Contrived or convincing?

A good sales letter should feel like a good conversation. The salutation you choose sets the tone.

Get personal

If you know your reader, use her name. 'Dear Mrs. Rand' will get attention far quicker than 'Dear Executive.'
Caution: Personalization can be be overdone. We've all tossed out mail that sprinkles our name like false confetti throughout the pitch. How often should you repeat your reader's name? As often as you would in everyday conversation—two or three times, tops. And only where familiarity is warranted. Your closing sentence is a good candidate: "Sally, if you remember only thing about our organization, here's what I hope you will share with your coworkers…"

Don't fake it

Sales letters are about trust. You jeopardize that trust when you use a voice that sounds less than sincere. If you don't know your prospect, or even if you're not sure how to spell his name, don't pretend otherwise. And for goodness sake, don't guess at gender. "Dear D. Lavender" is infinitely better than "Dear Ms Lavender" to me.

Jump right in

When in doubt, forget 'Dear' and come straight to the point. There's nothing wrong with skipping to the heart of the matter. People are so jealous of their time that letters without salutations can score read-rates almost as good as personally targeted ones.

The power of Post-It's

One way to get around the impersonal look of a generically addressed letter is to attach a yellow sticky note. A “handwritten” note at the top of the page can create a personal look—even something simple like: "As an engineer, you'll find this very interesting. -- Best, Doug" Intrigued, the reader never notices that the letter didn't open with his name.
Caution: Keep an eye on the rest of your industry. The sticky note technique can get stale if overused.

And since it works for everybody else

There are a few salutations people just seem to accept for what they are—aggregators:
  • Dear Customer…
  • Dear Retailer…
  • Dear Neighbor…
  • Dear Subscriber…
  • Dear Fellow (Pet) Lover…

Once again, the acid test is sincerity. Does your greeting slip away like a limp handshake or does it have the firm grip of conviction?

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