Don’t Let a Poorly Designed Response Device Ruin Your Sale

After the headline and lead, the most important component of your sales package is the response device (a.k.a. the order form). If your prospect runs into a poorly done response device, he’ll often get frustrated and give up.

That’s why it’s a mistake to throw the response device together at the last minute, spending most of your time on the sales letter itself.

In her book Direct Mail that Sells, Sandra Blum suggests designing the order device first, even before the sales letter. Not easy – but an excellent starting point to build the rest of the package around. The other pieces in the package should be designed to get people to take action on the order device, so lead them to it visually and psychologically.

When designing the response device, consider the following two factors.

First: The response device has to get attention. While it’s necessary to include a lot of information, the look and feel of the order form must convey “look at me” and “I’m easy to read.”

Effective response devices often have distinguishing graphics like certificate borders, dotted lines with scissors, or other visual cues. It may seem to you that they are over-used in the industry … but they work. Don’t disregard their power to attract your prospect’s attention.

Second: Your response device has to sum up the offer and ultimately close the sale. In fact, it should be capable of closing the sale on its own. The reader should not have to look at anything else in the mailing to know (1) that this is a great offer and (2) how to respond.

The copywriter should have supplied you with appropriate copy to do this. But, as the designer, it’s your responsibility to see that it is visually appealing, while not detracting from the sales message.

If the copywriter hasn’t written response device copy that closes the sale, get in touch with him and encourage him to do so.

To compare good versus poor order devices, go to your swipe file and pull a few pieces. Without looking at the envelope teaser or the letter, study each order form.

Here’s a quick checklist of what to look for in a successful response device:

  • Is it cluttered or easy to read?
  • Can you tell just by looking at it what service or product is being sold?
  • Is it easy to understand? The design should make it easy enough for a 10-year-old child.
  • Is it easy to find in the package … or does it get lost among other components? The response device is the pivotal point in getting a prospect to move from consideration to decision. It must stand out.
  • Is the offer clearly stated?
  • Does it give clear instructions on how to respond by telling people exactly what to do?
  • Does it highlight the guarantee? The guarantee is a very important component of the package. It has to look attractive.
  • Are all the prices and terms easy to understand?
  • Are shipping and handling costs clearly stated?
  • Are time limits clearly stated?
  • Is the return address on the order device (even if a response envelope is included in the package)?
  • Is it easy to fill out, with enough space for all the information? (This is especially important for older responders.)
  • Are boxes provided for credit cards? This not only makes it easier to respond, it also helps to keep the response device organized.
  • Does the response device fit easily into the envelope used to mail the promotion? (When you’re designing an order device, fold and insert it into the envelope. Make sure the headline faces out and the fold line doesn’t interrupt it.)
  • If the package is a window envelope and the prospect’s address from the order device is supposed to show through the window, is there enough room for it? (For the order devices that you design, do a tap test. Tap your reply envelope on the right side, left side, and bottom to make sure it does not shift and that the address shows though properly with the appropriate clearances.)
The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


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Published: March 8, 2007

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