7 Proven Techniques to Boost Response

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My grandfather used to say, "There's more than one way to skin a cat!" And if you made the mistake of asking, he would describe each way in grisly detail.

As a direct response copywriter, designer and consultant, I'm always discovering new and better ways to help my clients sell things. So I know there's more than one way to write a letter, design an order form or phrase an offer. (And if you make the mistake of asking me, I'll describe each way in excruciating detail.)

But I also know from long experience that it's often the tried-and-true that leads to the best results. And while there are no sure things in our business, there are a handful of techniques that have a long history of raising response almost every time they are tested.

Here are seven of them:

• "Yes/No" offer. It usually pulls better than an offer without a "no" option. It's popular for subscriptions, but I've used it with other promotions, even fundraising. I like to use "yes" and "no" tokens, but you can use other techniques, such as check boxes, separate reply cards or different return envelopes. Why does it work? It draws attention, adds urgency, increases involvement and clarifies both the offer and what must be done to accept it.

• Credit card payment. You probably already allow customers to order with a credit card, but it bears repeating: A credit card option usually outpulls a cash-only option. But always allow payment by check or money order for those who are uncomfortable with giving out a credit card number. Tip: On your order form, use icons for the credit cards you accept. They communicate instantly and may even add a little credibility (just as the "As Seen On TV" icon adds credibility).

• Time limit. For many, a time limit seems counterintuitive. You might ask, "If I say customers have to respond by the 24th, won't I lose all orders after that?" Maybe, but you'll gain more orders before that. In fact, you'll usually get more orders overall and get them faster. A time limit fights inertia and forces people to make a decision now. A specific date is the most powerful, but you can fudge and ask for a reply in "the next 14 days" or "by the end of the month" or something similar.

• Free gift. This usually outperforms a discount offer. And it provides the added benefit of maintaining the value of your product or service. (A discount can backfire, training customers to expect lower prices.) And it works so well, you should give away something free whenever

you can.

• Sweepstakes. I have a love/hate relationship with sweepstakes. They usually increase order volume, but they torpedo customer loyalty. And many marketers get trapped in an endless cycle of sweepstakes offers to keep orders flowing. My advice? Think long and hard before committing to a sweepstakes strategy.

• Envelope package. It usually performs better than a self-mailer. Why? You have more real estate to work with. It allows you to divide and conquer, separating out the order form, letter, product information, guarantee, etc. And all the bits and pieces make for more involvement. The more involved you can get people and the more they read, the greater your chance for getting an order. But a self-mailer is cheaper, easier and sometimes may even get a better response. So when in doubt, test.

• Bind-in card. It usually increases response to a print ad. No mystery here. A bind-in card is easier to use than a coupon. Just pull it out and mail it. But a coupon has to be cut with scissors (could be hard to find) or ripped out by hand (which often results in a mess). Not all publications allow a bind-in, and it's often expensive. But when you can test it, test it, because it can sometimes double (or triple or quadruple) your response.

As with all techniques, these proven winners can be modified to fit your particular needs. For example, in a recent subscription package, I used a variation of the "Yes/No" offer in the form of "Free" and "No thanks" tokens.

The copy beside the "Free" token read, "Return your invitation with this token, and we'll send your free issues immediately." The copy beside the "No thanks" token read, "Return your invitation with this token, and we'll give your free issues to someone else." It's hard to say no and lose something free.

But what's the best, most proven way to skin a cat? Don't ask.

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