“Why are you so upset?” my husband asked.

“Because this woman has been online and in the marketing world for two years and she is teaching people things that are incorrect,” I replied. “It drives me crazy!”

Yes, I will admit it – it makes me freaking nuts when I see this kind of irresponsibility. And I see it all too often. Men and women who tout themselves as experts… yet supply information that’s flat-out wrong.

I try to tell myself that she is probably a nice person and she probably believes the advice she is out there hawking.

But I want to shout at the top of my lungs, “STOP!”

It’s not as though the right information is hard to find. Hundreds of GREAT marketing tools – books, newsletters, DVDs, and white papers – have been published over the years. These resources explain the fundamentals, the tried-and-true strategies and proven methods that have been making sales for decades.

Of course, this includes the masterpieces written by David Ogilvy, Claude Hopkins, Dick Benson, Robert Cialdini, and Eugene Schwartz. But plenty has been written by successful businesspeople and marketers working today. Experts like Michael Masterson, Clayton Makepeace, Bob Bly, and your very own MaryEllen Tribby. (That’s right. The bestselling book I wrote with Michael Masterson, Changing the Channel: 12 Easy Ways to Make Millions for Your Business, is all about direct-marketing fundamentals.)

If the misguided woman I mentioned earlier had only taken the time to study these resources – understand the fundamentals and apply them in a real business setting – then and only then would she (and anyone else in her position) be qualified to proclaim herself an expert.

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. What bothers me so much about so many so-called marketing “experts” is that they have never built or run a real business.

Often, they run a “copycat” business – a company that’s based on a modification of what other marketers do. They simply duplicate it, add a little twist, spice it up with their own little flair, and Shazzam!

Well, guess what? It is a whole different ballgame when you are the one to brainstorm, test, and roll out REAL marketing campaigns. When you are the one to either hire the copywriter or write the copy yourself. When you craft an offer and select the media. Until you:

1. Understand what the marketing fundamentals are…

2. Test, test, and test some more…

3. And have a “braggable” track record…

You cannot consider yourself an expert.

And, dare I say, you cannot assure yourself of your next paycheck.

Mark my words, until you’ve mastered the basics, you will always be scrambling to find the next “magic button,” the next “instant fix.”

Well, it’s time. It’s time that we say “No more B.S.” That we resolve to practice the same thing we preach to our kids: Education is the key. That we sit down and master the marketing essentials that have always worked in the past and will always work in the future. Let’s get started.

Art and Science, the Perfect Marriage

All of your marketing campaigns should be a mixture of art and science. The art is in writing sales copy and crafting an irresistible offer. The science is in tracking responses and using statistical computations to plan future campaigns.

Writing successful sales copy is a creative process – a matter of figuring out the market and devising a promotion based on the customer’s current concerns. List and media testing and analysis, by contrast, are left-brain activities – tracking responses accurately and running them through statistical models. Although entrepreneurs should be comfortable with both parts of the marketing process, most tend to favor just one. Those who are more mathematically inclined focus on lists and media. Those who feel more comfortable as communicators pay attention to copy.

Today, let’s look at how to create the offer – a critical, yet sometimes underestimated, element of any marketing campaign.

The Offer: What Is It Good For?

A good offer can easily double response rates. A bad or botched offer can easily kill a campaign that would otherwise be profitable.

The offer is the deal you make with your customer and the terms of that deal. The offer lays out what he gets for what he gives you. It includes the product or the service, all the promises made about the product or service, the price you’re asking, any bonuses you’re including, the guarantee, and how the customer can make the purchase. All of these details are important, and all of them need to be spelled out.

Your Offer Must Be “Hercules” Strong

The offer should include an incentive or reward that motivates prospects to respond, either with an order or with a request for more information (depending on your goals).

To be effective, your offer must pass these “10 Tests”:

Test 1: Is your offer specific? Will prospects understand exactly what they get and how to get it?

Test 2: Is your offer exclusive? Are you making your offer only to a select few (and making them feel that they are an exclusive bunch), or are you making your offer to everyone?

Test 3: Is your offer valuable? Will your prospects perceive your offer to be of value to them? Your offer may be inexpensive for you to fulfill, but it must have a high perceived value to your potential customers.

Test 4: Is your offer unique? Is the deal you’re offering only available through your business?

Test 5: Is your offer useful? Make sure your offer helps your prospects improve their lives in some way – by, for example, saving money, saving time, or doing their jobs better.

Test 6: Is your offer relevant? Do prospects want what you are offering?

Test 7: Is your offer plausible? Some offers are too good to be true, and others are just plain silly. Your offer needs to be credible.

Test 8. Is it easy to take advantage of your offer? The harder you make it for your prospects to take advantage of your offer, the lower your response rate will be. So make your order form clear, simple, and short; your toll-free telephone number obvious on the page; and your terms and conditions of purchase concise.

Test 9. Is your offer urgent? Your offer should have a deadline – and that deadline should be made clear. Is it an early-bird special? Are you limiting the offer to the first 250 people who respond?

Test 10. Does your offer have a guarantee? Did you strengthen your offer with a money-back guarantee? Did you make sure the prospect knows that there is no risk whatsoever?

Take a look at the offers in your current marketing campaigns. If you are just starting out and do not have any examples of your own, look at offers that you have responded to, either in the mail or online. Examine each piece to see how many of the above tests the offer passes.

Going forward, be conscious of the “10 Tests.” You will find that the more often you see an offer repeated, the higher its “grade” will be.

The promotions you see over and over again are the ones getting the most responses. And aren’t those repeat money-makers the kind of marketing packages you want for your business?

[Ed. Note: MaryEllen Tribby, ETR’s former publisher and CEO, followed her lifelong dream and started a new company, Working Moms Only, to help women balance work and family life. Keep an eye out for her columns in ETR on the challenges facing working moms, on marketing, business building, and more. And check out the Working Moms Only website and sign up for MaryEllen’s free e-letter here.]

Mary Ellen Tribby

MaryEllen Tribby is a business consultant and coach to entrepreneurs in the information publishing and digital marketing arena. She led Early to Rise from May 2006 to January 2010 as Publisher & CEO. She has also served as President of Weiss Research, managing divisions of Forbes, Globe Communications, Times Mirror Magazines and Crain’s New York Business. She currently heads up The CEO’s Edge and WorkingMomsOnly.com.