3 little hints for effective limited-time offers

limited time offersPeople are procrastinators. That’s why the limited-time offer remains one of the most effective direct marketing techniques in the known universe.

It’s not an insult to call your prospects and customers procrastinators. It’s just true. I readily admit that I procrastinate. And I’ll bet you do too.

After all, making decisions takes effort. And every day forces us to make an endless series of decisions. What will we wear? What will we eat? What will we buy for that birthday? Will we go to the beach or the mountains for vacation? Which school will our kids attend? Will we say yes to the party invitation? Should we apply for that new job? Can we afford the new car?

Your customers live busy lives. They’re stressed and tired. And they don’t want to put any more effort into making a decision about your product or service than they have to. If they can put it off, they will. And that means a lost opportunity for them and a lost sale for you.

The limited-time offer provides the perfect solution. Psychologists and sales people know that if you give people a yes or no decision to make, it’s more likely to turn out in your favor if it’s made quickly. And the best way to force a quick decision is to limit the time available.

In addition, people don’t like to miss out on a good thing. They’re hardwired to avoid loss, even if it’s just the loss of an opportunity to get a great deal.

So, while “Save 25%” is an attractive offer, “Save 25% — Offer ends Tuesday” is more likely to prompt a purchase.

Assuming I’ve convinced you that limited-time offers are a good thing, here are three tips for getting the most from this technique:

Highlight the end date. Don’t hide the date in tiny legal mumbo jumbo. Make sure people see it. Call attention to it with bold text, a bright color, an underline, or box. A time limit only works if people know about it, so you can’t be subtle about how it appears in your ads.

Use command language. Never be shy about telling people what you want them to do. Tell them to “call today,” “reply now,” “order immediately,” or “register online.” This is sometimes referred to as the “call to action” and helps emphasize the urgency of your time limit.

You might even add the word “hurry” to help connect the end date with the call to action. “Hurry! Call today. This offer ends on March 15.”

Stick to it. If you say that your offer ends on July 7, mean it. When July 8 rolls around, it’s over. If customers learn that your offers don’t really end on the specified date, they’ll stop responding.

For example, I’ve purchased several audio products from a company that incessantly offers deep discounts. Their ads and catalogs scream a time limit to these offers, but when the time expires I know I can still get the deal on their website. Or I can just wait to hear from them again, because I’ve learned they’ll just extend the deadline.

Do I still order their products? Yes, but not as often. Why should I respond now when I know I can place an order anytime and get the special deal?

If you’re looking for a way to improve the response to your ads, try a time limit. It costs you nothing and it’s proven to work.

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2 Responses to “3 little hints for effective limited-time offers”

  1. Alan Fagan on January 10th, 2012 8:26 am

    Great article, Dean! So many marketers have forgotten the basics like this. It’s great to have a reminder every now and again…

  2. Jeff Sleight on January 13th, 2012 3:24 pm

    I think it’s weird how some stores keep the sale going, it makes me not believe in their sales. I’ve also wondered why they hide the date, I can see that increasing conversions. To me it’s always weird when a store puts the same item on sale once a month, they lose creativity with sales too.

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