Hard and Soft Offers

by John Eberhard

When engaged in some kind of promotional activity, whether it is an ad, or pay per click ads, a direct mail piece, or even a web site, you have to have an offer.

What is an “offer”? It is the thing that you are offering to the public to get them to respond. But some companies have a fixed concept of what the offer is. What many companies think of when they think of what they are offering, is known in marketing parlance as a “hard offer.”

In marketing technology, there is a scale of offers, from “hard” to “soft.” A “hard offer” is defined as an offer that is basically to buy the product or service right now, a discount on the price of the item, or something that leads directly to a sale, such as an appointment with a salesperson (whatever you might call it, i.e. “free consultation,” “free inspection”).

A “soft offer” is any kind of offer that gets the person to respond right now, but does not lead directly to a sale right now. About the softest offer you can get is for the person to be entered in some kind of sweepstakes. Some other types of soft offers could include:

  • An email newsletter subscription
  • A special report or “white paper” on some specific topic
  • A free software demo (for software sales)
  • A free software utility that does something useful
  • Attending a free webinar or teleseminar
  • Attending a free in-person seminar
  • Some inexpensive gift, like a free T-shirt, pen, hat, etc.

The concept of a soft offer is that you get more people to respond than would have responded if you only had a hard offer (“Call now to buy this product”). The idea with a soft offer is that you are collecting identities on a list, and that you can then use that list to develop and strengthen the interest of that person until he buys.

By doing these things you are building your email list, and you now have a sort of captive audience, that has expressed interest. And you can send repeated communications to that audience, for free. You can send them all an email newsletter. You can send them emails pitching books. You can send them emails right before some new service is offered. You can send them emails pushing any special offers or discounts you have.

This also fits with some marketing experts who say that it usually takes 5-10 contacts with a company before someone will buy something from it.

You are working to develop these people. The analogy is you pick the low hanging fruit, those are the people who reach who are ready to enter a sales cycle now. But the other people who are interested but not ready to buy now, those are fruit that have to be ripened.

I suggest a bit of caution in what you offer as a soft offer. Stay away from sweepstakes and free giveaways that cost money such as T-shirts or hats (except at trade shows). Generally you want to offer something that only a real prospect for your products or services would be interested in. That’s why I really like soft offers like an email newsletter subscription or a free report (also called a “white paper”). With a free report or white paper, make it on a topic that only your prospects would be interested in. That way you’ll be attracting people and building a list full of people who really are prospects.

You can still have your hard offer for those people who are ready to buy right now or talk to a salesman right now. But with the soft offer, you are collecting names for your mailing list. Then you can repeatedly offer them things to buy.

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