The reading level for this article is All Levels

First, the bad news: There are dozens of ways you can go wrong in writing and designing (what you hope will be) an effective sales letter, web sales page, promotional flyer or ad.

Now the good news: The learning curve for getting it right is relatively short. Here are some key guidelines and pointers for getting noticed, generating interest, and persuading people to respond to your offer.

Create Visual Appeal

In a matter of seconds, your prospects will make a snap decision on whether or not they want to read your marketing message. If they have to strain or struggle in any way, they’re going to skip it. Avoid a cluttered, hard-to-read appearance by making generous use of white space, headlines, subheads, and text bullets. Use italics and ALL CAPS sparingly because, when used in excess, they can be hard on the eyes. For web pages and flyers, avoid too much large print (it looks amateurish), and be careful with your use of colored or textured backgrounds. If the background competes with the text or lacks contrast, the message will be too hard to read. And if you use 10 point text or smaller&ldots;well, let’s just hope you’re not targeting us aging baby boomers!

Writing Style Tips

After you’ve written the first draft, you can improve it by eliminating unnecessary or redundant words, breaking up long sentences, checking for spelling and grammar errors, adding impact with a few carefully chosen adjectives, and making sure each idea flows logically into the next. A conversational tone is usually much more appealing than a formal, stilted approach; and you should always gear the message to the intended audience. One of the big advantages of targeting your marketing to specific groups is that you can ‘talk their language’ and relate the message directly to their emotional and practical needs and wants.

Devices to Capture Attention and Arouse Interest

An effective sales message, whether it’s on a web page or 24-lb stationery, usually contains the following elements: a compelling headline, attention-catching sub-headlines, a bulleted list of features and benefits (with proof, whenever possible), a few intriguing questions, a deadline or incentive for responding promptly, a guarantee of satisfaction, a testimonial or endorsement, and a call for action (tell them exactly what and how you want them to respond: call, stop by, visit your website, or mail their order.) Words such as ‘no obligation’, ‘free trial’, and ‘convenient payment plans’ can also increase response levels. By the way, a ‘P.S.’ is a great place to put a reminder, a special offer, or an added incentive. People read them.

A Vital, Sometimes Overlooked Ingredient

One of the cornerstones of any effective marketing strategy is identifying and clearly communicating your Unique Selling Proposition or distinctive selling advantages. Make it clear why you’re better and offer more than the competition. Emphasize your competitive strengths as a business, an individual, or as the provider of high quality services or products. In today’s competitive marketplace, it’s essential to exceed customer expectations, find ways to lower sales resistance, and have a value-added approach to doing business.

This Sales and Marketing Series article was written by Joel Sussman on 5/31/2006

Joel Sussman has been a journalist, public relations specialist, proposal writer, and editor for 23 years. In 2000, he created an online resource and newsletter for business owners, called Marketing Survival Kit (