Without an offer, marketing is useless. It’s what the sale is, the advertising points to, and the promotion highlights. But how do we construct a compelling offer? What are the components that separate winning offers from losers?
Mention the term “used car salesman” and a certain image leaps to mind.
Slicked back hair. Squinty eyes. A smooth tone of voice. A keen eye for a sucker.
For extra sliminess, you can always add a fat, excessively chewed-on cigar.
But whatever you think of them, they’re always eager, alert and ready to “make an offer you can’t refuse”.
And, despite the ickiness, that’s a trait us folk in marketing can learn from.
Sometimes we’re not keen to make an offer. We’ll talk about the benefits and features. We’ll show and demonstrate how this product will change lives for the better.
But when it comes time to make the sale, present the offer, or ask for action… we tighten up faster than Scrooge on Christmas Eve.
That doesn’t just apply for face-to-face marketing. Even online, we can omit or water down that all-important step of making our offer.
This post is all about providing everything you need to make better offers to your audience. But before that, here’s exactly why you can’t wimp out on the offer.
THE 40-40-20 MARKETING RULE
Back in the “Mad Men” era of the 1960s, a marketer by the name of Ed Mayer came up with the 40-40-20 Rule: a formula for winning direct marketing campaigns. That formula was a break-down of the factors that contributed to a campaign’s success. The formula was:
- 40% List (AKA your audience)
- 40% Offer (being more than just a dollar figure or discount)
- 20% Creative (with the copy the main part of this)
It’s the second point that jumps out. 40% of direct marketing success stems from the offer.
That makes it doubly as important than the copy. And for this copywriter, that would be a slightly bitter pill to swallow, except…
How you present your offer in the most favourable light is heavily tied in with the creative (that is, the copy and page design).
INTRODUCING THE 5 ELEMENTS
The first and most critical rule to remember:
While the offer presents what YOU have to sell, it’s really all about your AUDIENCE
(or in other words, the first 40% of the 40-40-20 Marketing Rule).
With that in mind, here are the five elements you should include with each offer you make…
- Risk Reduction
In any offer you make, the first three — product, price and prompt — must be there. You don’t have an offer if they aren’t, though the quality of each dramatically impacts the success you enjoy. When you’re ready to elevate a good offer into an outstanding one, premiums and risk reduction play their part.
As the copywriter, you won’t have full control over every aspect. But by working with the client where you can, you can help craft a far more compelling offer than “20% off today only!”.
BEFORE WE BEGIN…
Important as those five elements are, there’s one cardinal rule you must also follow.
No ifs, buts or maybes.
Only offer one thing on your page.
It sounds simple, doesn’t it?
And it is. It doesn’t mean you can only sell one thing, it just means you need to break things. Give them air to breathe and space to roam free on a page of their own.
It also doesn’t mean you can’t sell different tiers, options or variations of your “one thing”. SaaS applications like Box are great examples of this.
While Box is a single application suite, it offers customers four pricing tiers
Four options, but all around the one product.
And speaking of your product, let’s take a closer look…
PRODUCT: WHERE YOUR OFFER STARTS
Gary Bencivenga – one of the most successful direct response copywriters of the modern time – wrote in his now defunct newsletter, “A gifted product is mightier than a gifted pen.”
He then went onto say:
“…if your ‘research and development department’ responsible for coming up with such blockbuster product advantages resides only in your copywriter’s keyboard, you’re already in big trouble.”
He sums up the relationship between your product and your copy perfectly. Copy should and does play its part in selling the product. Talking about deep benefits, how your reader’s life changes when they buy, anticipating potential objections… great copy does all of these things. But these are useful complements that strengthen the presentation of a good product, not a crutch for inferior goods to prop themselves up on.
There’s not a whole more to say on this. Have a great product and let your copy describe it in breathtaking detail.
Show Them What They’re Getting
Showing your readers what they get if they fork out is a no brainer, especially for physical products. And it’s something so basic that it may not even be worth mentioning.
When it comes to digital products, showing your product can get overlooked. And that’s fair enough: if you’re selling bits and bytes, there’s not a whole look to at.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t give something to look at.
There are two common ways you can do this.
1. Add a physical element to your product. The 21 Day Body Fix, one of the countless “lose X pounds in 30 days” programs includes a set of containers that are part of the program.
21 Day Fix doesn’t just include physical containers, but makes them an important part of the program
2. Represent your product in physical form. If your product’s 100% digital, display it as books, DVDs or CDs to give them physical representation. The Food Babe does this with the downloadable guides for her Sugar Detox course.
The product is 100% digital, but the guides for the Sugar Detox are depicted as physical books
The reason behind doing this is simple: psychology.
A study on consumer behaviour confirmed that “people financially value physical goods more than their digital equivalents”. As the study points out, having physical ownership of an item contributed to a higher valuation of it.
(Fascinating side note: the study also noted that things like books or movies didn’t follow this pattern, as they’re “experiential goods” where experience trumps form.)
PRICE: MORE THAN JUST A NUMBER
As a buyer, you often start (and then stop) with the price when thinking about an offer.
It makes sense. The price is the tangible measure of how much you’re going to be out of pocket if you buy.
As a seller, it’s almost the opposite. Throwing a dollar figure up on the sales or product page and hoping for the best is NOT how you want to tackle pricing. How you price — and how you frame your price — goes a long way to making your offer more attractive.
How do you sell a $500 pen? Put it next to a $5,000 pen.
Anchoring is a cognitive bias where we’re influenced by a nearby value or piece of info when making a decision.
In the pen example, we see the $5,000 price tag on the more expensive of the two. That “anchors” our bias around that figure, making the $500 pen seem an absolute bargain by comparison.
Strikeout pricing discounts are a real world demonstration of price anchoring… if the discount is substantial enough.
Amazon does this nicely on some of its products.
By showing the list price, Amazon makes sure you know exactly how much you save
The “list price” is struck out and in grey. It’s not as noticeable as the actual price, but being right above it, potential buyers won’t fail to notice the higher price and how much they’re saving.
Minimisation & Comparison
Your product or service may come with a hefty price tag… at first glance.
But if you break it down, it might not add up to that much at all.
Jeff Goins deftly breaks chunky prices down on his Tribe Writers sales page.
3 and 4 digit costs are neatly presented as 1 or 2 digit figures
Not only does he divide total costs of $1,188 and $588 into monthly figures (which straight away appear more reasonable), he goes a step further to add the daily totals underneath the monthly value.
A tiny $3.25 is far more palatable than a huge $1K+ total staring readers in the face.
Minimisation can be super-effective, but you can introduce a visual element for readers by comparing it to what else they’re pulling out their wallets for.
Every day, inexpensive items like coffees, lunches, movies and other incidentals are perfect for this. People can spend thousands on these over the course of a year without a second thought. So is the $500 you’re charging really that bad if readers spend 4 or 5 times that amount on their twice-daily caffeine kick?
If you want to keep things focused around the subject what you’re selling, make the comparison against competitors or alternatives in your field.
You don’t know have to name names. Just list what other options readers might try instead of what you’re offering… and show them just how hard those options will hit the hip pocket (for not much more value, if any).
The online course “Live Off Your Passion” does exactly that. It lists other ways people might try to find what they really want to do in life, then rattles off prices that are waaaaaay higher than the “by comparison” modest price of $197.
(On a related note, the “Live Off Your Passion” comparisons come before the course price, so it’s also a nice example of anchoring.)
If you were thinking $197 was expensive, consider the alternatives!
Basecamp takes a big step further minimising their price. They call out direct competitors, list their costs and then do a direct “vs” comparison that leaves you under no illusion who’s cheaper.
Basecamp isn’t shy about comparing their costs with competitors
The “Goldilocks” Technique
When a potential buyer is looking at your offer, the question they’re thinking is “Do I buy this?”.
However, give them some different options helps to re-frame the question as “Which one do I buy?”.
The difference is massive. It’s no longer a binary “yes/no” call, it’s an unconscious acceptance that they intend to purchase.
Three options — the “Goldilocks” technique — has long been the accepted number of options (though as always, context counts). Testing around the two vs three options shows that most buyers gravitate to the middle option, but you’ll also have the bonus of those who always choose the most expensive.
Pipedrive is a good example of offering Goldilocks pricing, with three plans of varying features. Note how it adds extra emphasis to the “just right” plan by marking it “BEST VALUE” (though if we were being picky, this emphasis could be a touch stronger, like highlighting or adding a different border).
Pipedrive make it obvious which plan is “just right” for most customers
PROMPT: MAKE THE CALL (TO ACTION)
“If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”
– Mahatma Gandhi (or Stevie Wonder, depending on where you found this quote)
Your call-to-action isn’t just a button or link. It’s the culmination of your offer, where the rubber hits the road and where things get real.
So your CTA needs some TLC to shine it up to a bright, conversion-boosting polish.
Just like pricing, buttons are a popular topic when it comes to conversion rate optimisation. You’ll find books, posts, podcasts, videos – practically every media under the sun – discussing how to get your buttons “just so”.
This isn’t a guide to the 38 ninja tactics to optimise your buttons, but these points can help strengthen this part of your offer considerably (remembering of course… your offer is much more than a price or button).
Contrast Your Button Colour
This might be common knowledge, but every now and then I see a landing page with two buttons side-by-side… in the same colour. And that ain’t on.
Contrast your button’s colour not just against other buttons nearby, but against the rest of the page.
Take Monday.com’s simple landing page. The one thing that stands out — even when the animation on the right-hand side is running — is the bright pink CTA button.
This is one call-to-action you’re never going to miss
Take note: Whatever you do, don’t use grey in your button colors. Why? Because “grey = inactive” in many minds, and that means they’re less inclined to click on it.
Command and Conquer
OK, the subhead may be a little forceful, but using imperatives (i.e. verbs that command someone to do something) at the start of your button copy is a great rule of thumb to follow.
In a Copybloggers guest post, Jo Wiebe supplied a nifty formula to prompt copywriters into the imperative groove:
“I want to ____________”
(with the _________ being your button copy)
It could be a more straight-forward “I want to buy this now”, or a more exotic “I want to train a giant penguin I can ride around”.
Either way, it’s meant to get you thinking: put the imperative first.
King Kong – an aggressive digital marketing agency – uses verbs that speak to a reward for making that click.
King Kong doesn’t just highlight value, but adds a dash of urgency into the mix
“Get” is a fantastic verb that promises something to customers
Don’t Plaster CTAs Everywhere
This is a more cautionary tip.
Think of your CTA as a valuable asset (because it is). You don’t want to under-use it… but you don’t want to over-do things as well.
So, be strategic. Your CTA is a part of your offer you might use elsewhere throughout the page. If you do, position extra instances not only in places your visitors aren’t just most likely to click, but where they’ll follow through.
If you know you’ve got “ready to buy RIGHT NOW” visitors dropping by, that might mean at the very top of the page
Other times, you might hold that valuable CTA back. A great example is the SoulPowered Mastermind sales page. Upon landing, you see…
- A headline with accompanying video
- An “as featured in” section littered with logos
- Plenty of copy about why you might need this
- Photos of people smiling way too much
- More copy
- More photos
You’ll scroll past another half a dozen variations of inspiring photos and inspiring copy before finally spotting an “Apply Now” button (1 of 2 on the page, with the other at the very bottom).
This CTA doesn’t appear until you’re half-way down the sales page
The reason you wait so long? Because SoulPowered don’t want semi-interested prospects clicking the first button they see. If you want to know more about their offer, you’ll have to navigate through key parts of their sales messaging first.
It’s Not “You”, It’s “Me”
Your offer isn’t actually about you. It’s about “them” (i.e. your reader).
So, make it all about them. And that goes double for your CTA.
Michael Aagard, a Senior Conversion Optimizer at Unbounce, ran a couple of revealing A/B tests around “you” and “me” button copy.
- In one test, button copy using “Create My Account” as opposed to “Create Your Account” resulted in 24.95% higher conversion rate.
- In another, “Start your free 30 day trial” vs “Start my free 30 day trial” buttons resulted in 90% increase in click through rate for the “my” version
Landingi, a company that provides an online landing page builder, nails the use of first-person button copy.
Button copy that cleverly uses first-person perspective to draw more clicks
(On a side note, the contrast of this button against the rest of the page is first-rate.)
PREMIUMS: THE CHERRY ON TOP
It’s always nice to get more for your money.
So, while readers might love your product and give your pricing the thumbs up, nothing will perk them up like a bonus or two (or more).
Just like the cherry sitting atop an ice cream sundae, premiums nicely top off an already attractive offer.
But there’s one big difference: nobody buys the ice cream sundae for the cherry. With premiums and bonuses, that’s a different story.
The Premium Can Drive the Sale
In the late 1980s, magazines weren’t getting the pull they once attracted. Even the iconic Sports Illustrated seemed to lack the charm it once held.
They needed to bring subscribers back. Naturally, they offered the usual deals of “sign up for 12 months, get the next 12 free”. But they also did something else.
Something that sold a million subscriptions over the 4 or 5 years it ran.
One thing the football phone demonstrates is that the right premium can be a bigger reason to buy than your product.
The SI marketing folk were well aware of this. Watch the ad again, and you’ll notice more than half of it (and the first minute alone) focuses squarely on the phone. The magazine almost feels like an afterthought.
That was deliberate. And it worked.
This kind of prominent positioning for your premium won’t always work or be relevant. But it’s an important lesson to never under-estimate the value your bonuses can bring to people interested in buying.
If you know your premiums are drawing prospects, put those premiums front and centre.
“While Stocks Last!”
Offering a premium to anyone and everyone who buys is a great way to strengthen your offer. But if you’re looking to light a fire under buyers – and you know they’re interested in your premium – set some conditions around the premium’s availability.
Two of the most common ways to do this are:
- Set a time limit on it being part of the offer
- Set a limited number available (obviously, this won’t work with digital products!)
But that’s not where you stop. Build believability into your urgency or scarcity by giving a reason why the premiums won’t be hanging around. This creates a powerful one-two punch, where the excitement and emotion of seeing a fantastic premium is mixed with a logical rationalisation to get it NOW!, creating an irresistible urge to buy.
Put a Price On Your Premiums
You know your premiums are valuable (if they aren’t, why are you offering them?). You might know down to the dollar what they’re worth.
Unfortunately, your readers usually have no idea.
Why not tell them?
Putting a price tag against your premiums stops them guessing. Tells them exactly the extra value — in dollar terms — that they’re scooping up for free if they buy.
Obviously, the bigger the number, the more powerful it is (though of course, don’t just pluck figures out of thin air). Even if skeptical readers don’t believe it’s worth that much, you may still create an anchoring effect with a larger figure.
Marie Forleo makes sure you know what each of her “Copy Cure” bonuses are worth.
The value of each bonus is highlighted, so you don’t miss how much each premium’s worth
Load ‘Em Up!
One bonus or premium is always good.
Two is even better.
Three (or more)… now your buyers are chortling with delight.
Loading up on premiums for cheaper products with smaller profit margins may not make economic sense. For higher-value sales, adding a stack of valuable freebies for your buyers to get excited about is a great strategy.
Information products have jumped on the “premium bundle” bandwagon. Bonus reports and other materials have few costs beyond the original research and writing, making them ideal to include as a bonus.
For example, the Titans of Direct Response product includes no less than seven bonuses, adding some hefty weight to the value to this admittedly expensive copywriting package.
Bonus, bonus, bonus, bonus… the Titans of DR doesn’t hold back
RISK REDUCTION: EASE THEIR ANXIETY
Buying friction is real.
And most of the time, your prospects are going to feel it, especially when they hit that part of the page prompting them to buy.
As a copywriter, it’s your job to minimise friction, calm fears and ease anxiety. Fortunately, you’ve got some handy tools to work with.
The Biggest “Risk Reducer”
Guarantees are a staple of any half-decent sales page and offer.
If you don’t have one, you don’t have an answer to the buyer thinking “What if I don’t like it?”.
That’s a big problem, because people want to know there’s an option to back out if they need to.
Yes, offering a guarantee means you will get returns. It’s almost “guaranteed” (pardon the pun) some people will take advantage of you. But it’s likely to be a small percentage that won’t outweigh the benefits, with studies showing that a guarantee — in particular, money-back guarantees — “increases retail sales and profits”.
While 30-day guarantees might be the norm (and are usually the bare minimum), longer ones may do more to strengthen your offer. For instance, Home Workout Revolution offers a 60-day guarantee on their fitness program.
A 60-day guarantee is stronger than your typical 30-day promise
So, why does a longer guarantee strengthen the offer?
Because they can reduce returns.
When a buyer picks up a product with a longer guarantee, they can rest easy knowing they’ve got a longer period to play with it and still return it safely. In so many cases, they rarely get around to returning it.
Legendary copywriter Clayton Makepeace recommends loooooooong guarantees – in some cases, up to a year. Financial copywriting expert Roy Furr also suggests being generous with your guarantees.
AWAI’s classic Can You Write a Letter Like This One? sales letter gets inventive by giving buyers a “double guarantee” that covers both the short (30-day) and long-term (12 months).
AWAI’s ingenious guarantee covers buyers for up to 12 months
Making Your Guarantee Shine
Got a guarantee as part of your offer? Great.
Telling people the details of your guarantee? Even better.
But like every part of a sales page, copy is just one cog among many.
To really make your guarantee jump out of the page, use eye-catching visual elements:
The Home Workout Revolution guarantee used the ever-popular ribbon. The Live Off Your Passion page went with a seal. What type of visual isn’t necessarily important, it’s that your guarantee is visually represented.
The prominent seal makes the “Love Your Work” guarantee hard to miss
(Oh, you might spot two other things: 1. They offer an even longer 90-day guarantee 2. They named their guarantee to make it more memorable.)
The Proof is in the Pudding (and Testimonial)
Whenever we talk “proof”, testimonials are one of the first things to pop up. And while they aren’t necessarily part of an offer, I include them as they’re often used as a support element around an offer.
In fact, their very nature of establishing credibility and providing proof of other happy customers make them ideal risk reducers. There’s no doubt they can be an extremely powerful tool in minimising anxiety and buying friction.
Unfortunately, you often see testimonials worded like this:
“I love Product X. It’s really good and makes me happy. I 100% recommend it to anyone.”
– Sharon, Blandsville
Some might argue that any testimonial is better than none, but these short, “say nothing” testimonials don’t inspire much confidence or credibility, which is the whole point.
So, what qualities should you be looking for in a good testimonial?
- Start with a problem: if it’s a similar problem the reader has, boom! Instant connection. Even if it isn’t the same problem, it can still establish empathy.
- Express reservations about the product: a testimonial that says “then I found Product X, which I knew straight away would be a perfect solution to my problem” doesn’t sound realistic. People ALWAYS have some reservations about trying a product, and including this makes the story more believable.
- How they used it: how did the person giving the testimonial use the problem to solve their problem? A simple product may have a limited application, but if your product is used in different ways, having the testimonial giver clarify how they used it not only builds more believability, it can spark the reader to think “how would I use this?”.
- Their new, improved “end state”: what is the person’s life is now like, thanks to your solution. Again, it shouldn’t be too over-the-top and where possible, go into a little more detail than “now my life is amazing!”.
Notice that the testimonial was really all about the person, with the product just along for the ride. That’s because your offer IS all about your reader.
As to how you might use testimonials around your offer, there are two main strategies:
- The “wall of testimonials”
- The “deliberate dribble”
The “wall of testimonials” is just that: testimonial after testimonial to form a cascade of credibility that’s almost annoying. But that’s the point, as it reinforces just how many customers are speaking for your product.
(Tip: if you have weaker testimonials, the wall might be a good place to “bury” them, as readers often scroll through after the first one or two).
The “Titans of Direct Response” sales page uses the wall to good effect…
The Titans of DR sales page goes “wall to wall” with testimonials
…as does the Break Free Digital Academy with video testimonials.
The same ‘wall” effect is just as easily achieved with video testimonials
The “deliberate dribble” goes the other way, spreading testimonials out over the page. They’re usually focused in the second half of a sales page, as they provide the proof to reinforce the claims made up the page.
Study Hero uses the “dribble” with small blocks of 2-3 testimonials sprinkled all the way throughout their sales page (though interestingly enough, they’re included from the very beginning of the page).
Study Hero spreads their testimonials out across the entirety of the page
“Borrowing” Credibility with Payment Options
On first thought, payment options don’t seem like much of a risk reducer.
A necessity if you want to earn a dollar? Of course. But it’s fair to say many would consider adding payment options a business consideration, not a persuasive one.
Here’s where you learn otherwise. Payment options ARE a risk reducer, for two good reasons.
1. They lend “legitimacy” to your page
Let’s face it, there are a lot of shady businesses online today, all happy to take your money. And we often have it in our mind that these nefarious operators build shoddy pages that reek of inauthenticity.
Unfortunately, that suspicion spills over to when we look at honest businesses too. If we get too strong a whiff of amateurish presentation, warning bells ring.
However, when we see the familiar little Visa, Mastercard or Paypal logos representing the payment options (usually in very close proximity to a “Buy” button), we see something familiar and trustworthy. And that goes a long way to switching those bells off.
VWO’s case study is a perfect example of how a Hungarian brand not only made their product page more credible to buyers using payment icons, but boosted paying conversions as well.
2. Answers the “how will I pay?” objection
Your reader’s going through the page. They’re excited about your product and are just about ready to scoop it up. And then…
They hit the buy section.
Without payment options, they might stop. Think. Wonder whether you’ll accept their credit card, Paypal or whatever payment type they want to use.
Having readers worrying about that — even for a moment — can derail your messaging. It can also be fixed very simply. Display logos for payment options you accept, and it’s a question you’ve already answered before it ever forms in the reader’s mind.
Setting up payment options isn’t usually that much trouble. Adding payment icons to your page is an even simpler touch.
Even simple payment icons like those on the Renegade Diet sales page can boost credibility
The Mega Impact of Microcopy
It’s super easy to ignore microcopy. Not because it’s tiny (though there’s usually not much of it), but because it feels like it wouldn’t make a difference.
But… it does.
There’s no better example than when Veeam, a company selling backup solutions, changed the wording of a single link and got a 161.66% lift in click through.
That’s the power of good microcopy.
And when the right microcopy is positioned around the call-to-action (or when you tweak the button copy itself), it can be an equally powerful risk reducer.
Here’s a pro tip for microcopy around your call-to-action, as well as IN your call-to-action.
Microcopy around the call-to-action
Try to identify your reader’s biggest fear or friction builder, then answer it with microcopy immediately before the call-to-action. For example, a lot of SaaS products will use “No credit card required”, as having to pay on sign-up is a common objection and fear with prospects in that industry.
Microcopy in the call-to-action (AKA button copy)
Understand the difference between a “call to action” (e.g. “Buy Now”) and a “call to value” (e.g. “Yes, I Want To Lose 50 Pounds / Earn 100 Big Ones / Whatever Your Reader Wants”). If you’re adding a button at a point in the page you think readers might not be convinced, use a CTV. As you go down the page, consider changing it back to a more conventional CTA.
While not a sales page, Workflowmax heaps a ton of risk-reducing microcopy just above the final call-to-action to ensure readers aren’t worried about the cost or other friction builders.
Whatever you might be anxious about, Workflowmax’s microcopy has an answer
HAS YOUR OFFER GOT WHAT IT TAKES?
If you’ve made it this far, kudos. You’ve got all the elements to transform your offer into something that readers can’t refuse.
But in case you need a reference as you develop your offer, here’s a quick checklist of everything we’ve covered…
✔️ Always show your readers what they’re getting, even if it’s a digital product
✔️ Anchor your price to a higher value
✔️ Minimize the price or compare it other things
✔️ “Goldilocks” your product by offering a small, large and just right
✔️ Contrast your button color so it stands out on the page
✔️ Use imperatives in your button copy that tell readers what to do
✔️ Don’t plaster calls-to-action here, there and everywhere
✔️ Use “you”-centric copy in calls-to-action that make it personal for readers
✔️ Recognise that premiums can drive the sale (in some cases, even more than what you’re selling)
✔️ Make your premiums scarce, whether by limiting the time or quantity available
✔️ Put a value on your premiums so readers know what they’re getting (for free)
✔️ When you can, load your offer up with (good) bonuses
✔️ Include a guarantee with your offer – the longer, the better
✔️ Use testimonials to boost credibility around your offer
✔️ Add payment option logos to your offer (so long as you actually offer those options!)
✔️ Use microcopy to answer objections and reduce friction