The Three R's of a Winning B-to-B Offer
Most marketers spend too little time on offers. Other than mailing lists, offers are the most critical component to
a successful direct mail campaign, and the key to success in other media as well.
Instead, most marketers spend a disproportionate amount of time on creative and formats. While design is important, it is not nearly as integral to your success.
One of the best ways to develop offers is to know what results you want to produce beforehand and brainstorm possible offer options around your objectives.
For instance, are you trying to drive leads or sales? What offers have worked or have stopped working? What offers are your competitors using? What is the offer you could never makethat might work?
Once you have those objectives in mind, it is time to take the next step: create the "perfect" offer. What goes into creating the perfect offer? The offer that will win over your prospect is based on the three Rs:
2. Right Timing
A detailed, complex offer can depress response. The reason isn't that the prospect has read and rejected the offer, it is that the mail piece or space ad never passed his split-second screening process. In fact, direct marketing response happens more on impulse than on careful contemplation. We must imagine the prospect holding the mail piece over the trash or recycling bin:
Stage One: The prospect's first thought is simply, "Should I read or open this?" In seconds, his mind is evaluating whether or not this mailing has any relevance to him, or any pro-mise of meeting his or his company's needs and making his job easier.
Stage Two: If the decision to open the mail piece or read the space ad is made, it is a matter of seconds before the prospect makes the next critical decision: "Should I read this any further?"
Stage Three: If enticed to read further, the prospect then makes the ultimate decision: "Should I say yes?" This decision may lead to more time spent reading and evaluating the mail piece or ad. However, it often leads to the mailing or publication being set aside.
Stage Four: Timing can be crucial to the response, especially for offers in the B-to-B arena. Thus, ongoing communication that stays fresh and is inviting to the key target group(s) is critical.
The fact is, no prospect will say "yes" to an offer that doesn't meet a basic need of his or her own. Whether such a need includes protecting and providing for his clients, making her life easier, making him money or getting a really great deal, offers must be positioned to answer the basic question, "What's in it for me?" Therefore, direct marketers must avoid the temptation to talk all about their company, product or service, a tendency that can lead to complicated, ineffective campaigns.
A mail piece must immediately convey the essence of its core offer, so keep this proposition simple and focused.
When possible, your mailings should incorporate a test of offers and offer positioning. For example, one version of the mailing would build on known winning approaches used in the past. A test offer then would be pitted against that approach, with a goal of increasing response.
Testing several offers also can demonstrate trends related to seasonality, an expiration date or other time-based factors. Mid to late summer for back-to-school retailers, end-of-the-year holidays for nonprofits, springtime for real estate and mortgage industries ... timing plays an important role in the marketing efforts for these types of products and services. Each B-to-B company likely will be able to find periods that are more productive for campaigns than other time spans. Testing the timing of an offer is the only way to determine the exact window that is right for your prospects.
If seasonality isn't a factor in your marketing efforts, there are other ways to influence the "right time" for your offer. Whether it is presented online, via e-mail, a space ad or the mail, your offer can be made more compelling with an expiration date. The expiration date should not be too far in the future, or your prospects will not be motivated to act promptly.
Consider combining your dollar or percentage discount offer with a free shipping incentive for orders received by a cut-off date. Or promise fast respondents a free gift for speedy response. Time-sensitive sweepstakes or giveaways are another way to create a sense of urgency.
Again, the key is to test a variety of offers and time tables that will appeal to your particular audience.
Your offer cannot succeed fully if you don't create a foolproof way for your target audience to respond to it. In fact, you may need to consider providing more than one way to respond.
There are two critical points to remember when strategizing how your prospects will respond:
1. Ask and you shall receive: Make it absolutely clear what you want your prospect to do. Make it easy for him to respond. Keeping it simple may involve: a toll-free number, credit application, reply card, self-addressed envelope, online form or fax order form.
2. Be ready to fulfill: After receiving a personalized direct mail piece, your prospect expects prompt action to her response. Be careful to acknowledge when and how requests will be fulfilled, to prioritize the responses and, most importantly, to outline how your customer service/sales team will move the inquiry from lead to sale.
The benefit to considering a toll-free service or creating a stand-alone microsite is twofold. First, the pros-pect is directed to a person, automated phone system or Web page that is dedicated to fulfilling a particular offer or request. Second, the person, automated phone system or Web page can be trained or built to collect and database the essential contact information. You will be assured that each and every response then will be recorded so that you can quickly fulfill and track each lead.
DRC/WO (Direct Response Campaign Seeking Winning Offer)
Don't limit your direct response offer to direct mail only. A response-driven offer can help you stimulate leads from your e-mail marketing, advertising, Web site marketing and public relations efforts as well.
While it is important to leverage all media into one cohesive programand leverage the images and awareness they generateit is just as critical to remember the basic realities of getting skeptical, busy, overwhelmed, disinterested business prospects to stop, read what you have to say, and consider saying "yes."
Keep in mind that 40 percent of your success is predicated by the lists used, 25 percent on the offers made, 20 percent on the creative and 15 percent on other factors, including timing and relevance. Remembering this breakdown will help you assign a proportionate amount of time and resources to each aspect of your campaign.
If you have to choose between testing formats and offers, I'd recommend testing offers.
Grant A. Johnson is president and CEO of Johnson Direct, a full-service direct marketing agency in Brookfield, Wisc. He can be reached at (800) 710-2750, or visit www.johnsondirect.com.