Make an Offer They Won't Refuse

Create special offers that get your readers to take action.

learn more about Gail Goodman

By Gail Goodman

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Take action. Isn't that what you want your readers to do when they receive and read your e-mails? You may want them to buy a product, pay for a service, come to a special event or volunteer for your organization. Whatever your goal may be, you're looking for a "direct response" from them.

When you e-mail the people on your list, you engage in some level of "direct response" marketing--marketing that requests an action from the recipient. One element of good direct marketing is an offer that engages the reader (or watcher, or listener) to take action.

Why is the offer so important? The 40/40/20 rule of direct response marketing says that the success of a campaign (in this case, an e-mail communication) is based 40 percent on targeting the right audience, 40 percent on the offer you make, and 20 percent on your creative execution (including copywriting and design). Here's a summary of the different types of offers and the common characteristics of all great ones.

Offers that Prompt an Immediate Sale
Before you consider what to offer, ask yourself, "Is my product (or service) one that I can sell directly?" Do you sell a product that people can pick up the phone or visit your website to buy immediately? If you sell jewelry, clothing, pet supplies, a workshop or a host of other products, then, yes, you can expect direct sales as a result of your e-mail. Also, if you want to get people to sign up for a special event (fundraiser, golf tournament, summer camp, etc.) then you can expect a direct response as well.

In these cases, the appropriate offer should sweeten the purchase; it should super-charge your readers' desire to buy or sign up now. In a perfect world, it creates a sense of urgency. Examples of direct sell purchase offers are "Buy one, get one free," coupons, or giveaway items with a purchase: "Buy $75 worth of flowering plants, and receive The Handbook for Gardeners by award-winning gardener and author, Bob Greenthumb."

If you need to promote a special event, you might offer an "early bird" discount or provide a price break for multiple registrations. Giveaways also work well for events. Some example offers are, "Sign up for the 5K run and receive a free T-shirt" or "Purchase the VIP package today and receive a coupon for a free limo ride to the show."

Offers that Identify Interest and Generate Leads
If your products or services require more consultation and nurturing before someone decides to buy, then the two-step lead generation approach is right for you. With this method, you make what is known as a "soft offer," with the goal of engaging your receivers, building their trust, and moving them closer to an eventual sale.

Example offers include a white paper--a brief article about a topic that is of interest to your readers and helps educate them about topics related to your product or service. If you're a public relations consultant, you can offer a white paper on the "10 Tips for Getting Great PR." Or suppose you are a nutrition counselor; you can offer a white paper on "The 7 Healthiest Foods You Should Eat." Other offers include a free consultation or a free sample of your product. "Call today and receive a free 2-pound bag of our new organic dog food."

Organizations that aren't in commercial business can use the two-step lead generation approach as well. To create interest in an upcoming class or workshop, a church may offer a brief article or a podcast on a related topic to engage its members and pique their interest in the event.

Three Attributes of a Great Offer
When you've decided on your offer, run it through this checklist to make sure it's as effective as can be.

1. Does your offer have a high perceived value? "Perceived" is the key word here. The good news is that an effective offer doesn't have to cost much. It just has to be something of value to your audience. If you're a professional dog trainer and you have an e-mail list of people who just got new puppies, a valuable offer would be the downloadable article, "How to Train Your New Puppy."

2. Is your offer easy to understand and take action on? Have you gotten a direct mail piece or an e-mail that had an offer that was so involved, so convoluted, that you just said, "Forget it!"? You don't want people to be overwhelmed and forget your offer. Make it simple. Don't add a lot of conditions or steps. If you can, stick with one step: Call this number, click here to download this white paper, type in this discount code or register here.

3. Is your offer relevant to the product, service or event you're promoting? A great offer isn't just good for the person who receives it; it's good for your business or organization, too. Especially in the case of lead generation, you want your offer to tie into the product you're selling, event you're promoting or service you're providing. That way, it will help advance the sale, or--better yet--inspire your audience to take immediate action. A white paper or "10 tips" lists are both great examples of this. They keep your reader focused on areas of your expertise.

Think of the 40/40/20 rule when you prepare your next e-mail. Remember, 40 percent of your direct response success depends on your offer, so it's well worth giving some careful thought to what you want that offer to be. Also, have some fun testing different offers to see which ones get better responses. This will help you understand what your audience values.

Do you remember going to the grocery store as a kid and begging mom to buy you that box of Lucky Charms just so you could get the toy inside? That was the power of the offer in action. Somehow the toy was never as exciting as it appeared to be, but you were eating Lucky Charms that next morning. Take a lesson from the cereal aisle and create an offer your readers won't refuse.

Gail Goodman

Gail Goodman is the author of Engagement Marketing: How Small Business Wins In a Socially Connected World (Wiley, 2012) and CEO of Waltham, Mass.-based Constant Contact Inc., a provider of email marketing, event marketing, social media marketing, local deal and online survey tools and services for small businesses, associations and nonprofits.

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