Direct Marketing Article
The Power of Premiums
By Bob Bly
In the late 70s, when I took my first marketing job in Baltimore with
Westinghouse, we had a secret marketing weapon we referred to as the "junk
cabinet." It was filled with all sorts of advertising specialties - favorites were
golf balls and golf tees - all imprinted with the Westinghouse "circle W"
My first thought was, "Who would want this cheap junk?" Turns out,
Whenever a salesman was giving a high-ranking general a tour of the plant
(our biggest customer was the military), he'd invariably ask us for golf
balls and tees.
It was fascinating to see that the presentation of these items - which only
cost a few bucks - thrilled the customers to no end.
Once, we sent Westinghouse customers a single cufflink with an invitation
promising they would get the matching link when they came to our exhibit at
a major trade show.
We barely had enough room in our giant booth to accommodate those who came -
almost all asking for their free cufflink.
Fast forward a decade or so. I am at a meeting of a marketing club. A man
who works for a pharmaceutical advertising agency tells me an amazing story.
His agency regularly used direct mail to invite medical doctors to a
symposia on diseases treated by his clients' products.
To see whether he could increase attendance, he decided to offer a free
pocket diary to doctors accepting the invitation. Cost of the item: a buck
In an A/B split test, mailings offering the free pocket diary outpulled
mailings without the free gift offer 6 to 1!
The conclusion: people love to get free stuff. By offering a small free gift
to your prospects, you can significantly boost the response to your
marketing efforts at minimal cost.
If your prospect is an information seeker, then a free information premium -
a booklet, a white paper, a special report - can perform well.
If your prospect is not a reader, then use a merchandise premium. The
possibilities are almost limitless: coffee mugs, golf balls, T-shirts, golf
caps, tape measures, mini-tool sets, pens, key chains, luggage tags, and
calculators, just for starters.
The cost of the premium depends on what you can afford to spend to acquire a
new customer. But in most instances, we're looking for premiums that cost $5
You can improve your response rates by offering a premium that has a
perceived value much higher than its cost.
A CD-ROM can be a great premium, because the value of its content - whether
images, video, audio, or software - can be extremely high (software sells
from $19 to $500 or more per program), but the duplication cost is a few
On the other hand, a publisher did a promo that bombed where they offered a
deck of playing cards with the famous editor's photo on them. Perceived
value is low: everybody knows a deck of cards costs about 89 cents in CVS.
Advertising Age magazine had a spectacular success offering a personalized
coffee mug with the subscriber's name on it.
What made it work was that the name was incorporated into a headline, "Bob
Bly Wins Marketing Genius Award" - that was laser-printed on a facsimile of
the front page of an Ad Age issue on the mug.
In addition to high perceived value, look for premiums that are unique. The
Sovereign Society, a newsletter on offshore investing, had great success
offering new subscribers an unusual premium: their own Swiss bank account.
I advise every direct marketer to offer a premium, whether you're generating
sales leads or selling a mail order product.
By doing so, you can legitimately work the word "FREE" into your headline or
envelope teaser -- and in doing so increase your chances of catching the
prospect's attention and getting an inquiry or order.
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: www.BobBlyMarketingBooks.com