Reply to Barry Densa

Jun 19, 2007 4:48 pmre: Why Swearin’ and Cussin’ in a Sales Letter Can Make You Rich#

Denise Michaels
I'm seeing both sides of this issue. Denise Michaels here - author of "Testosterone-Free Marketing" and "Secrets to Money-Making Sales Letters" - an e-book.

Barry makes some good points but I think he's going a little over the edge for some of us who may be unaccustomed to this point of view.

In my e-book I tell readers - don't write sales letters above an eighth grade vocabulary level. Here's why: Left to my own devices I write at about a second or third year college level. Journalism was one of my majors way back in college (Marketing was t'other). You see - I used to LOVE creating this linguistic tapestry of words with my sales letters and people would send me emails saying "that's the best sales letter I've ever read" but nobody bought. Besides those empty compliments - I got nuthin' but thundering silence. Really disappointing. And I had to really learn how to swallow my pride to write this way. It was a big hit to my ego - because I took so much pride in my writing skills. When I backed off my vocabulary to an eighth grade level - just that alone created a significant improvement in sales.

Now if you disagree with Barry - and you've never sold anything with a sales letter to customers who don't know you from Adam - then your opinion is not based on real experience. So I suggest having an open mind on this subject.

Here's something to consider: newspapers are written at about an eighth grade level. So, it's about the level of difficulty most people are accustomed to - day to day.

Here's something else to chew on: simple language is the most powerful and compelling. The minute your prospective customer reads a word for which they don't have complete comprehension - you start losing 'em. They start wandering. They're not as focused on what you're saying and they're getting closer and closer to clicking away. Scientific studies bear this out. By keeping your language fairly simple - you're much more likely to keep readers engaged.

Okay - so there's three good reasons to keep your vocabulary familiar and friendly - I discuss these in greater depth in my e-book.

About grammar - I'm not a perfect grammarian - but I'm pretty good. Mostly by osmosis. If I had to recite the laws of grammar to you - I'd lose the bet and I'd be buying the next round of beers, margueritas or whatever. But I'm pretty good. However, I will break the rules of grammar with impunity - if I believe in my heart of hearts that it will hurtle the reader along more quickly through the copy in a compelling, engaged way. No joke.

However I think it helps to know the rules of grammar before you break them. At least somewhat.

On the other hand - if grammar is really bad - it's disconcerting and it slows the reader down and distracts them.

One of the grammar rules I break frequently on ryze and in my sales letters is regarding fragment sentences. Short, punchy ones. They're like the dot at the bottom of an exclamation point. The coolest shoes at the bottom of a woman's outfit. Now, too many sentence fragments - and you'll lose your reader. Personally I don't care for run-on sentences because I think they're not as clear or compelling. But I do like to mix up longer sentences with short punchy ones. Try it - it works.

I've never used swearin' or cussin' words in a sales letter before. But I've been tempted. There's a part of me I think people might keep reading because they'll think, "Did she really just say THAT?" but I don't know if that shock will translate into buyers, or, if it will turn 'em off. After all - I'm a woman. And women are generally judged by different standards of appropriateness than men.

I've been trained by the best when it comes to sales letters: Mark Carlson, the late Garry Halbert, Jeff Paul, Dan Kennedy and Jay Abraham (Jay isn't a copywriter - but he's a classic marketing guru - and one I've learned from). There was a time when I could pick up the phone just a few years ago and call any of them - and get them on the line. Not an assistant or a voice mail. So, I understand where you're coming from.

One thing where I do take issue: when talking about your customer you said - he, him, the man - and all manner of "testosterone-heavy" words to describe your ideal customer. And, it's not just the use of the masculine pronoun - because it does just make reading a little easier if you're selling to a crowd of men AND women. Beyond that, one of the things I've noticed about all the copywriting gurus is that they all seem to write as if their customer is always a man. A real coyboy, take-no-sh*t kinda guy. Yet, last study I checked through the Internet Marketing experts says about 60-something percent of the online sales these days - are to women.

I've heard Mark Carlson say "talk with your customer like you were having a beer together at the bar." I agree with the notion of writing like you're writing to one person - a good friend. Never write to "the masses" or "the community." It comes across as too preachy or stuck-up.

But what if my ideal customer (mostly women - a lot married and a lot with kids) just isn't the kind of person who frequents a bar, drinks a beer - or "bellies up" to anything? See, I've read sales letters by Carlson, Halbert, Sterling, Paul and others - and they're good. Really good. But, very often they give me the impression that they don't want my business - or the business of other 51% of the population that is women. Fine if you're selling cigars or jock straps - but what about everything else?

All the best,

Denise Michaels
Author, "Testosterone-Free Marketing"
Author, "Secrets to Money-Making Sales Letters:
Visit: http://www.salesletterebook.com

Private Reply to Denise Michaels

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