4 Ways To Reduce The Cost Of Inquiries

Your objective in an inquiry advertising program (the two-step
advertising method) is to "balance" an advertising/fulfillment
cost per inquiry and an order conversion rate at levels that
result in your profitably bringing on new customers. Since most
inquiry advertisers fulfill inquiry requests promptly by firstclass mail, the recent postal rate increase further adds to the
spiraling cost burden the Mail Order advertiser must overcome in
meeting his or her objective. Here are several suggestions on how
you can cope with inflation in your inquiry advertising program:

(1)   Weed out useless inquiry responses. Testing shows there
is no real difference between postcard and letter inquiries;
between handwritten and typed inquiries. Inquiries should not be
ignored based on differences. However, over the course of a year,
you can save in mailing costs by disregarding the following types
of inquiry responses:  

(a)   Those which only supply initials in place of first
and last names. Here are your true curiosity seekers/coupon

(b)   Those which ignore the ad's request for stamp or 
coin. Can such "free-loaders" be expected to shell out $30-$40
for the product?

(c)   Those which omit certain requested information, 
such as company name or telephone number. Never assume these are
oversights of the respondents.

(d)    Duplicate and triplicate responses--which can
account for 10% to 15% of your overall responses if you advertise
in many different publications and/or repeat often in same
publication. Here you will require some type of control system to
avoid mailing same offer two or three times to certain inquirers
within a short term period. Such systems may consist of a
computer print-out of recent inquirers in zip sequence, the
filing of inquiry request envelopes in zip sequence, or the
posting of inquiry names "by State" to a log book.  

(2)   Improve the overall quality of your inquiry requests. 
There are two "old sayings" in Mail Order on the subject of
inquiry advertising: "Inquiry ads which produce the most
responses will normally produce the most orders," and "Never
charge for sales information, as retailers do not charge
potential customers when entering their stores."  Today, one
cannot necessarily abide by these one-time "pearls of wisdom."
The first "saying" may not be true because misleading or
unqualified ads tend to produce the heaviest inquiry response,
but not necessarily the most orders. More importantly, where the
delivered cost of a decent sales package now ranges from 30c to
$1 (which you do, in kind when you send out a sales package free
to anyone requesting one), most store owners would soon go out of
business (as many inquiry advertisers do).  The point of all this
is that inquiry advertisers are normally best served by running
qualified advertisements that tend to produce fewer, but more
interested inquiry responses. Ads can be qualified in at least
three ways:

(a)  Be much more specific in copy when offering free
information. For example, did you ever see ads that read "Money
Making Opportunity. Free Information"? Such ads bring you
responses from "dreamers" that have no idea, but are just curious
about what the offer might be. If the "opportunity" turns out to
cost more than $2, you can write off 99% of your responses.
Instead, say in the ad, if such is the case, "Sell Business Books
by Mail. Free Information." In this way, you will at least
attract individuals who might want to sell business books by
mail. At the same time, you will eliminate many of the "dreamers"
by eliminating the mystery from the copy.

(b)   Request a coin or stamp in the ad. Yes, inquiry
response will decrease. However, if your offer is clear and the
product is unique, you will attract extremely interested
prospects, while partially or fully offsetting the cost of your
sales material in the mail. (Many advertisers prefer requesting a
SASE--self-addressed, stamped envelope--instead. Something worth
testing, but you will probably receive envelope sizes you cannot
use, and prospects tend to be more impressed when the information
arrives in the firm's business envelope.)  

(c)   Offer some related product sample for a $1. It should
be an item worth more than $1, but one that costs you no more
than $1, in the mail along with your sales literature. This will
eliminate your mailing costs while doing business with prospects
that have no aversion to remitting a check or a bill for
something of interest.

(3)   If you are also a Direct Mailer, you can substantially
reduce the cost of printing your inquiry sales package. Most
inquiry advertisers print a few thousand of each of their sales
package components at one time, normally a two or three month
supply of material. If you also use Direct Mail to reach
prospects with a similar sales package, you can save 50% or more
on the printing of most of your inquiry sales package. 

Here's how: Assume you are scheduling a 10,000-name Direct
Mailing. For inquiry advertising, you use the same outer
envelope, sales brochure, and return envelope that go into the
Direct Mail package.

Order 13,000 of each of the above pieces--keeping the extra
3,000 of each for your inquiry advertising program. Because these
additional pieces are part of a volume printing order, they will
cost you significantly less per unit than what you would normally
pay for a separate, smaller run.

(4)   Reduce the size of your space advertisements.
Generally, inquiry advertisers use too much space in display ads
to bring in prospects, and consequently realize an advertising
cost/inquiry that is much too high to profit with, even after
decent order conversion rates. Obviously, many inquiry
advertisers assume that by increasing the size of an inquiry ad
it becomes more impressive and attracts more attention. Perhaps
so, but the added benefits of increased size very rarely match
the added cost. Over the years, we have found for inquiry ads
offering free details:

(a)   A 2-inch inquiry ad produces a lower cost/inquiry than
a 3-inch ad.

(b)  A 1 1/2-inch inquiry ad produces a lower cost/inquiry
than a 2-inch ad.

(c)  Two consecutive weekly or monthly inserts of a 1-inch
inquiry ad produces a lower cost/inquiry than one insert of a 2-
inch ad.

(d)  For your greatest inflation-fighter, revert to
inquiry-producing classified ads wherever possible. In most
publications, classified ads produce a significantly lower
cost/inquiry than the much more expensive display ads, without
loss of quality. Advertisers who normally experience cost/inquiry
of $1-$2 through space ads have reported cost/inquiry of 50c-75c
for similar free offers using classifieds in the same

NOTE: Testing smaller inquiry space ads, and classifieds,
presents no problems for the Mail Order newcomer, small Dealer,
and the low-profiled "insider" who has built a prosperous
business from such ads. With advertising rates skyrocketing, the
firms that will eventually suffer are those larger Mail Order
inquiry advertisers that "couldn't be bothered" running ads
smaller than 1/6 page. Some must continually insert up to a full
page in many publications each month. When advertising
cost/inquiry and consequently cost per customer begins to climb,
those firms will try everything--test new copy, sales packages,
etc.--to improve overall results, except test ad size reductions. 

This resource is (c) 1996 by, and compliments of                   
The Smart Business Supersite (tm)
It originally appeared in the Copley Mail Order Advisor.