5 Steps to the Perfect Guarantee

“Use a strong guarantee” is standard advice in direct marketing. Without a strong guarantee, your sales will slow to a trickle. Buyers are loathe to buy products sight unseen – over the Internet, by phone, or by mail.

But what, exactly, makes for a “strong” guarantee?

A strong guarantee has five defining characteristics.

1. It is good for a long period of time.

As a rule of thumb, the longer the guarantee period, the better.

Typical guarantee periods are 10, 14, 30, 60, 90, 180, and 365 days. Of these, 10 days is the weakest, because it requires the prospect to act too quickly for comfort. He is afraid that, if he puts the product aside, the guarantee coverage will expire and he’ll be stuck with something he can’t return. And so he doesn’t order in the first place.

Thirty days is a standard guarantee period, and certainly adequate. Sixty and 90 days are better. All the information products I publish and sell online are guaranteed for 90 days.

I don’t like lifetime guarantees, because they create a financial liability on the books that may be problematic when it’s time to sell the business. Six- and 12-month guarantees may be worth testing, but won’t work for some products. For instance, a one-year guarantee doesn’t make sense for an annual directory.

2. There are no strings attached.

A conditional guarantee might say: “Return the product in saleable condition for your money back.” A guarantee like this will make the prospect worry that you will quibble with him over “saleable condition.” That you may, for example, refuse to issue a refund for a book he returned because, say, the dust jacket has a smudge on it.

Another conditional guarantee that stops prospects from buying is the one used by many sellers of home-study programs. They say: “If you are not satisfied, send back the course for a refund. Just prove to us that you made some effort to follow our system.” Then, when you ask for a refund, they ask for more and more proof. And no matter how much proof you send, the seller counters with “You didn’t do what we said” (or enough of it) – and denies your refund on that basis.

Much better is to offer an unconditional guarantee. Tell the customer all he has to do is return the product for a full refund – no ifs, ands, or buts – without question or quibble.

3. Everything is clearly stated and spelled out.

Don’t use any wording that the consumer can misinterpret. For instance, a performance-based guarantee – “If you do not earn extra money trading options with our program, return it for a refund” – sounds good but raises a potential concern. Does it mean that if you DO make some extra money with the product, you can’t return it? Even if you only made 10 bucks?

Rewrite the guarantee so no condition or ambiguity is stated or implied: “If you do not make extra money trading options with our program, or you are not 100% satisfied for any other reason – or for no reason – just return the program within 90 days for a full refund.”

4. It is graphically emphasized within the promotion.

Don’t bury the guarantee in body copy or put it in an asterisked footnote in 8-point type. Print the guarantee in 12-point copy with a large, bold headline. Put a box or even a certificate-style border around it to make it stand out.

5. It is generous.

The best guarantees are unfair – but unfair in favor of the buyer, not the seller. That means if the customer takes advantage of the guarantee, the seller is, in a sense, getting ripped off.

Example. For regular books sold via mail-order, the guarantee is simple: “Return the book and we will send you your money back.”

But think about that same guarantee for e-books… Can customers really return the e-book? Do you expect them to send back the copy they printed out… or sign an affidavit that they erased the e-book from their hard drive… or shredded the printout? (Some online marketers have done just that!)

Most information marketers skirt the issue of returning e-books in their guarantees. They say: “If you are not 100% satisfied, let us know within 90 days for a full refund.” No discussion about returning or erasing or not using it.

In the landing pages I write to sell the e-books I publish (see, for example, myveryfirstebook.com), I go a step further. I turn the fact that the customer does not have to return the e-book into a benefit. I say: “If you are not 100% satisfied, let us know within 90 days for a full refund. And keep the e-book free, with my compliments. That way, you risk nothing.”

I’ve always suspected that this overly generous offer has boosted my sales, but never split-tested it. However, at a recent Internet marketing seminar, DP, who heard me make this point in my presentation, said that he too tells his customers to keep the e-book even if they ask for a refund. But DP has split-tested it. And he swears that “Keep the e-book free” increased his conversion rates on average by 21 percent.

The bottom line: Make sure your guarantee is…

  • Long.  90 days is ideal for most offers.
  • Unconditional. No strings attached.
  • Clearly stated with no ambiguity or possibility of misunderstanding.
  • Highlighted with bold typography, color, and graphics so it really stands out on the screen or page.
  • Overly generous – so if the consumer exercises the guarantee, he is essentially taking almost unfair advantage of you, the seller.

The overriding principle of a strong guarantee is to take all the risk off the buyer’s shoulders and place it on the seller’s shoulders – where it should be.

[Ed. Note: To learn more marketing secrets from freelance copywriter and marketing expert Bob Bly, sign up for his free e-zine, the Direct Response Letter. Do so today and get $116 in bonuses.]


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Bob Bly

Bob Bly is an independent copywriter and consultant specializing in business-to-business and direct marketing. He has been hired as a consultant by such companies as Sony, Chemical Bank, J. Walter Thompson, Westinghouse, and Prentice-Hall. Bob is also the author of more than 50 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books), Targeted Public Relations, Selling Your Services, How to Promote Your Own Business, and Keeping Clients Satisfied. A phenomenal public speaker, Bob will share with you how easy it is to start your own business. Whether you’re ready to quit your job or are just looking to make a little money on the side, you’ll want to hear Bob’s advice.