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

How to increase registration card returns — A guide to capturing precious user names.

When most software publishers start planning their upgrade mailing programs, they worry about things like setting the right price-point and finding hot bonus offers. And well they should. Your mailings to your installed base are obviously of vital importance to your profitability and, as I've written in these pages, every aspect of your direct mail campaign must be handled correctly.

But software publishers often don't ask themselves the most important question of all — the question that should always be asked before you worry about upgrade mailings:

"How effectively am I capturing the names of the people who buy my software?"

Let's face it. The size of your installed base is one of the keys to generating on-going profits and, if you're not getting names of customers to enter in your house database, you're losing all kinds of future profit opportunities.

First of all, you're missing out on vital upgrade sales revenues, but that's just for starters. You're also losing terrific cross-selling opportunities and the profits that come from renting user-names to other publishers. When you compute the lifetime value of a customer, you'll agree that the lost profit potential of unregistered customers is absolutely enormous!

Let's take a look at just one example of how important it is to capture customer names:

Let's assume you're selling software to an installed base of 30,000 users. Out of these buyers, lets say 30% have dutifully returned their registration cards -- that's 9,000 people. You do an upgrade mailing to these 9,000 customers in an attempt to move them up to your feature-packed, dazzling new version. All they have to shell out is $39.95. If half of these identified users respond and purchase, you've sold about $180,000 worth of product. But if you can get your reg card returns up to 40% from 30% and still upgrade half of them, you'll sell almost $240,000 worth of software. In other words, using these assumptions, a 10% increase in end-user registration can result in an extra $60,000 worth of sales!

No wonder it's so important to do everything in your power to get customers to mail you your personal golden egg -- the filled-in registration card!

How good a job are you doing right now?

If you're selling direct, you don't have much of a problem. You're already capturing names. And if you're selling to a vertical niche market or to the technical community, you can also expect good registration rates. (These users know they're going to be living with your software and care very much about staying in touch.)

But if you're like a lot of software publishers and are selling modestly priced software to the average consumer through the channel, you're probably not getting back all the registration cards you should. (Note: for some reason education-market customers do not return reg cards in great numbers. If you sell to this market your work is cut out for you!)

What's an average response rate?

Well, Jeff Tarter's invaluable newsletter, Soft•letter, just did an extremely interesting survey on registration card benchmarks that provides an answer. The Soft•letter study came to the following general conclusion:

According to our survey data, 38.5% of PC software customers send in warranty cards when they buy from retailers or other resellers. It's interesting to note that we found almost exactly the same industry-wide registration rates five years ago, which suggests that the benefits of software registration still seem fairly elusive for most buyers. (In fact, 50% of our survey respondents report that their registration rates have stayed the same in the last two years, while 38% now achieve higher rates and 12% report lower rates.)

Based on my clients' experience, this 40% figure sounds about right as a rough and ready estimate of what many publishers can expect. The important point is that no matter what kind of reg card return you're getting, you should always try to do a better job. If you're betting your entire upgrade and cross-selling program on a lackluster, boring little business reply card, you need help and fast!

Let me suggest some practical ways to increase your registration card return rate, but first, let me parenthetically say a few words about an important new trend that you owe it to yourself to check out.

Electronic registration at a glance.

One of the best ways to get customers to register your software is to start using an electronic registration system. These systems use a registration screen that's generated by your application when your customer installs your software. The registration system captures vital customer information like name, address, etc. and sends it to you by modem, fax, floppy, or telephone. Because registration is an integral part of the installation process, you can be sure of grabbing a lot more names.

John Hussey, President of San Francisco-based Husdawg Enterprises, is one of the pioneers in developing electronic registration systems for the software industry. Not long ago he told me why so many software publishers are making the move to automated systems:

The fantastic thing is that software publishers can get completely flexible systems. For example, they can create a forced registration program where the only way the user can get rid of the reminder screen is to register. Or if they prefer, they can have a registration screen appear the first few times the user runs your app — then it disappears. The software publisher is always in complete control.

Does electronic registration really work? You bet it does! Electronic registration programs can result in registration rates of up to 95%! No wonder companies like Intuit, Peachtree, Delrina, WordPerfect, Broderbund, Maxis, and many others are moving in this direction.

However, lets assume that like the vast majority of publishers, you haven't made the move to nagware just yet. If you're still capturing names with a trusty Business Reply Card that's mailed or faxed back, here are some proven techniques you can use to get even higher rates of return.

Seven ways to increase registration card returns.

    1. Make your reg card BIG. When your customer opens your box, you know they're headed towards your disks (or maybe to your manual). Which means you have to stop them cold and make them fill in your reg card. In order to accomplish this, you have to grab their attention.

    Since the goal is to get noticed, why stick to a pathetic, invisible little 7" x 4" card? It makes much more sense to start out with an 8 1/2" x 11" sheet that folds down to 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" (like the Borland reg card shown). This format gives you a cover surface you can use for some terrific copy that gets the user's attention, and a large area inside that gives you badly needed space for additional copy.

    2. Never stick the registration card into your manual. The first thing you want the user to do is fill in the reg card and drop it in the mail. So why hide it? All too many publishers mix their precious reg cards in among a pile of flyers and notices, or insert it in the manual where it may never, ever get noticed. A terrible mistake!

    3. Consider putting your reg card in an envelope along with your disks. That's a sure way to get your reg card noticed. That's what Intuit (and many others) do. Notice the back of the envelope that contains Intuit's Quicken disks. The writer says:

      1. Fill out and mail Quicken registration card.
      2. Remove and install program disks.
      3. Take advantage of valuable offers.

    Intuit understands the incredible value of capturing names so they get their priorities right. (Do you go after reg card returns as aggressively?)

    4. Provide a clear reason for the user to register.  Here are some proven motivators for you to consider:

    • Free premiums like fonts, clip-art, charts, templates, books, newsletters, etc. (The Soft•letter survey finds that "companies that offer premiums for registration typically capture 30% of the names of their retail customers compared to 25% for companies that offer no incentive.")
    • Free technical support. (The Soft•letter survey states that "even better than premiums is the promise of tech support. Among our survey respondents, 30% currently provide support only to registered customers. This approach seems to pay off: Companies with tech support incentives report a 43% registration rate, generating almost 50% more customer names than optional registration programs."
    • Special offers on future products (i.e. additional sources of revenue for your company!)
    • Early bird upgrade special deals.
    • The latest new product information (add-ins, enhancements, etc.)
    • Free damaged disk replacement.

    IMPORTANT: I have heard anecdotally that sweepstakes and special drawings do not work particularly well as a way to get people to return reg cards and can even lower return rates. Of course, this is counter-intuitive but has been confirmed to me by a number of publishers. If any readers of this article have had success with sweepstakes or special drawings, please get in touch and let me know.

    5. Don't ask for too much information. Obviously, reg card information is precious, but if you load up the card with too many questions, you'll turn the user off and get nothing. It's much better to ask a few important questions and keep the customer on your side, and avoid overloading them.

    What should you ask? Their name and address, telephone, company name, job title or position, fax, where they bought your software, how they found out about it, and hardware configuration if the information is relevant. If you can get away with it, it's nice to know what other kind of software they use, company size, and the kind of publications they read.

    But don't go overboard. Remember what the Soft•letter report has to say:

    Our survey data also reinforces a rule of thumb about the relationship between response rates and the number of questions the respondent is expected to answer. In fact, response rates on registration cards seem to decline by about 2% for every additional question beyond four or five.

    6. Put a reminder sticker on your first installation disk. Since you know for sure that the one thing every single user will pick up is your installation disks, why not attach a sticky saying something like:

    Fill in and mail the enclosed registration card
    while you are still eligible for FREE customer support!

    This simple technique can really have a significant impact on reg card returns!

    7. Invest in your reg card. For all too many publishers, the lowly reg card is a mere afterthought. What a pity! A well-written and well-art directed registration card can have an enormous effect on return rates as forward-looking publishers have already discovered. Remember, a modest investment in your reg card can result in truly giant increases in revenues.


© 2013, Ivan Levison & Associates. All rights reserved.