When It Comes to Direct Mail, Emotions Pay!

Robert Collier was one of the star copywriters of direct mail sales pieces back in the last century. And his discoveries and insight into human nature, and how he used them to manipulate interest in his products, are of tremendous practical use to copywriters today.

If we will make the effort to learn what he had to tell us in his classic work, The Robert Collier Letter Book, we can increase the effectiveness of our own pieces.

In this article I want to focus what Collier had to say about emotions and motivation, and how our understanding of these two qualities can help us write sales pieces that sell.

Strike the Right Emotion

Collier said that before you started writing a sales letter you had to ask yourself what emotion you wanted to arouse in your reader. And basically you should have just one goal in mind: to be able to make the reader want to do what you are asking him to do.

You must bring readers to the point where they feel they must do what you want, or that they won’t be able to rest easy until they have taken the action you propose. A letter that just aims at the intellect won’t do the trick. You have to go for the emotions if you’re going to be able to inspire readers to take action.

What kind of emotions? Love, obviously. Don’t just sell a child’s bicycle. Sell a bicycle that will bring joy and confidence to a beloved child.

Shame is another. Don’t just sell a box of greeting cards because they’ll be convenient to have at hand when you need one. Sell a box of cards that will enable readers to keep up with all those acquaintances they feel so bad about ignoring for so long.

And vanity is a great emotion to appeal to when trying to sell something. You might sell a limited amount of face cream with a description of all its natural moisturizing ingredients. But you’ll sell a lot more by saying the cream will make the reader look ten years younger, and that all her friends will be envious of her youthful appearance.

This quote from Collier says it all:

“Appeal to the reason, by all means. Give people a logical excuse for buying that they can tell to their friends and use to salve their own consciences. But if you want to sell goods, if you want action of any kind, base your real urge upon some primary emotion!”

It may sound cynical, but if you really believe in your product or service, you will see the truth and the value in it. You know that what you’re offering will improve your prospects’ lives. It’s the job of your sales piece to convince them of that fact. That means you have to find the right emotion and appeal to that.

For example, if you’re a dentist, just listing all your degrees and saying you use advanced techniques and have a newly appointed office will not necessarily get people to try your services.

Instead, you might describe how you specialize in painless techniques and that your patient rooms are designed with comfortable chairs, ear phones, heated blankets, and every amenity to allay anxiety – all of which speaks directly to the emotion of fear and how you go out of your way to relieve it.

Think of the emotions that will get people to use your product or service, and build your sales pieces around those.

Get People Motivated

Collier also talked about the motives that make people buy. He called it “exercising persuasion,” and here again, his direct way of explaining what he meant is worth repeating:

“What is persuasion? Nothing but finding the motive that will impel your reader to do as you wish, then stirring it to the point where it is stronger than his inertia, or his economical tendencies.”

Collier advised letter writers to put themselves in the place of their readers and try to determine which are their prime motivating factors (and not consider only what would motivate the letter writer himself).

He said there were basically six motivations: love, gain, duty, pride, self-indulgence, and self-preservation. And the motivations often occur together. So, readers might be motivated by pride when considering buying a new car, but to appeal to pride alone would be too limited.

You should throw in a dash of love (it will be safer for the family), and gain (you’ll be saving a fortune on repairing your old clunker), and of course, some self-indulgence (all the luxury features of the new car).

In writing the letter it is necessary to turn that motivation into a motive to take action right away. The old car is putting the family in danger now. The special reduced price will only be available for a limited time. Driving the old clunker diminishes the reader in others’ eyes every day. Now is the time to act.

Make it clear what readers have to gain by taking immediate action, and what they may lose by not taking action. You build readers to take action by showing them how their lives will be improved by doing what you say. Spell it out very clearly so people are impelled to act.

Going back to our dentist example, you might explain that taking care of your teeth will improve your health and wellbeing in many areas. That the cost of good tooth maintenance now will save money and pain down the line. That by taking advantage of your special assessment and cleaning for new patients – only available for a limited time – they can get started on a new program of health for the entire family, at a very reasonable cost. This is the best time to get started on a healthy future. And so on.

To quote Collier again, “bring home to him the advantages that will accrue to him from doing as you wish, in so effective a way that he wants these more than anything of any trouble they may cost him.”

These basic rules for selling effectively are age old. I’m sure the vendors hawking products in ancient bazaars used these same principles. Collier showed how we can adapt these rules in creating sales letters today – sales letter that really work.

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