The Boron Letters by Gary Halbert is a collection of 25 letters written in the ’80s by legendary copywriter Gary Halbert to his youngest son Bond Halbert. Gary was at a federal prison called Boron at the time hence the title The Boron Letters.
Since the book (letters) was written in the ’80s, Gary talked a lot about mail order and direct mail, so the book is outdated in that sense—Bond wrote an update after each letter to make it relevant for the digital age. However, you’ll find that the advice still applies since the medium doesn’t matter; Gary dealt with topics such as choosing a hot market, creating a good product, crafting an irresistible offer, testing and analyzing, all of which still matter and will continue to do so.
With all that said, I’m not really sure why everyone seems to rave about this book. Yes, I get that Gary was one of the best in the industry, but most of the advice in these letters is common knowledge by now. I would say that I actually liked his life advice and prison stories more than the copywriting advice.
The following summary of The Boron Letters by Gary Halbert is meant to be concise, reminding me of high-level concepts and not trying to recreate the whole book. This summary is basically a bunch of notes and lessons paraphrased or quoted directly from the book and does not contain my own thoughts.
• Road work is walking, jogging and running. And, in my opinion, you should do about one hour of road work every day of the week except Sunday. I believe the best time to do your road work is right after you get out of bed.
• The best groove to get into is get out of bed, (early) wash your face, brush your teeth, use the bathroom, etc., and then, eat a piece of fruit (I think a banana is the best) and then hit the street! That’s it. Just get out that front door and start moving. Walk, run, jog. Keep moving for about 1/2 hour and then turn around and come back. You know, I really do believe this is the very best way in the world to start the day.
• Another little side note is my father felt people worked better hungry which is why he didn’t go for big breakfasts.
• Try things at least twice. Just the second attempt at anything hard will be much easier. Not a little bit but by a lot. It is true of almost everything, not just sports.
• All first attempts are sloppy and lame. Most people will quit after their first experience with things that don’t go so well, but if you are like my pop and me, then you know that the first attempt is almost destined to fail.
You will learn enough to get a better assessment of the whole picture and what it will really take to attain a goal on your second attempt. Just that much more effort will propel you ahead of 95% of everyone walking the earth.
• As people get older, they start to decide whether they like stuff based on their first experience. Maybe you can’t teach an old dog new tricks simply because if he doesn’t get it the first time, he gives up.
• Everyone wants to climb the mountain, but the big difference between those at the top and those still on the bottom is simply a matter of showing up tomorrow to give it just one more shot.
• I really think it would be good for you to fast one full day each week. When you fast, you begin to normalize your body functions and also, you develop a certain self-discipline that will help you in most other areas of your life.
• You should do very little (or no) athletic exercise on the days that you fast. You see, your “Fast Day” is the day you set aside to give your mind and body a rest. You don’t have to stay in bed all day or anything like that, but you really should take it easy both physically and mentally.
• I think you should do road work every morning to more or less “order your day” and fast every week in order to “order your week”.
• I believe that everybody who says breakfast is the most important meal of the day is dead wrong. In my opinion, all you should eat before lunch is a couple pieces of fruit.
• After your road work, in my judgment, what you should do is take a shower, clean up, and get dressed and get your day started. And then, sometime after that, before lunch, you should eat another piece of fruit.
Actually, you should eat three pieces of fruit every day (except when you fast) and I think you can’t miss with a banana, an apple or an orange. This way, you will get your potassium, your vitamin (and something called pectin, all of which is very good for you!).
• There is no justice. There is only power.
• In life, everyone must learn to deal with unnecessary grief from other people, but sometimes you are faced with a jerk who has the balance of power in their favor and the only way to survive, especially with your pride intact, is to develop a mental toughness as a form of mental armor and once you do…. that attitude is always there when you really need it.
• Most of the people in the world are nay-sayers. They say it is too hard to quit smoking or it is too tough to get rich or you will never make it. When it comes to accomplishing things, most people fail to even try.
There is no benefit in dealing with people who have nothing but negative things to say. When that someone amounts to just about everyone, just keep it to yourself.
• Sometimes there is no use wasting time and energy fighting established beliefs by arguing, and it is better to just silently go about proving or accomplishing your goal.
• What else should your daily diet consist of? Well, for one thing, you should eat a lot of vegetables. What I suggest is that you get yourself some kind of baggie or plastic container and every night before you go to sleep, I suggest you cut up a bunch of new veggies and put them in the container and then put the container in the refrigerator. Then, in the morning, when you are ready to leave the house, you can grab your raw veggies and take them with you to munch on them all day.
• By the way, don’t listen to all that garbage that says you should not eat between meals. You should eat between meals. In fact, six small meals is a lot better than three big ones.
Actually, what is best is to have a little nibble whenever you get hungry. And this is a good way to eat your vegetables. Just carry your container with you wherever you go and eat some whenever you get hungry.
• Don’t depend on your mother or anybody else to buy or cut up your vegetables for you. You should, instead, develop a tough independent attitude. You see, when you depend on others you give yourself an excuse for failure. “It’s not my fault if she forgot to buy my vegetables.” And so on. Don’t set yourself up like this. Depend on yourself.
• Well, one thing else I think you should do is to drink one large glass of non-fat milk every day. This will give you your calcium, some protein, and some other good stuff.
• You should also have at least one serving of some kind of lean meat or fowl. Hamburgers are fine too.
• Go easy on eggs. Two or three a week is plenty. They contain a lot of cholesterol and that’s the stuff (along with fats) that can clog up your arteries.
• Concentrate on developing your arms. All you really have to do are presses and curls. You know, I don’t think it is desirable to have a body builder’s body. Women, in general, are not attracted to to the exaggerated development of bodybuilders, and I personally don’t like this type of physique either.
• I do think it is a good idea to spend enough time to develop strong muscular arms. There are two reasons for this. First, of all, it is useful to be strong. Secondly, I think women are attracted to lean, hard men with strong muscular arms. And, thirdly, from a prison point of view, just having big arms can keep you out of a lot of trouble
• When most people tell others of any plan to make money, they are met with instant negativity. Once you set out to actually do something which may elevate your status many people will tell you it can’t be done, it isn’t worth it, or remind you of all the pitfalls they can think of.
• The idea of you getting rich makes most people around you feel sick!
• Most people judge how well they have done in life by comparing themselves to their peers and if one of their peers has become a multi-millionaire and could retire young and rich, then they will have to question their own choices.
• There is an irrational hatred of the rich and it is born out of spite. Terms like “filthy rich” and “born with a silver spoon in the mouth” are not compliments. You can worry about that when you are rich, but for now you need to worry about all those people who want to stop you from becoming rich.
• Surround yourself with people who have similar goals or who have already become great successes. These people are almost always hungry for people to appreciate what they have accomplished and like to be recognized for more than the size of their bank account.
• Our schools teach people how to work within businesses, but never how to start a business. Is it better to teach your kids how to change oil in the car or how to write an ad to bring in business? It is almost as if we have all been trained to accept capitalism, but only as part of the workforce.
• It is vital that you never let the bastards get you down and in this case, the bastards are almost everyone you meet.
• Going over and over plans is a good way to make sure everyone is on the same page and to remember small things.
• Write down your goals and go over them every day and not just once a year.
• A fat, sloppy or skinny and weak body tends to broadcast to the world that the owner of that body is lacking self-respect.
• Here is something to remember: Defensive behavior invites aggressive action!
What that means is that in life in general (and in prison in particular) there is very little sympathy for a weakling.
• It is far better to rely on your own strength instead of somebody else’s compassion! And, to make the obvious point, you’ve obviously first got to have some strength in order to be able to rely on it.
• When you “get tough” not only does your appearance change; your “signals” change also. The way you move, the way you hold yourself, your reactions to outside stimuli – all of that changes.
• I don’t want you to become a fighter in the physical sense as much as I want you to become a “Fight Avoider”. And I want you to be able to avoid fights without losing your dignity. And one of the best ways to avoid fights (I know this sounds kind of silly!) is to have big arms.
• Everyone knows a good group of folks behind you can be really helpful. Look at men of average skills who attain lofty positions for no better reason than the other people who help them out.
• Most people think the hard part is finding positive people, but that isn’t true. Go to any learning Annex workshop with Trump speaking and you will find positive people with hope. No, the real trick is to cut out those that hold you back.
• A support system is like a garden and you always need to be on the lookout for weeds to pull.
• Carry yourself with confidence (not arrogance) in everything you do and people will respond in a good way.
• Self-reliance is the most satisfying thing in the world and it is important to know that often self-reliance is the real motive of great businessmen and not money.
• The #1 big secret to making money is to get involved in whatever excites you the most.
This is good advice. Money, in my opinion, especially big money, is most often a by-product of enthusiasm. If a person, secretly in his heart, wants to be an architect, he shouldn’t go into selling real estate, for example, just because he has heard that that is where the money is.
• The money is where the enthusiasm is. Please remember this! Remember it also, when, in the future, you need to hire someone. Always look for the most enthusiastic person, not necessarily the most qualified.
• When it comes to making money, attitude is the most important thing of all.
• The very first thing you must come to realize is that you must become a “student of markets”. Not products. Not techniques. Not copywriting. Not how to buy space or whatever. Now, of course, all of these things are important and you must learn about them, but, the first and the most important thing you must learn is what people want to buy.
• The way to deduce what people want to buy is to simply observe what they DO buy!
• Be careful. You want to know what people actually DO buy, not what they SAY they buy.
• If you want to be a top-notch marketing man, you have to know how it is. How it really is. Not how people (or you) wish it was or how they think it is. No. You must become a “student of reality”.
• How do you find out what people actually buy? And, more particularly, how do you find out what they buy via direct response? The “SRDS Direct Mail List Book”. Then what you should do is turn to the consumer lists section and just start reading. It will be quite an adventure. You should pay special attention to the numbers involved and the descriptions of the lists.
• Always pay special attention to the average unit of sale – the higher the better!
• The SRDS is still a great tool and has an online division but I’d like to make the case that space ads and direct mail pieces enjoy little competition and great pricing.
• With everyone looking for free exposure and JVs, it’s often the guys who invest actual money who make the big bucks and they don’t brag about it either.
• Constantly be on the lookout for groups of people (markets) who have demonstrated that they are starving (or at least hungry!) for some particular product or service.
• For a variety of reasons, many lists that should work don’t. Who knows why? It really doesn’t matter why. What matters is that a list is or is not responsive. And the best way to know what lists are hot is to have a good relationship with a good honest broker. In fact, if you have a good relationship with a good broker, one of the things he will do (because it is to his financial advantage) is to keep an eye out for hot lists that are likely to work for your offers.
• The best list of all is your own customer list! All other things being equal, your own customers should respond far better than any other list you can get.
Of course, there is one caveat. They must be satisfied customers!
• It’s true you can get decent gains by tweaking various aspects of your sales funnel and even though little changes can lead to big profits, nothing will add to your bottom line as fast as selling something new to your existing customers and sourcing new prospects.
• Having something to upsell customers will always beat trying to make your website look fresh and upgrading to 3d buy buttons. The numbers show little tweaks do make a difference but they show there is far more money in adding to your product line and creating backend offers.
• As another general rule, there are three main guidelines you can rely on when you are picking lists to test. These three guidelines are recency, frequency, and unit of sale:
- Recency: The more recently a person has purchased (by mail) something similar to what you are selling, the more receptive he will be to your offer. Get ’em while they’re hot! In fact, always check to see if the list you are interested in has “hotline buyers” and see if you can rent them before anybody else. Hotline buyers are the most recent buyers of all. Sometimes they will be 90-day hotline buyers or even 30-day hotline buyers. These names are extremely good prospects!
- Frequency: The more often a person buys a particular item, the higher his desire for that type of production service. It just makes sense. If you are selling a book on skin diving and you can find a list of people who have purchased several other books on skin diving, then you know he is interested in the subject and will be a likely prospect to buy your book.
- Unit of sale: A person who recently paid $100.00 for a bottle of diet pills is probably a hotter prospect for diet type products than a person who has only paid $10.00 for a bottle of diet pills.
• People don’t always put their money where their mouths are, but they do nearly always put out their money where their true desires are.
• Let’s discuss some other ways of finding out what people like to purchase by mail. In addition to mailing lists, there are a number of so-called “hot” mail order publications. These are the newspapers and magazines that mail order companies advertise in over and over. You should make it a point to discover what these publications are and get copies of them and become very familiar with them. You should pay attention to their editorial content and pay special attention to the mail order ads they carry.
• Part of the reason I am in so much demand is that I am so hard headed. Clients, although they would never admit it, most often feel relieved with someone who takes a “don’t you dare mess with my copy” attitude.
• Even the good guys have trouble living up to their agreements when it comes to money. That’s one of the reasons I try to structure my deeds so that I get paid often. When there is big money involved, it is very hard for the clients to write those checks. And, what really makes it hard for the client is that he usually believes that he doesn’t need you anymore since he already has the ad.
• Sell people what they want to buy!
• You want to be on the lookout for ads and direct mail pieces that you see over and over. What this means is that whoever is running the ad has hit a nerve. And, a good way for you to make money is for you to hit that same nerve, only do it better.
• The most important thing to do first is to locate those hot buttons. You don’t have to guess. You don’t have to wonder. You don’t have to ask people or take surveys. All you have to do is observe! Observe the ads that keep repeating. Observe the size of the mailing lists available for rental on different product areas. Observe the direct mail pieces that keep getting mailed out month after month and sometimes year after year.
• Many people have said my father could sell ice to Eskimos and it’s meant to be a compliment but, that is the exact opposite of what he preached. Gary Halbert felt the smartest marketers offer all the Eskimos a great deal on heaters!
• You should try to get paid as often as possible and spell out simple agreements via email. You could save a good relationship as well as a lot of money.
• If you halt your forward progress every time you get a little tired or irritable or whatever; then you are suffering from a lack of discipline. On the other hand, if you keep pushing when you are chronically tired or really sick, then you are a fool. A lot of men do this because of a misplaced sense of macho. It’s not macho, it’s stupid.
• What I do when I don’t feel like working, is that I start working anyway and I pay attention to what signals my brain and body is sending me. Then, after working a while, if I honestly do start to feel worse I will stop and quit. However, if I just feel a little bit crummy I keep on plugging along.
• Most of the world’s work is done by people who didn’t feel much like getting out of bed.
• All of us, including thee and me, have a slightly shrewd idea of ourselves. We often try to convince others and ourselves that we are something we are not, something we have an idea we “should” be. Therefore, truth, my good son, can be determined not by how people use their mouth but rather how they use their wallet.
• Be skeptical of what people say. Be skeptical of surveys. Of questionnaires. Instead, believe in numbers. For example, if everybody you talk with says they like plays more than movies and yet the numbers say that 10,000 times more people buy movie tickets then you believe the numbers!
• Keep reading the “SRDS” book. Keep looking at hot mail order publications and repeat mail order ads. Get yourself on as many mail order lists as possible. (Get a P.O. Box.) Watch the offers you receive. Anything you are going to buy anyway, and you can purchase by mail – do so.
• It has long been my belief that a lot of money can be made by making offers to people who are at an emotional turning point in their lives. For example, when they have just had a baby, just gotten married, just lost a loved one, just gotten a raise, just filed bankruptcy, just purchased a new car, and so on.
• The ability to recognize reality apart from what people say is key to really understanding your prospects and how to turn them into customers.
• After the initial copy dump where I pound out all my thoughts for a sales letter on a keyboard, I re-read whatever I wrote and apply the so what test.
• From now on, a good part of your working life should be spent reading the “SRDS” list book and newspapers and magazines that carry a lot of MO advertising.
• As a general rule, the more “custom tailored” your promotion is the more successful it will be.
• When you get stuck or emotionally jammed up, one of the ways to get yourself unclogged and flowing again is just to keep moving. Run. Walk. Jog. Write. Do the dishes. Or whatever. But don’t sit around waiting for a flash from Heaven.
• Here’s how to create a DM promotion from scratch:
- Step 1: Keep going through the “SRDS” book and looking at lists until you find one that you want to try to work.
- Step 2: Let’s pretend you have chosen a list of people who have bought a book on how to make money in real estate. Now what you need to do is get three or four hot books in investing in real estate and read them and take notes.
- Step 3: OK now, you should get as many DM pieces and space ads on real estate investing you can find. Read these and take notes.
- Step 4: By now ideas will be churning around in your mind because you have fed your brain a lot of good stuff to work with. What you do at this point is go back and review your notes from “The Robert Collier Letter Book” and “Scientific Advertising” and read those headlines again.
By now, I can almost guarantee that a central selling idea will have emerged from your cunning little mind.
Now, I don’t know what that idea will be but let’s say you have figured out how to personalize and customize your real estate investment offer. And now, let’s say your idea is to promise your potential customer that you are going to tell him how to buy real estate in his area with no money down. Then, your letter might start something like this:
Dear Mr. X,
Did you know that there is now a way to buy L.A. real estate without making any down payment whatsoever? Etc., etc., blah, blah, blah.
Of course, that first sentence will be customized for every customer depending on where he lives. Note: In this example, I am assuming we are using computer letters. So, anyway, the letters would say “to buy L.A. real estate” or “to buy Detroit real estate” or “to buy Key West real estate”, etc.
Let’s examine a way to “double customize” this offer. Let’s say we have found a list of people in a specific occupation who like to invest such as cardiologists for example. Now, let’s start our letter like this:
Dear Dr. X,
Did you know that there is now a way for a cardiologist to buy L.A. real estate without making any down payment whatsoever? Etc., etc., blah, blah, blah.
Bullseye! O.K. Now we’ve got the list picked out, we’ve got an idea for a product and we’ve got our central selling idea and we are now ready for:
- Step 5: What you do at this point is create your product and here is how you do it. First, you go back to those books on real estate investing and you extract in outline form all the good ideas in these books. Then you pick out the best of the ideas and overlay them with the ideas you will have by now come up with yourself. Next, you arrange these ideas in some logical form and you start writing. Please remember, what we are creating here is a report, not a book. I figure it should be something like 100 typewritten pages.
Now, please remember this: If you do this properly you will have created something of considerable value. After all, what you will have done (hopefully) is taken a few good books on real estate investing and stripped away the garbage and created a tight informative roadmap to real estate riches. Hey, how about that? Didn’t I tell you that if you just keep flowing that something of value will emerge? Just look at what has just slipped out of my mind! Did you catch it?
The Amazing L.A. Roadmap To Real Estate Riches!
Not bad, eh? Now, we’ve got the title for our report!
• With ebooks and the explosion in self-publishing it is much harder to stand out and this is where just a little work pays off big.
The market is saturated with information products merely rephrasing what most of the industry leaders say but… A little originality goes a long way in promoting your info products and is very easy to come by.
In fact, it’s nearly impossible to go through any learning curve and not wish you had known something right from the start or discovered a slightly better way of doing something.
These original ideas become your unique solution or hook!
• To peruse markets, I’d also suggest Clickbank, Amazon, The New York Times Non-Fiction Best Sellers list, but only pay attention to what stays on top without being free!!
There are a lot of $1 best sellers and people who climbed the ranks for a day or two by switching the book to free and then turning it back to charging.
These places will let you know what info markets are hot and sometimes you can see cross-over ideas others don’t because they are married to one subject.
• It is easier than ever to make money working with subjects you love because it is so much easier to target a lot of customers into very odd or strange things.
If your true passion in life was only shared with 1% of the people you run into. The USA alone has an estimated 315,000,000 people and 1% would leave you 3.15 million potential customers.
Let’s suppose you are into something really whack and only 1 in 1,000 people would buy your product. No, let’s pretend you are so vile and deviant only 1 in 10,000 people feel the same desire.
That’s still a potential pool of 31,500 people with the same crazy thinking you have and that’s just in the USA.
In fact, I bet it will be hard to find competition in such a highly-targeted and bizarre subject which means it will be even easier for you to dominate that market and finding those customers is easier than ever so work with a subject you love.
• To create the DM promotion, the first thing we are going to discuss is the outside envelope. This is where most mailers mess up first. What most mailers do is put so-called “teaser copy” on the outside envelope and, in general, design the envelope so that it is very obvious that it contains a sales pitch.
• It is my contention that everybody divides their mail every day into two piles. An “A-Pile” and a “B-Pile”. The “A” pile contains letters that appear to be personal. Like letters from friends, relatives, business associates, and so on.
On the other hand, the “B” pile contains those envelopes that, like the example above, obviously, contain a commercial message.
• Everybody always opens all of their “A” pile mail. And, for obvious reasons. After all, everybody wants to read their personal mail.
What happens to the “B” pile mail? Does it always get opened? No. It doesn’t. Sometimes it is thrown away immediately without the envelope ever being opened. Sometimes, if it looks interesting, “B” pile envelopes will be set aside for later examination. And, of course, sometimes… if the envelope looks interesting, or if the person receiving it has some idle time, or if the person is bored and has nothing else to do, then, maybe the “B” pile envelopes will be opened.
• Quite obviously, people aren’t getting to order from you unless they read your promotion and, also, quite obviously, they can’t read your promotion unless they open the envelope. And so, your first objective here, as you begin to design your DM promotion is to get your envelope into the “A” pile.
All you have to do is make the envelope look personal. (Or at least you will take pains so it doesn’t look commercial.)
• We must now get our potential customer to begin reading our sales letter.
How do we do that? Well, let’s start by getting his attention. And intriguing the heck out of him right from the start. Let’s try this: Let’s get a little plastic baggie and put some dirt in it and then attach it to the top of our letter.
• Here is what the letter will look like:
• That little baggie filled with dirt just sort of reaches right out and grabs you, doesn’t it?
If you received this letter, wouldn’t you be wondering, “What’s in this baggie?” “Is that dirt in there?” “Why would somebody be sending me a baggie of dirt?”
And, consciously or unconsciously, you would be thinking, “I better read this and find out what it is all about.”
And, you see, we now have not only captured our reader’s attention, but we have also gotten his “focused” attention.
• It’s better to be in the spam box of a primary email address than to be in the primary box of a spam email address!
• Worry about getting a good address before worrying about deliverability and what words will get you labeled as spam.
• I want to comment on the part above the salutation, the part that tells the day of the week, the exact time, the day of the month and the year. Why is it important to put these specifics in the letter?
Well, it makes the letter a little more personal. I think this way of doing things bonds the writer and the reader closer together. It also gives our transmission the quality of immediacy.
Another additional way to achieve this bond of intimacy and immediacy in your letters is to describe where you are and what you are doing as you are writing the letter.
• When you tell the day of the week plus the exact time you are writing the letter, it makes it seem a more important communication—Sort of like a telegram.
• Notice that the salutation addresses our reader by name. “Dear Bond” gets a certain quality of focused attention that is not enjoyed by “Dear Sir” or “Dear Occupant” or “Dear Reader”.
When you read the words “Dear Bond”, you know my letter is for you personally. It’s not for Kevin. It’s not for whoever owns the house. Or anybody who lives at the address on the envelope. No. The words “Dear Bond” indicate that this letter is for you and you alone. And this makes you pay more attention.
• If you will look in the lower right-hand corner of the letter in my illustration and, also, in all of my other letters, you will see, in parenthesis, a tiny little instruction like this: (over) or like this: (go to page 7). What I am doing here is taking the reader by the hand and leading him exactly where I want him to go. It seems like a small point and, maybe it is, but it is little touches like this that keeps the letter flowing, the reader moving along, and, it relieves him of the burden of trying to figure out what he is supposed to do when he finishes reading a particular page.
• Quite often (most often) your letter will arrive when your prospect is busy—when his mind is on other things. Therefore, you need to work hard to make reading your letter pleasant, easy-read, interesting and unconfusing.
• What else goes inside the carrier envelope in addition to the letter? One thing for sure is that you must include a reply envelope. Now, when it comes to reply envelopes, you basically have two choices. The options are to make the reader pay the postage when he mails the envelope or for you to pay the postage for him.
• Just using a 3d looking buy button makes a small difference in sales, and reducing the number of steps required to order adds a lot.
• One key question every business owner should ask is “how can I make it so ordering is even easier.” Many great burger stands went out of business when the competition across the street added a drive-thru.
• When things are tough I have discovered that a very simple (but effective) thing to do is just keep moving in some sort of positive direction.
• If you can get a person who is not going to order to agree, in his mind, to write and tell you he is not going to, then you will get more orders.
What happens sometimes is that a person who is getting a pen or pencil and a piece of paper in order to write you and tell you “No” will sometimes start thinking like this: “Well, you jerk. I’d kind of like to get in on this deal anyway and now that I’ve got the pen and paper I may as well go ahead and order.”
• You have to keep on keeping on and here is a trick to doing so. Keep two task lists.
The first list is of every important thing you really should do while at your best. My distraction-free creative time is in the morning when I do most of my writing, editing or consulting because it’s when I am reliably at my best.
The second list is of all the important tasks which I can do equally well regardless of my mood. Whenever I get stuck in the morning or feel off, I simply take care of some of the important business which quickly puts me back into an uplifting and productive mood.
• While it is true that you must attract attention to your advertisements and sales letters, it is also true that your “attention grabber” should be relevant. It should tie in with your message. It should make sense.
• In most cases, we need more than a letter and a reply envelope. It is good to include an order card and some type of printed brochure. I like to include an order card and a brochure with my sales letters. However, I do not like to let my reader see my order card, etc. as soon as he opens the envelope. I don’t want him to realize that I want to sell him something until I am well into my pitch.
• Many people, when they see an ad, they read the headline first and then they go right to the order coupon.
The same is true with direct mail letters. If your reader sees your order card as soon as he opens your envelope, he will read it first to see what the deal is.
And, that’s not good for us. It is true, of course, that we do want him to read our order card but we want him to read it at the proper time! And the proper time is after he has read our letter.
• Although I like my letters to be personal, in most cases, I also like them to be “businesslike personal”. And, that’s why part of the package should be typeset and maybe contain some photographs. This adds an air of stability to your promotion. It makes you seem like a real business.
• In your attempts to stand out, try and fight any urge to sound like a cliché and use phrases which a reader could finish on their own.
You only want the reader or viewer to get that head-nodding “been there, done that” feeling when you already got the prospect’s attention.
One simple trick anyone can use is to replace the adjectives in their headlines and opening statements with words from a current power list.
• Just like diets, words come in and out of fashion.
Consider these words: Keen, Cool, Funky, Hip, Hot, and Epic. You can almost tell the age of the people who use them.
You can tailor your words to your reader’s average age but you want to do that during the bonding part of the copy/script.
• Go look at tabloids and make a list of the words in headlines that really suck you in.
• Divide your list of words into positive and negative, and peruse the list right before you begin the copy dump when you write the majority of your copy in one sitting.
You can do 40 edits but you want to write from start to finish in one sitting so your different moods on different days don’t seep into your copy and make it disjointed.
When you are finished with the copy dump, look for adjectives and things you can punch up on your list without sounding like a clown.
• Picture words mean phrases and terms which paint a picture like cherry red.
Describe what it looks like when happy customers receive the benefit of your product.
For example, phrases like “My clients wake up all excited and can’t wait for the morning because… they love to sip coffee while opening their email to see how much money they made while sleeping.”
If this was a first person story, I’d add parts about looking out the window as the neighbors left for work while I take a shower.
• Disguise your pitch until you want the prospect to know you are selling something and you can do this online to great effect.
Readers of snail mail do the same thing with websites and emails… they scroll right to the bottom.
Most marketers add a buy button to the bottom of their page but instead of saying BUY you might want to try adding my father’s text or simply use the word Next.
• The proper time to let people know you are pitching is after you have started seriously fueling their desire.
• Assemble a file that contains everything you can get your hands on that is relevant to your promotion. Here are some of the things that might be included in your file:
- List cards describing the lists you are going to test.
- A copy of the report you intend to sell.
- Copies of DM pieces that other people have used to sell products or services related to what you want to sell.
- Copies of space ads that other people have used to sell products or services related to what you want to sell.
- Copies of books and reports on real estate investing.
- Copies of exceptionally good ads and DM pieces, even if they are not related to real estate.
- A copy of that book I’m going to give you that contains hundreds of headlines.
- Anything else you can think of that might be an “idea generator”.
After you have assembled all this stuff, what you need to do is start reading and taking notes.
• Here are a few things you should always include. A complete description of your product including how many pages, how many words, how many photos, who wrote it, facts about the author (his age, background, success stories, etc.).
You should also take notes on what this product will do for you. Will it make you wealthy? How will more money help your customer? Will he be able to buy a better car? Take more vacations? Afford a better home? If so, put it down.
• Re-read the notes and the really good ones, put a star * beside them. And the ones that are even better put two stars ** next to them. And then, the red hot ones you put three *** or more stars beside them.
• At this point, what you need to do is stop working on this project. Let it go. Put it right out of your mind. Just go on about your other business for a day or two.
Often what happens during this time, is that an outstanding sales idea will occur to you.
Sometimes your breakthrough idea or “aha experience” will be a way to get attention like my baggie idea, or a new way to help the prospect visualize the benefits of owning what you have to sell, or a new order generating sales point or whatever.
At this point, you now need to begin writing your letter according to formula. By formula, I mean you should work within a proven sequential outline like AIDA.
• Keep a pen and paper with you at all times. Brainstorms come at the times when your brain is well nourished and the most relaxed which means the ideas come when you least expect them.
• The copy is only about you in so much as it proves how you can help the prospect solve their problems.
• Attention comes first. Naturally, we must get our readers attention before he can become interested in and desirous of our offer.
Getting attention is CRUCIAL. If you don’t get it, your letter or advertisement will never be read. That’s why I like to attach things to the top of my DM letters.
I have attached coins, dollar bills, 2-dollar bills, Japanese “pennies”, Mexican pesos, etc. and these gimmicks have always gotten a lot of attention.
• You must get the right kind of attention. If not, your reader will be insulted and angry and probably won’t become a customer. So, always remember that your attention grabber needs to be relevant.
• Next thing we need to do (after getting his attention) is to catch his interest. Start by feeding him interesting facts. Like how much money there is to be made by investing in Maui real estate. By telling how much sand (cubic tons) is on the beach where we got the sand in that baggie. By telling how this is one of the best beach front investment opportunities in Maui. By telling how many pretty girls there are around. By telling the specific kinds of fish you can catch right off the beach etc.
• After we have told him a lot of interesting facts, our AIDA formula now tells us we should now arouse his desire.
What we do to create desire is we describe the benefits our prospect gets if he buys our product or service. In the case of an investment orientated offer what we have to offer is the prospect of making money. At least this is our main attraction. Let’s help him to picture in his mind the benefits of having more money.
Don’t think it’s not necessary. Remember, you must always do even the obvious.
• Go back to our AIDA formula and you will see that that last “A” stands for action. And that’s just what we’ve got to get, action! Action in the form of him sending us an order.
You should pay very close attention to how I get action in my MD and DM pitches. I do this better than anybody. I am very thorough when it comes to closing a sale.
Here’s a little example of how I do it: “Would you like to get in on this great investment opportunity? Would you like to be one of the privileged few who actually own a piece of the finest beach in Maui? If so, it’s easy to order. All you have to do is fill out the order coupon and send it to me with your payment, etc., etc.”
• One thing I want to stress is that you must be very clear, very specific about what you want him to do. Lead him by the hand and take him exactly where you want him to go. Tell him where the order coupon is. Tell him to fill it out. Tell him to enclose the payment. Tell him how much to send. Tell him who the checks and money orders should be made out to. Tell him to use the envelope. Tell him the envelope doesn’t need a stamp. (If it doesn’t.) Tell him to put the envelope in the mail.
And, above all, tell him to do all this RIGHT NOW! TODAY! Tell him what he will get if he hurries and tell him what he will lose if he delays.
• Sometimes I devote 25% or more of the entire ad to closing.
• Another simple way to get a reader interested is to tell their story by telling your story with the problem your solution solves. The key is to switch to talking about them as soon as things get better in the story.
• As part of your nugget notes, describe the benefits emotionally. You may swap “you will be able to choose what to do with your day” with “you will have the freedom to choose what to do with your day.”
• Nowadays, it’s easier than ever to order things but you still want to do everything you can to make the process as smooth as humanly possible.
Online shopping carts should be pre-filled out as much as possible, business reply envelopes should be pre-addressed and you should spell out what the prospect will experience when they order.
• Unless you are using upselling, try to give prospects options for ordering without talking to other humans.
• You should test offering single vs. multiple ordering options. Sometimes, only being able to order by phone boost the performance of an ad and other times multiple payment options works better. You must test.
• What happens when you actually write out a good ad in your own handwriting is that the words and the flow and the sentence structure and the sequence of information and everything else about the writing of that ad becomes a part of you.
• Here is a short list of “killer” promotions to get you started:
- Tova Ad
- How To Burn Off Body Fat Hour By Hour
- The Beverly Hills Diamond Ad
- The Original Family Coat-Of-Arms Letter
- How To Collect From Social Security At Any Age
- How To Get What The U.S. Government Owes You
- The Famous Dollar Bill Letter From The Robert Collier Letter Book
- The Amazing Blackjack Secret Of A Las Vegas Mystery Man
- The Original Astrology Today Ad Written By Ben Suarez
• Here are a few other tips on how to write good copy or, as a matter of fact, “good anything”:
- Use simple common everyday words.
- Use “get” instead of “procure.”
- Write short sentences and short paragraphs.
- Use “transition” words and phrases to make your writing flow smoothly.
- Ask questions once in a while and then answer them yourself.
• A good writer is one who makes things perfectly clear. He makes it easy for the reader. Easy-to-understand what he is saying, easy to keep reading.
• The best way to become a good writer… is by… writing good writing!
• The very best writing goes unnoticed. You don’t want someone to read one of your ads and say “Gosh, that advertisement was sure well written!”
No. What you really want is for the reader to order from your ad. If you are writing for applause… you will go home with empty pockets! Write for money!
• It is a good idea to know “word pictures” that will help your reader vicariously experience the wonderful benefits of owning your product or service.
• You can make your copy easier to read by the judicious use of parentheses. For example, if you want to tell people that your offer is good anywhere in the U.S. (except Alaska) the proper use of parentheses, as I just did, makes the copy easier-to-read, easier to understand and provides a little “eye relief” for your reader.
• The concept of eye-relief is more important than ever because people just don’t read as much as they used to which doesn’t mean you can’t write long copy. It’s just that paragraphs and sentences need to be shorter.
• Go through many edits cutting everything out until cutting any more would be cutting something the customer would like to know.
Chop long sentences into two short ones. Short statements are more emphatic!
Break up paragraphs and if you’re writing for online, use one to two line paragraphs.
For print, try and match the style of the space you are running in.
• Your page of copy (be it a letter or space ad) should be laid out in such a manner as to be an attractive “eye treat” for the reader. This means wide margins, a certain amount of white space, double spacing between paragraphs, short words, short sentences, short paragraphs and an attractive, inviting layout.
• The layout of your advertisement should catch the attention of your reader but not in a way that causes him to “notice” the layout!
• In most publications, the editorial content gets 5 times as much readership as the advertising content. This means that your ads should, as much as possible, have an “editorial look” about them.
• Your ads should look “editorial”; however, they should not look like just any old editorial piece of writing. No. Your ads should look like an exciting piece of editorial material.
• Whenever you write an ad it should look, in so far as possible, exactly like a rave review written by a reporter. It should have the look of an exciting news flash.
• You can do a better selling job when at first it does not appear you are attempting to do a sales job.
• Ideally, you want to offer first-time buyers three price points.
• You either hook a reader or lose him when he very first looks at your ad or DM piece. Not when he reads it, but when he first looks at it.
• Most of the time a person will never alter his original impression. Most of the time he will simply “edit” all new info that comes to him and “process” it in such a way as to validate his original opinion.
This means that your ad or DM piece should give your prospect a life; should cause his pupils to dilate as soon as he sees it.
• I believe the “sale” or “no sale” decision is largely made the instant a prospect sees your ad and reads your headline.
I think that if your prospect gets an instant “lift” from just looking at your ad, then he will start reading it and looking for reasons to convince himself that the promise of your ad is true!
And, if you don’t disappoint him then you have a really good chance of closing the sale.
• One thing that helps give the reader a lift is if your promotion has a “crisp” look about it. In other words, the layout should be clean, there should be a lot of contrast, and it should look easy and inviting to read.
If you use pictures they should be, as a general rule, of an upbeat nature.
• Women like to see pictures of women in ads and men like to see pictures of men.
• Slightly higher production value than the competition applies to VSLs (video sales letters). Everyone now uses decent sound equipment and nice cameras so it’s the multi-camera and finely edited videos which stand out as professional.
• That little extra mile to add professionalism goes a long way in every aspect of marketing and the line keeps moving. Just stay one step ahead.
• Please remember this word: HALT. HALT stands for hungry, angry, lonely and tired and you should never make a decision when you are any of those things.
• You don’t have to get it right… you just have to get it moving!
• Wait 72 hours after being emotional to make any important decisions. It is hard to stay emotional for 3 days, and if you still want to sue someone, leave your wife, or quit your job, start the process.
• Propositions are very important. They are the “deal” you are offering.
• A very important ingredient in making your propositions work is the “reason why”. In other words when you say in effect, “Have I got a deal for you!” you need an explanation as to why you are offering this good deal.
You see, if you don’t have an explanation, your “deal” won’t be believable and you may not get the sale.
• You can’t always control what happens to you in life but you do have a lot of control over your responses.
• Here is a formula for an effective excuse for a deal:
I Am Offering You This Deal Because You (By Virtue Of Some Unique Circumstance) Are So Special
• Offering special deals based on where your promos are listed works well too. You can offer facebook specials and deals just for subscribers of a certain website or maybe readers of The Miami Herald.
• You should also create a list of types of offers to consider and look them over when masterminding your next offer.
• A little trick that will improve your copywriting is to read your copy out loud. When you read your copy out loud, you will verbally stumble over all the places that are not smooth. Then, of course, what you do, is rewrite the rough spots and read the copy out loud again. And, what you do, is you keep repeating this process till your copy is completely smooth and you can read it without stumbling at all.
• Advertising writing needs to be the best writing of all. It needs to flow from start to finish without a bump or a bubble.
• Besides writing out, in your own handwriting, good ads and DM pieces written by other people, you should also read those same ads and DM pieces out loud. By doing this writing and reading aloud of good material you will find that the process of writing good ads will be internally imprinted on your nerves, muscle fibers, brain cells, and every fiber of your being.
• Here are the steps to direct mail success:
- Find a hot market (mailing list).
- Find or create a product (preferably paper and ink) to sell to that market.
- Create a direct mail promotion that describes the product (or service) and the benefits of owning the same.
- Make a test mailing (1,000 to 5,000 pieces).
- Analyze results.
- If results are good, mail 20,000 to 100,000 more letters.
- If results are still good, start rolling out and taking care of business
• The single most common mistake made by people who want to break into the MO business is finding or developing a product FIRST and then looking for a market to sell it to.
• You must always find a market first… and then concentrate on a product!
• Products are a dime a dozen. They are important but much less crucial to success than finding a hot market. I’ll tell you this: A guy with a new product cannot always find a hot market for that product but a guy who has uncovered a HOT MARKET can always find a product to fill the needs of that market.
• A big difference between people who make it in any field (including crime) and those who do not is awareness.
Most people (at least many) walk around with their heads in the sand.
They are lost in a fog. They go whichever way the current of the streams of their world happens to push them. They are sheep and they are regularly shorn.
• Mail order (and all other) fortunes are made by men and women who know what’s going on in their fields. These are the people who stay up to date. They read the trade journals, they make sure they are on everybody else’s mailing list so they know what the competition is doing, they read all the “HOT” mail order publications, they keep their “Swipe File” up to date, they read and reread the classic books written by the best people in the field, they have idea files that contain newspaper articles, notes of unusual info, hot new ideas, good layouts, unusual propositions, and so forth.
They also know who the leaders are in their respective fields and they communicate with these people on a regular basis.
• You know, quite often I am referred to as an advertising genius, the “best copywriter in the world” and so forth. I would be the 1st person in the world to deny these claims but if I really am so good, there is at least one reason for it that everybody misses. It is this:
I Work Like Crazy!
• Sweat the details. It’s an area I have been remiss in and I am working to correct this state of affairs.
• Believability is one of the top most important ingredients of good MO & DM promotions.
• One way to increase believability is to give exact details. Instead of “most car owners” write “77.6% of all car owners”. Instead of “you can lose lots of weight” write “and the average reported weight loss over a 31-day period was 37.5 pounds for men and 26.3 pounds for women”.
• Most people who are on top of things and “aware” usually know what time it is within a few minutes without looking at a clock or watch.
You should be able to guess the time with no more than a 7-minute margin of error either way.
• If I am more than 7-minutes off, I take a walk or do something else physical before I have any important discussions or make any important decisions.
• Now that it’s so inexpensive, video can often provide excellent proof of claims but I like to add a special twist.
In print, you can use the video’s existence as proof by saying our customers have taken to youtube to share their success stories.
I like to offer video testimonials whenever possible and I will write out the main thing I want them to hear in a quote directly below the video like so.
“… Bond’s advice doubled my profits!”
This way, readers don’t even have to look at the video to get the main point and the fact that the video is there adds more believability than static testimonials.
• Impact is the impression you or your promotion makes on its intended target.
• My favorite way in all the world to achieve impact with my DM promotions is attaching things to the top of my letters.
• Be careful. Whatever you attach to the top of your letters should tie in with the rest of your letter and what you are selling. It should make sense and fit into the promotion in a natural way.
• When anybody is off, it is communicated!
• Remember how I told you, you could sort of tell if you were off by how close you could guess what time it is? Well, another indicator is if you bump into things just a tiny bit or you are just a tiny bit clumsy.
• Another way I can tell I am stressed right is that my vision gets a little blurred.
• At the time in my life when I was making the most money, I followed the same procedure I am talking about here. Namely: I pay attention to myself and when I am off, I drop out of sight and do what is necessary to strengthen myself.
• People can smell it when you are weak. When you are vulnerable. They can smell success too.
They can sniff out a winner.
And you can’t fake it. Not for long. You’ve got to be it!
• Being off happens to all of us and it is super important to know when you are off.
• The brain is like any other human muscle. It needs proper nourishment and rest and can be exercised to work better.
• When you are on fire, rock and roll. Just keep pumping out copy, cutting deals and make the most out of that energy.
But, when you are down, work while you hide out.
Life really is like high school and despite what people say, nobody wants to help or be with the sulking kid.
By working alone, you will not only avoid allowing others to smell your weakness but you will cause an air of mystery.
• Unless the Hindus are right, we all get only one go-round in life and time is too precious to waste on people who undermine your confidence, hold petty grievances, and don’t add to your enjoyment of life.
• Your respect for others means a lot more when you have enough self-esteem to never respect those who don’t respect you.
• You can learn to respect yourself by creating your own moral code and standing by it.
If you’ve enjoyed this summary of The Boron Letters by Gary Halbert, and you would like to get the full book, please do so using my link. You’ll help me out without spending an extra penny: Print, eBook