Ivan Levison —
Direct Mail, E-mail and Advertising Copywriting

Bingo! How to get the most from reader inquiry cards.

Congratulations! You've just created a fabulous ad that has all the ingredients for success — a powerful headline, compelling body copy, nifty graphics, and an irresistible call to action.

Now, there's just one tiny issue to address. Should you tell the magazine to include a reader service card number at the bottom of your ad, or omit it and avoid wasting money chasing after poor-quality leads?

Every software company is different, but my general advice is to go for it! In an industry that's racked by decreasing margins and ferocious competition, you need all the leads you can get. Bingo cards, many companies have discovered, can provide some hot ones. The trick is converting these leads into sales, profitably.

Obviously, mailing an expensive fulfillment piece to a bingo card lead is a good way to lose money fast. However, if you test carefully and spend wisely, you may be able to generate significant profits from what superficially appears to be a rather low-grade source of leads.

Now, before we talk about bingo card leads, let's consider the reader's other response options. If the people who see your ad are after more information, they can call you on your 800 number, send you a fax, or check out your Web site.

A phone call is probably the option you'd prefer because your (hopefully) skilled telemarketers can turn the inquiry into a sale on the spot. (They can stress the fact that you have a 90-day moneyback guarantee, etc.)

Your next best option is your Web site. People can get immediate feedback on your product, get a ton of information, possibly download a demo, and place an order.

But not all the readers of your ads will want to respond by phone, fax, or the Internet. Some people may not feel like talking to anybody on the phone. Or they might not want to go to their desk, log on, and click their way around your site. They find it easier to check the bingo card as they go through the magazine then drop the card in the mail. Don't disappoint them. Include a bingo card number and milk your responses for all they're worth.

Here are some bingo card facts, opinions, and ideas I think you'll find of interest:

    1. Greg Jarboe, an extremely experienced pro from Ziff-Davis Publishing, and a wonderful source of facts and statistics, informed me a while ago that only 20% of readers use bingo cards. 80% of buyers respond through some other vehicle -- an 800 number, coupon, etc. But of the 20% of readers who do send in bingo cards, 20% will buy your product within 90 days. Not bad!

    2. Greg also mentioned a fascinating study designed to discover whether people who circled a lot of numbers were less likely to buy than people who circled only a few numbers.

    The interesting result? There was no correlation between the number of inquiries and purchase rate.

    It turns out that some people just have to buy a lot of stuff quickly and need information fast. Maybe they're opening a new office and have to load up on a lot of software. (I hope it's yours!)

    In any case, don't assume that readers aren't serious because they do a lot of circling. Some of my clients tell me that they'll take anyone seriously who doesn't circle more than forty numbers!

    3. I found this interesting quote in a book called, Readings & Cases in Direct Marketing by Brown and Buskirk. It occurs in an article titled Bingo Card Junkies, Why They Could Be Your Best Prospects.

    "Contrary to common perception, people who circle a large number of bingo card numbers are very important prospects . . . Heavy circling causes some marketers to think that the literature they supply is money thrown away, but not responding to such inquiries leaves vendors 'unqualified' from the buyer's perspective when the buyer's problem does get hot.

      They're not on the buyer's list because they took the inquiry too lightly. Sometimes a multiple circler is a 'squirrel' -- a person who is known to have files when the need for information arises, and is looked to to provide problem-solving information. It is important that the person's files contain the seller's material when such requests come."

    4. Many companies take all their bingo card leads and hand them off to their sales people, then forget about them. It's important to analyze all your results if you want to get a handle on your ROI. If you're not tracking all your leads from all sources carefully, make the commitment to do so now!

    5. Use bingo card leads to produce additional sales -- not to judge advertising effectiveness. If you want to do research on how well your ads are working, and you can't get clear answers from your sales data, use focus groups or pay for some quality copy research. Don't make the mistake of using bingo leads volume as a measure of success. Bingo leads can make you some extra money but they can't help you draw fine distinctions between offers, creative concepts, positioning issues, etc.

    6. Want to learn how to exploit bingo leads the right way? Take a look at how one of my clients, Avantos Performance Systems, publishers of ManagePro and DecideRight, goes about it. This company is extremely well managed and handles their bingo leads very effectively. Here's the story . . .

    Everyone who sends in bingo cards to Avantos with 25 or fewer circled numbers gets an attractive fulfillment sales package. They then receive a follow-up telephone call from an in-house telemarketer. This person is trained to ask for the sale. The result of this focus and commitment to converting even the humblest leads is a solid profit (and a bunch of new customers who will provide additional revenue in the future!) Avantos has found that by vigorously pursuing all leads and keeping an eye on costs, their telemarketing efforts can produce an excellent ROI.

    Are you handling your bingo leads as aggressively and conscientiously?


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