Long or Short Form Sales Letter – Which Works Better?

Abe Lincoln Sales LetteraI get this question a lot. So just for grins, let’s take a look at a couple of masters and see how they’ve handled it.

Abe Lincoln could say in a few short sentences what it would take others whole books to explain. At Gettysburg, he spoke only 266 words lasting less than five minutes. You couldn’t find a dry eye in the audience. Including Mr. Everett, his predecessor on the stage who had taken over an hour to dazzle his audience with brilliance. Yet who’s words are remembered?

Dan Kennedy, my mentor, a brilliant direct response freelance copywriter, claiming highest pay rate in the trade, is well known for writing and espousing the long form sales letter. His point? When placed in the hands of a person with intense interest in the problem and solution described in the sales letter, there is no limit on how much they will read. Think about it. When you have a problem, let’s say you need a dental implant, or a complex piece of software for your sales force, you want to know as much as you can about how to solve the problem at hand.

So who’s right?

You may feel like Tevye, in Fiddler on the Roof. In one scene, two friends are in a heated argument. They ask Tevye to step in and decide who’s right. He listens intently as the first villager tells his tale, then nods after thinking it over and says, “He’s right!”

Then he listens as the second villager tell his side. Pondering this argument, he concludes, “He’s right!”

All things being equal, the only opinion that matters is that of your audience; the people who will gladly pull out their credit card or check book and give you money when they believe you can solve their problem. So, we test. You run an A/B split or multivariate test to see which form of sales copy wins.

“But…”, I hear you say… “Doesn’t that waste otherwise precious leads who would have bought had we not put the perfect sales letter out there?”

You have a choice: Tweak it until YOU think it’s perfect… Or put a best effort “good enough” letter out there quickly, watch results closely, and tweak accordingly.

Even Dan Kennedy will tell you, the best campaign starts with at least two letters. The one getting the best result then becomes your “control”. Given time and resources, you will then try to beat the control with an even better version. And so on, until you are satisfied with the outcome.

There are factors that may help predict results. Price, complexity of product or service, level of resistance, relationship with audience. For instance if you take a stranger to a sales page from a PPC ad, you will have a different task than when you take someone already familiar with you from your email list to your sales letter.

So long or short? I’ll leave you with this – your sales copy needs to include Whatever It Takes (WIT) to get the response you desire. Just remember, brevity is the soul of WIT.

In other words, as long time direct response copywriter Nick Usborne says, “Make it as long as it needs to be and not a word longer.”

The ultimate arbiter of course is your market. Test, test, test.

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