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National Mail Order Association (NMOA)
Direct Marketing
and Mail Order

Alan Rosenspan's "Improve Your Response" Newsletter
September 2002
Issue #15: The Offer Issue


• 1. "Dilbert Isn't Interested"

• 2. Pave Paradise

• 3. Free Programming Offer

• 4. To PDF or not to PDF?

• 5. My Offer To You

Dear Friends,

The subject of this issue is offers; which are one of the most important part of any direct marketing program. This is true in direct mail, e-mail and even direct response television.

You can craft the most brilliant copy; come up with an outstanding design; and your program may still fail – unless you have a compelling offer.

In this issue, I’d like to share three of my favorite offer stories – which might spark your thinking

Dilbert Isn’t Interested"
I’ve told this story in my seminars – but I’ve never shared it in print before.

Eight years ago, I was doing a direct marketing project for IBM – and I wanted to use the cartoon character Dilbert as a spokesperson. At that time, Dilbert was just beginning to become popular, particularly with engineers and high tech people.

I did some research and got the name of the company that represents Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert. I found out the name of the woman in charge and called her – repeatedly.

She never returned my calls. So I sent her a dozen roses – just to get her attention – and they did the trick. The woman called me back and thanked me for the flowers, but that was all.

Her exact words were:

"Dilbert isn’t interested in your program."

I wanted to ask, "How do you know? Did you ask him?" but I figured that wouldn’t get me anywhere.

So instead I pleaded, "This is for IBM – you’ve heard of them, haven’t you? And yes, it’s only a direct marketing package, but if it’s successful, maybe we can use Dilbert for other programs."

The woman interrupted me, "Forget it -- Dilbert wants a relationship with a company like Snoopy has with MetLife. Dilbert wants to be in all the ads, the billboards, the TV commercials…"

(Apparently, Dilbert is an egomaniac.)

Anyway, I couldn’t use him – but that’s not the end of the story.

Fast forward a couple of years. I happen to be in Tower Records, and I notice they’re selling Dilbert mints. There are three different boxes - Manage-mints, Perform-mints and Accomplish-mints.

So I buy them – and I think, "I wonder if I can use these mints as an offer for a high technology client I’m working on?"

This time, I don’t call the agent. I called the mint company – in Chicago. And I tell them I’d like to use their mints as an offer in my next direct mail package.

Their reaction was very different – they were delighted. "You want to use our mints?" they asked, "How many do you think you’ll need?" "Maybe 2-3,000 boxes," I said.

The mint company promised me a great price, but just before I got off the phone, I had a question.

"Umm…I don’t have to get Dilbert’s permission, do I?"

"No," the mint company said, "We have the right to sell these mints – and you can use them anyway you like."

I used the mints in a direct mail program for Sitara Networks –
a high technology company that makes QoS (quality of service) networking products.

We mailed out 4,000 pieces to engineers and IS managers – and we got almost 6,000 requests for Dilbert mints. (That’s a 150% response – which is usually considered pretty good)

It was such a popular offer, people told everyone in their offices about it. Truth be told, some of the leads we received weren’t really qualified. But the program was a huge success.

What did I learn from this experience?

1. Keep your eyes open for interesting offers. You never know when you might spot something you can use.

2. If you want to use a celebrity or something famous – don’t negotiate with their agent. Find another company that already has permission to use them – and talk to them.

P.S. My program worked. Have you ever seen Dilbert on a TV commercial or billboard?

Pave Paradise…
One of my clients is Systems Paving – a company that makes and installs beautiful inter-locking stones for the driveways, walkways and patios. They have over 10,000 satisfied customers across the country.

Systems Paving regard their direct marketing packages as a "sample" of their company. They insist that their packages be as beautiful and elegant as their product, and they’ve hired some of the best designers in the business (For example, Carol Worthington Levy.)

Their direct mail has also been well-written. One self-mailer proclaimed, "We Worship the Ground You Walk On".

Inside it continued, "Just give us a call and you will too."

Another read, "When our customers see how remarkable their new driveways look, they go crazy" (But then again, most of them were cracking up to begin with.)

However, their offer wasn’t as strong – one reply card read, "Please contact me to set up an appointment so I can take advantage of Systems Paving’s Special Offer."

Their pieces also mentioned a 20% or 25% discount, but the actual cost was never shown.
When I first started working with them, I knew we had to improve the offer. My thinking was – a discount doesn’t mean anything unless you know you want the product.

But you don’t even know how your house will look until Systems Paving actually rips up your pavement and completes the installation.

How could we overcome this?

We came up with a remarkable offer that showed homeowners exactly what their new driveway or walkway would look like – before they buy.

The outside envelope read, "May we take a photograph of your house?"

The letter began as follows:

"Dear Name,

You just can’t imagine how different…and how much better…your home will look.

And we don’t expect you to!

That’s why Systems Paving will take a "before" and "after" digital photo of your house…so you can see how it will look in just minutes. And there’s absolutely no cost or obligation."

Early returns show this package, with this innovative offer, beating their long-standing control by almost 30%.

Free Programming Offer
I recently did a day of consulting for a company up in Edmonton, Canada. As they say, it’s not the end of the world – but you can see it from there.

Actually, Edmonton is beautiful – built around a gorgeous park, lush and green (in the summer, anyway.)

Edmonton is also home to the world’s largest mall, which I had a half-day to explore. The inside of the mall has a full-size water park; a lake with two submarines; a go-kart track; a casino; an amusement park; several movies; a hotel(!) and hundreds of stores. It was an amazing experience.

In any case, the company I worked with publishes a number of monthly Satellite TV directories – and both response rates and renewals were going down.

We developed a number of creative approaches, and a greatly improved contact strategy, but the most exciting idea was the offer. We came up with a sweepstakes where the grand prize was this:

"Win Free Satellite TV Programming for Life!"

I love the offer – because (A) The prize directly relates to the product, (B) The prize is a lot more exciting than a typical free trip or discount, and (C) It sounds a lot more valuable than it actually is.

We figured the cost would be approximately $700. a year, and we could always add a legal disclaimer and cap the maximum value at $10,000.

I also love this offer because it takes advantage of human nature.

"I can get Free programming for life? Whatever I want?"
If you’ve ever been to an all-you-can-eat salad bar, you know what I mean.

I think this offer will really capture people’s attention and get a great response. I’ll let you know how it goes.

To PDF or not to PDF?
Should you offer to send people your brochure or white paper, or should you ask them to download a PDF?

Asking prospects to download a PDF allows them to view your materials right away – while their interest in your product or service is at it’s peak.

On the other hand, sending prospects your brochure or white paper gives them something they can hold in their hands, and easily share with others. The production quality will be higher.

And besides, not everyone can download a PDF.

Which is better? I recommend you do both.

You’ll get all the benefits of giving your prospects immediate gratification plus something they can hold in their hands. Best of all, you get two different opportunities to reach them with your message.

We’ve been recommending this idea to our clients for the past two years, and it’s been very effective.

My Offer to You
I have an article called "Secrets of Successful Offers" that has a lot more information about this important topic.

It includes dozens of different offers; how to present the offer; 7 offers to avoid at all costs; and The Real Secret to Offers.

If you’d like a copy, please e-mail me at

Forward and Backward, and a Few Words about Privacy
You are welcome to forward this to anyone else who you believe may be interested.

To unsubscribe, just send me an e-mail that says "Remove" and I will understand. And once again, please let me remind you that your name and/or e-mail address will never be shared, sold, circulated, or passed along to anyone else. Thank you.


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