Dean's List of Proven Offers
by Dean Rieck
There are three things you must do in order 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 and practical list of offers that have proven to be winners over the years. Just remember that most good offers are really combinations of two or more individual offers, so all of these are mix and match. And I've organized the offers by function to make the list easier to use.
- Free Trial This may be the best offer ever devised. People can try out 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 offer removes risk but allows you to use customer inertia because only a small percentage of people will take the trouble to return something.
- Free Gift When you offer a freebie that your customer wants, your offer will usually outpull 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 offer 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 allow your prospect to 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 up-front 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 your 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.
- 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 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 on.
- 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 Offer If people usually go through an application process to use your product, access your service, or join your club, you can give them a guarantee to accept them. You'll often see this offer with credit card or financial products.
- Limited-Time Introductory Offer This lets prospects try something with little risk before making a greater commitment. "Try 13 weeks of The Wall Street Journal for only $34.00." You must track responses, though, and be sure your conversions justify the lower price.
- Yes/Maybe This is another way of making 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.
- Dollars Off You offer a certificate or coupon with a dollar value that may be redeemed toward a purchase. However, test carefully, because a free gift of equal value usually works better.
- Refunds and Rebates With a refund, you may ask $3 for your catalog then send a $3 discount certificate to be used on a first order. With a rebate, you offer a delayed discount, encouraging a purchase then sending a check or coupon with a particular value.
- Sales A seasonal sale is a trusty standby to raise volume. A "reason why" sale is similar, but gives some explanation for lowering the price, such as going out of business, inventory reduction, overstock, etc.
- Introductory Price A way to allow people to try something at a reduced cost for a short period of time. You can use this to get new customers, though it may annoy loyal customers who might feel they should get the best price.
- Relationship Discount The opposite of the introductory price. For example, new customers pay $30, while regular customers pay just $25. The goal here is to reward customers, not to get new customers.
- Group Discount A special discount exclusive to a type of profession, industry, club, etc. An investment magazine can offer a "professional discount" for accountants, for example. This lets you target certain markets.
- Quantity Discount The more ordered, the better the deal. If your customer orders 5 books, you provide a 5% discount. Or you offer a lower per-issue price for a 2-year subscription than for a 1-year subscription.
- Step-Up Discount Like the quantity discount, but based on the amount ordered. For example, a 5% discount for orders over $50, a 10% discount for orders over $100, and a 15% discount for orders over $250.
- Early-Bird Discount A good way to encourage more and faster orders. Make sure the discount is a real discount. Don't just raise prices for those who order later.
- Price Matching If you compete on price, you offer to match any competitor's price. The idea is to assure prospects that you offer low prices.
- Trade-in Offer You offer dollars off when a customer trades in a previous model or version and buys a new one. The trade-in can be your own brand or a competitor's.
- Last Chance Usually a reminder that you've previously made an offer, but time is running out. If you say "last chance," mean it.
- Limited Edition Good for collectables, such as art, plates, coins, special book printings, etc. The idea is that the item is special in some way and that there are only x number available, or there's a time limit.
- Enrollment Period You establish a "window of opportunity" when prospects may enroll for insurance, home study, business services, whatever.
- Pre-Publication Offer A popular offer used by book publishers, especially expensive reference works. The idea is that you need to plan your print run, so you offer a special deal and reserve copies for readers ahead of time. Readers are guaranteed to get a copy and save money, usually 10 or 15% off what the general public will pay.
- Price Increase Announcement If prices are going up, you can announce it ahead of time so people can take advantage of the old prices one last time or stock up.
- Charter Membership You offer a prospect the chance to be one of the first to subscribe to a publication or join a club or organization. There is generally a special introductory price, a gift, or other incentives.
- Payment With Order Not a motivating offer by itself, but it is often used with a money-back guarantee and other incentives, such as credit card payment option, free shipping, premiums, etc.
- Bill Me Later Used with free trial offers. The customer gets the item first, then pays a bill later on. This appeals to the modern consumer who has been trained to postpone payment till the last possible moment. It can double response over a straight cash upfront offer.
- Installments This offer takes a larger price and divides it into a set number of smaller monthly payments, often with no interest. This makes paying a high price seem painless. Installment terms are most effective when the total price is de-emphasized or not mentioned.
- Positive Option The reverse of a negative option. If used by a book club, the customer must ask for shipment of one or more books to get them. Response to this offer is lower than to negative option, but customer quality is often better long-term.
- Reservation Option You offer to reserve or set aside an item that will soon be announced to the general public and may sell out. You also give a special price or a premium for response by a certain date. Similar to the pre-publication offer.
- Gift Shipment Service A customer sends you a gift list, and you send the gifts to the names given either for free or for a nominal charge. Here, you're selling convenience for those who are too busy to shop.
- Rush Shipping Service You promise to ship an item overnight or within a short time period by UPS, FedEx, or other service. This works only for things people may want quickly.
- Free "Keeper" Gift To encourage prospects to make the decision to try your product or service, you offer a gift. They may then keep that gift, even if they change their mind later on.
- Free Gift with Payment This encourages payment. You can offer a gift for every paid order or for orders of a minimum value. But you don't have to offer just one, you can offer two, three, four, or more.
- Choice of Free Gifts Here, you offer a choice between two or more gifts. While this seems very appealing, it often does not work as well as offering a single gift, since the choice may create indecision and inertia (and means losing the other gifts).
- "Stepped" Free Gifts You reward a customer based on the size of the order. The more they order, the more gifts they get or the higher the quality.
- Two-Step Gift Small gift for first step, bigger gift for next step or free something for trying it, free something else for buying it.
- Cumulative Incentives A customer loyalty reward, such as points for buying books, frequent flyer miles, every 13th video rental free, etc. Works best when the building value is tangible and visible, as in a card that gets stamped with every purchase and when full may be redeemed.
- Deluxe Version You offer a second version of the same item with enhanced features for a little more money. This can boost total dollars.
- Good-Better-Best This gives your prospect a choice. It also subtly urges people to spend more than they might if you can demonstrate that the best choice is the best value. Ideally, you should show more features for higher-quality items.
- Do-It-Yourself Offer You allow your prospect to decide the offer. With a subscription, you might offer 95 cents an issue, and let the prospect fill in the number of issues he or she wants. Or you might make several suggestions and let the prospect chose one. This is used in fundraising all the time, where the donor picks the level of giving from several choices.
- Load-Up In a continuity series, you send all the books in a series after the first few are paid for, allowing your customer to continue paying month-to-month. In a CD club, you might offer 6 CDs for a dollar each, but get a commitment for buying 6 more CDs at regular prices within a certain time frame. Either way, you're "loading up" the customer and assuring more purchases.
- Lifetime Membership Fee You ask your prospect to pay a one-time fee to become an exclusive "member" of your club or organization. In return, he or she gets reduced prices and other benefits not available to the general public, though there is no requirement to buy anything. The idea is that once someone makes such an investment, they are more likely to buy from you and remain loyal.
- Annual Membership Fee Similar to the lifetime membership fee, but the fee is assessed yearly.
- Ship Till Forbid Often used with continuity programs, business services, or perishable products. This offers your customer the convenience of regular shipments and the option of canceling those shipments at any time.
- Free Information This is the ideal offer for identifying interested prospects for a sales staff, making two-step sales, creating a list, and initiating a first contact for a long-term relationship or sales cycle. You can offer a catalog, booklet, video, fact kit, checklist, etc., as long as it has value for the recipient. In all cases, offering free information should be more than just the distribution of literature. It should be the first step in a sales process.
- Samples If you have a good product, it can sell itself if you can get a sample into a prospect's hands. You can offer a sample free, or charge a nominal fee (which may encourage the prospect to actually try it, since they've invested in it, and then buy it).
- Free Gift for Inquiry You offer a gift as a reward for requesting information about your product or service. As you might expect, this can boost the number of people who inquire but lower their quality.
- Sales Call Your prospect asks for a sales person to call and set up an appointment. This produces high-quality leads, but lower overall response. Generally those who want to talk to a salesperson are ready to buy.
- Free "Survey of Your Needs" You offer to analyze your prospect's requirements with no obligation. Then you show how your product or service can fulfill those requirements. This is an attractive service and a low-threat way for your prospect to consider your product or service.
- Free Demonstration This is especially good for equipment that is new or complex. You offer to bring the item to the prospect or invite the prospect to a particular location for a demonstration.
- Free Cost Estimate For businesses who get bids or analyze costs carefully, this a good first step to get your foot in the door.
- Free Subscription You offer a subscription to a newsletter, journal, or other company publication to educate prospects and build your database. There should be solid editorial, though, not just promotional puffery.
- Member-Get-a-Member You give your customer a free gift for providing the name of someone else who may be interested in your wares. A good way to build your customer base.
Copyright © 2002 Dean Rieck. All Rights Reserved.
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