What’s the Perfect Time to Make an Offer?

image of hourglass with money running through it

In advertising we used to have a saying:

“Everyone hates advertising until they have to sell their own car.”

Sometimes we all encounter readers who get mad at us for “selling too much.”

And sometimes you have to ignore those readers. They might just not be your customer. Or they may be those people who hate all advertising, as long as they’re not the ones who have something to sell.

But the problem might be something very different.

It may be that your offer — your advertising — was a mis-timed “speed bump” that wasn’t properly integrated into your content.

Let me explain.

The American Idol guide to integrated advertising

In the reality TV series, “American Idol,” there are three sponsors. When research is done on the sponsors, most people can remember Coke (that seems to come to mind first) and then Cingular Wireless.

So who’s the third sponsor? Are you stumped? Most people are.

It’s not because the third sponsor gets less air time. It’s not because the third sponsor is an obscure brand. And it’s not because the third sponsor is some weird product or service.

So why don’t people remember the third sponsor? Because it’s not integrated into the whole sequence of events.

Coke is. You see the red seats. You see the judges drinking Coke. Coke integrates naturally in the whole sequence of events.

The other sponsor, Cingular Wireless also integrates. You have to text or SMS your response to vote. The connection is natural.

But the third sponsor has no such integration in their sequence.

The third sponsor is Ford

The audience sees a lot of stuff about Ford, but there’s no integration at all within the sequence.

And so, like a lot of advertising, it’s simply annoying. It gets in the way. It becomes less memorable and less actionable. When you’re interrupting viewers or readers, you’re just interrupting them. The logical response of the customer is to either ignore you or “detest” you in some way.

But it doesn’t have to be like that at all.

You can integrate information in your content marketing very easily, and get the customer to not only like what you say, but take the next step and buy what you have to offer.

Let’s take an example

Let’s say you want to sell a book on “How To Write Headlines.”

Logically, you should follow the Bikini Concept.

You should be using content marketing (for argument’s sake, let’s say it’s a single article) to give away most of your information, so that the customer is totally empowered.

Now because you’re talking about headlines, headlines and more headlines in the article, the customer is locked into that article. You’ve integrated the information within the article.

Now a call to action isn’t so out of place towards the end.

Why towards the end? Why not in the middle?

It’s because we don’t like a break in sequence.

If you’re having dinner at a fancy restaurant, when would you like the waiter to upsell you the great dessert?

Would you prefer it when you’re having your wine? Or while you’re having your main course? That would be totally out of our normal sequence.

The job of the restaurant is to get you from one point of the meal to the other, and the next action is always integrated in the previous action. Anything out of sequence always annoys.

And so with your email, you need to follow the sequence where you hold the customer’s attention. As you take them from one end to the other, the upsell becomes not only natural, but wanted.

But don’t some people upsell at the top?

Yes they do. And that too (amazing as it may sound) is natural.

We like to know what we’re in for, so if your waiter were to tell you that you what was for starters, main course, and dessert — and do so at the top — you wouldn’t find it weird at all. You’d treat it merely as an announcement, akin to having an agenda, or a table of contents. You don’t see it as an intrusion.

But throw it in the middle of the “meal” and it annoys.

It’s irritating. It’s out of sequence. And it gets a response. The response often tends to be to ignore the information. Some folks get irritated, but most of us learn to ignore it.

Yet if you take that same upsell and put it at the end, it becomes the logical “next step.”

Several things are going on at once:

  1. The product/service isn’t being dropped in suddenly. It’s part of your article; part of your communication right through.
  2. You’re not holding back information. You’re being generous with your information and empowering — not selling — the customer. Ironically the more you empower, the more you sell.
  3. You’re not interrupting the natural sequence. When I am at the end of one sequence, I am ready to jump to the next. As it is with every well-planned meal. In fact I’m keen on the next step, if you’ve done your job well.
  4. An upsell at the top isn’t so weird either. It’s like a table of contents. So again it doesn’t annoy as much. In fact, it builds up anticipation.
  5. The client doesn’t want to stay where they are. They want to advance. The next step is important to them. So yeah, treat them with a bit of dignity and put things in the right sequence.

You’ll notice quickly that you’re better regarded. You’ll notice that your information is sought after. And you’ll notice that selling isn’t a chore any more.

About the Author: Sean D’Souza offers a great free report on ‘Why Headlines Fail’ when you subscribe to his Psychotactics Newsletter. Be sure to check out his blog, too.

Print Friendly

What do you want to learn?

Click to get a free course and resources about:

Reader Comments (41)

  1. says


    Thanks for the good article today. Integrating the sales pitch into the total package…pitching it at the right time…makes it transparent. When I read the shared copy swipe files by Clayton Makepeace…over at Make Peace Total Package blog (i.e. direct response copywriting at its best), what do I see? Many packages are in the forms of advertorial. It’s actually a cross between an advertisement and an editorial. Hence, the sales message is integrated with meaningful content – it grabs my attention.

    nother example is where I watch the Chicago Sox and Cubs games (hey? Can’t I admire both teams?). While the pitcher is warming up…the catcher is taking a siesta…the manager is swearing at another manager…Guess what? The camera swings towards a billboard advertisement. You think they are showing the ball park audience – which they are – but you also get the beer to buy, insurance to buy, etc.

    I think in aother Copyblogger post, someone mentioned to have 20% pitches mixed with 80% content. Maybe one of the Copyblogger staff can refresh my mind, on the post.

    Good food for thought today.


    • says

      It’s not the quantity of the “pitch” that matters. It’s the integration. For instance, at the last series of workshops we did in the US and Canada, I talked extensively about our 2011 Article Writing Course. The examples I gave, some of the exercise we did were all about the Article Writing Course. But it wasn’t a pitch. They were actually seeing what mistakes I made. How I fixed them. The audience contributed willingly to how to fix the mistakes, and what they wanted as individuals. In short, they were telling me how to “sell the course” to them.

      That’s integration.

      The customer wants to buy. But they don’t want you to sell it to them using interruption. Sure they’ll buy through interruption, but they’re more likely to buy if they’re empowered. Customers aren’t stupid. They know when they’re being sold to—even when something is well and truly integrated in the message. But when you empower them, they feel the need to take the next step.

      In the Bikini Concept (there’s a link in the article) that’s approximately what we do. We give away 90% of the information freely. Recently I did two phone seminars (one on headlines and the other on article writing) and we gave away all that was possible in an hour’s worth of discussion. Nothing held back. And when you do that. When you give it away and you integrate the next step, your customer knows that you can be trusted. Of course there’s always bait and switch experts :) But on the average, bait and switch is less the rule and more the exception.

      So to answer your question: Don’t necessarily measure 20% vs. 80%. Your pitch can be 100% but if you empower me as a customer, I’m smart enough to know that I can get even more stuff from the source. And this works for presentations, emails or just about anything. If you use this well, both parties win. Your sales go up and the customer wants to be part of your system. They want to buy.

      • says

        Actually – it’s both. If you have a bad pitch with good integration, I doubt it would fly. Similarity, if someone outlined a great” integration approach for an advertorial – but an amateur did the copy, graphics, design, etc., I doubt it would fly.

        Keep in mind that we can “generalize” items, like the 80/20 rule. It’s specifics that make the difference. So I would sly away from “integration” and “pitch” generalities. There’s a great blog article entitled ,”Lies, Damn Lies,and Marketing Statistics …,” in this week’s “Makepeace Total Package,” that illustrates generalities vs specific applications – the definitive difference. You can Google the blog for more info.

  2. says

    You can’t satisfy everyone..can you..I do my offer when i think its right for the whole customer base..but its always a fine line though.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  3. says

    Dropping advertising in the middle of a post really does break the sequence and sort of detracts from the value of what the writer is trying to pass across. I like the thought of putting it at the beginning, that way if a reader keeps reading, that reader is really interested in what you have to say.

    Great post Sean. Thanks.

  4. says

    Sean! Thanks for this post and I love the analogy to American Idol. It is important sprinkle our service or product as an integral part of our communication. No one wants hype and fluff in the beginning, the middle, and then a sell on the backend. We must be transparent in what we share with our customer while keep our delivery conversational.

    • says

      There will always be “newbies” that may be taken in by the hype. And then the die-hard idiots (yes, I mean “idiots”) who will keep hoping to find some get-rich quick scheme. They will buy no matter what. But as you get more sophisticated—and smart, you tend to get more selective. You’re less likely to suffer fools (and lousy sales pitches) lightly.

  5. says

    This is a huge stumbling block for a lot of marketing beginners. When your online marketing moves from infancy to adolescence it’s almost always due to a shift from offer-centric action to customer-centric action. There were some great takeaways in this article as well that I think anyone confused about how content marketing, teaching and storytelling could help them sell should print out and tack up on the wall by their computer: “Ironically the more you empower, the more you sell…The client doesn’t want to stay where they are. They want to advance. The next step is important to them.” Can’t put it much more succinctly than that, right?

  6. says

    Great article. Timing is such a simple thing but, now you mention it, I’d hate to be sold my dessert in the middle of my meal. Thanks for the advice :-)

  7. says

    First, I knew it was Ford. Second, this is one of the reasons that I love Copyblogger so much. Where else can you get this kind of info without spending thousands of dollars on a marketing degree. And Psychotactics.com is pretty freaking cool too! Thanks, Sean.

  8. says

    This is really helpful: do your best to integrate offers into the content but make sure you leave it for the end and sometimes the beginning.

    Making an offering is like presenting a joke — timing is everything. By keeping it until the end, people don’t feel interrupted and are more open to the offer. Great advice.

    I also appreciate ads that don’t annoy. One of the key qualifiers for an ad should be whether or not it’s annoying. Why would you want to annoy customers with an ad? Just because your trying to get as people’s attention as possible doesn’t excuse you for being annoying. Why not make it a memorable, pleasant experience.

    An example of this is the “Swagger Wagon” video on YouTube for the Toyota Siena. It’s not annoying. Instead, it’s entertaining. It’s enjoyable. More ads should make this their goal.

  9. says

    It’s not that annoyance doesn’t work. It does. It’s just that if you could sell—and sell better without annoyance, there’s not much of a choice, is there? Unless you’re pretty hopeless at selling and the only way out is try and be louder than everyone else.

  10. says

    You couldn’t be wronger.
    About Ford.
    Ford films commercials using Idol contestants which air during the show! And get a nice bump on YouTube.com.
    But you’ll probably hear from @ScottMonty at Ford (their social media dude) about this.

  11. says

    This is just a great article all around, but especially the Bikini concept impacted me. I’ve been hearing (and reading) for a long time about the importance of giving your stuff away to your readership/audience and how that’s the key to get them to buy in to whatever you’ve got going. The Bikini concept has now made it stick. Thx

  12. says

    G’Day Sean.

    A really interesting post:: As i don’t watch any of the “Idols”—I can’t stand the way the judges and the audience carry on– it was most useful. But i do understand the analogy very clearly. I’ll try to adopt it immediately.

    As a relative newbie to the web, I find that many internet marketers seem relentlessly determined to force product on you rather than earn your interest in your terms first. The integrated idea seems more professional.



  13. says

    Thank you Sean. I am a regular Pyschotactics reader and I like this article like all the articles you’ve written before.

    I think advertising is not just a science, it is an art. The real artist can sell without selling.

  14. says

    Great information on how to keep things logical for the reader and the writer. I love how you use the example of the American Idol advertisers and their integration into the whole process. Thanks for sharing….

  15. says

    I agree with the other comments that say this is a great post. I think that learning the right time to advertise is, perhaps, more important than the form of the ad or even the product itself. The integration approach is key; it’s unobtrusive and any engagement consumers do with the product is under their control. When they choose to make decisions based on what they see, they do so of their own accord. The customer likes to be in control because they’re the ones paying the money.


    I totally agree: internet marketers are pushy. I think this comes down to a misunderstanding of how internet marketing works. The media is new and has a relatively low barrier to entry to learn how to work the web. Sure the nuances take some effort, but the real obstacle to an effective internet strategy is time. People don’t have it. So when internet marketers show up pretending to have insider knowledge, and then spend their time making traditional sales pitches, it gives the industry a bad name. The integrated idea is more professional, but it’s also what Web 2.0 (and Web 3.0, when looked at from a marketing perspective) is all about. Have a discussion with people, talk to people, provide them with value-added content, and the people who don’t have the time to market their product online will trust you enough to do it for them. It’s more professional, but I think it’s also more honest.

  16. says

    I’m new to the blog and am making my way through the content marketing series that’s linked to in the post. That’s exactly what I’m talking about.

  17. says

    “Everyone hates advertising until they have to sell their own car.”
    I can’t agree more. Once I got into marketing I’ve found out that I’m looking at things completely differently. For example magazines and adverts – I don’t find them annoying anymore, when I look at them I’m trying to find what can I learn from them to be able to do the work I do better next time.
    It’s really interesting.

  18. says

    Hi Sean

    This is a really insightful piece of writing, thank-you very much for sharing your learning.

    To me, as someone who is promoting a business through the company blog, getting the balance between providing valuable content that is not drowned out with “call to action” noise vs. having sufficient visibility of calls to action is a tricky one.

    I settled for a call to action at the bottom of each as a starting point and will look at creating some sort of “call to action” button in the margin – but not an instrusive one.

    If you look at Seth Godin’s blog, he really has it done well. He gives great content and you have to go a fair way down the page before he starts promoting his books etc. In fairness though – he’s been doing it a while and has a very high profile compared to us mere mortals who might have to make it more obvious :).

    I’ve learned alot from this post and need to consider my “calls to action” further.

    Many thanks

  19. says

    Maybe I am the oddball out because I think of Coke, then Ford and then who the heck is Cingular wireless? Maybe because AT&T took them over? Do they really still market Cingular? I can’t remember! At any rate that’s my order and I am sticking to it, but the point you are making is a very valid one. The one thing that does annoy me about Idol (keeping that example) is that I actually remember the Ford bits being done in the middle of the shows, which did annoy me a lot. It pushed me away from ever wanting whatever car that they were selling more than it drove me to be interested to buying it. I just wanted to see the show, see the results and get it over with. All of the silly skits in the middle with the car just pushed me to a high level of irritation. Putting something in the middle is out of sequence and a real interruption.

  20. says

    Nice post. Lot of times we see companies making such a mistake as Ford did. Not only are they not getting the true VFM, theya re also irritating their viewers. They should have done better with maybe automobile related reality shows (We may see one in the future).

    Another school of thought is that you push your brand in front of people who might not have heard about you. I am not saying Ford is an unknown brand. But then, not many people who watch that show are car freaks. So it helps to push the brand to them.

    If you go too targeted, then it fails. Suppose you sponsor a automobile show. The audience is highly knowledgable about cars and the know probably almost all the brands out there. Its difficult to stand out in such situations.

  21. says

    Pretty cool stuff. I do have to agree on most of us being stumped by who the third sponsor for American Idol was. As I was reading through I was trying to think about it, but in the end when it said “FORD,” I was like OHHH yeah.

    Thanks for sharing, I think these are some great points and ideas that we need to keep in mind when advertising.

Comments are open for seven days. This article's comments are now closed.