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What Constitutes a Better Letter

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



HERE is an 8¼ x 11 sheet of white bond paper. It is blank on both sides. When I say that it is blank on both sides, I mean that there is nothing on either side. It might have a letter on one side and still be blank on both sides.

It does not seem very great in its present form. Yet, it represents the greatest business medium in the world. It represents the only selling medium which, if taken from business, would disrupt the entire business structure. It is used by every one in business. Properly used, it represents the greatest force in business. The size does not need to be 8 1/2 x 11. Nor the color white. I take this size and color because it is that most generally used.

There are 10 things in the constitution of every business letter—good and bad. They are:

1. The envelope
2. The stamp
3. The address
4. The return card
5. The letter paper
6. The letterheading
7. The salutation
8. The type—its color and arrangement
9. The signature
10. The letter itself.

If you will consider those 10 constitutional parts of a letter, you will note that 9 are physical and only 1 mental.

Nine constitutional parts of a letter represent its body.

Only 1 constitutional part represents the soul. The physique of letters is constantly improving. The soul is stagnant.

Out of every 100 business letters mailed in America yesterday, today and tomorrow, at least 90 per cent will be devoid of soul.

How do I know?

I know, because it is impossible to get away from the Law of Average. The Law of Average is almost as constant as that of Gravity.

Any well-managed insurance company can count the number of people in this room, take their ages and with a few pencil strokes, tell you within a fraction how many will be alive a year from now, 2 years from now, 10 years from now.

If you could tell me how many letters will be written by you within the next 12 months, I could tell you how many of them would be good letters—physically and mentally.

After I accepted an invitation to speak on Letters at this Convention, I began saving all the Sales Letters received by the companies with which I am associated.

I have with me now exactly 200 of them. I eliminated all letters other than one-page letters, as well as all letters that were not mailed under first-class postage.

All of these 200 letters are process letters.

We have analyzed these letters down to the last detail. I will tell you later what we found.

First of all, let us quickly discuss the 9 physical parts of the letter.

1. The Envelope

It should be of good quality. The quality should depend on the proposition. It should invariably match the letter paper. If the quantity mailed is not too large and the mailing is to men, I recommend the use of a large envelope—a No. 9 or a No. 10.

2. The Stamp

This can be a regular 2-cent stamp, a Government stamp or a metered stamp. Other things being equal, there will be little, if any, difference in results. Before the meter came into general use, there was a big difference in results. Prefer-able to either the Government stamp or the metered stamp is a new 2-cent postage stamp. We recommend its use while it is new.

3. The Address

The address can be typewritten, machine or handwritten. The name should be spelled correctly. The address should be correct. Never abbreviate a given name or title, such as Jno. for John, or Bus. Mgr. for Business Manager. The initials are preferable to an abbreviation of a name.

If you know the prospect's full name, use it in full. If a machine address is used, it should match the fill-in on the letter. Do not use handwriting unless it is good handwriting. Make sure that the address is not crooked on the envelope. Make sure it is not blurred. Do not address by hand if the letter is in typewriting process. Hand address is all right if the letter is printed without a fill-in. Do not use the word "Personal" if the letter is processed.

4. The Return Card

The Post Office Department prefers it in the upper left-hand corner. We prefer it on the flap. Do not make it too large. If you are sure that your address is correct, do not use any return address. The use of the return address presumes that the address is incorrect.

5. The Letter Paper

Use as good letter paper as the proposition will stand. This sheet of bond paper weighs 24 pounds to a ream of 500 sheets, 17 x 22. That means that out of a ream, you can get 2,000, 8 1/2 x 11 sheets. Figuring it out, you know that 2,000 sheets at 16 cents a pound will total $3.84. Therefore, the paper in 2,000 letterheads will cost ,you $3.84, or about one-fifth of a cent each. You can get much better paper than this for two-fifths of a cent, or three-fifths of a cent. For some propositions, it might be desirable to use letter paper costing 1-cent a sheet. Most good business houses have been educated to the use of good letter paper.

6. The Letterhead

This should be an attractive, and if possible, a distinctive letterhead. There is no excuse for a poor letterheading. In the Exhibition Hall, there are half a dozen booths where you can see for yourself the importance and value of good letter-headings. I recommend careful study of exhibits in all booths where letterheads are shown. Every letterhead should tell the name of the firm, what it sells and where it sells it. If the letterhead is for local use, it should carry the telephone number. If the business is such that buyers are likely to call at your place of business, the telephone number should appear on the letterhead. When in doubt, put the telephone number on your letterhead. With few exceptions, the local address should be given on the letterhead.

Postage and The Mailbag conducts a department in which it analyzes each month a number of letterheads.

An analysis of 500 letterheads discloses the following:

1. 8 1/2 x 11 420 84%
2. Odd Size 80 16%
3. Paper Other than White 82 16%
4. One Color Ink 244 49%
5. Two Color 195 39%
6. Three or More Colors 61 12%
7. Showing Picture or Sym 276 55%
8. Printed 314 63%
9. Lithographed 130 26%
10. Engraved 56 11%
11. Full Address 358 72%
12. Nature of Business 431 86%
13. Names of Officers 212 42%
14. Telephone Number 175 35%
15. All Essentials 320 64%
16. Pleasing Typography 184 37%
17. Printing at bottom 179 36%

7. The Salutation

By Salutation, I mean the fill-in. It must match the letter. If you cannot secure a good fill-in, do not use any. For the fill-in, substitute the opening paragraph of your letter, arranging like a fill-in. Sales letters with prospect's name well filled-in will outpull those not filled-in. Filled-in letters cost more. In large mailings, this cost should be considered. A fill-in makes a letter more personal. The standard in Direct-Mail is a Personal Letter. Every step that you take away from the Personal Letter reduces the pulling power of it.

8. The Type—Its Color and Arrangement

Before you have your letter processed, make sure that it is typographically good. Type arrangement has much to do with results. We prefer letters with the lines and paragraphs flush, rather than the indented kind. In a series of letters, a change of type face is desirable. Your letter should be easy to read. It should not contain long and involved sentences. Besides being easy to read, it should look easy to read. Give some thought to using ink other than black ink. Before you have your letter processed, have it typed in blue ink, in purple ink and in black ink. This may enable you to decide which, in your opinion, might bring the greatest results.

9. The Signature

Processed letters should be signed in ink. Keep away from rubber stamp signatures. Even though the mailing is a very large one, it does not cost very much to have the letter signed with ink. If the letter is supposed to have been written by a man, it should not be signed in a feminine hand. If the writer's name is not on the letterhead, the name should be typed under the signature or in the lower left-hand corner. If it is not practical to sign with ink, the best type of facsimile signature should be used. There is at least one process on the market that is almost perfect.

10. This brings us to the soul of the letter.

THE SOUL OF A LETTER is what the letter emotionally expresses.

Our analysis shows that in the average letter, the soul is almost dead.

Some years ago, letters were full of stereotyped phrases. Education has almost driven them out. In the 200 letters, there are not a dozen stereotypes.

Some years ago, most business letters were written on poor paper. Education has taught the wisdom of good letter-paper, with the result that most business people know the value and importance of good paper.

One step—the most important step of all—remains to be taken. It consists in putting a soul into the average business letters.

Of the 200 letters referred to, less than 10 are good letters. Only 25 per cent are fairly good. The balance are poor.

The letters are poor because they lack friendliness. They are cold, hard and unemotional. They are neither friendly nor unfriendly. They are neuter.

All of you know salesmen who come to your place to get orders. To what class of salesmen do you give orders? To the friendly salesman, of course.

Why, then, can you not put more friendliness into your letters?

Charles Wiers, the previous speaker, knows what I mean.

Jack Carr, who calls his letters Cordial Contacts, knows what I mean.

Every one who writes a sales letter must have three requisites. Without any one of them, he will be a failure as a letter-writer.

They are :

1. He (or she) must like his firm.

2. He (or she) must like the product.

3. He (or she) must like people.

If you like your firm, its product and people, then it should not be a difficult matter for you to write friendly letters.

It would be a difficult thing for me to tell you in the course of a thirty minutes' talk what I mean by making your letters more friendly.

To do this thoroughly would require the reading of 100 letters as they were originally written and rewriting them for you as we think they ought to have been written.

Over 75 per cent of all the letters above referred to could be rewritten to good advantage.

My closing advice to you is: Put more friendliness into your business letters. In human relations, friendship pays good dividends.

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