John E. Fike Copywriting Services; Copy, Content & Custom Publications for Companies Who Make Life Worth Living

Direct Mail/E-mail Secret #4: Include a Response Mechanism That Tracks Response for Testing and Follow-Up Promotions

This component is highly critical in any promotion, but it’s the one that’s most commonly missed.

In this series I’ve been talking about essential components of successful direct mail and e-mail campaigns. But I’m going to expand this installment to include all promotions, because you can include a response mechanism with any promotion—even commercials and print ads!

So, what is a response mechanism and why do you need one?

A response mechanism is anything that allows you to tie the activity of your prospects and customers to your promotion. A response mechanism allows you to track which promotions and ads are working and which are not. This will save you money, because you can stop running promotions or ads that aren’t generating an acceptable response. You can also determine whether a certain mailing or e-mailing list generates better response so that you only spend money on the more successful list.

You can also improve your promotions by testing headlines, leads and other components. If you see that a new headline generates better response than your old one, then you can start using the new headline on all your promotions and, ideally, improve the return on all your mailings.

In a direct sales package in which the customer is asked to place an order via order form or phone call, the response mechanism is built in—it’s the order form or phone number. You can track how well your direct sales promotion does by counting the number of orders you receive. In a direct e-mail campaign, your response mechanism is the link they click on to place an order.

Outside of direct sales campaigns, including a response mechanism is a little trickier. Well, it’s not exactly trickier, but it’s less obvious. If you’re trying to get customers to come into your store or office, including a coupon or promotion code number directly tied to a discount or other offer is a very successful response mechanism. If you’re trying to drive traffic to your web site, include a unique web address that takes the prospect to a unique page on your site. In a commercial, you can include a phone number or a web address (make sure it’s one that’s easy to remember).

In order for a response mechanism to work, you need to have the following four components:

  • A reason to contact you—This is everything from placing an order, to requesting information, to entering a sweepstakes. Make sure that your prospect or customer gains something of benefit or potential benefit by contacting you.
  • A call to action—If you don’t tell your prospect to call, fill out a response card, or go to your web site, then they won’t. Your prospects won’t take any action that you can track if you don’t have a call to action.
  • A method of contact—This is the phone number, order form, web link, etc. that I talked about above.
  • A unique identifier—You need to be able to identify each promotion individually so that you can track results accurately.

Let’s talk about that last component a little more, because this is something that most marketers miss.

It is impossible to know whether a particular promotion is successful if you include the same phone number, web link, order form, or promotion code on every promotion. What if you want to test whether one headline works better than another or which publication gets the best response with your ad? If you place the same ad with the same promotion code, web address or phone number in five different publications, you won’t know where the responses are coming from. In direct mail and e-mail you could keep track of which addresses and e-mails you send different promotions to, but it’s a lot easier to track this information with a unique identifier of some sort.

A unique identifier is as simple as assigning a unique promotion code or web address in the advertisement, on the order form, or in the letter/e-mail. A unique phone number is particularly effective if you have the budget for it, because you can hide the unique identifier (most people won’t check to see if you are using the same phone number on each promotion, they’ll just call the number in front of them).

In an e-mail campaign or online campaign, most service providers who handle these campaigns will automatically include unique trackable links. If you’re handling the campaign in house, ask your web programmer set up trackable links in your e-mail, banner ads, or AdWords ad.

However, in print ads or snail-mail campaigns, it’s a little trickier. Many marketers solve the problem by using the company’s main web address followed by a slash and a unique page name or identifier code. Here are two examples:

However, your prospect may think it’s too clumsy to type in a long URL like that and either not bother or just type in the main web address without the tracker information. My favorite way to deal with this is to spend $10 on a unique domain name and forward that domain name to a campaign-specific landing page.

For example, I might use “” for a promotion that gets people to download my Marketing Solutions manual from my web site and I would forward that domain name to a special sign-up page on my web site. If I wanted to run a test and see if a different subject line gets better results, I would use something like “” for the test promotion.

Another way to handle long links is to use a short URL generator like, which creates a short URL that forwards to a web address that may be excessively long. For example, I’ve shortened to

All right, that should give you a good idea of how to use a response mechanism in your promotion and get better results. Next time, we’ll look at Direct Mail/E-mail Secret #5: An Excellent Product or Service That Excites Customers and Offers Many Benefits.

Talk to you then.

John E. Fike

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