The 8.337 Million People Who Can Help You Write a Better Sales Letter

I want to introduce you to the 8.337 million people who can help you write a better sales letter.

They won’t tell you how to write a better headline, create the perfect call to action, or craft a compelling offer. Instead, they’ll help you master an often-overlooked, yet equally critical fourth element that can make a dramatic impact on conversions. . .

The fact that it’s a letter.


Shortly after my birthday a few weeks ago, I sat down to write thank you letters to the family members who sent me gifts.

I write thank you letters because:

  1. They’re nice.
  2. I’m 26 years old, I haven’t lived with my parents for eight years, but I still know my mom will yell at me if I don’t.

Do you know what I had to do first before I could start writing?

Figure out whom I was writing to — because I wasn’t about to write to Grandma using the same tone and (colorful) language I use when writing to my sister.

Just like writing a thank you letter, writing a sales letter should start the exact same way — figure out whom you’re writing to. 

How to Figure Out Whom You’re Writing To

Let’s start with the wrong way to pen a sales letter. When considering who will receive your letter, you should not be writing to:

  • An amalgamation of catch-all demographics like “moms ages 35-44 who work from home.”
  • A simple designation of one of your email list segments, such as “past buyers.”
  • An alternate version of yourself. Hint: The road to ruin is paved with thoughts like, “Well, that headline would certainly make me want to keep reading.”

A sales letter should be written to one person.

One. Specific. Person.

Just like Kurt Vonnegut said in number seven of his classic “8 Tips on How to Write a Great Story” list, “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”

As it is with stories, so it goes with sales letters — you will do your best job when you write to one person.

Who is that person?

Your ideal customer.

How to Meet Your Ideal Customer

There are many fancy marketing terms for your ideal customer: customer avatar, customer persona, customer profile, to name a few.

Usually, this avatar or profile is the result of customer surveys, conversations with customers, quotes from customers taken from blog comments or social media posts, etc.

All of that data is distilled into one avatar (or sometimes multiple avatars) that represents your ideal customer, the biggest problems he or she is facing, and the type of solution he or she is seeking.

Creating a customer avatar will certainly help you find out more about who your ideal customer is. And I recommend you do them. All of the steps you have to go through to create an avatar (surveying, interviewing, etc.) will help you learn more about your ideal customer.

But there’s one problem — when you’re writing sales letter copy, it’s not enough to know who your customers are. You have to know why they are — you have to understand the experiences that have led them to needing your product.

How in the world do you do that?

Easy — you remember they’re humans.

The Human Way to Write a High-Converting Sales Letter

Wikipedia has a good explanation of an old phrase you’ve probably heard — “the human condition:”

“The human condition encompasses the unique features of being human… It includes concerns such as the meaning of life, the search for gratification, the sense of curiosity, the inevitability of isolation, and the awareness of the inescapability of death.”

Whoa. . . heavy, man.

So why am I bringing this up?

Because it’s important to remember that — regardless of demographics, race, gender, creed, etc. — there are certain aspects of life all humans can relate to. There are certain characteristics of human behavior we all possess. To name only a few:

  • The need to belong: we crave a sense of community and inclusion.
  • The desire to avoid pain: self-explanatory — we’re pleasure seekers.
  • The need for significance: we want to know we matter.

Regardless of your product, if people are interested in buying it, it’s — in some way — speaking to a basic human need.

While it’s easy to list these aspects of human behavior and say, “Yeah, I understand that my ideal customer identifies with these,” it’s another thing to take the crucial next step and actually consider how these basic needs impact your ideal customer’s life.

Doing so will enable you to really understand how your product or service can fulfill these basic needs.

Think about it. . .

When Apple advertises their latest product, are they speaking to people who need a new phone or people who want to feel creative and part of a group?

When Chipotle gets country music legend Willie Nelson to cover a Coldplay hit for a two-minute Super Bowl ad, are they speaking to hungry people who want a burrito right away or to those who want to make a difference and join the “slow food” movement?

This is why Dan Kennedy’s The Ultimate Sales Letter — one of the most well-known books on writing sales letters ever — starts with explaining the importance of walking a mile in your customer’s shoes.

So how do you walk a mile in your customer’s shoes? You just cruise on over to HONY.

Meet the 8.337 Million People — The HONY Method for Writing to Your Ideal Customer

HONY, for the uninitiated, stands for Humans of New York. Even if that name doesn’t ring a bell, I’m willing to bet you’ve seen a HONY status update if you’re a Facebook user.

Why? Because Humans of New York posts regularly get hundreds of thousands of likes and tens of thousands of shares and comments.


Out of the 357 Facebook friends I have, 19 of them “like” Humans of New York. That’s over five percent. None of the other pages I “like” come close to that ratio.

The concept is simple. Photographer Brandon Stanton walks the streets of New York City and asks some of the city’s 8.337 million people if he can photograph them. He asks a few questions about their life and then pairs the most memorable quote or aspect of the conversation with one of the photographs he took. The photo + quote becomes a Humans of New York post.

Here’s an example that resulted in 631,049 likes, 5,119 comments, and 14,556 shares:


Here’s what I’m getting at — If you look through Humans of New York, you’re eventually going to find someone who feels exactly like your ideal customer.

For example, prior to working at LeadPages, I did freelance copywriting and content marketing for a variety of clients, many of which were in the personal development/entrepreneurship space. That’s when I started using this strategy.

Here are a few of the photos I used or filed away:


For some reason, seeing an actual face, a natural pose, and five honest words puts me in the zone. It’s easier for me to write to the gentleman pictured above than to an imaginary face.

Those five words in that context tell me more than any customer description I could ever write.

Need more than five words? Try this one:


And another I’ve studied:


Photos and quotes like these always remind me that I’m writing to a real person who has real problems. Hopefully, you’re writing to them about a product or service that offers a real solution. If not, I suggest you find one to write about that does.

There are many examples that work for other businesses and industries. For example, maybe you show artists how to make a living without selling out:


Or maybe you help people figure out what they want to do in life:


When I saw this next example, I couldn’t help but think that, had it been released in 1926, it may very well have inspired one of the most famous headlines of all time:

They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano… But When I Started to Play! —


The headline I’m referring to, of course, is from John Caples’ classic piano lessons advertisement:

HONY-piano-adI’m not saying this strategy should replace real numbers and demographics based on surveying and customer interviews. I’m saying that Humans of New York is a great place to find a face and feelings you can apply to that customer data.

Although this particular method may be new, the idea of starting your quest to discover your customer with empathy is not. In fact, it’s literally Step #1 of Chapter 1 in the aforementioned The Ultimate Sales Letter: “Get ‘Into’ the Customer.”

Why does Kennedy think this is so important? As he says, “The goal is understanding. To persuade someone, to motivate someone, to sell someone, you really need to understand that person.”

Notice that he says “someone” and “person,” a singular pronoun and a singular noun — words aimed at the individual, not the group.

When Kennedy goes on to list his personal checklist of questions to always ask about your customer, the importance of knowing your customer from the inside becomes even more apparent. Five out of the 10 questions point right back to those basic human needs, the things that define the human condition:

  • “What keeps them awake at night, indigestion boiling up their esophagus, eyes open, staring at the ceiling?”
  • “What are they afraid of?”
  • “What are they angry about?”
  • “What are their top three daily frustrations?”
  • “What do they secretly, ardently desire most?”

In short, these questions are all asking, “What’s stopping my customer from living the life he or she wants?”

When you can answer that question, your sales letter will improve every time.

Bonus: Other Easy Elements That Can Make Your Sales Letter More Human

Although empathizing with your sales letter audience starts with your copy, there are other elements that can go a long way in giving your letter a more “human” feel before the reader even gets to your opening sentence.

Check out the elements at play in this section of the Web 3.0 Sales Letter LeadPages template we created:

web 3 sales letter elements
These elements in our Web 3.0 Sales Letter template help add a “human” feel to the page.

Let’s break these elements down.

1. Email-Style Info: The presentation of these details (“From” name, subject line, date) mirrors what people are used to seeing in their email inboxes, giving the letter even more of a “just for you” feeling. You’ll see this pattern repeated in the two examples below, one from Gmail and one from Apple mail.

2. Friendly Photo: Remember when I said seeing a real face always helps me write to just one person? That concept works both ways — seeing the writer’s face can also help establish a better connection with the recipient.

3. Handwritten-Style Signature: Sure, everyone knows this isn’t Clay’s actual writing, but still — it hearkens back to ye olde days of yore when we still sent handwritten letters to one another.

By the way, if you’d like a free copy of our Web 3.0 Sales Letter landing page template pictured above, click here and we’ll send it your way. (Note: Setting it up on your own outside of LeadPages does require some coding skills.)

Let’s Hear from You

So, what’s your process for writing sales letters? How do you communicate in a human way? Do you think you’ll use this HONY strategy? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

  • Excelente artículo!

  • john

    Best read! Thanks Will! You have just given us a great ad copy swipe ‘file’.

    • Awesome, thanks John! Would love to see how you use this strategy.

  • Very good data, Will.

    One exercise I would recommend: when you get together with a few people, observe the kind of things being discussed, how things are being said, what emotions people are experiencing. By all means, engage in this conversation, but also step back and just observe for a few minutes. Take mental notes of how easy and fluid the back-and-forth is.

    If you try to write more like that, I think that will help your readers connect with you.

    • That is a GREAT tip, Stan. Can’t agree enough. It’s one of the best habits a writer can build. Thanks for sharing!

  • Katrin Schlee

    I think this is one of those articles that goes on and on, listing
    little vignettes of interest and other people’s ideas but utlimately
    leaves you feeling like you have wasted another 5 minutes of your life
    on something that is basically dead-end advice. Will says you ought to
    treat everyone as an individual: what works on HONY (where the precise
    point is to zoom in on the human as individual) can, by definition, not
    work in mass marketing since you would need to focus on and give a platform to
    every single customer’s individual concerns, needs, frustrations and
    then find a solution for them in the shape of the product or service you
    are offering. This article was written for the sake of writing and
    possibly being considered an “expert” (who isn’t these days?) and not to
    offer a realistic insight into proven strategies.

    • I appreciate your feedback, Katrin. I have to disagree, however, in the idea that you can’t gain insights about your market from listening to the needs that drive an individual’s behavior.

      Granted, there will be situations where this wouldn’t be the best exercise for writing to your customers. However, especially for smaller B2C businesses (which many LeadPages customers have) I think there’s a lot to be learned from the stories of those who may fit your customer profile.

      Again, I appreciate the feedback.

    • Bettyanne

      I think you missed the point, Katrin. He’s not suggesting you ‘need to focus on…every single customer’s individual concerns, etc.’ Look at the reverse – if you try to write to reach everyone, you reach no one, because it doesn’t speak to what people are looking for – to be understood. So instead you get really focused on the type of person – way beyond demographics – who ‘gets’ you, needs the service you offer, and will value it enough to pay for it. And you craft your messages to speak to that type of person. I saw his piece as an illustrative one to make this point, stir up creativity, and be entertaining – all of which I think he achieved. He also achieved some personal marketing quite deftly…good example of great copywriting/branding.

      • Thanks for the kind words, Bettyanne. 🙂 Glad those points came through.

  • In one short article, you summed up some things that took me months (and I dare say years) to learn. Thinking of the person you’re writing to is essential for good sales letters and great conversions. (I don’t agree with the person below. The 3 tips at the end are great!)

    • Jason, I think it’s safe to say it took me that long as well. 🙂 Tough but important lesson to learn. Thanks for the kind words!

  • Sue Anne Dunlevie

    Never heard of HOMY and now I love it! Thanks, Will.

    • Glad I could introduce you, Sue! Careful…I’ll end up spending an hour there sometimes. 🙂

      • Sue Anne Dunlevie

        It can be an addicting thing, right?

  • It was a bad idea to begin with to put a bible studies church group on the same cruise ship as the wife swappers club, but had we mixed up the salesletters it would have been a catastrophe!

  • This was an awesome read, Will! Thanks for sharing this. Great copywriting tips in here.

  • It was probably already said, but you should change the second reference Dan Kennedy’s book from “ultimate sales machine” (by Chet Holmes) to ” ultimate sales letter”. I have not read Dan Kennedy’s book, but I do not recommend anything by Chet Holmes.

    • Great catch, thanks for pointing that out, Roger!

  • Will this was an absolutely brilliant letter and as someone mentioned below, it comes with all sorts of Swipe ideas.

    I can empathize with Katrin who struggles to write to one person when she in fact wishes to move a group to action, but in truth no one signs up as a group, there is only a Bob. Sallyanne, Curtis and Nancy whoever signs up. They will of course each share some characteristics with Jill, your ideal prospect, and will relate to your writing, as a result. But trying to write to all is to write to no one, as there simply is no all. I am a single individual and I can communicate with a single individual. It is sort of like the people who hate networking. They hate networking because their mind says “everyone is a prospect let’s get them all” and as a result they don’t engage as they’re so busy trying to figure out how to get everyone they get no one.

    Anyway some completely fabulous tips in here and thank for HONY I can see this is soon to be my favorite FB page

  • This is amazing: My Avatar showed up on HOMY just 2-3 days after I read this post. Seriously! This is powerful stuff – and a keeper. Thanks again Will! 🙂