A discussion today on this topic reminded me of two things…
1) A long-time friend and colleague recently engaged me to write a fundraising letter. After seeing a draft, he invited me to talk with the fellow who was going to sign the letter, a person at the top of this organization. That was definitely the right thing to do.
My draft was off, not really because it didn’t sound like him. Rather it sounded too different from him. It was somehow implausible in tone. Hit the wrong note. What I didn’t know was that this man was resolutely positive, a personality that was always advancing, intelligent and articulate.
My second draft didn’t have a different message or progression of thoughts. The overall tone was different. It didn’t clang to someone who knew this man. Nor to him. I heard he was delighted with the outcome. But I could not now tell someone what made this letter work.
2) Some decades ago I worked for a company that sold insurance by mail to third-party affiliate groups, an outfit that tested relentlessly, never mailing without a test, a wonderful education. So what’s relevant?
A third-party client was Rouge Croix, the Red Cross in France. This American company kept testing and testing to get the most successful “voice” for their letters.
The ultimate winner, at least the latest I’ve heard, was a letter written by an American direct marketing copywriter and translated by a French Canadian direct marketing copywriter. No French copywriter could beat this. And no translator could beat the French Canadian pro.
These were all the same words! The winning margin was thanks to some largely undetectable subtleties of phrasing that grow out of experience in this unfathomable endeavor.