In marketing parlance, your most successful marketing piece, the one that becomes your lead generation workhorse, is called a control.
Over the past couple hundred years, there have been a number of marketing controls that have had incredibly impressive runs. Two of the most famous examples from recent times:
- The Wall Street Journal’s “Two Young Men” letter, generated nearly $2 billion dollars in sales for the Journal during it’s 29 year run. It was mailed continuously by the Journal to select household mailing lists from 1974 to 2003. It is considered the single most successful direct mail sales letter in history, and is well worth studying.
- Self-help guru Tony Robbins has one infomercial that ran continuously in English speaking countries around the world for 18 years. It was literally broadcast 24 hours per day, always available on at least one basic cable channel or over the air broadcast network. Although at much lower volume, that infomercial still runs today. The infomercial sells his flagship “Unleash The Power Within” program, and to this day sales from that program generate $9 million per year in net profit for him.
The power of a control piece cannot be underestimated. Having a solid control, along with a well-defined target market to send or broadcast it to, is almost like an ATM that prints free money.
In 2012, I wrote what would become my direct mail control piece. I affectionately refer to it as the mug shot letter. This letter was the workhorse of my practice, across multiple niche tax resolution markets and a variety of different offers. It worked well for me in the western US, and it’s worked well for coaching clients from Texas to Florida to Chicago in it’s original form. Other practitioners have created heavily modified derivatives that work very well for them, including a CPA in Maine that created a version that has helped take his tax resolution business from just a few thousand dollars in 2013 to over $250,000 in 2015.
Last year, when my postcard sequence to drive people to a webinar wasn’t delivering the results I wanted, I went back to this letter, and results immediately improved.
The obvious question is: Why does this letter work?
Let’s step through it to see why. Digital Pass / Premium members can download the letter from the bottom of the blog post.
1. It shows a real human being.
The first thing most people notice on the letter isn’t the headline. Instead, it’s the photo of the practitioner. Why does this work? For two reasons:
- People do business with people, and financial problems are incredibly personal. By putting a face on the letter, there is an instant human connection. Psychology research clearly shows that humans have a soft side for other humans. This is also why we associate “cuteness” with puppies and anime characters: They have big eyes and round-ish faces like human babies do, so there is a psychological association. Use your humanity to connect with your target market.
- Really just a corollary to the first one: The vast majority of tax resolution firms, including every large, national tax resolution marketing company hide behind anonymity. People do business with people they know, like, and trust, and it’s almost impossible to trust somebody that’s hiding behind anonymity. When literally every one of your competitors is doing this, the quickest way to differentiate yourself is to put your name and face front and center. This includes on your web site, by the way. This is the single biggest problem I see with the web sites of nearly ever tax professional I work with. Compare your web site to a large accounting firm — names and faces are prominent.
2. I provide a real phone number to call.
The entire purpose of every offer you make is to generate leads. When I do any form of marketing, my real objective is to insert that lead into the top of a pre-defined sales funnel. I’m directing people to sign up for an offer on a web site, such as a special report or a webinar. In some mailings, such as to high dollar trust fund recovery penalty liens (6672), I’ll direct people to a 24-hour recorded information line (yes, even in modern times).
However… There will always be a part of the population that wants to talk to somebody now.
Thus, provide a real phone number that they can call. Less than 1/3 of my leads would come in this way from this letter, but those are leads that I would have lost without the phone number. I highly suggest using disposable tracking phone numbers for every campaign you mail out, and have those tracking numbers forward to your main number or to an answering service. An answering service is a worthwhile investment, as they can ask short screening questions and set appointments for you directly in your calendar, all for just a few hundred bucks a month. That’s cheaper than a receptionist, and is on call 24/7.
3. It uses a headline that directly addresses their concerns.
The headline is probably the most important part of any marketing message. This is true whether it’s your voicemail message, an Internet landing page, a Google ad, or a letter. In fact, for some marketing media, your space is limited, so your entire ad is simply the headline and call to action.
This post is not meant to be a complete copywriting course by any means (I wrote a book for that many moons ago…), but I’ll say a few things about headlines:
- Your headline must address the primary concern of your target market. Spend time brainstorming. What keeps them up at night? What kind of information would they hide from a spouse or business partner?
- You must enter the conversation going on in their head, using their language. Don’t use accounting jargon. Think about this: What do they know to be true? (even if it’s really not). For example, most Americans still believe that the IRS will immediately try to seize your personal residence if you owe back taxes. We know this requires a district court judge to sign off on, but they don’t know that.
- Your headline must point to a solution in order to get them to keep reading. That’s really the point of a headline: To get them to keep reading, listening, or watching. This is the the problem -> solution pattern, by the way. We’ve caught their attention by mentioning the problem (see the first two points above). We’ve interrupted their train of thought, and now they’re looking for why they should keep paying attention. That’s where your solution comes in. You’ll notice that in my control letter, I hint at the solution, suggesting they don’t need to go it alone. In the sub-headline, I actually reference my core offer: A plan to fight back.
If you pay attention to the marketing I do even for this very site, you’ll notice that I generally revisit these three points frequently. I’ll state the problem, ask a question, and then offer a solution. Professional copywriters refer to step-by-step formulae like this as a copy device. I am by no means a professional copywriter, so the number of copy devices in my toolbox is limited.
4. In the first paragraph, I defuse the first objection most people have.
Whenever we receive an unsolicited offer, hear a commercial, or see an ad for a professional service, the first reaction for many of us — even after the stage has been set with the first three elements — is, “Oh great, here comes the sales pitch.” Often, this is followed closely by, “How much is THIS going to cost???”.
I genuinely want tax debtors to overcome their situation and put it behind them. That’s why I offer the Resolution Plan (or some other resolution tool, resource, Do It Yourself webinar, etc.) that doesn’t hinge on them paying me anything. I want to immediately defuse the gut reaction we all have when somebody is trying to sell us something. Beyond just the concept of “risk reversal”, my goal here is actually risk removal. Note that I also iterate that, even without hiring me, my offer will still help them fight back and not be on their own — tying back into the solution benefit offered in the headline. Always aim for these kinds of tie-ins.
5. Let them know that they’re a snowflake, and that you’re different, too.
Everybody wants to be heard, acknowledged. We all think we’re unique, and all tax debtors think their situation is unique. In reality, 90% or more of the 941 resolution cases I’ve worked on in my career were all cookie cutter replicas of each other, but we can’t treat clients and prospects that way. People need us to acknowledge the uniqueness of their situation. Sometimes, this can lead to feeling more like therapist than tax practitioner, but it’s part of being in the tax debt representation business.
In the second full paragraph, I acknowledge their uniqueness, and let them know that their solution needs to be catered to that uniqueness. Contrast that with the 20 people on the phone all trying to promise this tax debtor the same reduced settlement or other pie in the sky day dream. This helps to further differentiate us.
In the third full paragrah, I reiterate the word “personalized”. That carries a lot of weight, for reasons already mentioned. I also reiterate that it’s a solution to their problem.
The phrase “no salesman will call you” provides further differentiation, because they KNOW that most of the people calling them are just salespeople. Am I going to call them if they respond to my offer? Absolutely. But the tone of the conversation is going to be very different than all the sales reps they’re talking to. I’m not going to push my services down their throat. I’m not going to harass or threaten them (yes, that actually happens). I’m going to listen and respect them.
Side note: It’s amazing how far we can get by not being a jerk.
Last point I’ll made about the body of the letter: I assign a specific dollar value to the solution I’m offering them. It happens to be of real value, since my time is not free. But people tend not to value things that are free unless we assign a specific value to it. In order to value what they’re receiving, you have to explicitly tell them what it’s worth. This will be emphasized by the scarcity mention at the end of the letter.
6. Ask for the order.
I’ve seen some great ads, commercials, and sales presentations in my life. Amazingly put together. Excellently presented.
Yet highly ineffective.
Because they failed to ever ask the reader, viewer, or listener to take action.
If you don’t ask for the order, you’re going to starve.
This is so important that it should be etched into stone tablets as one of the commandments of marketing: Thou shalt always include a Call To Action.
People that have read this far in the letter are going to be interested. Even if they have haven’t actually read, it’s not uncommon for people to skip straight to the Call To Action (CTA) to see what the offer is, and that’s OK.
Notice that my CTA is clear and concise, succinctly reiterates the primary benefit, and tells them exactly what to do: “…visit this web site”. You have to be that explicit in your call to action. Tell people exactly what to expect, and exactly what to do, in order to obtain the benefit you’re offering them.
Notice that I close out the letter with a reiteration of how I’m going to help them even if they don’t hire me. It circles back to the solution offered in the headline, and also reiterates the offer in a special way: With a call for urgency. Anything you can do to introduce a sense of urgency or scarcity in your offer will increase response rates. Most of the time, these scarcity tactics are completely legit: We all only have so much time in our day to provide free consulting time to our prospects. For other types of offers, we also only have a finite number of book copies in inventory, or a limited total client capacity, etc.
I hope that this walk through a successful tax resolution marketing letter helps to clarify the process that goes into creating a marketing piece. While it may seem like a simple letter, the fact is that it took weeks just to write the first version, and over six months and thousands upon thousands of dollars in testing to test it and tweak it into a successful version.
Here’s the even bigger secret: I didn’t start from scratch. Nope, not at all. I actually started with a template letter from a mortgage company that was in the same marketing coaching program I was in. The photo placement, headline pattern, and general flow from paragraph to paragraph were lifted directly from that mortgage company sales letter. But even then, it still took a few weeks to actually write my own rendition.
To help you get your own head start on creating your direct mail control piece, Premium members can download a Word document of my letter below.