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(Yet Another) Guide to Creating Performance Marketing Offers That Bring Conversions (Includes Some Exercises, Too).

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The first step in deciding what the offer is to be is to have a realistic view of what an offer is. Surprisingly few entrepreneurs, whether Amazon sellers, independent ecommerce venture owners or actually anyone selling anything online or offline, have thought the matter through.

It is understandable that most of us tend to define our offers in terms of what we are selling, rather than in terms of what the customer is buying.

That is because we know what we are selling, but we rarely take the time or go to the trouble of discovering what the customer is buying – that is, what we really are selling.

One of the major objectives of this blog post is to help you determine what your offers are or ought to be, i.e. what your customers are buying or, in more significant terms, how your customers perceive what they get when they buy from you.

The critical factor in determining this is service because we are all in the service business, no matter what we sell. As one observer has put it, customers do not buy quarter-inch drills – they buy quarter-inch holes.

When you sell the customer a quarter-inch drill, you sell a service – the ability to make quarter-inch holes.

Citing some right and wrong advertising appeals will help illustrate this principle more comprehensively.

You Need Clarity in Performance Marketing, Not Cuteness

An advertisement in a current celebrity and entertainment news magazine has no headline, just some random images and meaningless words.

Not only the message is just cute, it uses non-standard, i.e. expensive format – in the middle of the ad there is editorial content of the magazine. (The ad was published in In Touch Weekly, September 28, 2020.)

Scanning the content of the advertisement reveals self-congratulatory lauding of a brand of snacks. It is not entirely clear what the main point is here.

What is wrong with this? Several things:

  1. The message is cryptic, evidently written to be clever and get attention, perhaps generate admiration for the oh-so-clever creative team. (Why are advertising copywriters so addicted to puns as evidence of their cleverness?) But all it actually implies is some vague connection with the snacks brand. It certainly does not constitute an offer of any kind. It can hardly be regarded as an offer unless it is specific, and this message certainly is not that.
  2. Nowhere in the ad is any specific offer made, except as a prospect might infer it from the self-congratulations expressed in every word. The copy is about the advertiser – what the advertiser wants – when it should be about the prospect – what the prospect wants and what the advertiser promises to deliver.
  3. Nowhere does the ad offer, specifically or even indirectly, to do something for the prospect – to give the reader more than the general and vague claims of quality as a reason to buy the product.
  4. Even as constituted, the copy is rambling over the landscape: It has no focus and thus cannot help but confuse readers. Even under this analysis (which no casual reader is likely to make) the meaning is unclear.

In sharp contrast, the highly successful worldwide New Nordic brand is advertised on the next page of the same magazine with the headlined promise of “more hair growth.”

(The ad was published in In Touch Weekly, September 28, 2020.)

That is an offer. It promises the prospect one specific and distinct benefit, and it is focused sharply. The body copy then follows up to explain how the product achieves the promised results, listing all the “goodies” (favorable features and functions) of the solution.

That actually sums up the difference – the most important difference, in any case – between copy that works the way it ought to and copy that may or may not work, but certainly does not work as well as it could and should.

This has nothing to do with the quality of the product. The first product referred to here may or may not be of the highest quality. Advertising cannot establish or prove quality, of course. It can only present an appeal and explain the offer. And provide enough evidence to make a plausible case for quality.

Even without that evidence, an appealing offer may induce a prospect to try the product. But it is hardly likely that any prospect will take you up on an offer when it is difficult if not impossible to comprehend what the offer is.

It is not only print advertising in the media that often falls down on the job because the seller, copywriter, entrepreneur has failed to first define the offer.

Landing page copy, Facebook ad copy, Instagram ad copy , Google Ads copy, ecommerce product description, direct mail copy etc. offends as often.

An Offer is a Promise. What is Your Promise?

The offer is, then, not what you propose to sell to the prospect, but what you promise to do for the prospect.

For the moment, while you are defining your offer, never mind the the means by which you will achieve the promised result (benefit). That is a secondary issue.

That is part of the proof or evidence to convince the prospect that you will make good on your promise, but first you must establish the promise.

You must give the prospect a reason to be interested. To do that you must understand that everyone responds to every proposal, consciously or subconsciously, with “What’s in it for me?”

That is the question your headline, whether in a Facebook ad or on a landing page, must answer: What is in it for the prospect?

Every valid performance marketing offer, whether in B2C or B2B, is a proposal. It is in effect, “this is what I will do for you if you buy what I wish to sell.” It is a proposal to make a trade: benefits for dollars.

But Do Not Count on Reason

We humans try to be rational and logical, and we like to believe that we are. However, we are not entirely so. We are motivated far more by emotional drives and impulses than by rational ones.

Among our emotional drives are the needs to love and be loved, to be secure, to be warm, to be well fed, to feel a sense of worth, to be respected by others, to enjoy self-esteem, and a variety of other such realizations, all of which might logically be characterized as aspects of our human need for a sense of security.

In fact, it is easily possible to explain all human drives as elements of the need to feel secure, both physically and emotionally or psychologically. Our drives can also be explained as manifestations of our universal insecurity, because, after all, no one is totally secure in our world.

An understanding of this is a prerequisite to developing a definition of proper offers to make to prospects. But to pursue this further, it is necessary to think about and understand the more basic subject of wants and needs.

Zooming into Prospects’ Wants & Needs

In today’s language a want is a desire, although the word originally referred to a lack of something and is still used, to some extent, to mean that.

A need, however, is an essential requirement of some sort, a lack (want, in its more classical sense) of something that must be supplied.

So, for practical purposes, the two terms are almost interchangeable—a want is a need. But even without respect to how the words are used in our society today, whether a customer wants or needs something depends entirely on the customer’s perception.

The customer who owns 150 pairs of shoes may decide to buy still another pair, and only the customer can decide whether that is a want or a need. So whatever a customer decides to buy or can be persuaded to buy is a need.

But there are two kinds of needs, at least in the philosophy of many performance marketers. There is the felt need, that need the prospect identifies without prompting by anyone.

The prospect who has decided that he or she needs new shoes goes into a shoe ecommerce shop with the intention of buying. But not everyone who buys new shoes feels the need before they are prompted by advertising.

Much advertising and sales effort is designed to create a need by convincing prospects that they need new shoes. However, the offer is not shoes, but what shoes will do for the customer. I.e. provide greater comfort, make the wearer more stylish, enhance the wearer’s personal appearance and prestige, require less care to maintain, or otherwise benefit the customer in a way that has far more emotional reward than it has rational justification.

Creating New Needs

Creating needs is the objective of by far the largest proportion of all marketing effort. And, understandably, the intensity of the marketing effort is in some proportion to the difficulty of creating the need – of persuading prospects that they need whatever it is that the promotion is designed to sell.

The difference in difficulty is primarily the difference in the prospects’ own recognition of the benefit. In some cases, the public recognizes the benefit at once, almost automatically, and embraces the product or service with little marketing effort required.

Home TV, digital video recorders like TiVo, office printers, home air conditioning, personal computers, and many other products and services met such swift acceptance.

Other products and services have had a rockier road to success and required intensive marketing to achieve whatever success they managed to reach, if at all.

Of course, many new products and services become casualties because they fail to convince prospects that they satisfy a need or provide worthwhile benefits, and that may be because the product or service is not truly valuable, or it may be simply that it has not been sold effectively.

Or Discovering Old Needs?

In one sense, the mere creation of a new product or service creates a new need. There could have been no need for TV, individual retirement accounts, or hair sprays when those products and services did not exist.

The creation of their existence produced the new need. But that is a viewpoint that depends heavily on how we define needs. If we examine the question more closely, we find it possible to discern other views, to arrive, in fact, at a concept of universal and immutable needs, needs that we can regard as basic needs.

Once we consider that there are such needs, immutable and basic, we can hypothesize that there is no such thing as a new or created need, that needs never change: What new developments create are not new needs, but better ways to satisfy old and classic needs.

Do Needs Ever Change?

This proves to be a most useful viewpoint in understanding and defining needs and through them performance marketing offers. If we agree that basic needs do not change, we can organize needs into useful hierarchies.

For example, we have always needed diversion, entertainment, for our spare time. The Romans staged spectacular, if bloody, diversions. All cultures have developed their own theater, including our own popular movies, plays, and musicals. But in more modern times, home entertainment has become a major focus of new development, and we have eagerly embraced Netflix or TV, as better ways of satisfying the need for entertainment at our convenience.

(Naturally, older, less convenient, and more costly forms of entertainment have declined in proportion to the growing popularity of the newer forms.)

If you embark on the quest for defining offers by deciding that there are no new needs, but only better ways of satisfying old and classic needs, you have discovered the basic mechanism for identifying and defining the offers you ought to make: deciding what basic need is best satisfied by the product or service you wish to sell, and how that product or service satisfies the need in a better way.

You could probably reduce the list of truly basic needs to a number small enough to count on your fingers. However, for practical purposes it is necessary to be able to express each basic need in a variety of ways.

Physical comfort, for example, is a basic need, but there are such factors as the range of temperature in the human comfort zone. So you must promise prospects warmth when you sell heating systems, and cool comfort when you sell fans or air conditioning.

But physical comfort is a factor also in selling furniture of most kinds – beds, chairs, lounges, and other such items. It is a factor in selling automobiles, too, and in selling a great many other things used for personal and business purposes and functions.

It is therefore necessary to appeal to the prospects’ basic needs in a variety of ways and through use of a variety of terms.

Exercise 1: Identifying Basic Needs

Exercise 1 below will help you condition yourself to begin thinking in such terms. Work through this exercise as a first step.

While this exercise will start your brain cells working on the problem of identifying the wants and needs of prospects, it is by no means a complete list.

You will be able to think up many more terms to help prospects perceive the needs and wants you offer to satisfy. It is a list that is essentially generic, so that each of these terms embraces an entire family of more specific terms that would be subsets.

There are three steps in the process of deciding what your performance marketing offer (promise) is to be. You must identify/decide the following:

  • The basic need to which you can/shall appeal (e.g., comfort)
  • The specific aspect of the need (e.g., warmth)
  • How your offer better satisfies the need (e.g., pure wool lining)

Instructions: Check items your product or service does or can address. Add your own candidates in the blank spaces as necessary. (Some items may apply in more than one major category, too.)

Personal Needs

Physical comfort

Financial security

Protection of family

Career achievement

Entertainment

Love

Pride

Accomplishment

Freedom from fear

Convenience

Self-worth

Ego gratification

Prestige

_________

_________

_________

Business Needs

Sales success

Business image

Support services

Problem solving

Sense of support

Security

General business success

Special skills

Position among peers

_________

_________

_________

Other

_________

_________

_________

Rational Vs. Emotional Impact

In most cases, the appeal relies heavily on words and their impact. Even in the visual medium, TV, the bulk of the presentation usually rests on the effectiveness of the words used. The choice of words, therefore, makes a difference in the results achieved.

That is because words have both rational and emotional content.

  • “Physical comfort” is almost entirely a rational idea, with little emotional content.
  • “Heat” is also almost devoid of emotional content in most of its usages.
  • “Warmth,” however, has some emotional content, which can be either favorable or unfavorable, depending on how and in what context or under what circumstances it is used. A promise to keep you warm in the winter is an appealing promise, but would have far greater impact when delivered to prospects in frigid weather rather than in hot weather.

The point is that you should select words for their emotional content in explaining your offer. For example, if you were selling a winter garment, in rationalization – the proof or evidence portion of your sales argument – you might discuss the effectiveness of the garment in preserving body heat.

But in making your basic offer, you would want to promise warmth, rather than heat, insulation, or other rational and unemotional terms.

The kinds of words used to stimulate the prospect’s imagination and help the prospect actually feel what you want him or her to feel would include such emotion-laden terms as warm, cozy, and snug.

There is one other effect you must strive for in choosing the terms to use in expressing offers. You want to help the prospect visualize the benefit, as well as feel it. So you must try to choose those terms that paint images.

Compare, for example, these descriptions of a product:

  1. Genuine wool
  2. Warm, soft lamb’s wool

Obviously, the second descriptor has far greater emotional impact, while it also tends to paint an image, rather than convey a rational idea.

The kinds of adjectives that help create that emotional impact and paint the image are such words as soft, cuddly, warm. Bear in mind, however, that you must keep your audience (prospects) in mind, too, when you choose your words.

Soft and warm work for both men and women, but cuddly works for women better because there are also masculine and feminine words.

Exercise 2: Finding the Words

Exercise 2 below is offered to give you some practice in applying this idea. Try to find the best word, best in terms of emotional/image-making content, among the three choices offered in each case.

But do not stop there.

Try to think up even better choices and enter them into the blank spaces provided for that specific purpose. This will help you exercise your brain cells in finding the best words to express your offer. This is, of course, only an exercise.

Instructions: Each capitalized word in the left-hand column expresses an idea you want to stress in your offer. Check the alternative that you would choose to use in your offer. If you can think of a better alternative, write it in one of the spaces provided below.

TermAlternatives
cold icy frosty frozen
hot steaming hearty searing
safe snug secure under lock and key
strong unbreakable rugged durable
cheap inexpensive economical cost-saving
convenient easy to use near at hand effortless
reliable foolproof unfailing dependable
modern up to date latest design state of the art
fast high speed in minutes like lightning
prestigious be a champion distinguished mark of leaders
quality built to last respected name genuine
good taste fashionable the latest European
________ ________ ________ ________
________ ________ ________ ________
________ ________ ________ ________
This is not an exercise solely for copywriters. Everyone crafting a performance marketing offer should be proficient at finding the right words.

Basic Emotional Appeal

There are certain basic emotional needs we have. Most of us have the need to love someone and to be loved by someone. We need to have our egos gratified – to be recognized as worthy individuals by others and to believe that we have done worthy things, achieved worthy deeds.

Those emotional needs are needs for emotional or psychological security, but we need also to feel secure financially, materially.

That is why I observed earlier that probably all our emotional needs can be reduced to a basic need for security, which definitely includes appeals to ego.

You will probably never go wrong in formulating your performance marketing offers if you bear in mind at all times the human need for security. But you must find the many specific and concrete terms in which to express these appeals.

Only One Basic Selling Problem

If you are introducing a new idea with your product or service, you have the basic selling problem of persuading prospects to accept the new and different way of satisfying a basic need, which is not always an easy task.

However, if you are introducing a new product or service that is not a new idea, but is in competition with others already offered (and, presumably, already established), your marketing problem is slightly different.

You do not have to persuade prospects to believe that they can satisfy their needs in a different way than that to which they are accustomed, but that your conventional solution is better than that of your competitors.

In either case, your marketing problem is the same in, at least, the need to satisfy the prospect that yours is a better way of satisfying the need.

The need in both cases is the need to prove that yours is a better way, whether better than older, established ways, or better than the products/services offered by competitors.

Prospects will usually buy better ways, but the burden of proof is on you, of course.

What is “Better”?

Defining “better” is one problem. But the definition is not one that you can make. It is one the prospect must make, because it is only the prospect’s
perception that matters.

“Better” is whatever the prospect agrees is better, and it is not an absolute. “Better” is a variable, and it depends on several other variables:

  • The prospect
  • The need
  • The circumstances

One of the most basic and common mistakes the beginner in business makes is trying to establish universal appeal for whatever he or she is selling.

The hope is to maximize the number of prospective customers by appealing to all. Unfortunately, it is a serious mistake. It rarely works.

Performance marketing today requires focus. You must identify your target and zero in on that target.

Our sophisticated business establishment offers a bewildering array of products and services today. But that same sophistication of our system has produced an equally bewildering array of marketing targets, so that matching offerings with prospects is an integral part of marketing success today.

The advertising industry tends to refer to this as segmentation, but that word simply means that you must identify the proper prospects for your offerings, to avoid the classic (and apocryphal) blunder of trying to sell refrigerators to Eskimos.

The need is linked to the prospect, but is not necessarily a factor of the prospect, for a given prospect may have different needs, under different circumstances.

(In fact, many Eskimos in modern Alaska do buy refrigerators to install in their modern houses.)

Needs change because circumstances change. And so “better” changes also. However, it is essential to remember that “better” is linked entirely to what the prospect perceives as better: The prospect may perceive something as better without your help. (That is, what is referred to as a “felt need.”)

In other cases, you must somehow convince the prospect that what you offer is, indeed, better. It is that act of persuasion that constitutes selling.

You can always hope that the prospect automatically perceives the advantages of what you offer, but you can never be sure that such will be the case.

So you must operate on the assumption that you must always make a sales effort, under all circumstances. That is, you must always work at pointing out why or in what way your offer is a better way to satisfy the need.

Not everyone agrees on what better means in any given application. It may mean more convenient, cheaper, easier to use, easier to learn, longer lasting, more prestigious, or almost anything else.

The words you use may also affect the prospect’s reaction. A single wrong word can destroy a sales effort, if the word is offensive to the prospect.

Of course, there is rarely anything that most of us, let alone all of us, will agree is better. We cannot hope to convince everyone that what we offer is better, but we do have to try to determine what a majority of prospects will perceive as better.

Think, for example, why more people patronize one supermarket than another in your own neighborhood. Does one have a greater selection of items than another? Is it more convenient to shop in? Does it have better parking facilities? Is it in a more popular shopping center? Does it do more advertising, run more sales, generate more publicity, attract a special class of shoppers, or have a special reputation?

Exercise 3: Searching for the Better-Way Image

This calls for introspection. You must truly think about it intensively. The purpose of Exercise 3 below is to encourage and stimulate such introspection, to induce you to dig down deeply in your thinking about this and practice trying to view “better” from the prospects’ viewpoints, rather than from your own.

However, there are really no answers that are right or wrong in an absolute sense, and you must recognize this also. For example, if you are trying to induce travelers to stay at the motel you are advertising, the terms to use in your appeal can vary, according to what kinds of sales you are targeting – tourists, travelers, business meetings, social events, conventions, business executives, vacationers, or other.

That may depend on the nature of the establishment (what it is best equipped to attract and accommodate) – a roadside one-night stop, a lodging in or near a resort, a luxury high-rise motel, or other type of hostelry.

So your answers must be based on your own premises and interpretations as to the nature or characteristics of what you are trying to sell.

But it is both the idea and the best words in which to express the idea that you seek here, for the words are the chief instrument by which you try to shape the prospect’s thoughts and impressions. The idea can work only if it is communicated effectively to the prospect.

Instructions: For each kind of item or business venture listed in the leftmost column, select an item from the list below that you think will be an inducement to view the offer as a better way to meet the need. But even better, think up and write in better words and terms than those listed here, those of your own choosing.

Items Offered“Better” Feature / Characteristic
supermarket
laptop
cosmetics
clothing
motel
furniture
jewelery
household items
books
training programs

Fill in the table above with the terms from the table below:

close inconvenientwide selectioneasy parking
inexpensiveluxuriousfashionablemoney saving
easy to uselabor savingeasy to learnoffers security
durabletrouble freefuture careernew ideas
be attractiveprestigiousothers will envyin good taste
quality timeguaranteeddependablea secure future
up to datebetter designeconomicalattention getting
sexygreater earningscomfortablereputable

Offer to Prospect Match

Inevitably, a direct or even cause-and-effect relationship exists between the offer you make and the prospects to whom you make it. The two must be matched, and that is a final factor to consider in designing your performance marketing offers.

In most cases (although there are exceptions), you begin the analysis with something to sell already decided upon and perhaps some general idea of who the prospects are to whom you plan to sell it.

However, you must make offers that are suitable to the prospects, and in many cases the same offer is not suitable to all prospects, although you plan to sell the same item to all.

For example, if you are in the resume-writing and LinkedIn profile optimization business, probably the most effective offer you can make to a student is to help the student find temporary or part-time employment.

However, if the student is about to graduate or is a recent graduate, the offer he or she most wants is one that will help him or her win an entry-level job in his or her chosen career.

For other prospects, those already employed but not satisfied with their employment, the most attractive offer is one of help in finding a better job.

And for someone who is unfortunate enough to be unemployed, i.e. between jobs, the offer of help in finding any “decent” job is likely to be well received.

Of course, a general offer of help in developing a good, job-winning resume or LinkedIn profile is an attractive one and will win a certain amount of response.

However, offers that “strike a nerve” by revealing an understanding of, and the promise of help in solving, an individual’s specific problem get far more attention and far better response.

It is by far the most desirable practice, therefore, to construct offers that are sharply focused on well-defined market segments.

This means that hard work is required. You must study the market to identify the various segments, define them properly, and determine how to reach each of them, and develop the proper performance marketing offer for each.

Exercise 4: Matching Offers With Prospects

To encourage you in practicing the introspection necessary to define your markets and segment them properly, another exercise is provided. The objective in this exercise is twofold:

  1. to induce you to think hard about offers and prospects and match the two, recognizing that there are usually many prospects (much segmentation possible) for most offers;
  2. to induce you to think about and develop some prospect (segmentation) ideas of your own.

Instructions: Write in on the line following each listed offer the numbers of the kinds of prospects you think most suitable for the offer. However, do add your own definitions of prospects (market segments) in the blanks provided, and write those in, where suitable.

Offers
Learn computer programming_____
Cosmetics to make you attractive to men_____
Make a great deal of money in real estate_____
Enjoy greater control with a personal computer_____
Have your own spare-time business_____
Be the life of the party_____
Protect your loved ones_____
Enjoy a fun second-career venture_____

Prospects
1. Small business owner11. _________
2. Housewife12. _________
3. Student13. _________
4. Teacher14. _________
5. Laborer15. _________
6. Executive16. _________
7. Home owner17. _________
8. Accountant18. _________
9. Opportunity seeker19. _________
10. Retired individual20. _________

Exercise 5: Selecting Segments and Writing Offers

Exersive 5 is virtually the opposite, and addresses a major objective of this entire blog post: designing offers. In this exercise you will be given a list of items/services to sell and asked to identify prospects and offers for each item – to segment the market and define each segment indirectly via the relevant offer.

Each offer is to be focused on your own chosen market segment or prospect (which is the same thing), as you perceive your best options for the item, and identifying or formulating an offer, based on a need/motivator, as you believe a customer would perceive it. You must choose two segments for each item and develop an offer appropriate to each segment.

Instructions: Write in two market segments/prospects of your own choice for each item and summarize an offer for each.

Item to sellSegment/ProspectOffer
Online business training
Rainwear
Air travel
Luxury car

(Ready to print PDFs with exercises coming soon.)

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The expert's thoughts on direct response - growth hacking - performance-based marketing activities - DIRECT MARKETING

About Me, Rafal Lipnicki.

the direct / performance marketing consultant with a strange sounding name

Who.

Not your usual "guru" but a real-world performance marketing & innovation consultant based in Europe and an experienced senior executive at leading multinational companies.

What and Where.

I am a consultant for hire, working remotely and on-site all over the world (but Europe is always preferred). See my consulting services page for details.

How.

Contrarian advice most of the time. Document-based audits, workshops, one-off projects, mentoring programs, and more.

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