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Sales letters are designed to do one thing and one thing only: to cause the reader to take action. That action may be to have the reader actually take out his or her checkbook and part with some capital in exchange for your product or service. Or, the action may be to simply have the reader request more information (with the intent of converting them into a paying customer in the future).

There are many variations on the basic sales letter and lots of ways to get the job done. In this article, I’ll describe one very successful model, and introduce you to a great twist on that model.

Here’s one standard formula:

Introduce a problem Propose a solution Establish proof that the solution works Present an irresistible offer

This basic advertising format has sold countless items from laundry soap to internet marketing seminars and has generated mountains of cash for the advertisers. If you never strayed from this formula, you could still make a very comfortable living from your sales.

But I’m going to introduce a variation that – if done deftly – will increase readership, increase the reader’s involvement, and increase response rates.

Here’s the variation: When introducing the problem (step 1 above), don’t just list a problem using the usual salesman hype. Use a STORY instead – a powerful, emotional, and relatable story.

In perhaps the most famous and successful ad campaign of all time, the Wall Street Journal did exactly that with its popular “two men” ad. The goal of course was to sell subscriptions to the Wall Street Journal. One way to do that would have been to list all of the things you would miss without the journal, then list all of the benefits of subscribing.

Instead, they took a different approach. They told the career stories of two men – one of whom subscribed to the Journal and one who did not. Tracing the story of their respective careers, the success, and power of the Journal subscriber was contrasted against the suffering and regret of the man who did not subscribe. Powerful stuff.

So how can you use this same idea in your own sales letters?

The answer is to “put a face to the problem.” That is, don’t just talk about the problem, create a character in your mind that is actually feeling the problem. Who would that person be? What would they look like? What pain would they feel? What would they miss out on, and how would they feel regret or embarrassment or humiliation?

If you can make the story intense and powerful, your readers will be sucked in, wanting to know what happens next. In an instant, they forget they are reading an advertisement and instead think only of the poor character, and how he or she will get rid of the pain.

And that is exactly where you want them to be. Once they FEEL the problem, it is only a short step to get them to desire a solution. A solution, of course, that your product or service is designed to provide. From there, it is your irresistible offer that will take over, getting the reader to take action.