By Dean Rieck

Offers are the heart of all direct response advertising. An offer is not just a statement of your price, it’s the deal you’re making. 

It’s the total of what the customer gets plus what the customer has to do or pay to get it. By making an offer, you’re saying, “You do this for me, and I’ll do this for you.” 

Here are eight offers that have proven themselves over the years. They almost always raise your response rate: 

• Free Trial. This may be the best offer ever devised. A customer can try out your product free and without obligation for 10, 15, 30 days, or more. The time frame should fit the product. This offer removes risk for the prospect, overcomes inertia and works with just about any product. 

• Money-Back Guarantee. This is perhaps the second best offer. A customer pays upfront but, if dissatisfied, can return the item for a full refund. Like the free trial, this offer removes risk but allows you to use customer inertia to your benefit since few people will take the trouble to return something.

• Free Gift. When you offer a freebie your customer wants, your offer will usually outpull a discount offer of similar value. That’s because a gift is a more tangible benefit. This also has the advantage of not devaluing your product with a price reduction.

• Limited Time. An offer with a time limit gets more response than an offer without one. You can display an exact date or suggest a response time frame, such as 14 days or 30 days. This forces a decision. And the faster you can force a decision, the more likely it will be in your favor. 

• Yes/No. You ask your prospect to respond positively or negatively, usually by affixing a “yes” stamp or a “no” stamp or by checking one of two boxes. This offer is involving and usually pulls more response than an offer that does not offer a “no” option. It works because it clarifies the need for a decision right away. 

• Negative Option. This pulls better than positive option offers. You offer a free trial or a special deal on a product then automatically ship future merchandise unless the customer specifically takes an action to refuse. Just make sure this arrangement is clear. People become very unhappy when you start shipping and billing for items they didn’t know they were ordering.

• Credit Card Payment. Nothing is easier than paying with plastic. These days, there’s no reason not to accept payment this way by phone, mail, fax, or the Internet. In fact, this has moved beyond an offer and has become an expectation. 

• Sweepstakes. This increases your order volume if you’re selling easy-to-understand impulse items. However, these customers aren’t loyal, and you may find yourself forever trapped in an endless cycle of contests. 

— Dean Rieck is president of Direct Creative (www.directcreative.com), a full-service creative firm. E-mail: DeanRieck@DirectCreative.com.