Vagaries and loopholes are the enemy.

Specifics and clarity are your best friends.

If you’re putting a special offer out there, do the things that make offers work.

Do it remembering the key word in “Special Offer” is SPECIAL.

Do it with eyes wide open, knowing your customer is going to be skeptical.

Here’s a handy guide:

Urgency: You’re trying to move product now. A deadline gets people off the fence if they truly believe the offer will expire soon. If your big sale lasts “for the whole month of May,” you’re not being urgent. You’re being lazy. Make your sale for “one week only. Even better: This weekend only. Even better-better: 24 hours only.

Scarcity: With urgency, comes its close cousin scarcity. “Only the first 27 customers get this offer.” Or: We only have 18 of these”

Specifics: Be deadly specific. “For one day only, all green sweaters in the women’s department will be $34.”  That may sound ridiculous, but it is much clearer than just saying “everything is 15% off.”

Price: Lay it out there, and demonstrate why this is such a good offer. If you give a percentage off, anchor a price to it so the customer has a reference point. “Save 15% off a $5000 water heater.” Even better…don’t make your customers do math. It’s rude. “Diamond earrings, regularly $99 now just $55.” 

Specifics win. Generalities fail.

Reason: Have a legitimate reason for this sale. President Lincoln was a helluva guy, but what does he have to do with mattresses? Tell me you have a believable reason you’re putting these on sale, otherwise, it’s just another sale.

No Loopholes: Don’t make people say a “magic phrase.” Don’t make exceptions; if you’re having a toothbrush sale…put every toothbrush on sale. No limits. If somebody wants to buy every toothbrush you have, sell all of them (it’s the whole reason you’re doing this).

Special: Special things are infrequent. Special things don’t happen every weekend. Special things are things that haven’t been done before.

Big or Bust: If you’re doing this, make it big. Make the offer so ridiculous that a customer would have to be an idiot to pass it up. Go all the way to the wall…then go over the wall. If it doesn’t startle your competitors, you haven’t gone big enough. This goes for your advertising, too. Be prepared to buy 15 times as much advertising you normally would. I should be choking on your ad in the days leading up to your big sale.

Believable: Your customer is skeptical. If “believability” were a 0 to 10 scale, you’d be in negative numbers before you start. You didn’t do anything wrong, it’s just that generations of hucksters got here before you did. People have been baited and switched. Everybody has bought something “on sale,” only to find out it was artificially marked up.

If you’re reading this guide and saying, “There’s no way I could do all of those things, I’ll go broke!” …maybe you should listen to that little voice. Maybe you should avoid special offers as much as possible… unless you can make it really special. Maybe the cost outweighs the benefits. The lost profits and high ad costs are hard to overcome with volume.

Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of reasons to have a special sale.

  • Grand Opening
  • Significant business anniversaries
  • Holidays…where people buy presents (sorry Abe)
  • Moving to a new location

OK, maybe not “plenty of reasons.” But that’s really the point. If you’re going to do it, make the earth quake.

Now, you are sending the message that you’re willing to do business at a lower price.

Meanwhile, Apple, Tiffany’s, Chanel, and Trader Joe’s never have a sale. It’s a part of the invisible reason we view those brands as superior.

If you can’t do it big, and do it right… maybe you shouldn’t.

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