December 26, 2017

Here is today’s shocker:

Using bonuses and premiums is an idea that was not invented by an online marketer. 

Believe it or not, bonuses and premiums have been part of the best direct response offers since the beginning of time.

In his “31 Rules of Thumb,” direct mail guru Dick Benson devoted two of his 31 to this concept alone (well before the Internet):


#12 “Dollar for dollar, premiums are better incentives than cash discounts” 

#17 “Two premiums are frequently better than one” 

Digital delivery has put all of this on steroids…and made it easier for us as marketers to offer more premiums and bonuses without adding to our costs.

For those of you who have been doing this as long as I have, you will agree when I say that this has been game changing.

Please see the P.S. of this post so you can access some free digital content that will blow your mind.

Like everyone else, I am way too cheap to send the bonuses I outline in the P.S. via snail mail since that would mean I’d have to print and mail hundreds of pages…not that you aren’t worth it.

However, for this old school direct marketer, giving away my best stuff digitally is so liberating

But rather than talk about the virtues of digital premiums over print premiums, what I want to stress to you is that when you are sitting in a brainstorming meeting cooking up irresistible offers (regardless of the medium), you should never leave the room until you spend a considerable amount of time on what bonuses and premiums could be part of those offers.

That might sound obvious but let’s dive deeper using the two “Benson Rules of Thumb.”

Premiums are better incentives than cash discounts

When you are selling and marketing to an audience who you know and love (and who knows and loves you), you want to always treat them like family.

Giving them a discount is nice…but giving away more of what they love will always have a higher perceived value than cash…especially in a direct marketing environment.

That’s not to say that cash or early bird discounts or discounts on multiple orders are not effective inside of your best offers (which should be tested rigorously); but offering more of the material they came to you for in the first place is where the offer becomes much more irresistible.

But wait there’s more!

Let me add my own corollary to Benson’s rule here:

“If your audience is buying information (e.g. editorial content), premiums that are “additional information” (e.g. editorial content) are better than “hard premiums” (e.g. hard goods, gifts)

The core audience of the company I helped build, Boardroom Inc. (which published books and newsletters for affluent consumers), were “information junkies” of the highest order.

Because of that, we always had our biggest successes offering additional content as premiums.

Our subscribers and book buyers couldn’t get enough of our stuff.

We often joked that we sold our content by the pound.

And when we tried to simply add in a calculator, a magnifying glass or the hottest new gadget that we could offer that cost us less than $5, those offers never did as well as when we just kept giving them more free content related to the topics they were most passionate about.

Irony: The stuff they wanted most (e.g. books, special reports, pamphlets, information) not only worked better in terms of creating higher response rates, but it was much cheaper to produce and fulfill those kinds of premiums than more expensive hard goods

One exception occurred with our Tax Hotline newsletter…the control package for that publication offered a calculator as a free bonus with a subscription…but even there, the calculator by itself as a premium was never a winner.

The best package was always some version of the calculator WITH a 200 page special report on new tax law (or some other additional special report or book)…and when we removed only the calculator from the offer we had better results than when we removed only the special report.

We always did “single variable testing” to make sure which elements were lifting response and profit.

Conclusion: The editorial premium was much more important to the offer than the calculator to our audience.

And maybe even more important, if we just had the calculator, my guess is that the lifetime value of new subscribers coming in on an offer like that without an editorial premium would have lower lifetime value too.

That is, we would run the risk of the offer looking more like a “bribe” than a “bonus”; and  we would also run the risk of attracting new subscribers who were only interested in the free calculator who might be ”tire kickers” rather  than potential long term subscribers.

While the calculator was part of a winning offer, it was BOTH the calculator and special report that was the best offer.

Understanding the audience and how we could also create the highest lifetime value with the highest upfront response on the initial offer was the reason this offer worked best.

Two premiums are frequently better than one

I’ll add on to Benson’s rule of thumb here too:

“Two premiums are better than one; four are better than two; 50 are better than four; 100 are better than 50”

You get the idea.

Benson stopped at “two” because he was a direct mail guy who always had printing and postage costs on his mind.

I think it’s safe to say that he would have loved digital content too…

Case history: We had an offer for an annual book called, “The Bottom Line Yearbook” and our copywriter created a new package with two “special reports” (which yes, had to be printed on paper and sent in the mail)!

When that worked, he created four special reports.

When that became the new control, he created 50 special reports with each around 2 pages in length on 50 specific topics we knew our readers were most interested in.

To keep our costs down, when we fulfilled this premium, we had the 50 premiums printed and bound into one 100+ page book.

The offer then revolved around the “50 special reports” much more than the Yearbook itself; and every report title was listed and described in the promotion, creating many more entry points for potential buyers.

Once that became a huge winner for us, and the fact that our copywriter was no dummy, the next test became 100 special reports as the premium (in a single bound book of 200+ pages).

If we could offer 100 bonus reports (printed!)  in a direct mail package and make it pay out (which we did), I encourage you to think bigger and bolder regarding your premiums and bonuses when you construct your offers.

Some version of that package was the control for years…my guess is that it still is…and the printing and fulfillment didn’t cost a lot more compared to when we had only two special reports.

It got even more economical when we created the online version of that promotion and 100 special reports cost the same to fulfill as two.

That’s why I am so excited about this “digital content thing”—I believe it will eventually catch on. 🙂

This reminds of a funny quote from a coach I worked with who was helping me prepare a speech.

My PowerPoint slides had way too much copy on them and he encouraged me to take my 20 slides and turn them into around 50 slides with only one image or only a few words on each slide.

He said:

“Slides are free!”

Same concept…

I titled this post “The ethical bribe” for a reason…even though I haven’t even hinted at anything that could be construed as “unethical.”

I love bribes that are only used for good and not evil.

Creating premiums and bonuses for your  family (i.e. your  list) is always about giving them more of what they want, not just giving them “more free stuff” to get them to say yes the first time.

And I always found it fascinating that our best offers always emphasized the premiums and bonuses above the main product being sold.

In direct marketing, if you can make all the free stuff worth more than what folks would pay for just the core product, selling the core product becomes that much easier.

I wrote in my foreword to the new edition of Breakthrough Advertising, that human nature has not changed since Gene Schwartz penned his classic book in 1966…and frankly, human nature hasn’t changed since 1066…or even way before that.

Another simpler way to look at it is to recall what Michael Douglas said in the movieWall Street:  “Greed is good.”

In direct marketing, it is especially good when your existing and potential customer’s greed matches your ability to make them customers for life with an offer that is ethical, robust and relevant (and full of awesome bonuses).



P.S. I want to appeal to your greed right now…and use that greed to encourage you do something that will make you feel so great on this day before Christmas.

As you know from some recent posts, I am a supporter of an inspirational organization, charity:water…and while many of you have already donated to their monthly giving program “The Spring,” (thank you!)  I would like to encourage many more of you to contribute.

If you would like to join us now, I will gift you four bonuses (four is better than one!)which I know you will find very useful…they are my “ethical bribes” to encourage you to join.

For a monthly donation of any amount, I will send you the following:

1) Titans and Tweets: This is a 136 page priceless document which was put together by direct response marketing pioneer (and Titan himself), Ken McCarthy.

During the landmark Titans of Direct Response event in 2014, Ken wrote (and then tweeted) as many of the gems as he could–during the event– from the most amazing lineup of speakers ever assembled in one place.

There are way more than 31 rules of thumb in this document…

2) “Titans Collection” from Jay Abraham: This is a 100+ page document that another Titan (and one of my mentors) put together–which came as a surprise to me.

Jay Abraham took 22 of my past blog posts (his personal favorites) on a variety of subjects and put them into one document…and since he thought it was worthwhile to gift this document to his tribe, who am I to argue that it might be worthwhile reading for you too?

Hope you can get some useful tidbits from my writing, especially if you are new to my online family. And I know not all of you open my emails every Sunday…

3) 5,500 of the greatest headlines ever:  This is something else Jay put together–a personal collection/compilation of the best headlines he could find…anywhere and everywhere.

These headlines are applicable to any medium.

It’s also a swipe file that will prevent you from ever having writer’s block as you think of your next great headline, subject line or lead for a sales letter.

4) Dick Benson’s 31 Rules of Thumb…don’t you need the other 29?

To receive all of these gifts,  go to this special page (and please watch the video)…and once you donate, just email me back here and put “ethical bribe” in the subject line.

I will send the four bonuses above (immediately) to you.

If you would like to read more about charity: water in detail and why I have chosen them as my “Uber charity” for this year, please click here and read the P.S.

I am looking forward to sending out ethical bribes to everyone who donates.

If you have already donated already, thank you again…and please email me with “you owe me those bribes!” in the subject line.

Please donate here.

And Merry Christmas!

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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