I do most of my blogging on LinkedIn these days, at least anything that needs more than 250 words. Here’s the LinkedIn stuff. I also write a bit about fitness on Medium and the freelance life at 100 Days, 100 Grand.
It might not look much. But this one-page letter to a cold list (part of my 100 Days, 100 Grand project) returned an incredible response rate… between ten and twenty times what a snail mail campaign usually delivers. (And hundreds of times what you’d expect from anything beginning with “e-“.)
One director called it “the best piece of direct mail [he’d] received since starting the agency“.
As an exercise in navel-gazing, here’s the text of the letter… with my notes on why I think it worked.
Opening para: making friends
Nobody writes proper letters any more, do they? The kind you open without a click. Scribble notes in the margins. And delete with a crumple. When you do get a proper letter, you notice it.
Ah, the kick-off. It breaks most of today’s rules: no upfront offer, no call-to-action. It’s a preamble.
But… it interests you, doesn’t it? A straightforward truth: you don’t get personal letters any more. A real person wrote this, thinks the reader. And I’m guessing most of them got past this para without aiming it into the circular file. Takeout: before establishing your offer, first establish you’re human.
Body copy: setting the scene
I noticed «COMPANY». Because you're sky-high in SEO for "«CUSTOMPARA1»". (As I am for "London copywriter".) I'm writing in the hope you'll notice me. Because your "«CUSTOMPARA2»" approach syncs with what I do: custom copy for content marketers.
This para’s where I swing in the big guns: extreme personalisation in the mailmerge fields. (With a parenthetical riff on my own SEO rank.)
«CUSTOMPARA1» is the search phrase I used to build my list: the first few pages of Google results are, by definition, hot prospects. While «CUSTOMPARA2» is the agency’s (they were all agencies) approach to its work lifted from its website. (It’s usually a punchy portmanteau term like attract-convert-repeat.) So we’ve established rapport: I know what they do, and I took some effort to find out.
Add chrisdoescontent.com to your list of freelancers...
Now here’s the first part of the offer, centred and highlighted as if with a yellow pen. It only took two paras to get here, and it jumps off the page – most importantly, it tells the reader what they’ve got to do. Something a surprising number of mailings forget.
The support act…
Why use me? Because I've done a lot of what you want. My stuff combines fresh ideas (I'm an indie novelist on the side) with experience gained at top-10 ad agencies (200+ campaigns and 1000+ articles across Asia and Europe.) All backstopped by research methods from a top-1% MBA that keep the insights solid. That's why clients use me for years and stay friends forever. More at chrisdoescontent.com/what.
Once your reader’s interested you need to give them a reason to stick around, so I added the backup. Hard numbers and facts are what work here; your readers are getting down to business, and the touchy-feeliness of the intro is over. (Well, almost.) Yes, I do what it says on the tin. Now questions are forming, it’s also time for a link.
… with backing dancers
While I haven't worked for clients on your roster, like «CUSTOMPARA3» or «CUSTOMPARA4», I have created campaigns and programmes for big names like «CUSTOMPARA5». I'm mostly B2B, in tech /media /telecoms, finance, healthcare, automotive and aerospace. Know-how that may be of use to you: hit the ground running and all that...
Into the mailmerge forest again. The data here took ages to extract. <<3>> and <<4>> are the names of actual clients on the prospect’s roster. There’s no fast way to build metadata like this; until The Semantic Web hits its stride (at least another decade) trawling through websites by hand is the only option.
And <<CUSTOMPARA5>> is a handpicked selection of my clients – clients which match as closely as possible the sectors the prospect operates in. I’m moving in closer with every sentence.
...but it's pricey, right? Nope. Try £450 for a 1,000wd+ research paper or consideration content, less for snacks and snippets elsewhere on the nurturing pathway. Or £225 for a 500wd listicle with metadata. And turnaround times that can drop to 24 hours if your deadline's hot.
It’s time for go in for the kill. Content marketing – the point of this mailing – is price-sensitive, and while I try not to compete on price, it’s a reality of this space. I simply worked out what I need to work up a killer article (half a day min) and priced it in.
You can lean on me for teasers, pages, posts, blogs... Buzzfeeds, featurettes, infographics, and newsletters... microsites and Case Studies and White Papers. The whole kit and caboodle, with metas, tags and links whomped up and ready to go. I've worked on platforms from WordPress to HubSpot to Uberflip to SlideShare, in formats as diverse as PPC, ePub, and XML. I'm also conversant with 12 CMSs, HTML5 and CSS. See chrisdoescontent.com/portfolio for the exhibit.
Notice I used a couple of buzzwords in the previous para – listicle, metadata – to show I’ve got a grip on social and content marketing? They were warmups.
In this most verbose paragraph in the letter, I list the applications and formats I think they work with, and will expect me to know. It’s filler, but solid filler.
...and get your first content marketing brief answered for FREE
Again highlighted, the second of the 2 callouts communicates my offer without anyone needing to read the body copy. (As any good piece of marketing should.)
Closing para and call-to-action
But there's one thing you don't get: hassle. Contact me with a brief; I'll write you a sample you can use at no cost. I'm on 07876 635340 or firstname.lastname@example.org; current availability's about 9 days/mth. Let's talk.
It’s time to sign off. All the boxes are ticked here: offer front and centre, with a note that subtly communicates further proofs (I’m available, but not too available, ‘cos that’d mean I’m no good.) Hammered home with a homily.
Do I need to mention the letter was personally signed? My wrist’s still sore.
PS. You can download a PDF of this letter from chrisdoescontent.com/?attachment_id=«xxxx». (All right, proper letters don't work for everything. Let me know if you went all TL;DR on me.)
Every sales letter needs a PS. This one adds a neat trick: I uploaded each individual letter (not the template) to my site, and the reader can download the exact letter he received by clicking a unique URL. I finish the way all sales letters should: with a chuckle that gets the reader’s head nodding.
How could it be improved?
First, I should have put the offer in the postscript somehow. People still scan down to a PS before they get into the body copy. And using the too long; didn’t read euphemism was borderline; while agency bosses are web-savvy, they don’t always speak geek.
Second, the transition between the opening and second paras doesn’t quite hit the mark. I talk about letters being noticed, yet when “I notice them” it’s not because I got a letter. Small stuff, but it’s lapses like these that make tears in a piece of copy’s overall fabric.
Third, the backup in the middle. Lengthwise it works, but I’m divided as to its density. Too much jargon? Am I sounding clever rather than intelligent? On the edge.
Hey there, marketers! I’ve had an idea today, and I’d like one thousand of you to listen. Broader upside is that it delivers £10,000 to charity, but let’s get the self-indulgent stuff out first…
…since turning indie novelist I’ve led a dreamy life. A cycle of eat-sleep-create, true to myself and answerable to no-one. I’m a solitary type who spends a lot of time inside his own head, so the last year – teaching myself the principles of narrative fiction then writing my first stories – has been one of the most enjoyable.
Only problem: your income takes one hell of a whack.
700,000 books are published each year. But worldwide, I’d bet fewer than a thousand authors scratch a living wage from fiction. And perhaps only 200 earn more than a top-tier copywriter in a major market. (That’d be me.) Writing the commercial prose used in a single campaign typically earns its creator more than Britain’s median earner makes in a week… while 99% of books sell fewer than 100 copies, making the author less money than would fold. (Er, that’d be me, too.)
So it’s been a great year, but with the principles of fiction now baked into my brainpan, every thriller novel and sci-fi short from now on – and there’ll be many – just counts as practice. (I can’t call myself “good” until I’ve got a million words out.) I need a fresh goal to rebuild my cashflow. And since this is me here – the guy who combines touchy-feely words and hard-quant numbers – every goal needs numbers attached.
Starting 01 April, I’m aiming for 100 days to reach an annualised income of £100,000.
It sounds a lot. But in a market like my hometown, the thing about a six-figure income is how small it is. A hundred grand could be just three clients. But it takes work. This isn’t get-rich-quick, folks.
Here’s how I plan to do it. And how you could do it, too.
Any sales exec knows selling is a numbers game. There’s a mountain of skill involved in closing a deal, but most of the time, the guy with the best sales figures is the guy who made the most calls. To get the small number of retainer clients it’ll take to rebuild my roster, I’m counting on approaching 1,000. And since I can’t count on my scintillating personality getting me over the hump (I am the world’s worst networker) this means a campaign.
I’m not talking about a bought-in list; strike rates for cold names are below 0.01%. I’m talking about 1,000 individuals with a marketing budget, each connected to me by someone I know who’s consented to be used as a reference. That’s the In that gets me in their Inbox. So where to start?
It means work. And the place to start is LinkedIn. That’s 434 connections, roughly half in my native UK, connecting me to most of the companies I want to approach. And there’ll be an individually worded letter to each one, in my own voice.
This is where the resource costs start. Even the cheapest content mill I write for pays 20p a word, and these letters top out around 500 words a throw. So that’s £100,000 of effort going in. Which dwarfs the cost of printing and posting, even given some won’t go out on a proper sheet of paper.
I’m counting on averaging ten letters a day. More on weekdays to take weekends off. And they’ll be personal letters. There are some common paragraphs, but there are three or four paras that aren’t replicable page to page. Stuff like:
- A para on who you are, and what you want to do for them (THEM.)
- A para on how you heard of them – your contact, their job ad, whatever.
- A para showing you understand their business or sector, with proof.
- The separate email to your contact, telling them what you’ve done. It’s only polite.
That’s four custom paras, of maybe six or seven in total. (Not much space for anything else save the sig.) And I need perhaps a 1% strike rate. That’s all.
To see why, let’s look at clients I’ve had in the past. One paying £1000/mth for a 3,000 word article for their website. One of which pays an occasional £1500 for a small research project. Two paying over £2,500/mth for a programme of activity around a monthly marketing campaign. Two others paying £1,750 each to have 3-5 days/month reserved for them.
And with my max day rate of £600 – top tier, but not over-the-top by London standards – it doesn’t take too many of those to hit an £8k/mth run rate.
(When I was an agency creative clients paid upwards of two thousand Euros, and that was a decade-plus ago. (One or two advertising celebs charge two grand today, but you could probably count them without taking your socks off.)
And to add punch, I’m making a commitment: if I get there, 10% of that income for one year will be donated to charity.
Just added my latest paper to my portfolio on Emotional Loyalty, which was also featured in The Guardian recently.
Apparently the judge in Levi Roots’ Reggae Reggae Sauce case thinks “Marketing involves persuading people to purchase particular products my accentuating the quality and utility of the products or services concerned.”
My word. If there was ever a sentence that proves the law’s an ass, this was it.
The argument’s about who cooked up the sauce first. This judge is shocked, shocked that the sauce is not, in fact, an old family recipe developed over decades by Grandma Root from Jamaica.
Wow, what a sweetly innocent view; I’m not surprised Britain’s legal system so often seems divorced from anything I might call “justice”. I’m happy for Judge Pelling though: what a pleasantly rose-tinted life he must lead.
For Judge Pelling, even a simple supermarket visit is an affirmation of the goodness of Man. Selecting a box of “barn eggs”, he thinks fondly about the happy chickens inhabiting the bucolic meadow on the box. Picking up some fish fingers for his grandchildren, he gives silent thanks to the kindly sea captain and the crew of underage sailors who caught them, tossing their nets over the side of a three-masted schooner. On family holidays, he has a choice of cookies, but always goes for “America’s Favourite”, because it must be true, right?
As for the case itself, nobody can prove one way or the other who cooked up the first batch or wrote down the recipe. But that’s missing the point: a recipe for sauce, written down on a sheet of paper, isn’t a business asset. There are thousands of jerk sauces cooked up every week in London kitchens alone, and you know what…
… they’re all good. I’ve never met a jerk sauce I didn’t like. And most of the middle-class white people who buy Roots’ wares couldn’t tell the difference between any of them. They’re not buying a tasty sauce for tonight’s chicken; they’re buying the story of a characterful black guy who once strummed a guitar on a TV show.
(Remember, “Dragon’s Den” has nothing to do with business, any more than Fox has anything to do with the news. It’s entertainment, plain and simple.)
Business is about stories. When people buy into the story, they buy the products. So marketing, for the vast majority of products, is about telling those stories. Whether the marketing is successful or not depends on how effectively you can lay a story down in the minds of your target audience. Consumers are smart and savvy, and they pick the stories they want to believe in.
Oh, how I wish there were more people like Judge Pelling. If all consumers were like him, we marketers would rule the world.
One of these ads is good. The other one is bad. Why?
The concept is classic Benetton: shocking and iconic. This time it’s about clashing cultures. The first execution – the Pope kissing a Muslim cleric – is shocking in the right way, because it’s got a message: two religions not noted for their, er, *tolerance of alternative lifestyles* coming together in a liplock.
Fair enough. Even if you recognise the individuals, this isn’t an ad about two men; it’s about two belief systems coming together, and that’s a reasonable subject for an ad campaign.
(Actually, since both believe in supernatural beings it’s really only one belief system, but we’ll let that pass.)
The second ad, however – featuring Hu Jintao and Barack Obama – isn’t a good ad. Because this time, the execution isn’t about a clash of cultures, however different China and the US may be. It’s now just an ad about two straight men having a gay kiss, no more shocking than party lesbians in the West End on a Saturday night. (Well, OK, just a bit more shocking.)
And the message is lost, overshadowed by the actors.
Just goes to show: a campaign concept can so easily be obscured if you don’t get the execution exactly right.
In a display of the same intolerance both religions display towards gay men in real life, the Pope/Imam execution’s apparently been withdrawn after complaints. (Benetton won’t mind; nothing builds a brand like having your ad campaign in the headlines.) While the politicians can continue slurping away, although I’m surprised Chavez the Chavster hasn’t said anything yet…