How to create irresistible offers and win the holiday marketing season

Fall is here, which means changing leaves, pumpkin spice lattes… and the official countdown until the holiday season. It also means that savvy marketers like you are probably thinking about what you can do to boost business around the end of the year.

Whether you’re a retailer planning a Black Friday promotion, a service provider preparing for the end of the fiscal year, or a nonprofit looking to maximize your holiday appeals, the key to marketing success is to give your audience an offer they can’t refuse.

That sounds like a great idea, but how exactly can you do it?

Download your free checklist for Crafting Irresistible Offers.


According to Chris Guillebeau, a compelling offer consists of delivering the RIGHT PROMISE to the RIGHT AUDIENCE at the RIGHT TIME. Here’s his “magic formula”:

The Right Audience + the Right Promise + the Right Time = Offer You Can’t Refuse
So how do you fill in each element of the equation? By answering the following six questions, of course! Take the time to go through each of these thoroughly and honestly, and in the end, you’ll have the tools you need to craft offers your audience won’t be able to refuse.

Choosing the right audience

1. Who is our audience?
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: If you don’t know who your audience is, your marketing efforts are certain to suffer.

There are two reasons to become ultra-familiar with specific details about your audience, including their demographics, psychographics, buying habits, and more:

  • First, you’ll save precious marketing dollars by targeting only those who can or will use your product or service.
  • Second, you’ll be better able to craft a message that will resonate with that audience.

If you don’t already know who your audience is, pull key members of your team together and do the work to create customer personas.

It’s okay if your business reaches multiple different personas; the key is to understand each one thoroughly and create offers that are specific and appealing for each. At Reach, for example, we can work with marketing directors, operations managers, or IT directors – but the offers we use to appeal to each tend look very different from one another.

In the same way, a store like Target isn’t going to present the same offer to a 40-year-old mother of three as it will to a twenty-something, single man. Both could shop at Target, but will likely be shopping for different things, have different buying concerns, and may be motivated to act by different offers.

Which leads to the next question…

Formulating the right promise

2. What value can we create?
Value comes in many forms, and changes from persona to persona. As you consider different offers, don’t just think about the features and benefits of your product or service, but consider how to create additional value for your prospects.

This can come as a monetary incentive, a free gift, or even service above and beyond what they would expect to receive elsewhere.

Here are a few ideas for different categories:


  • Discount – Specific dollar amount or percentage off the price of your product(s) or service(s)
  • Freebie/Bonus gift – A complimentary product offered when a customer purchases a different product (this could also be a buy-one-get-one deal)
  • Guarantee – The promise to repair or replace a defective or broken product at no additional cost
  • Warranty/Extended Warranty – The promise to repair or replace a broken product at a cost that is smaller than the original cost

Service (including B2B):

  • DiscountSee above
  • GuaranteeSee above
  • Complimentary Audit – Analysis of your prospect’s existing solution in an effort to find cost-savings or greater efficiency
  • Free consultation – An offer to discuss your prospect’s needs to find the best solution for them
  • Training/Knowledge Base – Free access to more, useful information or additional training at no extra cost


  • Goodwill – Promise of a positive or rewarding feeling for donating to a worthy cause
  • Follow-up on a recipient of the donor’s contribution – Promise to update donors on the people and projects that their money has benefited
  • Recognition – Acknowledgement of a person’s donation in a public way
  • Matching donation – An offer to add to a donor’s generosity by contributing at least the amount he/she donates

Now that you have a list of the things you could offer, ask yourself…

3. What does our REALLY audience want?
It’s common for marketers to assume that our customers want anything they have to offer. Whether it’s a freebie, discount, or extended warranty, we think of offers much like gifts – why wouldn’t someone want it?

But, for prospects, an offer usually comes with strings attached – their business, referral, loyalty, or a donation.

That’s why it is critical to make sure that whatever you’re willing to give to your audience in exchange for their business, referral, etc. actually has value to them.

For example, a 20% off coupon won’t hold any value to someone who isn’t motivated by price. Instead, that person may be willing to pay full price in order to get a product that is guaranteed to last for his/her lifetime. In this case, what the customer really, really wants is a lifetime guarantee, not a discount.

In some cases, your business, product, or service may “sell itself” – meaning that the value of the brand/product/service can stand alone. This works best for very high-quality products, or ones where the brand promise is an offer in itself. (Think Starbucks – what makes people feel alright about paying $5 for a cup of coffee?)

There are a few different ways find out what your customers REALLY want:

  • A/B test everything. Run tests on every offer you create to determine which ones garner the greatest response. Test using language like “10% off a purchase of $100” versus “$10 off your $100 purchase”, or using the word “free” versus “complimentary”. Try using different types of freebies or gifts, complimentary services, or extended warranties, and keep track of which ones result in the greatest conversion rate.
  • Look at historical marketing metrics. If you’ve run any kind of promotion in the past, look at your sales numbers during that promotion. Was there a spike? Did sales remain even? Use this data to help guide the new offers you create.
  • Ask them. It’s safe to ask customers what they want, but keep in mind that this may be the least reliable way to find out. Why? Because what people say they want and what they do can often tell two different stories – that’s why it is typically best to rely on customer behavior and metrics to guide your future marketing efforts.

If you’re having trouble finding real value for your audience, consider this next question:

4. What is the risk associated with buying our product/service?
Understanding the perceived risk of purchasing your product or service is equally as important as understanding what motivates your audience to buy.

Perceived risk is often what prevents a prospective customer from converting into an actual customer. It is often manifested as questions your prospects ask themselves before they dial a phone number, click a button, or type a URL. These questions can range from “What if [product] breaks and I’m out $50?” to “What if it goes on sale later?” to “What if I don’t feel like this was worth it in 2 months?”

The most common risk? “What if this doesn’t meet my expectations and I end up feeling dumb?”

With your team, and perhaps even help from your customers, determine the perceived risk that comes along with purchasing your product. What questions might people have? What fears arise when they get close to the checkout, either physically or online?

Then, consider how you can use an offer to relieve those fears.

If there is perceived risk that your product could break and be too expensive to replace, consider offering an extended warranty or a guarantee. If you’re a B2B service provider and the perceived risk is that your customer won’t be able to get enough from his investment, offer free training to help ensure that he does. If you’re a nonprofit organization and your audience may worry that their donation isn’t going to a worthy cause, offer the chance for donors to read about who/what their money is going to in your monthly newsletter.

Once you understand the perceived risk, consider choosing an offer that acknowledges and removes those fears. Then consider…

Reaching them at the right time

5. How can we make the offer urgent?
Urgency is key to motivating people to act on your offer, rather than sitting on it.

It works by playing on your audience’s fear of missing out (FOMO). When an offer is time-sensitive or limited, it helps create subtle pressure for your audience to move before the offer is gone. Most importantly, it helps ensure your offer won’t be set off to the side and forgotten.

So how can you apply this to your own marketing? Any time you craft an offer, be sure to include some element of urgency. It can be an expiration date, a limited-time offer, or a limited quantity; it just has to tell people, in some way, to “Act Now.”

For a nonprofit, you could offer a donation match, but only if a certain goal is reached by a specific end date. A retailer could promise 20% off for the first 100 people in the door on a given day. A B2B service provider can throw in some kind of add on, but only if the prospective customer signs their contract before the end of the month.

Think creatively about how to add urgency, and don’t be afraid to test different types of urgency or limited offers.

Finally, ask yourself one last question:

6. What is our timeline for this offer?
As you create new offers, it’s important to establish a timeline for each, with a clear start and end date. Setting a timeline helps accomplish two things:

  • It helps you add urgency to the offer by including a definitive end date.
  • It can help you think strategically about when it’s most logical to make the offer.

Timing is a part of the magic formula for a reason. You could make a convincing promise to the perfect audience, but if you don’t get in front of them at the right time, it’s likely your offer will fail.

To establish your timeline, consider outside factors that could detract from your offer. For example, a business that offers discounts on snow shovels likely won’t see much business in June. Why? Because people are not thinking about snow shovels –and they’ve probably already dedicated a chunk of their budget to summer trips or other, more immediate needs.

Whatever your service or product, think honestly about if it has a “peak season.” Is there a time when more people will be reasonably interested in your product/service? Is there an even that will interfere with people seeing and acting on your offer?

Beyond the timeline for your offer, think seriously about outside forces that may affect your offer: your prospect’s cashflow at any given time, whether or not they view your product/service as a necessity, and even forces of nature.

By definition, we have very little control over these forces. Rather, the best thing we can do to combat these outside forces is predict what barriers our audience may face and, just like with perceived risk, address them head-on.

First, make sure your marketing plan is fluid and flexible. It’s important to have a timeline, but you’ll need to be capable of adjusting in the case that something interferes with your plans. Second, understand that there is always opportunity to learn from failed offers.


There you have it. Once you take the time to address each of these questions thoroughly, you should have everything you need to create compelling offers for every audience persona.

And if these questions overwhelm you, remember this:

Ultimately, effective offers come down to

  • knowing your audience,
  • understanding what REAL value you can provide for them, and
  • timing the offer in a way that makes sense.


Don’t forget to download our free checklist for Crafting Irresistible Offers.

Finally, it’s important to remember that it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get it right every time. Failed offers, while painful, are just as good an opportunity to learn as successful ones. Just be sure that you’re willing to learn.

Happy marketing season!

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