Rethink direct mail offers

Oct. 1, 2015

When you create a mail piece, certain well-researched marketing words may help sell your offer. Conversely, marketing words can ruin an otherwise wonderful promotion.

I spend a lot of time writing about the components of direct mail pieces — lists, the creative, offers and marketing timing. In this article, I want to concentrate on the offer. You may have the best mailing list in the world, but if you do not make a worthy offer in your piece, you can forget it being a successful campaign.

The offer is the theme of your communication. In the water industry, I often see the offer tacked on at the end. Instead, begin with it. Restate it. Denote its key benefits. Create the actual copy around it. This way, you incorporate the offer into the entire program.

Potential offer ideas

Depending on the nature of the communication, different kinds of direct mail offers may be used. These include:

  • Lead generation. Lead generation offers are typically free offers designed to get potential clients to say "I’m interested" (and provide their information so we can connect with them). In the water industry, these offers often include gifts, such as family-sized laundry detergent, diapers, soap, coupon books or gift cards to home improvement stores.
  • Order generation. Order generation offers are paid offers. Some examples are "Buy now/pay later" or "No interest until 2017." When people respond to these offers, they commit to pay for services at a later date. Specifically in the water industry, some dealers may make an offer such as "We will install your unit now. You pay in six months."
  • Continuity. Continuity offers (such as "Try us before you commit") are for companies that sell products on a monthly basis. The offers used for these types of companies are usually free trials for specific periods followed by an agreed-upon monthly billing. In the water industry, one type of monthly opportunity is "Try our salt delivery service now. If you like it, sign up for our convenient monthly service."
  • Traffic-building. Traffic-building offers are most often used by retailers who want to see their stores packed with customers. The most common traffic-building offers are discount coupons, buy-one-get-one offers, gift with purchase or free event promotions. In the water industry, this type of offer is most often used by big box stores such as Home Depot, Lowe’s or Sears.

Words matter

When you create a mail piece, certain well-researched marketing words may help sell your offer. Conversely, marketing words can ruin an otherwise wonderful promotion. Remember to craft your creative presentation around the offer. You need to be cognizant of the impact of the words you choose because some words have been proven to have a positive impact on responses and others can cause an adverse reaction.

Words to use

Constructive words should be used in your creative when you state your offer. Some of these words are included below:

  • Sale. It is the old faithful of marketing words. Who does not like a good sale? The word "sale" can motivate. An example offer is "50 percent off sale on salt through Sept. 30."
  • Off. Discounts work and encourage a client to pull the trigger. Example offers are "50 percent off" or "$1,000 off a whole house water filtration system."
  • Now. Example offers are "Order salt now," "Buy now before price increases in 2016" or "Call us now."
  • New. The word "new" is attention-grabbing. Think of all the early adopters who always want to be the first to purchase the latest gadgets and styles.
  • Best-seller. People feel comfortable with popular items. One successful marketer made a list of a dealership’s best-selling water filtration faucets to help prompt people to make a decision. Maybe the best-selling faucet becomes the direct mail offer. Some examples are "Ask us about our best-selling water filtration dispenser" and "Free when you buy our brand-new water ionizer."
  • Gift with purchase. Everyone likes a free gift. Have you ever been in Macy’s when Lancome runs its gift with purchase offer?
    P.S. Your prospects are busy and may need reminders, especially with a P.S. All direct marketers know that the P.S. is the first thing people read when they scan a letter. That is where you will restate your offer. Be specific. Be inspiring. Be creative. For example, "P.S. You have until Tuesday, Sept. 8, to take advantage of this offer of 50 percent off our brand-new water ionizer. Call today."

Words to avoid

On the other hand, certain words and phrases should be avoided in a direct mail marketing piece. They are discouragers rather than motivators. The list includes:

  • Final days to save. Be specific with your offer and give your prospects a deadline, or they will never respond.
  • Once in a lifetime. Everyone knows this is a cliché. It is a turnoff, not a motivator.
  • Hurry. This is not as compelling as "Act now."
  • Look inside. If you use an envelope, far more exciting and compelling tag lines can be used than "Look inside." Everyone knows that the letter is inside. You need to use a more attention-grabbing phrase or photo to entice your prospect to open the envelope. This is a great place to use your offer to inspire interest and a sense of urgency.
  • Hassle-free. Even though this phrase seems positive, marketing experts explain that you are still associating the word "hassle" with your business or brand. Replace "hassle-free" with the word "easy."
  • RIGHT NOW!!! The overuse of capital letters and exclamation points can be negative. Using all capital letters makes people feel like you are screaming at them. Herschell Gordon Lewis, the Dean of Copywriting, advises to never to use three exclamation points at the end of a sentence, and one is probably too much.

Parting notes

Keep in mind that the offer is an implied contract between you and your potential client. You need to be clear in your commitment. "Buy one, get one free" can also mean "Buy 100, get 100 free." Can your dealership afford that? Make sure you really understand the offer and what your prospect will perceive as being presented.

Finally, most clients can see through lukewarm offers. Free, in-home water testing as a standalone offer does not get a good response. The water test is a means to a sale, but offering one is not what will generate the actual lead.

Dale "DataDale" Filhaber is president of Dataman Group Direct, a Florida-based direct marketing company founded in 1981. Filhaber is an author, lecturer and listologist. For more than 25 years, she has trained many water quality dealers in direct marketing and lead generation techniques including direct mail, telemarketing and social media. She is the author of "Pure Water Profits," a blog on marketing featured on, and a frequent guest lecturer at the Water Quality Association’s annual Conference & Exhibition. She may be reached at [email protected] or 800-771-3282.

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