Effective Response Is All About the Offer

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You need to do three things to create effective direct response advertising: 1) make an offer, 2) provide sufficient information to allow your prospect to accept your offer, and 3) provide an easy means of responding to your offer. So one way or another, everything hinges on your offer.


Whole books could (and should) be written about offers and offer strategy, but I'll forgo erudite lectures here and just give you a bare-bones, practical list of 59 offers that have proven to be winners over the years. Just remember that most good offers combine two or more individual offers, so all of these are mix and match.


I've organized the offers by function to make the list easier to use. Because of space limitations, I've broken the list into four installments. This shouldn't be a problem, since I know you clip and save all of my columns anyway. Right? However, if you're impatient, you can get the whole list at DirectCreative.com.


Raising Response


Technically, every type of offer is intended to boost response. However, here are classic offers that have proven particularly good at raising the numbers.


Free trial. This may be the best offer ever devised. People can try your product free and without obligation for 10 days, 15 days, 30 days or more. The time frame should fit the product. This offer removes risk for the prospect and overcomes inertia.


Money-back guarantee. This is perhaps the second-best offer. A customer pays upfront, but if dissatisfied can return the item for a full refund. Like the free trial, this removes risk but allows you to use customer inertia because only a small percentage of people take the trouble to return something.


Free gift. When you offer a freebie that your customer wants, your offer usually will out-pull a discount offer of similar value. That's because a gift is a more tangible benefit.


Limited time. An offer with a time limit gets more response than an offer without one, especially when you give a specific deadline. This forces a decision, and the faster you can force a decision, the more likely it will be in your favor.


Yes/No. You ask your prospect to respond positively or negatively, usually by affixing a "yes" or "no" stamp, checking one of two boxes, returning one of two reply forms, etc. This creates involvement and usually pulls more response than an offer that does not offer a "no" option.


Negative option. This is generally used with a free trial. You let your prospect try your product for free and then automatically ship unless the prospect specifically refuses the order within a certain time frame. This often results in higher returns and a few more irate phone calls, but it pulls better upfront and can produce higher overall sales.


Credit card payment. Nothing is easier than paying with plastic. These days, there's no reason not to accept payment this way whether by phone, mail, fax or the Internet.


Sweepstakes. This can dramatically increase order volume. Just remember that running a sweepstakes can be a pain. And sweepstakes customers are seldom loyal. Plus, many marketers find that once they start using sweepstakes, it's hard to go back to more traditional offers.


Lowering Risk


Since people can't touch or try your wares immediately, there's always an element of risk when buying via direct marketing. By lowering risk, you can raise sales.


Double-your-money-back guarantee. Since most people never make a return, this is a simple way to dramatize both your offer and your guarantee for low-priced items.


Long-term guarantee. This is another way to dramatize your offer and guarantee. Instead of a 30- or 60-day guarantee, you offer a one-year, multi-year or lifetime guarantee. If you can reasonably expect your product to last, this puts inertia and forgetfulness on your side because few people will take advantage of or even remember your guarantee later.


Guaranteed buy-back. This is just another way of offering a standard money-back guarantee. You offer to "buy back" the item if your customer is not satisfied. It is often used with collectibles.


Guaranteed acceptance. If people usually go through an application process to use your product, access your service or join your club, give them a guarantee to accept them. You'll often see this offer with credit card or financial products.


Limited-time introduction. This lets prospects try something with little risk before making a greater commitment. "Try 13 weeks of The Wall Street Journal for only $34." You must track responses, though, and be sure your conversions justify the lower price.


Yes/Maybe. This is another way to make a low-commitment or no-obligation offer. You're happy to get the "maybe" response, which could be for a free trial, product information, introductory offer, etc. And if you get some "yes" responses, that's gravy.


Next time, offers that reduce price and increase urgency.


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