A tale of 2 young men. Known also as the wall street journal sales letter…
What has a story about these 2 fine gentlemen got to do with marketing people from freelance copywriters to professional agencies today?
Nothing much actually… except that it was a 2-page letter which brought in over $2 Billion dollars of sales for the Wall Street Journal publication over a period of almost 30 years. With very little edits during its run. This is why it is continuously used and referenced against. And to a certain extent… it’s the goal of any copywriter. To create a control that can withstand the ultimate test… time.
But what made this letter great?
Interestingly, it is believed that its writer, the late Martin Conroy, actually swiped the idea from older ads. In fact, doesn’t this title sound familiar?
A Tale of 2 Cities.
The famous novel by Charles Dickens.
And that’s the beauty about sales letters… many of the ideas doesn’t have to be original. You can take existing ideas and convert it into a powerful and persuasive message. First you need to understand the sales concept.
So let’s dive into this copy.
A Captivating Story Lead-in
Read this amazing lead and think about what made it so popular:
Notice how the story is easily relatable. Most people have been through college, especially in Singapore. So as a graduate, you’ll immediately relate with the 2 characters Martin was writing about. It is true that as a young graduate, you’ll naturally believe you can accomplish anything. Yet the reality tend to prove otherwise. Which our heroes discovered 25 years later.
And that’s where the story gets interesting…
Despite the years that have passed, both of them were still very similar. Then the twist comes in…
One of them was working for the other. This naturally raises the question which they posed as their first sub-heading…
At this point, his reader is thinking… there must be something one of them did differently to achieve this result. And he agrees with them. The 1 single difference was a subscription to the Journal.
But what made it so powerful?
Copywriting Ninja Art: Transmutation
Again he uses another copywriting technique known as transmutation. Take a look:
Notice how you aren’t just subscribing to another publication? Instead what you’re purchasing is knowledge. That’s what buying. And not just any knowledge, but the knowledge of some of the most successful people. This is why they’re all successful and it is possibly the reason why you’ll be successful as well.
A common sales mistake many marketers make (both offline and online) is to promote the features of their product. They fail to help their audience visualise the many benefits they’ll be receiving. This is where great salesman understand the power of perceived value. Especially before the close.
A Fantastic Offer You Can’t Get Anywhere Else
Ask anyone who practices direct response copywriting and they’ll tell you the most important part of a copy is your offer. You could have a weak copy that isn’t persuasive but if you have a strong offer… people will still buy from you. This is where using a technique like transmutation will drive up your value. Your audience will be hungry for your offer even before you mention your price. Once you’ve done that… as Martin Convoy did here… you can bring in the price.
Here again another secret technique was used. He had just closed a loop. Throughout the copy, he had been implying the reason for the president’s success. You may have also started to come to your own conclusion. But he never did state the reason. Until now. Here he confirmed that the secret to success was knowledge. That is why he succeeded and became a president of the company.
Injecting a Disclaimer
There is a risk to using this technique. You may paint a picture where your audience expects a little too much. So you need to manage their expectations. Here’s what he did in this copy:
Final note about the Wall Street Journal Sales Letter
As you search for this copy online, you’ll find some variations to the copy. As with any letter, the writer will do split-test to fight the control. This copy wasn’t any different. However, after years of testing, the control beat many other variations that came after it. This is why it ran continuously for many years before finally retiring in 2003.
That’s the true mark of a great sales letter.
If you’re interested to read another review of this copy, Mike Schauer from SwipedCo, did a great job analysing the copy. And you can even download a pdf version on his page.