Harry Potter and the Irresistible Offer

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J.K. Rowling, author of the best-selling Harry Potter book series, is the richest woman in Britain. With a net worth of more than $1 billion, she has more money than the Queen.

Hard at work on the seventh and final installment of the series, Ms. Rowling revealed in a recent interview a fact that shocked me: She had written the final chapter to book seven more than 15 years ago, before she had a publisher for the first Harry Potter book. That way, she explained, she knew how the series was going to end before she wrote it - and by extension, all the action is a preamble to that conclusion.

When you think about it, direct response copywriting works the same way. Every word you write is designed to drive the reader inexorably toward the response device and motivate him to complete and return the order form.

Therefore, if we follow Ms. Rowling's approach, we should write the order form first, not the envelope teaser, letter headline or lead. The more irresistible the offer in the order form copy, the easier it will be to drive your reader toward it.

Here are tips for creating stronger order form copy:

Make the most enticing offer possible. Of course, you don't know which offer will pull best. All you can do is use your experience and intelligence to create offers that seem test-worthy, then go ahead and test them. Your tests determine which offer is the winner: the strongest and most enticing. Then you roll out with that offer.

If you have a particularly strong offer, don't just relegate it to the order element. Feature it up front. Years ago, the McGraw-Hill Chemical Engineers' Book Club made a spectacular offer: join us and get a Perry's Handbook - a massive, expensive and essential reference manual for chemical engineers - for essentially just shipping and handling.

This powerful offer was right on the outer envelope. Teaser: "Why is the McGraw-Hill Chemical Engineers' Book Club giving away - practically for FREE - this special 50th Anniversary Edition of Perry's Chemical Engineers' Handbook?"

Make the product affordable - or create the impression that it is. Make the price seem like a bargain. One way is to state the price in language that makes it seem small. For instance, a one-year newsletter subscription for $100 costs "just 27 cents a day ... less than the price of a cup of coffee."

I recently published an online book compendium of copywriting tips from top copywriters and marketers, for which I wanted to charge $39. When my freelance editor gave me the first draft, it contained 34 copywriting tips from 34 experts. I told him to add at least half a dozen more chapters so that we would have at least 40 chapters.

When he asked why, I explained that, with a $39 price tag and 40 chapters, I could say in my copy that we were offering these powerful copywriting secrets from the masters "for less than a dollar per secret."

Stress the guarantee. A 30-day or 60-day money-back guarantee is, in essence, a risk-free home trial. If the product is shipped on a bill-me basis, it is a free home trial. Even stronger: You pay for the return shipping and even send UPS to pick up the product if the customer wants to send it back.

Especially if your competitors do not offer it, a free home trial can be a powerful offer. You can tell the reader: "Send no money now. We'll rush you our gizmo for inspection. Use it for a full month. If you don't love it, we'll come to your house and pick it up at our expense. That way, trying our gizmo has cost you nothing. There's no risk. You can't lose."

Sell the premium, not the product. A strong premium has three characteristics. First, it is highly desirable, meaning that when prospects read about it, they want it.

Second, it has a high perceived value in relation to its cost. An online book makes a good premium because it has a perceived value of at least $29, but costs you practically nothing to deliver.

Third, it's unusual. Example: a publisher selling a newsletter on offshore investing offered to open a Swiss bank account for anyone who subscribed.

Show that the price is a drop in the bucket compared with the value. Here's an example: You are selling a software package. The "list price" is $400. Your direct mail promotion offers it for $300, 25 percent off the regular rate. The prospect saves $100.

Or you are selling an investment newsletter for $100. When the prospect subscribes, he gets six special reports with a cover price of $19 each. At that rate, the value of the premiums exceeds the entire cost of the product. Another way to look at it is that for $100, he gets $114 worth of reports, and so the newsletter is in essence free.

The imperative to drive the reader toward action - either an order or an inquiry - is what sets direct response apart from all other marketing. By writing the most dramatic (appealing) order form (ending) first, you - like J.K. Rowling - can make your entire promotion (story) more powerful, appealing and compelling to your readers ... and perhaps, like Ms. Rowling, get rich in the process.

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