The Art of Securing Attention
The first step in writing a letter is to secure attention. This may well be called the most important step of all, for without attention the remainder of your message is lost, no matter how strong it may be.
There are several ways of securing attention. The following are the most commonly employed.
1. By asking a question
2. By making a direct statement of an interesting fact
3. By making a strong assertion
The following opening paragraphs illustrate the question method of securing attention.
"Do you know that it is a very small and comparatively inexpensive matter to install a little water heating outfit in your garage that will warm the building and at the same time furnish an ample supply of hot water for washing down automobiles and for other cleaning purposes?"
"How many people pass your store each day? Are most or even many of them possible customers for your line? How many look at your window display? How many stop to look at the window? How many step inside after looking? How many buy because they were reminded of some need by the goods shown in your window?"
"Do you realize that a vigorous effort on your part at this very moment will bring to your college many of the boys and girls finishing the public schools?"
"Would you invest $214.84 if you knew it would yield you $401.75 in the first six months?"
"Will you let us help double your sales for March and at the same time build a foundation for a bigger, better, future business?"
"Did you ever stop to think that practically every article of food that is placed on your table is dependent on the efficiency of your refrigerator?"
'Do you want to get more milk and more money from your cows?”
"Every time you sell a man a shirt do you have a feeling that he will come back to you when he wants shirts again?"
"Who draws the biggest salary in your business and does the least work for it?"
"Wouldn't you like to get rid of continually cleaning and polishing your floors?"
Note how the question method of opening a letter paves the way to interest. As you read over these queries you find yourself subconsciously asking whether or not the point that has been made is true in your case. Thus your interest is at once aroused and a train of thought is started that makes you want to know more about the proposition. While this method of securing attention is good, it can be easily overworked.
You will observe that the YOU element is much in evidence in these questions. It is almost an axiom that any letter that purports to be a personal communication must start at once to address its message direct to the reader. A salesman, after his salutation, immediately begins addressing YOU. A letter, from the start, should talk face to face.
There are exceptions to every rule, but you can not go wrong to remember at all times that the YOU element is the most important element in letter writing.
Next we have the direct statement method of opening, illustrated by the following paragraphs.
"All day long — from the minute your mind takes the trail early in the morning until you quit the game late at night — you're figuring on ways to sell more goods, to win more trade."
"You would not sell your steady-going business for the face value of your insurance policy. And yet fire at any moment may force you to make this losing exchange."
"You'll be as enthusiastic, no doubt, over the proposition contained in this letter as was the first manufacturer we put it up to."
"Unquestionably the dearest treasure to you on earth is your little baby and you will spare yourself no pains in its care and feeding."
"The only difference between a $5,000 man and a $10,000 man is — production."
"Look at the lead pencils used in your store. The worn erasers mean that mistakes have been made. Mistakes cost you money."
"I want to make you this short, straight business proposal."
"Your new home will be but a cold structure up to the point where the woodwork and floors are ready for finishing. Then you will select the finishes for the various rooms — change it into a home, different from others."
The direct statement method is the type of opening most commonly employed. It is businesslike, starts the letter off well and leads easily and naturally into the body where the arguments are presented which it suggests.
In writing a letter you can make no mistake in using this style of opening. The average man will take action on a proposition that has been half formulated for him. If you say, "You can cut your printing bills in half," you have established a premise which he will accept if you follow it up with logical reasons why. Do not lose sight of the qualifying word direct. However, when using the statement form of opening. You must hit your reader with sufficient force to command the attention you are after.
The third type of opening — a strong assertion — is illustrated by these examples.
"Your stenographer wastes half of her time."
"You pride yourself on watching the leaks in your business, but you are paying 25% to 75% more for your stationery than you need to."
"Don't blame your clerks when your statements fail to go out on time. You are as much at fault as the system."
"Get out of the buzz class in writing your letters."
This style of opening is difficult to handle and should not be employed until you are sure of your ability to follow it up with statement that will turn the sting or shock in it to your advantage and leave the reader in a receptive frame of mind. When properly used it is a very strong opening, for it makes the reader sit up and take notice of what you say.
Too much emphasis can not be placed upon the importance of the opening paragraph. Thousands of letters are sent out every year that fails through the writer's lack of understanding how to start them properly.
Imagine how much interested you would be in a letter that started out like this.
"We want to call your attention to our complete line of furniture and rugs. This line has cost us thousands of dollars to install."
You do not care what they want to do or how much it cost them to install their line. What you are interested in is what they have that will be of profit to you. How much better this merchant puts it.
"This is furniture bargain week at our store. You can save 25% on the cost and you'll be 50% ahead on the quality. Here's why"
An opening like that induces you to read further. The merchant who solicits your trade with a form as hackneyed as this will never get it.
"We take this opportunity to solicit your patronage. This store needs your trade. We have just the furniture and rugs you want."
By his own admission he is not succeeding. Another merchant sends out a letter to accomplish the same purpose, but he makes you feel at once that he is interested in you and really desires to serve you.
"We haven't seen you in our store for some time. Are you dissatisfied with our merchandise or service? This letter is written to learn if we have offended you in any way."
Be watchful at all times to avoid the timeworn and threadbare openings handed down by the past generations of business men.
"We have the honor to inform you…."
"In compliance with your esteemed favor…."
"Agreeable to your valued request…."
And similar trite expressions of meaningless solicitude and senseless formality have no place in the modern art of letter writing.
The manufacturer who writes…..
"Yours of the 14th received and noted and agreeable to your request we take pleasure in sending you a copy of our catalog," says what is quite obvious and unnecessary, for if he had not received "yours of the 14th" how could he have noted it or the request for his catalog?
But the manufacturer who writes….
"Here is the little book for which you asked. It's a wonderful book in many ways. It is written with all the enthusiasm of a man who knows through actual experience what our system will accomplish for the office manager," has the sales instinct and does not waste any words in placing his proposition before you.
Similar instances could be cited almost indefinitely. Make a practice of studying the openings of the letters you run across and then analyze what their effect is upon you. If you find that the writer wins your attention with his opening paragraph, apply what you have been told here and you will see that he has employed some one of these principles and practices.
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