|Dear Marketing Top Gun:Which of these three offers pulled best? Please note that all are identical but expressed differently…
- 1) 50% Off!
- 2) Half Price!
- 3) Buy One, Get One Free!
In my experience—as well as that of others who’ve tested this—#3 invariably wins. It’s called the “bogo” offer—short for buy one, get one free.
Bob Stone, in his classic book Successful Direct Marketing Methods, reports that offer #3, the bogo, outpulled the other two by 40 percent.
Do You Bogo?
The bogo works like magic in boosting response in virtually all markets where it’s appropriate to give a discount. I say “appropriate” because if you’re a neurosurgeon, running a “buy one, get one free” sale on brain operations would scare away more patients than you’d attract.
But for just about everyone else, it’s exceptionally responsive. The classic way to bogo is to give away the exact same product for a purchase.
Or you can get creative…
When I was a copy chief, we had a client who sold gold and silver bullion, both of which were red-hot investments at the time. One of my star copywriters, Peter Betuel, came up with this great offer: “Free ounce of silver for every ounce of gold you buy!” Then as now, silver cost a tiny fraction of gold (about 1/60th), so this was easy for our client to do. But what a compelling offer it makes!
Do You Gogo?
Another strong offer, especially around the holidays, is the bogo’s first cousin, the gogo—short for “give one, get one free.”
Example: Not long ago I wrote a renewal letter for a newsletter in which I’m a partner. To all our subscribers, we romanced what an ideal holiday gift the newsletter makes for family, friends, and business associates. The killer offer: “For every one-year subscription that you give to someone else, we’ll extend your own subscription by a year.” Give one, get one free. Give two, get two free, etc.
It worked like a dream. One man gave away 62 subscriptions, earning so many one-year extensions, he’ll have to leave them in his will.
Checklist of Proven Offer Ideas to Boost Your Response
- The offer is the second-most-important component in any direct marketing effort. The first is your list; the third is your copy. It follows that you should spend at least as much time tinkering with your offer as with your headline. Here are some ideas to spur your thinking…
- “Make your offer so great that only a lunatic would refuse to buy”
- A believable reason for a special offer boosts response. Was there a fire at your warehouse and you must liquidate everything? Is the manufacturer running a one-time-only promotion? Is your company’s founder retiring and giving his best customers an unprecedented deal as a fond farewell? Are you celebrating a special anniversary or event, introducing a new service, or clearing out overstocked inventory? Are you tying your offer to a major news event or seasonal holiday on everyone’s mind? Will you give a portion of your profits to a charity or to help victims of a recent disaster? Are you offering your product at cost for a limited time to win new customers? Whatever the reason, merchandise it to the hilt and your response will rise. If you don’t have a reason to run a special offer, come up with one. A believable reason gives your offer traction.
- Never sell more than one thing at a time, unless you have a catalog or a group of closely related items (for example, mystery books in a book club offer). In more than 40 years of copywriting, the most effective strategy I’ve ever found for advertising profitably is to sell one thing per ad and sell it thoroughly.
- However, always try to come up with a deluxe version of your basic offer. A percentage of your prospects will always opt for your highest-priced offer. Offering a deluxe option also subtly switches the decision your prospects face from a “yes-or-no” choice to an “A-or-B” choice, often resulting in a higher response and almost always a higher average sale.Carrying this one step further, it often pays to make a good, better, best offer, such as the Franklin Mint has done with bronze, silver, or gold versions of its collectible coins and ingots. Magazines and newsletters do the same with one-year, two-year, and three-year options, featuring progressively generous discounts or additional premiums.
- Always test the same type of offer being repeated by your competitors. Unless they’re dummies (always possible), they’re repeating it because it works. But also try something dramatically different along the lines of #2 above—so outrageously risk-free and irresistible, only a fool would refuse.
- Make your guarantee as strong as you can. For example, I’ve found that longer-term guarantees reduce refunds! In other words, a one-year, full money-back guarantee not only gives your prospect more confidence when considering an order, triggering higher response, but also results in fewer refunds than a one-, three-, or six-month guarantee. A five-year guarantee works better still. These longer terms allow a disappointed customer to feel that he has plenty of time to get around to returning the item. Most of the time, he never does.
- Test a price ending in 7. My friend, the legendary marketer and copywriter Ted Nicholas, has tested pricing extensively. He reports that prices ending in the number 7 work better than any other number. (Pricing is its own major subject, and there are so many pointers I’d like to share, I’ll cover them in a separate Bullet. But I couldn’t resist sharing this gem from Ted.)
- “Till forbid” is where the largest treasure is buried! In any business, repeat business is where the real money lies. That’s why it’s usually much smarter to sell an ongoing product or service than a one-shot. Whatever your business, try to figure out how you can market it as a club, a membership, a newsletter, a periodic maintenance service, or some other continuity relationship.Better still, have your new customers pay by credit card and give you their permission to bang it every month, quarter, or other regular interval. You’ll never find an easier way to make money than when your customer is on an automatic repurchase plan. It puts you in control of initiating the next regular purchase, instead of relying on your customer to remember. In this way you convert onetime sales into continuously flowing rivers of revenue.
- A “takeaway” offer can be extremely effective in boosting response. People never want something so much as when it might be snatched away and thereafter forbidden. If you have a hard deadline after which no orders will be accepted or a limit you can place on the number of orders you’ll fulfill, by all means mention it. It will significantly boost your response.And whatever limit you set, either in time or the number of allowable orders, mean it! Don’t fudge or give in to greed and accept orders beyond the limit. If you do, your customers will eventually discover that your deadlines and limits mean nothing, and you will have killed this golden goose.Louis Rukeyser once sought my counsel on how to increase subscribers to his investment newsletter. He already had amassed about 500,000 subs, which made his publication the world’s largest “guru” letter. But he wanted more.I told him that the easiest way—in fact, the only way—I could see him attracting a million subscribers would be, ironically, to strictlylimit subscriptions to one million. Having such a cutoff would drive subscribers through the door in droves. I said, “Lou, I’d be happy to write a direct mail package for you that strictly limits your readership exclusively to one million investors. We can romance it this way: ‘Just one million subscribers—a tiny fraction of one percent of the world’s investors—will be exclusively entitled to receive my specific buy/sell recommenda- tions.'”He rejected my idea because he didn’t want to limit the growth of his newsletter in any way or to any size, even a million. But true to my forecast, he never reached anywhere near the million mark.
- If prices are going up, say so! Another form of the “takeaway,” this beat-the-coming-price-increase offer works like gangbusters with your existing customer list.
- Always offer a unique and alluring premium or set of premiums. Usually premiums related to your product work best, especially for informational products. But not always, so test.In his book, Secrets of Successful Direct Mail, mail order wizard Dick Benson says, “Desirability is the key element of a premium. The relationship of the premium to the product isn’t important.” As an example, Dick describes tests he conducted to induce drivers to apply for the Shell gasoline credit card. To everyone’s surprise (including mine, as I was one of the copywriters working on the Shell account at the time), the strongest premium had nothing to do with cars or driving. It wasn’t car coffee mugs, sunglasses, or even free gasoline. The winner was a free set of steak knives.
- Offer an extra bonus for prompt response. This is sometimes called an “early-bird bonus,” or a “fast 50″ gift, as in “Free Gift for the First 50 Who Reply.” Unless you’re online, don’t lock yourself into a fixed date, such as, “Free if you reply by January 31.” An unexpected delay at the hands of the post office or printer can massacre your response, as prospects are already too late as soon as they see your ad.Instead, say “Free if you reply in 7 days.” Test different periods, such as 10, 15, or even 30 days, to find what works best for you.
- Sometimes a “mystery” early-bird bonus, described with tantalizing copy, can pull even better than a specific description.Example: For a weight-loss space ad I wrote for Richard Simmons, our strongest early-bird premium proved to be a mystery gift. Here’s how I described it, next to the coupon, using Richard’s own voice, of course…
“A Surprise Gift from Me to You…with Love”
“Everyone loves a surprise gift, especially me! And I’ve got one for you that’s extra special if you respond to my invitation within the next 10 days. It’s something you absolutely must have before you can seriously consider losing weight and keeping it off. And it’s very, very personal.
“I’ll bet you want to know what it is…Sorry! I can’t tell you—that would ruin the surprise! But I can tell you what it’s not:
“It’s not a magic potion or a low-calorie pizza…It’s not a zipper for your mouth or a padlock for your refrigerator …And it’s definitely not another fat-gram counter!
“It IS, quite simply, to be an indispensable item that will help you get and stay motivated. You’ll slim down. You’ll become fit and healthy. It will help you see yourself perhaps as you’ve never seen yourself before, and it will continue to inspire you for years to come.
“Oh! I just can’t contain myself any longer! The suspense is killing me. The surprise is…Oops! I almost said it!
“Sending you this wonderful gift with my love and affection will give me such pleasure. Join my exclusive Never Give Up Weight Loss Club right now and this gift will be yours to keep, along with everything else I name in the coupon at right.(Pssst…don’t tell anyone else what your gift is when you get it. You don’t want to ruin their surprise, do you?)
* * *
This mystery gift offer worked like a charm. I described it this way because the gift was a small book of testimonials from Club members who mentioned some of their favorite weight-loss tips and why the Club meant so much to them. To describe it as such seemed a little flat, and try as I might, I couldn’t come up with anything scintillating. So I turned to the “mystery gift” strategy. It helped make Richard’s audience not only want this gift, but even more passionately want to join a club where they could experience an ongoing relationship with Richard, who seemed to care so much about them and their weight problems. They wanted to feel his warmth, understanding, encouragement, and acceptance much more than they craved another set of diet tips.
And that is probably the greatest secret of all—with each of your offers, let your genuine love, empathy, and affection for your customers shine through. They will feel it and respond in kind.
Other enticing offers you can try, depending on your business:free shipping, free sample, free trial, free information, free estimate, free consultation, or even free “money”—such as a coupon, discount certificate, or facsimile currency or check that’s valid toward a purchase. Notice the common element in all these proven offers: the word free, which reduces your customer’s risk and makes it more enticing to say yes.And let’s not forget the venerable free talent test. For many years, the Art Instruction Institute ran ads on matchbook covers, featuring a sketch of a pirate along with this challenge…
Are You an Artist?
Draw the Pirate
This matchbook ad promised that if you take this simple aptitude test (tracing the pirate not permitted), the Institute’s instructors would review it and let you know if you have the talent to be an artist. I understand that Peanuts creator Charles Schulz was accepted and later graduated from this program with honors.
To my dismay, I could not draw the pirate.
Would you like a good laugh right now? Check out this underground film short (just seven minutes) that anyone in direct marketing should find hilarious. It spoofs the famous matchbook ad, “Draw the Pirate.” Go to this link now and you’ll be LOL, I promise…
Sincere wishes for a good life
and (always!) higher response,
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