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NMOA Direct Marketing Article
What McDonald's can Teach you about Marketing?
by Bob Bly

A few months ago I heard a radio commercial for McDonald's. I'm not a big fan of general advertising, but I thought this commercial was moderately clever and effective.

In the commercial, a guy walks into work late carrying a cup of McDonald's coffee. The irate boss berates him: "You're late because you stopped and bought a cup of McDonald's coffee?" "Nope," the worker replies. "What do you mean, nope?" the boss says, irritated. "It's right in your hand." "But I didn't BUY this cup of McDonald's coffee," our hero corrects him. "I got it FREE when I went to McDonald's and bought a delicious breakfast meal." What they are selling, of course, is not the brand or the food. They are selling the offer: buy a breakfast and get the coffee free.

As all direct marketers know, offers are essential for generating advertising response ... and free offers are usually the most attractive.

Take Oreck vacuum cleaners, for instance. In their mailings, the offer is a risk-free home trial of their 8-pound vacuum cleaner. The incentive to respond is a gift - specifically, a free "dust buster" type of handheld mini-vacuum. But now, you see more and more general advertisers taking a cue from direct marketing - and creating and promoting strong offers designed to get the cash register to ring.

For example, my local dry cleaner recently made this special offer: bring in any two garments to dry clean, and we will launder your shirts for just $1 each. A local Italian restaurant puts out free bread (a common practice in restaurants), but accompanies it with a plate of fine aged parmesan. One of the best offers out there, in my opinion, is the free coffee maker from Gevalia Coffee. The deal is this: get one monthly shipment of coffee at a discount price, and they will send you a free coffee maker. It's a handsome machine, and it makes great coffee. (I should know; we have one in our kitchen.)

What kind of offer can you make your prospects that could attract more business and sales?

Here's a quick checklist to get you started:

• Stress your guarantee ("satisfaction guaranteed or your money back").

• Let your prospects use the product for a month without risk - meaning if they don't like it, they can return the merchandise for a full refund ("send for your FREE 30-day home trial").

• Give them a discount ... with a reason for the discount, if possible ("save 40% during our 25th anniversary sale").

• Be like Oreck and Gevalia: give them a free bonus gift with their order ("reply now and get this valuable FREE bonus gift").

• Or, have a two for one sale ("buy one, get one free"). This works well for products the prospect wants more than one of, such as cleaning fluids or plastic storage containers for the kitchen.

• Offer to pay return shipping charges via UPS if your customers decide to return the product for a refund ("if you're not 100% satisfied, we'll come to your door, pick it up, and take it away - entirely at our expense").

• Make a logical connection between the product and the offer - e.g., the Sovereign Society, a financial newsletter on offshore investing, offered a free Swiss bank account to new subscribers.

One more tip: if you can't think of a reason to justify why you are making a special offer, get creative.

A record store, for example, could have a half-price sale – one day only - on Elvis's birthday. No logical tie-in for your product? Create your own. If you run a photography studio, declare this month "National Family Togetherness Month" ... and send out a press release to the media suggesting a family portrait to celebrate. A good source of ideas is Chase's Calendar of Events, which gives you all the special events and celebrations for every month, week, and day of the year that there is one.

By the way, although I have spent the last 3 decades in direct marketing, my first few years were spent working in general marketing (for a couple of large corporations selling big-ticket products to business and government buyers). Our ads (this was way before the World Wide Web) always told the prospect about the product and its many benefits. But there was never an offer. We almost never told the prospect, "Respond to this ad today, and you will get these specific materials, information, services, benefits, or bonus." Then in one ad, we offered a "free engineering design guide" - and response rates soared.

The conclusion: offers are vital to generating a healthy response to your marketing. And they work in both consumer and business marketing.

For instance, a local janitorial service was willing to clean a plant or factory at no cost to demonstrate the quality of its services and hook new accounts who would hire them as their regular janitorial service. Now, I said a minute ago that free offers are best. But there is a known direct marketing principle, called "the magic of a dollar," that says offering something for a penny or a dollar can be as effective - or sometimes even more so, since it is less common. In this case, the janitorial service sent a letter with a penny glued to the upper right corner of page one. The copy said, "We will clean your entire plant or office for a penny ... and I've even enclosed the penny, so it really costs you nothing!" Mailing stamps or money with your direct mail letter is an old trick ... and yes, it worked like gangbusters.

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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