What’s Your Best Offer?

“Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry,” Donald Trump once said. “I like making deals. Preferably big ones.” And, indeed, coming up with appealing deals and powerful offers can be an art form unto itself.

Luckily for those of us who don’t have The Donald’s talent, there are formulas on how to do it. And books that lay out those formulas in simple yet thorough detail. One is Cash Copy  by Dr. Jeffrey Lant.

As an example, you could build any number of deals using Lant’s most basic premium offer formula. It goes something like this: Successful Premium Offer = FREE + limited time +stated real benefit.

But you can get even more fancy, with impressive results. Here are some of the offer structures Lant suggests, followed by details on how marketers might use them… along with added details on how to apply them directly in sales copy.

Offer Type #1. The Tension Buster

Challenge: By the time your prospect gets to the sales close, what’s he worried about? He wants to know (a) if you can solve his problems the way you say you can, and (b) if you can’t, can he get his money back.

Solution: Money-back guarantees are standard fare for all kinds of product offers. Trial samples work here, too. Personally, I prefer strong guarantees to weak ones. Marketers sometimes fear a flood of refund requests. But when you’re working with good products and honest sales promises, that shouldn’t be much of a problem… right?

Technique: I usually push for the strongest guarantee possible – 100 percent money back, even 110 percent back for dissatisfied customers. For the extra 10 percent, maybe you could tally that up in the form of freebies the refunded customer gets to keep. Make it look substantial, too. Certificate borders help. So can signatures and a photo next to your guarantee copy. Also, try putting a strong testimonial in your P.S. or on your reply device.

Offer Type #2. The “Instant Gratification” Deal

Challenge: Immediate action-takers want immediate results. They want to see the benefits as soon as possible after deciding to buy.

Solution: Bill-me-later options, installment payments, and trial offers can help scratch the “instant-satisfaction” itch.

Technique: Emphasize ease of ordering and speed of delivery, with simple language like “You pay nothing up front. Just let me know where to send your trial sample, and I’ll rush it to your mailbox.” Tell the customer what they’ll get and, if possible, when.

Offer Type #3. The Coupon-Clipper’s Delight

Challenge: Even with good copy and a good product, sticker shock can be a problem.

Solution: Quantity offers, limited-time offers, and trade-in offers are good ways to show prospects that they’re getting a good deal.

Technique: Emphasize the discount with call-out boxes. Do the math in $$ if the savings is a percentage discount. In the body of the sales close, try showing the cost and efficiency of your product compared to similar, more expensive products. If you can make the offer time-limited, do so. And put that deadline in a call-out box on the reply page, too. Another idea: Try emphasizing the savings by creating a “price-off” coupon that gets sent back along with the reply card.

Offer Type #4. The Ticking Timer

Challenge: If you don’t get immediate action on a sales decision, you probably won’t make the sale at all.

Solution: Seasonal offers have a natural time limit, but contrived time limits can work just as well. The “speed-reply” bonus is another common device.

Technique: If there’s a limit on the number of customers who can sign up, give specifics. For example: “Frankly, after these 2,000 slots are filled, I’m going to have to close the doors. If I don’t hear from you by then, you’ll be turned away. I’ll have no choice. Which is why I hope to hear from you soon.” Emphasize benefits the prospect sacrifices by waiting too long. Fax and toll-free ordering can also be used to help speed up orders: “If you want to get started immediately, call or fax your order to…”

Offer Type #5. The EZ Offer

Challenge: Even eager customers can get confused by complex order forms, missing business reply envelopes, elaborate information requests, and worse.

Solution: Multiple ways to place an order help – but more than three options (fax, phone, mail, or e-mail) is probably too much. These days, the ability to take orders around the clock is a big plus.

Technique: Try numbering the steps. (“1. Fill out this invitation below. 2. Put it in the envelope provided. 3. Drop it in your mailbox.”) Add this phrase here and there, too: “It’s that simple.” And if you’ve got a toll-free number, be sure to put it where the prospect can see it. Make it large. Make it easy to find. And put it on every piece in the envelope.

Offer Type #6. The Private Deal

Challenge: People like to feel that they’re getting privileges. “In a world where everyone is as important as everyone else,” says Lant, ”people are dying to feel more important than everyone else.”

Solution: Create limited editions, clubs, and “societies.” Frequent-flier miles and favored-customer incentives work on this principle.

Technique: Use design to make the invitation look exclusive. Write in “whispered” tones. The reply device could be constructed like a real “R.S.V.P.” document. When you start the sales close, make sure you summarize the benefits in the form of privileges for exclusive invitees.

Offer Type #7. The Bachelor’s Offer

Challenge: Some people fear commitment.

Solution: “No-money-down” offers are effective – but for real fence sitters, consider collecting their contact information for future use. E-mail is great for this. Give free information up front. Then keep in touch to deepen the relationship and set the groundwork for future sales.

Technique: Here’s where emphasizing freebies can come in handy. But remember, it’s not worthwhile if (a) the freebie is of no benefit to the prospect and (b) you fail to collect their contact information.

A caveat, says Lant, is that “‘free’ by itself is almost never the strongest possible offer you can make.” However, he says, when you’ve got a really strong offer – no matter what kind it is – one of the best things you can do is bring it out right up front.

Added evidence: Many of the most successful direct-mail letters of all time lead with a strong sales offer right in the headline or on the first page. By the way, Lant himself credits another copywriting expert with some of the best insights in his “offer” chapter – our prolific pal Bob Bly, author of the all-time classic The Copywriter’s Handbook

Pick up a copy if you haven’t already.

[Ed. Note: To get more of copywriting expert John Forde’s wisdom and insights into marketing (and much more), sign up for his free e-letter, Copywriter’s Roundtable, at http://www.copywritersroundtable.com. Or send an e-mail to signup@jackforde.com. Get a free report about 15 deadly copy mistakes and how to avoid them when you sign up today .

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John Forde's 15-year career as a top copywriter started as an understudy of Bill Bonner and Michael Masterson. Since then, John has written countless winning controls, has generated well over $30 million in sales, and has successfully launched dozens of products. He's also worked three years as a financial journalist and has written books on wealth building and health, as well as more than 250 articles on copywriting for his popular ezine, The Copywriter's Roundtable. John has taught copywriting in private seminars and conferences in Paris, London, Bonn, Chicago, Buenos Aires, Baltimore, and Warsaw. He currently lives and works from Paris, France.