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NMOA Direct Marketing Article
How to Create Irresistible Offers
By Bob Bly

Experienced direct marketers know this. Business people who are not direct marketers find it hard to believe.

But it's true.

Your offer - what people get when they respond to your promotion, and what they have to do to get it - can make an enormous difference in response, even if all other factors - product, copy, graphics, list - stay the same.

In fact, I have seen a simple change in offer increase response to a mailing 10% ... 25% ... 100% ... and a few times as much as 900%! (Though that's rare.) Years ago I had a client who sold utility software for IBM mainframe computers. He would send out a letter with a technical description of the software and its function, and offer to send the software on magnetic tape for a "free 30-day trial," which was (and still is) an industry-standard offer. One day he changed one word in his offer, and response to all his mailings increased 15%.

Can you guess what word he changed? He changed "trial" to "use," so instead of a free 30-day trial, he said, "use this software free for 30 days."

He was amazed that such a trivial difference could boost his response. He asked his customers why the difference would matter. The IT (Information Technology) professionals who were his buyers explained to him that the word "trial" had a negative connotation. It meant coming in late at night, taking systems offline, interrupting service, extra work, and possibly losing files. So "trial" was, for some, a turn-off. But everyone who buys a product wants to use it, so "free use" was immensely appealing to this audience. That's why it increased response.

Armed with this knowledge, my client made "use it free for 30 days" his standard offer in all promotions. But then he changed yet another word, and again saw response lift, this time about 10%.

Do you know what word he changed this time? He changed "30" to "60," doubling the length of the free use period.

Again he asked IT professionals why this made a difference to them. "The typical 30-day trial is not enough time," they told him. What happened was this: it would take a week for the software to get from the mailroom to their desk. It would sit in the pile in their in-box for another week. Then they would open the package, be intimidated by the manual, and put it aside for another week. By the time they were finally ready to trial the software, only a week was left in the 30-day trial period. Fearing they would miss the deadline and be billed for software they didn't want, they would return it immediately rather than risk being late, and therefore never try it or buy it. By changing the trial period from 30 to 60 days, a margin of an extra month was built in. The prospects had plenty of time to trial the software, decide whether they liked it, and if so, buy it. Response rates and sales increased significantly.

What can we conclude from this story?

1. Offers make a difference. The offer is important - not a trivial after-thought.

2. You never know which offer will pull best - or why.

3. Therefore, you should test different offers to find the one that will maximize your response.

By the way, although changes in offer increased response in this instance by about 25% total, I have seen cases where response has increased up to 1,000%.

In one such example, a car rental company tested two different offers. The first offer was a free upgrade, e.g., you would get a midsize car for the price of a compact.

The second offer was a discount on rental costs if you prepurchased your car rental in advance.

I told the auto company that the prepurchase offer would bomb (who rents cars in advance?) and the upgrade (a tested and proven offer) would win.

But I was wrong: the prepurchase offer generated 10 times the revenue of the upgrade offer - an increase of 900%!

About the Author:
BOB BLY is an independent copywriter and consultant with more than 25 years of experience in business-to-business, high-tech, industrial, and direct marketing. He has written copy for over 100 clients including Network Solutions, ITT Fluid Technology, Medical Economics, Intuit, Business & Legal Reports, and Brooklyn Union Gas...and has won numerous industry awards. Bob is the author of more than 70 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books) and The Copywriter’s Handbook (Henry Holt & Co.). Visit:

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