Starting Strong with VSLs

Introduction: The Meteoric Rise of Video Marketing

It’s no secret that a good VSL makes all the difference in Direct Response. However, it’s worth taking a slightly wider look at the situation. Outside of the direct response industry, video marketing is expanding rapidly.

Consider these staggering stats:

  • In 2022, 87% of marketers report that video gives them a positive ROI—more than double the number of marketers who said the same just 5 years ago in 2017.
  • 75% of marketers overall said the COVID-19 pandemic made it more likely they would create video.
  • In 2021, ad spend for all video was $81.9 billion–a record year and 12% higher than the ad spend in 2020.

What are the implications here? Well first, that there’s an abundance of opportunity in the video marketing space. Secondly, consumers are more open to video marketing than ever. And at the same time – with all the ad money being spent on videos – there’s more competition than ever before. Consumers now expect only the highest quality videos from businesses. 

Creating videos for your marketing funnel is a difficult process, but incredibly effective if done correctly. 

In this post, we’ll discuss all things video sales letters (VSLs) – including the #1 way that you can increase conversions with video in 2022. 

What is a VSL & Why Is It So Powerful?

A video sales letter (VSL) is a video designed to sell a product or service to the viewer. It uses the same principles as a text sales letter (with a few key differences that we’ll discuss shortly) but in video form.

What makes VSLs so effective? Well for starters, people connect differently to videos. Especially in the wake of COVID-19, people crave interpersonal connection now more than ever. With videos, consumers feel like they’re engaged in an actual dialogue with the presenter in ways that text on a page can’t replicate. 

Another main difference between VSLs and TSLs (text sales letters) is that with videos, viewers can’t skip to the end (provided your tech setup works). When reading a TSL, prospects can quickly scroll down to the offer if they don’t want to read the whole thing, but that’s not the case for VSLs. Therefore keeping your viewers’ attention becomes a much more important challenge–each sentence must be perfect.

Marketers use a variety of different techniques in their VSLs, depending in part on their production budget. 

Some marketers simply deliver VSLs presentation style with a voice actor speaking over slides on a screen. Other companies (usually ones with bigger budgets) make their video sales letters into massive productions. 

I’ve even seen VSLs with towering shots of people flying in helicopters as they deliver their sales pitch (seriously). 

Whatever format you decide to use for your VSL (and no matter how fancy your production), the core tenets of effective selling remain the same. So don’t think that just because you create cool-looking images in your video, you’ll automatically be poised for conversions. If it were that easy, everyone would do it right? 

In the next section, we’ll discuss the most important part of your VSL. Get this wrong and your video is doomed to fail (even if 95% of your copy is amazing!)

The Most Important Part of a VSL

It turns out that human beings aren’t all that different from the goldfish you find in your local pond. Well, at least in one important way…

Goldfish are known for having the shortest attention span of any animal–at a skimpy five seconds. BUT (and this is scary) humans are not that far behind. In recent years, our attention spans have dwindled to a mere 7-8 seconds. 

The causes for this vary – including the immediate gratification world of social media (“I need those likes bro!”) But, for marketers, the effects of this fact are more important than the causes. 

Because consumers’ attention spans are at an all-time low, failing to capture their interest within the first 10-30 seconds (or less) means that your video is guaranteed to fail. Period. Even if you have the most incredible offer and the rest of your copy is spot on.

That may seem harsh, but sometimes the truth hurts. The solution for your wound here is to create a bad-ass hook for your video. 

Case in point. One of our clients runs video ads on Facebook. One of their ads had dozens of comments saying the same thing: ‘Couldn’t watch to the end… too long… don’t have time for this’. How long was that ad? 52 SECONDS. Get that hook in place, however, and you’ll capture even the shortest of attention spans.

As I mentioned in the last section, a key difference between VSLs and TSLs is that viewers can’t just skip to the end of the VSL. There’s no fast-forward button. So their ONLY two options are to stay with you for your entire video (which is sometimes more than an hour) or click away. That’s it. 

Therefore, each sentence of your VSL must do everything in its power to hold your prospects’ attention–no sentences off! And with the crazy short attention spans that exist today–prospects are looking for a reason to lose engagement and chase the next dopamine hit. 

You need to figure out a creative way to stand out from the sea of other content right away. 

The good news is there are a number of ways you can do that.

If you take one thing away from this post, let it be the following. Our brains crave two things: novelty and tension. 

Our brains are hard-wired to seek information that is new or contrary to what we previously believed. Tapping into these 2 truths of our evolutionary wiring will immediately give your VSL the momentum it needs. 

Here are 7 rules/ideas for starting your VSL strong: 

  1. Avoid platitudes and pleasantries
    • Your market is too sophisticated for that. It’s heard all the cliches countless times for them to be effective anymore.
  2. Present ONE simple & powerful idea
    • Many marketers try to do too much in their first 30 seconds and overwhelm their viewers with complicated ideas. Stick to one core idea that they can get behind. 
  3. Share a powerful statistic
    • You probably know that our subconscious mind makes decisions emotionally at first. So you might be tempted to avoid statistics & numbers. BUT, sharing a startling statistic that you can expand on taps into both your viewers’ emotional and rational sides.
  4. “Imagine”
    • Channel your inner John Lennon and paint a picture of what your viewers’ dream life looks like. Putting them in this emotional, optimistic state is an effective way to keep their attention. Why? Because they really want to know how they can achieve that dream life.
  5. Compelling sound bite
    • Sharing a powerful quote (especially one that’s controversial or contrarian) will pique your prospect’s curiosity and make them want to understand the context.
  6. Tell a story
    • Human beings simply can’t resist a great story–it’s hard-wired into our DNA. Starting your video sales letter with a story will allow you to connect to that primal instinct in your prospect’s brain. 
    • One of my favorite examples of a story-based lead involves a financial company pitching a new technology investment. They began the sales letter by telling the story of a First Lieutenant who was severely injured in Afghanistan. After relating the upsetting details of his injury, the story then pivots to talk about how his health was restored by an amazing new technology. This technology saved his life and allowed him to reunite with his family. Stories like these connect us to each other and make us want to keep watching. 
  7. Play hard to get
    • Too many marketers reveal the ending/solution right away instead of leading with curiosity hooks. By incentivizing the viewer to keep watching, you’re making the payoff much greater when you finally reveal the solution at the end. 

Remember, our brains are always searching for novelty and tension. They’re designed to seek the latest and greatest trend. Make sure you keep that fact top of mind when writing the start of your VSL. 

And lastly, it goes without saying at this point, but your prospect doesn’t care about you one way or another. Ouch, I know. I’m not trying to be hurtful, but it’s critical that you realize they only care about themselves. Which is to say that they only care about how your product/service will help THEM. 

So always, always, always address your viewers’ pain points early on in your VSL. This way, they immediately know that you empathize with them and aren’t just trying to sell something. 

How to Write a VSL

Now that you have your hook down pat, it’s time for you to write the rest of your VSL. 

The core principles of a strong sales letter still apply to the rest of your VSL. But it’s particularly important for a VSL that every sentence contains new information, emotion, or evokes curiosity in some way. 

Again, because viewers only have 2 options–stay with you for the entire video or click away–you can lose them at any moment. Therefore, be unforgivingly intentional about every word that you put in your VSL. 

With that said, here are 5 key components to include in the rest of your VSL after the hook:

  1. Unique Selling Proposition
    • You MUST determine what your USP is for the product or service you’re selling. Make sure your reader knows how your solution is uniquely suited to help them.
  2. Powerful Headlines
    • Headlines stick with your reader the most on an emotional level, so each headline must show how your product/service offers them the solution they’ve been searching for.
  3. Engaging Imagery
    • I mentioned earlier that VSLs vary in terms of production quality. But regardless of your budget, you need the imagery in your video to stand out and connect with your viewer.
  4. Make an Offer They Can’t Refuse
    • Approach your VSL Godfather style and create an irresistible offer for your prospects. You want your viewers to know that they’re part of an exclusive group and are receiving much more value (aim for 10X) than what they pay. Include social proof (testimonials), a buyer guarantee, and trust icons to give your VSL an added credibility lift.
  5. Clear CTAs
    • As a rule, people need to be told what to do. A key challenge for marketers is to reduce friction for prospects so they know exactly what action they need to take next. Include clear CTAs throughout your VSL and below your video to make the buying process easy. 

These 5 components, in addition to a strong hook, position your VSL strongly for success. 

As with any good sales letter, you also need to make sure you test EVERYTHING! There is nothing more frustrating than marketers who get complacent. 

Your VSL, like anything in your business, can always be improved. It’s your job to split test everything (from CTA copy to hooks to video length) so you can scale it and continuously raise your conversion rate. 

Now, I recognize that a lot of what I just shared in this post is intimidating. There’s so much pressure on each sentence of your VSL. Because of our insanely short attention spans, keeping your viewer engaged for the entire video is getting harder every day.

Therefore, I recommend that you hire a copywriter who specializes in VSLs for your niche. Your VSL should typically run upwards of 30 minutes or even an hour. Sitting down for extended periods of time to labor over every word is going to consume tons of your time and creative energy. 

Make it easy on yourself and outsource this vital part of your business to an expert–you can thank me later. 


There you have it, the secrets of a successful VSL. There’s truly never been a more exciting time for video marketing. If you get this right, you’ll be poised to achieve smashing results for your business in 2022 and beyond. 

As more people continue to prefer videos over text, you’re uniquely positioned to connect with your audience. Remember that our brains crave novelty and tension, and put the lion’s share of your effort into crafting a powerful hook. 

Get the lead wrong, and your VSL simply won’t be watched. 

But start your VSL strong, and you’re well on your way to capturing your prospect’s attention all the way through–creating lifelong, loyal customers in the process. 

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