How to Increase Responses

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” – Mark Twain

Experienced direct marketers know this — even though businesspeople who are not direct marketers find it hard to believe: The way you state your offer can make an enormous difference in response — even if all other factors (product, copy, graphics, mailing list) stay the same.

In fact, I have seen a simple change increase response to a mailing by 10% . . . 25% . . . 100% . . . and a few times as much as 1,000%! (Though that’s rare.)

Years ago, I had a client who sold utility software for IBM mainframes. He would send out a letter with a technical description of the software and its function and would offer to send the software on magnetic tape for a “free 30-day trial,” which was (and still is) an industry standard.

One day, he made a minor change in his offer. Instead of “a free 30-day trial,” he said, “Use this software free for 30 days.”

Much to his amazement, response to all his mailings increased by 15%. When he asked the Information Technology (IT) professionals who were his buyers why this made such a difference to them, they explained that the word “trial” was a turnoff because it made them think of all the extra work they would have to do in order to try out the software for 30 days: come to the office late at night, take systems offline, interrupt service, and possibly lose files.

But being able to “use” the software at no cost was immensely appealing to this audience. That’s why it increased response. Armed with this knowledge, my client made “use it free for 30 days” his standard offer in all promotions.

And then, because of something else he learned from his customers, he changed one more word — and, again, he saw a lift in response, this time by about 10%. He changed “30” to “60,” doubling the length of the free-use period.

Why? Because the IT guys told him that 30 days is not enough time.

Here’s what would happen: It would take a week for the software to get from the mailroom to their desks. It would sit in their in-boxes for another week. Then, they would open the package, be intimidated by the manual, and put it aside for another week. By the time they were finally ready to try the software, only a week was left in the 30-day trial period.

Fearing they would miss the deadline and be billed for software they didn’t want, they would return it immediately — without trying it — rather than risk being late.

By changing the trial period from 30 to 60 days, a margin of an extra month was built in. The prospects had plenty of time to try out the software and decide whether they liked it and wanted to buy it.

What can we conclude from this story?

1. The wording of your offer is important — not a trivial afterthought.

2. You never know which offer will pull best unless you test several different ones.

3. If you can’t understand the appeal of the winning offer, talk to some of your customers and find out what it is. You might learn something that will help you make your offer even stronger.

(Ed. Note: Bob Bly is the editor of Mailbox Millionaire, ETR’s program to help you start your own successful direct-mail business.)