From the November 2008 issue of Entrepreneur

This holiday season, it's all about the offer. Spending at the gas pump and in the grocery store have taken precedence over other purchases as many consumers focus their spending on necessities and business purchasers tighten their belts in response to the economic downturn. With prospects scrutinizing almost every purchase, all your advertising must offer an incentive that will motivate buyers to take action.

Make the offer itself an integral part of your marketing message that follows prospects through the sales process and not an isolated promotion in one medium alone. You'll keep your customers engaged by consistently making your offer throughout all channels. For example, a prospect may first be exposed to your offer in an ad, then visit your website to learn more, and then go to your retail store to take advantage of your offer.

Pick the right offer and sales will follow. Do you know what makes your customers eager to buy? Follow these five essential tips to create a singular offer that will motivate prospects and bring in holiday sales.

1. Let money talk. Cash can be the best incentive when there's aggressive competition in your niche market or where it has been historically difficult to motivate prospects to take action. For example, a study by Harris Interactive released in May revealed that 80 percent of adults say cash would be their top incentive for responding to mobile advertising--something for which a significant percentage have expressed dislike. Right now, individual savings promotions and coupons, not across-the-board price cutting, are smart choices.

2. Make "value-added" your motto. If price-cutting specials aren't for you, add value by bundling products and services to create a unique and hard-to-resist offer that you can price favorably. Another way to add value is by allowing customers to learn or do more. You can offer consumers an opportunity to earn more reward points or receive VIP treatment, while business customers may find superior value in an e-book or white paper.

3. Ensure that it rings true. Everyone knows that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Customers will evaluate your offer with a skeptical eye. Beware of using too much hyperbole or adding enough conditions to warrant an asterisk following your offer. This can raise a red flag that causes consumers to dismiss your offer as just hype. Even when you believe your offer rings true, it's helpful to build trust by displaying testimonials, guarantees, and trade or professional affiliations wherever appropriate.

4. Be specific and clear. Have you ever gotten excited by an offer only to discover it had expired or you had to jump through hoops to qualify? Frustrated or angry customers rarely buy and are likely to spread the word about their dissatisfaction. It's essential to specifically communicate what's being offered and how to obtain it. If the offer you're developing requires too much explanation, then it must be clarified and refined before it's introduced.

5. Give a reason to act now. With so many competing messages clamoring for attention, it's essential to compel customers to act on your offer before it's forgotten. Present your offer with a strong call to action that conveys urgency. Here are several examples of ways to inspire prospects to act now.

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For top results this season, test multiple offers, keeping all other advertising elements the same, until you find your best performer.