I spend a lot of time writing about the components of direct mail response — list, creative, offer and marketing timing. Today I want to concentrate on the offer. Even if I sold you the best mailing list in the world, if you aren’t making a worthy offer — forget it.

The offer is the theme of your communication. In the water industry, I often see the offer tacked on as kind of an “Oops, I almost forgot it” kind of thing. Begin with it. Restate it. Denote its key benefits. Create the actual copy around it so it’s incorporated into the entire program.

Depending on the nature of the communication, different kinds of direct mail offers are used in the industry:

  • Lead generation offers are typically free offers designed to get someone to raise their hands and say, “I’m interested!”  (and give us their info so we can connect with them). In the water industry, common lead generation offers include gifts like family-sized laundry detergent, diapers, soaps, coupon books and gift cards to home improvement stores.
  • Order generation offers are paid offers, i.e., “Buy now/Pay later” and “No interest until 2017.” When people respond to these offers, they commit to pay at a later date. Offers like “We will install your unit now” and “Pay in six months” are common in the water industry.
  • Continuity offers are for companies that sell products on a monthly basis. An example is the “Try us before you commit” promotion. The offers used for these types of companies are usually free trials for a specific period followed by an agreed-upon monthly billing. In the water industry, some companies may use promotions such as “Try our salt delivery service, and if you like it, sign up for our convenient monthly service.”
  • Traffic-building offers are most often used by retailers that want to see their stores packed with customers. The most common traffic building offers are discount coupons, BOGOs, gift with purchase or free event promotions. In the water industry, these are mostly used by the big box stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s or Sears.

More considerations

The offer is an implied contract between you and your prospect, so be clear in what you’re committing to. “Buy one, get one free” can also mean “buy 100, get 100 free.” Can you afford that? Make sure you really understand what you’re offering.

Finally, everyone can see through lukewarm offers. Free, in-home water testing as a standalone offer doesn’t cut it anymore.