If you want to improve the response rate to your direct mail, the answer may be as simple as making a better offer.

For example, a recent mailing by one Positive Response client offered free samples and pulled a 7.5% response. Here are the details:

A manufacturer and wholesaler of skin-care products, my client offered free samples to a targeted list of licensed estheticians (high-end skincare professionals). These two factors, the offer and the list, were far and away the most important reasons for the client's success. The third and least important factor was the copy. Sure, it played a role and had an impact. But without an excellent offer—free samples—it's unlikely that this mailing would have produced much more than a handful of responses.

Crafting an Effective Offer: First, Do Your Homework

I understand that everyone's business is not suited to offering free samples. But that doesn't mean you can't craft a stronger, more compelling offer that increases your response.

To craft an effective offer, you should first consider the economics of your business. What is the best offer that you can afford to make? For example, you run a high-end printing business. You know that the top 20% of your customer base spends an average of $42,000 a year with you. And because of the high quality of your work and your outstanding customer service, these top-tier clients stay on the books with you for an average of seven years. When you look at your business in this light, you may determine that you can afford to make a much more generous offer when targeting companies that meet the same profile.

Maybe you'll decide to offer prospects a substantial discount on their first order: four-color printing for the same price as black and white, free shipping on all orders during the first 12 months, or some other compelling incentive.

Get Creative With Your Offer

Allow me to continue with the above example and show you how a little creativity can help you craft an even more compelling and unique offer.

Let's say you feel that the offer of a first-order discount would cheapen the high-end, high-quality image you've worked hard to establish for your printing company. So you and your staff do some brainstorming and come up with another idea. After careful consideration of the $294,000 future income stream that each name on your targeted list is capable of producing... you decide to do a test mailing of a very special offer. An offer that, figuratively and literally, drives home your corporate image as a classy, one-of-a-kind organization.

Here it is:

Because you have a world-class printing facility with state-of-the-art presses and digital imaging equipment your most effective sales approach is to have the prospect tour your shop. So your offer is a guided tour of your facilities.

But here's the kicker: You arrange for a limousine service to provide each prospect with transportation from their office to your shop and back. (I can see the envelope copy now. "May I send the limo for you?" Who wouldn't want to read what's inside?)

Plus, for an added touch of class and more selling time with the prospect, you schedule the tour so that it ends right around the lunch hour. Then, you and your prospect dine together in your executive offices with lunch ordered in from a fine restaurant. When lunch is over, you walk your soon-to-be customer to their limo and warmly send them on their way. Class, all the way.

In addition, any marketing professional worth his or her fee would easily be able to take a winning campaign of this nature and generate local and national publicity with it. By the way, if you use this idea, let me know. And if you get great results with it, how about sending me a case of Omaha Steaks?

Now maybe your business doesn't lend itself to the type of offer I just described. That doesn't matter. These are the two key points I want you to take away from this example:

  1. Be a progressive, forward-thinking, "big-picture" marketer. When calculating the ROI of any marketing effort, don't focus solely on the short-term profitability of making a sale. Look also at the much more substantial and profitable outcome of making a customer.

  2. When crafting an offer, don't be afraid to think outside the box. Make every effort to make your offer fun, unique, compelling. Ask yourself, "If I were receiving this offer instead of sending it out, what would motivate me to take action?"

Successful Offers for Your Next Mailing—Two Proven Business-to-Business offers

Sometimes, particularly when you're mailing to a larger universe of prospects, circumstances may restrict how creative or generous you can be with your offer.

That's why I want to share with you two low-cost business-to-business lead-generation offers you can use to achieve profitable results. But first, a brief discourse on one of the most significant challenges faced by business-to-business marketers.

Way too many business-to-business offers amount to nothing more than "Call us for further information." The problem with that offer is that it lacks any motivating force, and the prospect feels no need to take action. Consequently, the only people likely to respond are those who are already interested in buying the product or using the service. The end result is that "Call us for further information" will produce high-quality leads but not nearly enough of them to make your salespeople happy and your marketing program successful.

On the other hand, offering a free premium such as a Mag-lite Flashlight will generate a high number of leads, but at an increase in fulfillment costs and a substantial drop-off in the quality of the leads.

Using one of the following two offers can help you solve this quantity/quality dilemma:

1. Today's Business Owners and Executives Are Overloaded with Reading material.

The paradox is that they are always on the lookout for advice, tips, pointers, and information that can help them do a better job of doing their job or running their business. (Your taking the time to read this article is a perfect example. And, by the way, thank you for doing so.)

The topic of your booklet should obviously be a subject of genuine interest to your targeted prospects. It should offer relevant, helpful, meaningful information in a seemingly unbiased and neutral way. At the same time, the information in your booklet should help sell the reader on your product or service. A good editorial approach to take with your booklet is to explain how to successfully accomplish a certain end result or how to select a product that will help your prospects achieve that result. Naturally, you want to slant your material in such a way that the reader will favor your approach or your product.

Once you've selected the topic and content approach for your booklet, your next step is to give it a title that will attract attention and generate response. A good title is very important and will largely determine how successful your free booklet offer is. Here are some examples of effective business-to-business booklet titles:

50 Cost-Saving Printing Trade Secrets

How to Market With Postcards

15 Ways to Improve Your Collection Efforts

The 6 Most Common Mistakes People Make When Leasing Commercial Property... And How to Avoid Them

Family-Owned Businesses: The 3 Most Common Pitfalls... and How to Avoid Them

Important final note: Be sure that you call your informational offering a booklet and not a brochure. Why? Booklet sounds less commercial, more meaningful, and more informative than "brochure."

2. Case Study

A case study can make a great offer and can be a powerfully effective marketing tool. Essentially, a case study is a success story that details how your company was able to help a specific client achieve exceptional results. You can also look at it as a lengthy and detailed testimonial written in the form of a magazine article.

A good format for a case study is as follows:

  • Problem: This is how things were before our customer started using our product or service.

  • Solution: This is how we solved the problem.

  • Payoff: This is the documented payoff our products/services have enabled the customer to achieve.

You want your case study to show the "hows and whys" of a customer's situation and decision. For example, how many products did they evaluate and which other companies were among the "finalists"? Why did the customer choose your product over the others? Your case study should emphasize the successful results your customer achieved with your product or service. Plus, you'll want to be sure and include numerous direct quotes from the principal parties involved in the buying decision. Also, as with the informational booklet, you'll need to give your case study a good title.

Well-written case studies will build strong credibility for your product or service. By providing references and helping prospects gain a better understanding of how your product or service can help them achieve their goals and objectives, a good case study can overcome the prospect's natural skepticism.

Plus, a case study has public relations value. Many trade publications make extensive use of them, either as full-length feature articles or as fillers.

* * *

Profitable direct mail marketing hinges on making the right offer to the right people in the right way. If your direct mail efforts are not as successful as you think they should be, improving your results may be as simple as improving your offer.

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image of Ernest Nicastro

Ernest Nicastro is an award-winning B-to-B freelance copywriter who is also equally adept at crafting B-to-C content. For more information, and to review samples of his work, visit Positive Response.

LinkedIn: Ernest Nicastro

Twitter: @enicastro