The Rober Collier Letter Book: Master Copywriter (My Top Lessons and Insights)

This book was one of the two books recommended within the Halbert Letters. Gary Halbert, one of the top copy writers of all time wrote a series of letters from jail to his son. There is a lot of gold in those pages therefore I picked up this book right away.

In the day and age this book was written the primary ways of selling to customers was through catalogs, direct mail letters and advertising. These days e-mails play the same role as letters used to so I look at all the advice he gave through that filter.

First, “It’s a matter of bait.”

Ask “What is the bait that will tempt your reader? How can you tie up the thing you have to offer with that bait?”

Collier simmers it down to this:

“The reader of this letter wants certain things. The desire for them is, consciously or unconsciously, the dominant idea in his mind all the time.

You want him to do a certain definite thing for you. How can you tie this up to the thing he wants, in such a way that the doing of it will bring him a step nearer to his goal?”

When you try to sell a prospect something, you want him to do something for you.

“Why should he? Only because of the hope that the doing of it will bring him nearer his heart’s desire, or the fear that his failure to do it will remove that heart’s desire farther from him.”

In order to succeed you have to put yourself in his place.

Imagine being in a discussion with your friend. A stranger comes, slaps you on the back and says “Hey buddy. I have an seo service I want to sell you.” What is your reaction? Do you allow him to go over all of the benefits of his service or do you tell him to get out of your face and beat it?

Well, much the same thing happens when you e-mail a person these days. He is deep in thought over ways and means of getting certain things that mean a great deal to him. You interrupt and tell him to forget all of these things so that now he can listen to your offer instead. It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out why he might get angry and quickly type up a nasty response.

The Collier approach is to listen in for a while, get the trend of the conversation and when you chime in, remark on some related subject, and from that bring the talk around logically to the point you wanted to discuss.

He states, “There are certain prime human emotions with which the thoughts of all of us are occupied a goodly part of the time. Tune in on them, and you have your reader’s attention. Tie it up to the thing you have to offer, and you are sure of his interest.”

I believe he is making a case for talking with your customers and figuring out what they want, how they see things and what pre-occupies their minds most of the time. Although he never does go in depth into how he figures these prime human emotions out he does give some great insight so keep reading.

Here’s a site that outlines all of the primary, secondary, and tertiary emotions.

List of Emotions

Let’s dig deeper into that initial approach.

You see, your prospect glancing over his emails is much like a person driving down the highway. Something might catch his eye and he turns to get a better look.  You have his attention. But that attention alone gets you nowhere. The bait must pass closer inspection, it must perk his interest, otherwise you lose him – and once you do, it will be twice as hard to get his attention the second time. Especially if the second approach is similar to the first.

Emails are no longer objects of interest. In the old days anytime you got mail it was a novelty. We are very far gone from those days. Now the bait must look a bit different from bait he has nibbled at and been fooled by before. It must have a headline that stands out or it goes into the trash.

“Your problem then, is to find a point of contact with his interests, his desires, some feature that will flag his attention and make your letter stand out from all others the moment he reads the first line.”

Do not yell “fire” or perform a bait-and-switch. This might get the prospect’s attention but not the kind you want.

“Study your reader. Find out what interests him. Then study your proposition to see how it can be made to tie in with that interest. “

Look at the following example and see how Collier was able to get under the skin of a farther of a younger boy.

“Your boy is a little shaver now. He thinks you are the most wonderful man in the world. You can fix his boat, mend his velocipede, and tell him wonderful stories.

But it will be only ten or twelve years until he goes to College. The fathers of the other boys – his chums – will go to see them. There will be a Railroad President, perhaps; a great Banker; a Governor.

And you will go; and your boy will say, “This is my father, boys.”

How will he feel when he says it? Will he be proud of you?”

If you would like to see many more examples get the book.

This starts before you type the first word of your sales letter.

“Decide in your own mind what effect you want to produce on your reader – what feeling you must arouse in him.”

Use catch phrases and attention grabbers if you would like your reader to say: “What a clever speaker!”

In order to get them to forget about you and focus on the message, then your whole effort must be centered on arousing the feeling of “Let’s go!” in them.

Every successful letter and every closed sales is backed up by this feeling arousal that compels the buyer to do what you want them to. It is the letter’s entire purpose.

How are you to arouse that feeling in him?

How would you have to feel yourself before you said yes to this type of an offer, before you sent a payment to this company instead of all others at a time when it is so hard to trust anyone who is sending you cold or unwanted pitches?

What would you want to know first?

What about the offer would interest you most?

What would you feel you had to gain by accepting?

What would you lose by refusing?

The Parisians have this formula for love letters: “Begin without knowing what you are going to say, and end without knowing what you have said.”

This might work for love letters but is not meant to work for business. Although I bet they did know how to arouse strong emotions in the recipients of these letter. They definitely had their “why” figured out.

Collier adds, “When you come down to it, isn’t the prime requisite arousing the feeling in your reader that he must have the thing you are offering, or that he cannot rest until he has done the thing you are urging him to?

He shows an example of two letters selling the same product. One only moderately successful and the other one very successful.

The moderately successful one follows all the rules. It won attention, created interest, described with it had to offer, had an argument, conviction and a clincher. Yet it didn’t do so well.

Why is that? What made the second letter so much better?

It is because the first letter was aimed only at the logic and intellect of the reader. While the second, although it tried to convince the reader, aimed its real appeal at the emotions!

And when it is action you want, go after the emotions every time!

There are a couple of elements that I found throughout most of his letters. There are hundreds of them in this book. He sold anything from books to fragrance to briefcases to coats.

Collier sums it up as follows:

  1. The opening (get reader’s attention)
  2. The description or explanation (help visualize)
  3. The motive or reason why (use right angle)
  4. The proof or guarantee (establish confidence)
  5. The snapper or penalty (hold pain over his head)
  6. The close (tell what to do and how to do it)

The following are my insights from reading a couple hundred of his letters.

Some of the letters smell a bit of “The Secret”.  He liked to say that there’s a “life principal”, “law of attraction” or some other deep understanding in the books that will help you understand the laws of the universe and work in harmony with them to get what you want.

Almost every time he would mention that this the last chance to get a low price, or something is super limited in availability or the promotion is simply out of this world (with a solid reasoning behind why that is).

Every single product offered could be sent back for a complete refund. Basically try it before you buy it.

The inner conversation of the prospect and primary motives help decide on which angle to take. Much more on this as we move ahead.

The reader was always told to take action immediately. “Not tomorrow, nor after lunch – for things to be done after lunch are frequently not done at all – but now, while this letter is before you, pencil your name and address on the enclosed card and drop it in the mail. “

Robert would always sprinkle testimonials towards the end of the letter. His most brilliant move was to use people who lived in the same town. These were not always direct endorsements and did not always turn out well. For example: Bob Baker in your town has bought the same bag and loves it. Problem is, Bob didn’t know he was a part of the campaign. Free examinations and trials work well as an add-on.

Catch-phrases that go before or after the headline to help gain interest. Such as “If This Happened on Your Wedding Night”, “And they said we wouldn’t fight!” or “If the damned fools only knew!”. They are very similar to click-bait titles used by the media to get you to click over to their content.

Build pictures with words. Skip the firstlys and secondlys and thirdlys unless you want to put the reader to sleep. After you grab their attention, the next job is to make them visualize your idea so clearly that they can see it as the missing piece that completes the puzzle. The secret is to take something familiar that the reader already understands, begin adding a point of interest here and there and building until the entire picture is complete. Most sales are lost because the writer does not know how to do this. If they see the offer as you see it, now you’re both on the same page and the sale process can move forward. If you want to describe your offering, weave it into the story. “If it’s mustard tell them how the girl planned a picnic lunch; of the loving care that went into every bit of it; the touch of this; the flavor of that; the delicious ham; the savory mustard; and then how the boy forgot them all just in the delight of being with her.

Insert a fear that he will lose something worthwhile if he does not do as you say. Be definitive and specific. Goes into the last paragraph.

It has two parts. First part persuades and shows the gain he will get by ordering along with the penalty for delay. Second is where you tell him exactly what he needs to do next. Emphasize the guarantee and minimize the cost.

Let’s look closely at the thought process.

Here’s a description of an ideal wedding from an older newspaper: “Fake a beautiful heiress and have her elope with the chauffer. Let the irate father pursue with a shot-gun and a high powered car. Throw in a smash-up, a heroic rescue and a nip-and-tuck finish – and you have the ideal situation dear to tabloid readers.”

His advice to the writers was to go to each wedding with in mind, find as many dramatic elements in the situation as possible, and write a story around that.

Similar thought process can be used when writing copy.

First, put yourself in the place of your prospective customer.

“Think of every property you could possibly desire in such a product or service. Think of everything you would like to have it do for you. Work out the ultimate ideal, then write a letter that stresse3s every desirable point of that ideal product.”

Once you have written your perfect letter… let it sit for a day.

Then go over it and cross out every descriptive phrase and adjective that cannot honestly be applied to your product. You will be surprised at how much is still left. More than enough to create an image in the mind of the customer that will push him towards ordering.

Your job is to build a picture of what this product of service will do for him.

“Build it with bricks he can handle, i.e., with words and mental images that are familiar to him. Do not exaggerate – or he will refuse to believe in it and kick the whole structure over disgustedly, like a child trying to build with blocks a house that will not come out right. But keep it attractive. Keep it desirable – more desirable far than the money or the time or the trouble it takes to build it.”

Do not make the mistake of giving all of the features and benefits of the product. Find the one point that will carry the sale and hang and build your copy around that.

“Let that be the focal point of your mental image, your picture, and let every word in it be a brush stroke that adds clearness and power to that one focal point.”

Use the other points in the follow up.

“The purpose of a sales letter is to put ideas into the reader’s head, so be careful not to put in negative ones that you will have to take out again before you can make a sale.”

The best speakers and performers are the ones who can get you riled up. Stir up the emotions. Logic is a losing man’s game. Tabloids outsell newspapers although if you surveyed the nation… no one ever reads them.

Robert gives an example of religion. In order to convert the masses it doesn’t not appeal to the intellect but to emotion.

So even though you’re not trying to start a new religion, you are making an attempt to convince your customer to perform an action. For that, you need to arouse an emotion in the reader.

“You may convince his intellect that the thing you want him to do is right and is for his best advantage, but until you arouse in him an urgent desire to do it, until you make him feel that whatever effort it requires is of no account compared with the satisfaction it will bring him, you letter is lacking in its most important essential. It may have everything else, but if it lacks that faculty of arousing the right feeling, you might as well throw it away. It will never make you money.”

Describing the contents and/or benefits of your product/service is not enough.

People buy based on the primary emotions which we spoke about earlier in the article.

The only reason why we appeal to reason is so that after the purchase the buyer can justify it to himself and his friends or family.

Have you ever caught yourself in the vicious social loop. You check your, email, FB, Twitter, Instagram and then start again and again.

We all love new things. It gives us that quick high and is the reason why social media can become so addictive.

In Roberts’ words: “Tell a man something new and you have his attention. Give it a personal twist or show its relation to his business and you have his interest.”

This works for everyone.

Your best bet is to study who you are selling to and present first the side of the story that will interest him most.

Here are a few examples Collier used:

  • “When the Rattlesnake Struck!”
  • “Will a Yellow King Rule the World?”
  • “What is the Unpardonable Sin in all Nature?”

The rest of the sales copy must be interesting enough to get the reader to read until the end.

For landing pages I use a service called Hot Jar. It has a free version and apart from the heat maps you can see where on the page the visitors drop off.

The best way to accomplish this is to join the mental conversation the prospect is having. Insert a piece of news that will grab his attention and bring that back by showing how your offer can help or solve whatever issue is on his mind.

This will divert their minds from their current affairs or to do list and make them susceptible to act out of emotion and make an impulse purchase.

If the purchase is impulsive then you will have to speak to reason upon ‘delivery’ or during the ‘thank you for your purchase’ part of the sales cycle. That will help them feel that they made the right decision from the start.

Examples of openings that lead logically to a description of an offer:

  1. What is the eternal questions which stands up and looks you and every sincere man squarely in the eye every morning?“How can I better my condition?”That is the real life question which confronts you, and will haunt you every day till you solve it. Read carefully the enclosed booklet…
  2. If you are tired of a salaried job, if you want to get into a big-paying, independent business of your own, I have a proposition that will interest you.
  3. If you expenses were doubled tomorrow, could you meet them – without running heavily into debt? If you had to have more money on which to live – to support those dependent on upon you – could you make it?You could if you had the training afforded by our Course. It has doubled other men’s salaries. It can do the same for you.
  4. For 20 years I was an exile, shunned by people on every hand, unwanted in the business world, impossible socially, a mental and physical wreck, a failure at everything. I was despondent, almost devoid of hope. Life to me was a burden.And then I learned to talk! (And so on with description of a course to cure…)
  5. Suppose a good job were open where you work. Could you fill it? Could you jump right in and make good, or would the boss have to pass you up because you lacked training?The man who is offered the big job is the man who has trained himself to hold it before it is offered to him.

Don’t take chances on being promoted. Don’t gamble on making good when your opportunity comes. If you want a big job that carries responsibility and pays good money, get ready for it! Pick out the job you want in the work you like best. Then start right now to get, through the (your course or school) , the training that will prepare you to hold it.

Another way to open is via the use of the “favor”.

The people we feel most kindly towards is the one we have just done a favor for.

“Will you do me a favor?”

I’ve put in a lot of work in this article so please read the next section and let me know what you think.

Thanks in advance.

The six prime motives of human action:

  • Love (trumps all else but most difficult to work into a sales page)
  • Gain (easy but might resent you later if it didn’t fulfill all his wishes)
  • Duty
  • Pride (best reinforced with bit of self-indulgence, love from spouse/family, and a large dash of gain)
  • Self-indulgence
  • Self-preservation

People are soft robots. They can be pushed, pulled and programmed. This happens by their own internal motive but you are the gasoline.

Persuasion is nothing more than finding a motive that will cause the reader to act as you wish. Once you find the right motive, you need to stir it until it is stronger than his defense mechanism or usual purchasing habits.

A rookie copy writers select the arguments closest at hand.

The professional asks the following types of questions:

  • Would you be richer, healthier, happier for having done the thing you ask?
  • Would it help your standing with others?
  • Would it enable you do anything, write anything, say anything better than you could before?
  • Is it something everyone should have?
  • Would it gratify a passion?
  • Would it enable you to help those you love?
  • Would it prevent the loss of money or the respect of others?

These questions allow you to show how the prospect will benefit by putting yourself in his place.

Descriptions are necessary but they will not sell without showing what it will do for the user.

Words of caution.

A person’s motive that makes him desire a thing and a motive that makes him take an action you want are not always the same. He might not want to pay his bills, need the money for something else and want to keep all the money to himself. If you can sell him on the idea that his credit score is more important than what he naturally wants… then you found the right motive and he will do what you want him to.

You grabbed the prospect’s attention, aroused his interest and persuaded him enough to want what you’re offering.

Now look for some preliminary task to satisfy that urge.

It could be a demo, test drive, trial or anything else that is easier to complete than turning back. Have them think they don’t have to make a decision and that nothing is final. He wants to think it over and hates to commit himself. Fine. Humor him.

This does require some salesmanship.

Here’s Collier’s example of someone who sells luxury yachts. Once a new model is ready for testing Mr. Prospect gets a special delivery letter in the mail along these lines:

“New Asterbilt yacht ready for trial spin next Thursday, the 10th. Mr. Asterbilt is making up special party for a few pleasant hours on Sound and begs that you and Mrs. Prospect will honor him. Boat leaves Yacht Club dock at ten sharp. R.S.V.R”

Once on the boat they are shown every part of it. They are allowed to get behind the wheel and imagine all that they could do with it. At some point an official shows up with a picture of a new boat that they are building for Mr. Customer and told that some other customers might have other preferences and these can be customized. Once the person mentions what they want the official would say “isn’t that peculiar, but we have a boat in the building with those very features. Here are the plans.” Next thing you Mr. Prospect is now Mr. Customer soon to take his friends out on his own trip.

People can buy things wherever they want to.

Your offer needs to:

  1. Convince that the value of buying from you is greater than from a competitor.
  2. Make it easier to buy than from a competitor.

Also always tell them to decide now. Not tomorrow or some other time. This is why you need to set the preliminary task and that should carry the final sale.

Instead of a low price always aim for high value. When you do undercut a competitor give a convincing reason as to why you were able to beat their price. Mere reductions are not enough. You must have a logical reason why our price is low in order for it to be effective.

Make it convincing.

Back it up with points, show the buyer that despite the low price he is getting every feature of a quality product or service.

In every business, the first sale is the hardest. The rest come easily.

When one product was going best was always the time we were testing most assiduously to find something else to take its place when it was sold out.

You don’t sell merchandise. You sell ideas. A fundamentally good (and psychologically sound) idea will sell any good or service if properly adapted to them.

The adapting is the job.

Copying a best-selling sales page or letter is a mistake made by many writers. Words count for very little. It is the image that they evoke that counts. It would seem that if you can tie in with what people are thinking about and interested in, you can sell anything.

When making your offer go with one service or product at a time. If you offer one article you will get twice as many orders as if you offered a choice of two or more articles!

“For the fascinating thing about this selling by mail – the thing that makes it impossible for any man or set of men to know all about it – is that it is continually changing. What you learn today you must unlearn tomorrow. You have to keep trying – and testing – and then just when you reach the point where you can arise and state with authority: “ This you can do, that you cannot,” along comes some darned fool who knows none of the rules and sells a million on the very plan you just said could not be worked!”

The follow up should be done within 10 days while the prospect’s hot.

The purpose of it is to crystallize the interest the person has shown, into the action necessary to make a purchase. Come up with six or seven types of bait and try a different one each time. That gives you the greatest number of chances of getting them to buy and that is the whole purpose of a follow-up.

Anytime you sell anything with an installment plan some people will have a hard time making those payments.

The most successful formula is as follows:

  1. Appeal to their pride and ideals
  2. Ruffle them up with a threatening letter
  3. Smooth them over with something uplifting or inspirational
  4. Send an ever more aggressive letter
  5. Smooth over again with persuasion
  6. Alternate until you get every cent out that is humanly possible

You will win more by being nice than an asshole. Often the idea of a threat works much better than actual action… but only if they do not call it a bluff.

Buy The Robert Collier Letter Book

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