P.S.: Powerful or Passé?
Last week, while working on a business letter here at MarketSense, we took a step back and asked ourselves if the old letter-writing rules still apply. Sure, a strong headline always adds value, but what about that pesky postscript? Traditionally, business letters mention the call to action three times, including once in the postscript, in hopes that the reader will notice at least one of them. But today, in the interest of brevity, is it better to mention your call to action in the body copy and be done with it?
The answer: It depends.
In “The 12 Most Common Direct Mail Mistakes … And How to Avoid Them,” copywriting guru Robert W. Bly reminds us that the sales letter is an effective medium because it “creates the illusion of personal communication. We are trained to view letters as ‘real’ mail, brochures as ‘advertising.’” Because traditional, personal letters commonly feature postscripts, it makes sense to use them in business letters. And if you can get someone to open such a letter, she will likely glance at the P.S. because it’s set off from the rest of the copy. Bly wrote this article in 1998, but his points still resonate with many marketing experts today.
That said, hasn’t the postscript been overused? Direct marketing expert Herschell Gordon Lewis warns that people recognize the postscript as a sales gimmick. Especially if there’s also a P.P.S. If the postscript(s) seems too salesy, it will counteract your attempt to make a personal connection. Communicator Peter Boston adds, “If the letter reads like it is from some nondescript entity like the marketing department, then a P.S. will likely fall flat. There is nothing personal about a marketing department.”
To sum up, your audience expects to see a postscript on a letter — which can be a good thing (it automatically draws the eye) or a bad thing (it’s seen as a ploy). Most marketing experts seem to say the postscript is still a winner, as long as it’s written well. If you decide to use a postscript, Boston suggests two ways to write a good one:
- Reinforce the satisfaction of the “dominant buying emotion” in a personal way. In other words, use the recipient’s name in the postscript, if possible, and repeat the emotional benefit of what you want him or her to do.
- Mention an extra benefit in the postscript, such as an incentive to respond quickly.
If you’re still unsure about whether or not to use a postscript at all, look to Bly for another bit of advice: Put it to the test! Send one letter with a postscript and one without, and see how people respond. That’s the only sure way to know what will work best for your audience.
Do you include postscripts in your business letters? We’d like to hear from you!