SD #04: How to Reach More People By Writing to One PersonJul 18, 2022
The Power of Writing to One Person
Read Time: 4.0 minutes
Date: July 18, 2022
I make movies for the masses. But I talk to them one at a time.
Film director, Steven Spielberg, was once asked the secret of his success. He said this: “I make movies for the masses. But I talk to them one at a time.”
In today’s issue, we’ll focus on the power of writing to one person, especially when it comes to copywriting and storytelling, when you want to move someone to take a specific action.
What’s the Tip?
To communicate for greater impact, especially on social media, try writing to one person. The person you're writing to could be a real person...someone you’ve worked with in the past...
the person you're writing to could be a composite of people (as you'll see further down in our example from Warren Buffett).
Whether your audience is a real person, a composite of people, or an avatar you've created in your marketing, your goal is to speak/write to that one person directly...to see the world through their eyes and to walk around in their shoes.
How Do You Use It?
1. Keep your language more casual and conversational.
2. Use contractions like "you’d" instead of "you would", or "you’ll" instead of "you will."
3. Be grammatically sound, but don’t be a schoolmarm about it.
4. Ask questions in the same way you would ask them of a friend. For example, you could ask:
“Do you ever feel like…?"
5. Use everyday transitions such as “well…” or “meanwhile”…or “as I may have mentioned before…”
6. Don’t be afraid to highlight key points in ALL CAPS.
What are Some Examples?
Example 1: When investor Warren Buffett drafts his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, he starts with the following:
Dear Doris and Bertie,
Exactly, who are “Doris and Bertie?” Doris and Bertie are his sisters. Doris died in 2020, but Roberta (“Bertie”), is still alive.
Buffett wants his letters to be informative - not stuffy. He wants them to be readable, accessible, and delightfully “jargon-free.” He writes to the shareholders as if he’s talking to his two sisters.
What’s the result?
His annual letter is considered a must-read for nearly every investor around the world.
Example 2: The second example comes from an inmate in a federal prison, writing a series of letters to his son.
The inmate was Gary Halbert, one of the best copywriters of all time. He was imprisoned on federal tax evasion charges. The federal prison was Boron Federal Prison in Boron, California. And the series of letters, known as The Boron Letters, were all written by Gary Halbert to his son, Bond.
The Boron Letters (you can download all 25 chapters here for free) will teach you a lot about selling with words. But every page is a masterclass in writing to one person, which in this case is exactly what Halbert does.
Halbert was a master direct response marketer and copywriter. His most famous sales letter that sold family crests was mailed more than 600 million times, brought in 20,000 orders per day and was the basis of a company that eventually sold for $75 million.
The primary take-away from The Boron Letters is to be inviting toward your reader. The genius of Gary Halbert was that he knew himself well and wasn’t afraid to write like one person to another person.
What’s the Benefit to You?
Now, you’ve seen how Warren Buffett writes to a composite person - his two sisters. You’ve seen how Gary Halbert wrote (what became a copywriting cult classic) to one person, his son.
So, what? What’s the benefit to you of writing to one person?
There are many!
Writing to one person helps you create intimacy and immediacy. You do that by consistently inviting your audience into the story.
You’re forced to use different word choices and sentence structures which are more conversational and more likely to connect.
The problems or pain points that are essential to having impact are less generic, more specific, and sharper in context.
You’re able to cut out more fluff and inject greater substance because you’ve got a clear picture of who you’re writing to and for.
You increasingly write like a person and not a writer.
It’s easier to take ideas off the table that don’t connect with the person you’re writing to.
You’re less distracted because of your focus.
Write to one person, especially if you're writing for social media or assembling a sales letter.
Look for ways to invite your reader in.
Focusing on one person will demand better word-choices from you and sharper points.
Write like a person, not a writer.