In most all the promotional vehicles you might choose to gain new sales, the effectiveness of three characteristics combine to determine your success. These are:
• The look or aesthetics of your work.
• The target audience you reach.
• The offer you make.
In order to create a truly successful promotional campaign, you must succeed in all three of these areas. In this article we'll focus on how to create effective offers.
The first question to ask yourself is, "What am I willing to give a customer in exchange for his or her response?" To attract your prospects, you want to make the offer as enticing as possible, while at the same time, the promotion must be advantageous to you in terms of profitability and image. Think about these issues:
• Which products am I willing to put on sale?
• How large a discount am I willing to offer?
• What types of service or extras might I consider giving away?
• How will an offer affect the way the community perceives my business?
Make sure your offer is appropriate to your image and your target audience and helps you to accomplish your marketing objectives. Just because other retailers in your community make a certain offer doesn't mean it's right for you in terms of profitability, sales generating power and image. For example, a 50 percent off discount might work very well for a price-competitive decorating center and be totally wrong for a high-end interior designer. Conversely, two free hours of design time might be extremely effective for an interior decorator and totally wrong for a mom-and-pop paint store. Try to put yourself in the shoes of your potential prospects and think about how they perceive your business when devising an appropriate offer.
Think about the objections you receive from non-buying prospects regarding why they didn't buy, then try to overcome them in your offer. For example, if your prospects indicate that it's too inconvenient to come into your showroom for an appointment, then make a free in-home appointment part of your offer. Or, if your prospects have trouble deciding among all the products and options you sell, then offer them the free time of a design consultant at their home.
Unless your business strategy is to compete wholly on price and discount (and this tactic seldom is a successful long-term business strategy), try to devise an offer that is not price related. This will protect you from being perceived as one more player in the discount game and will help you attract customers who are not just interested in the lowest price. For example, think about offering free design time, free installation, a free in-home appointment, an upgrade to a higher level fabric, an upgrade to a higher level product, or free options such as motors or lining.
Include a time deadline for your offer. The intent of most advertising is to motivate prospects to respond now, so it's important to give them a reason they must respond now. An open-ended offer makes it too easy for prospects to set aside your offer, then forget about taking action. Time deadlines include:
• Offer ends March 31
• Call before March 31 for special offer
• Limited time offer
• Offer available only while supplies last
• Offer available to first 100 customers only.
Many of these deadlines sound a little silly, but the reality is they work. A softer and less constraining deadline statement is, "You must respond within 15 days to receive this offer." This gentler statement creates urgency in a prospect's mind, and allows you some leeway on timing your offer (for example, if you send a mailing later than planned or run an ad in a later issue of a publication than originally anticipated).
It's very helpful to vary your offer from one promotion to another to measure which offers work best, and whether you may be able to offer a lesser discount and still get the same response-and take more money home at the end of the month. Because some consumers are more likely to respond to one type of offer and others to a different offer, varying the offer can dramatically increase your response rate even when appealing to the same audience. For example, try offering a product on sale at 50 percent off, then offer it as a two-for-one promotion and see which offer gets a larger response. Or, offer a product on sale at a hefty 50 percent off, then offer it at just 35 percent off to determine if you experience a different response rate. Or, offer a product at a discount, then offer it with a free upgrade or option.
Get a Response
Once you've made your offer, make sure to let your audience know how they should respond. Never assume prospects will figure out the next step on their own. Be very clear about what action they should take and make it easy for them to respond. Response mechanisms include:
• Call for an appointment.
• Come into the store or showroom.
• Return this postcard.
Feature your offer very prominently in whatever marketing piece you are using. Subtlety and cleverness are not strategies to take when making an offer. In a letter, your offer can be in the headline or subhead, at the beginning or end, and always included in a postscript. In advertising and direct mail, your offer should be prominently stated in large and bold type more than once, with the response mechanism clearly stated.
Whenever you send mail to your existing customers or potential customers, think of it as a potential marketing opportunity that can include an offer. If you're sending a confirmation letter about an in-home appointment, include a special offer for in-home customers only. If you're mailing a confirmation for an order already placed, include an offer for an additional order. If you're sending a thank-you letter, include a message about special offers for customers who provide referrals.
As described at the beginning of this article, all three parts of a promotion must be effective to create impact and achieve success: the look, the audience and the offer. Now that you're an expert in creating effective offers, you're a third of the way there!
Offers They Can't Refuse
A resource list of effective offers:
• Special price
• Special discount
• Extended guarantee
• Money-back guarantee
• Installment payments
• Free gift for setting up an appointment
• Free gift for coming into the store or showroom
• Free gift for buying
• Free catalog
• Free booklet
• Free in-home appointment
• One hour of free design time
• Free product upgrade
• Free installation
• Free shipping
• Free special options (motors, drapery linings, etc.)
• Free cost estimate
• Special offer for providing referrals
• Quantity discount (buy three and get special deal)
• Introductory discount (be the first to buy this new product)
• Add-on offer (buy Product A and you can buy Product B at special price)
• Sweepstakes (enter and win)
• No-strings-attached offer on in-home appointment or free design time
• Trade-in offer (trade in your old window fashions . . .)
• Rush shipping
• Thank you for your order and special deal on next order
• Special offer for loyal customers
• Special offer for special neighborhood
• Special offer for a group (parents of local school children, members of an organization)
Kay Pegram is founder of Kaymar Communications, a Playa del Ray, CA-based independent marketing services firm for companies in window fashions and other industries. Pegram's previous window coverings industry experience includes serving eight years at LouverDrape and as director of marketing for the Tempo companies.