I’d like to talk about salutations, my good friend.
Or should I say Fellow Copywriter?
Perhaps Intrepid Freelancer would be better?
Of course, this is my point:
There are far more options when it comes to addressing a reader than the classic ‘Dear Reader’.
Sure, it’s a small thing. But still, it’s there on a letter for a reason and to overlook it is not only lazy… it’s a missed opportunity to make a stronger connection with your reader.
First then, let’s just get clear on the actual role of a salutation.
Within the structure of the sales letter itself, it’s there to flag the end of the attention-grabbing elements (the eyebrow, the headline and the deck copy) and alert the reader to the start of the letter proper.
That’s kind of interesting in itself if you think about it…
I mean, there’s a certain suspension of disbelief going on with any sales letter – when was the last time you received a letter from a relative with a 48-point headline and a subhead promising you riches beyond your wildest dreams?
Of course, there’s a general acceptance that a sales letter is not a ‘letter’ at all; especially with so many sales letters only ever being used online these days.
So why do we still use a traditional salutation?
And is it always necessary?
Well, mostly I think we use a traditional salutation to aid that suspension of disbelief. It reassures someone that they are reading a ‘letter’.
Here you can see a typical salutation that does nothing more than address the reader and support the belief they’re reading a letter.
It’s from a sales letter (by Stuart Goldsmith, I think) for a trading program called Secret Flag Trader from a chap called Guy Cohen:
The addition of a time stamp is a nice touch, but the salutation itself is a simple ‘Dear Friend’. Then it launches into a classic (and very successful) picture-based lead.
Is it needed? Maybe not. But it doesn’t jar too badly and it fulfils the traditional function of a salutation.
I do think it could be stronger. I’ll explain why in a moment.
First, let’s look at an example where I do think the salutation jars and makes itself redundant.
It’s from a sales promotion for an American newsletter called Retirement Millionaire, published by Stansberry & Associates Investment Research.
Now, the in-house copywriting team at Stansberry are producing some of the best financial direct response copy of the modern age (you’ll have likely heard of Mike Palmer’s End of America promotion, or seen it reproduced in some way in a country near you).
But here I think the traditional salutation is completely redundant:
See what I mean?
The formal ‘Dear Reader’ salutation is immediately followed by a more informal salutation of ‘Hello, my name is David’.
After reading the formal salutation, you almost have to reset and start the letter again.
In such cases, the traditional salutation can be dropped completely.
That’s not to say I’m against salutations.
As I’ve explained, a salutation not only links the attention-grabbing copy to the sales argument itself…
It addresses the reader directly. It alerts them to the fact that the letter is aimed at them.
This is where I think the vast majority of direct response sales letter salutations could be improved.
You see, the traditional ‘Dear Reader’ is pretty impersonal. It doesn’t really separate me – as a reader – from anyone else. The author of the letter could be addressing me, or they could be addressing the back-gammon-playing crackpot who lives across the road.
So – to better engage your reader, you need to be more specific.
By the time you come to write your sales letter, chances are you’ve done a ton of research on who your target reader is-
You should have DEFINITELY done a ton of research on who your target reader is. If not, go back and do so before writing another word.
Once you have identified who you’re writing to, you should be in a much better position to get a bit more specific.
Obviously, you don’t want to drill down too deeply as you run the risk of alienating people. But something like this is ideal:
This is from a sales letter for a photography product written by friend and reader, Gerald.
He knows his stuff and here you can see he’s tailored the salutation to ‘Dear fellow photographer’.
Personally I don’t think it needs the ‘Dear’. Just ‘Fellow Photographer’ feels smoother. But in a sales letter written by a photographer to another photographer…
This is excellent.
If I were a keen photographer reading this, I’d immediately be more engaged and feel like it was addressing me directly and not the crackpot who lives over the road (whose hobby is backgammon – obviously).
I think the ‘Fellow X’ salutation is one that can easily be applied to almost any sales letter. You should try it.
But it’s not the only option.
Today I was working with a copywriter who’s writing a letter for an educational forex product aimed at traders who aren’t having much success.
The ‘Fellow X’ salutation could be deployed here: Fellow Trader or even Fellow Forex Trader, to be more specific.
However, because the writer had done a lot of research and decided to aim at a specific type of forex trader, another option presented itself: we’ll call it the ‘Adjective X’ salutation.
You see, instead of just addressing the reader by defining their niche, you can actually tap into their emotion too.
For example, you could begin: Frustrated Forex Trader.
As a forex trader I know the letter is addressing me, but now I know the author understands something about how I feel too. I feel a lot more engaged – I want to hear what this guy has to say.
Indeed, we all know the value of emotion in copywriting and adding even a sliver more of it in your copy will undoubtedly add value.
Whether you go this far is up to you, but I hope you can see now that there is a lot more to a simple salutation than you might have first thought.
And of course, if you’ve seen a salutation that doesn’t fall into the ‘Fellow X’ or ‘Adjective X’ category, please do share it in the comments below. Heck, you might have invented a whole new salutation technique yourself – so please do share.