Designing Order Forms

Here’s a great piece by legendary copywriter Clayton Makepeace on order forms.

Are Your Order Forms Killing Your Sales?

By Clayton Makepeace

In this issue:

  • Response Device 101: The Four Types of Order Forms and When to Use Each One …
  • 12 Qualities Great Order Forms Have in Common …
  • The #1 Blunder Marketers Make With Their Response Devices …
  • And MORE!

Dear Business Builder,

Can you believe we’ve published 213 issues of The Total Package without so much as a whisper about how to create response devices (order forms) for maximum response?

Go figger.

OK, so order forms aren’t sexy. You’ll probably never see a long thread on a copywriting forum about “My all-time favorite response devices.” Or “World’s greatest order form writers.”

But when done intelligently, these afterthoughts of the direct response copywriting world can be response-boosting dynamos. Done poorly, they can cost you response points and lower your average sale – or worse, make ordering next to impossible.

So today, let’s consider the humble order form …

Four Basic Types of Response Devices

First, there’s the catalog order form – typically a grid that allows customers to tell you how many they want of a particular item. You’ve seen a gazillion of ‘em. Nuff said.

Second, there’s the soft offer order form – the kind Boardroom and Rodale are famous for, and that are often used in both B2B and B2C lead-producing promotions.

The best ones are simple postage-paid Business Reply Cards (BRCs) with headlines like, “FREE 60-DAY PREVIEW: SEND NO MONEY NOW!”

Because the BRC has the customer’s name and address printed on it, he doesn’t even need a pencil to order: He just detaches the card and drops it into his mail box.

Third, when you want your prospect to take more time with your offer – as in sweepstakes promos for magazine publishers or book club promotions – order forms with involvement devices are an excellent choice.

The classic Publishers Clearing House response device is a perfect case in point: You select magazines from a sheet of stamps and then lick and stick the appropriate stamp for each magazine you’re ordering onto the order form.

Prospects pour over that stamp sheet, agonizing over each decision, and ultimately talk themselves into ordering more magazines than they otherwise would have.

And fourth, there are the kinds of response devices we use when selling newsletters and health supplements. These are typically longer-copy response devices. If the prospect intends to order by mail, they require that he have a writing implement handy and that he complete the order form and return it to them in the postage-paid Business Reply Envelope (BRE) that came with the promotion.

Because it’s the type of order form I use most often – and because it incorporates all of the qualities that contribute to an effective response device, let’s take a look at how a long-copy order form goes together …

12 Qualities Great Response Devices
Have in Common

Just as I think about my “headline” as being comprised of several components – the masthead, the pre-head, the headline and the deck – I try to think about my response device as being one component of a larger whole. Let’s call this “whole” “The order spread.”

In most of the promos I write – mostly Slim Jims, bookalogs, magalogs and tabloids – the response device occupies part of the inside back cover. But when prospects look at your response device, they’re not seeing just one page. They’re seeing a spread, including the facing page.

That gives you plenty of opportunities to reinforce the purchase decision and relieve risk.

That said, let’s think about some of the qualities great response devices – great order spreads – share …

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1. The Order Spread Must LOOK Inviting: If your order device looks confusing and/or hard to use, you’re going to lose sales.

2. Dimensionalize The Tremendous Value You’re Offering: If you’re offering bonus gifts, show them – and include bursts that state their value. If you’re offering a discount, add the maximum discount you offer to the total value of your premiums and put that startlingly large number up in lights.

3. Include Plenty of Credibility Elements: Remember – you can never know when each prospect will see your order spread. In fact, some studies have shown that your response device may be the first thing prospects look at.

Making sure you have testimonials or other credibility elements – devices that prove your product works – can go a long way towards drawing the casual scanner into your copy. And of course, adding credibility elements next to your response device can also help shove the undecideds in your audience off of their fences.

4. Give Customers More Than One Way to Order: The last thing I want prospects to do is decide to order by return mail. Too much can happen to interrupt the sale. They’ll have to go find a pen or pencil. They set the order form aside to order later, then forget.

I’d much rather they call my Toll-Free number – that way, not only are they more likely to order right now, I can script my customer service people to upsell them to my best (largest) offer.

That’s why it’s a good idea to include your Toll-Free telephone number in several places – and include a picture of a telephone – on each order spread and especially on your order spread.

You may also want to try offering a Fax Hotline – prospects who don’t want to call can get faster service than if they ordered by mail simply by completing the order form and then sending it by facsimile transmission.

5. Emphasize Your Lightning-Fast Delivery and Outstanding Customer Service: Anyone who’s ordered anything as the result of a direct response offer knows the old saw, “Allow four to six weeks for delivery” by heart. Many consumers just assume that it’ll be weeks before they receive your product – let alone begin benefitting from it.

So if you ship the next business day – and especially if you have testimonials from happy customers who received their order in two or three days – including this information can help defuse a possible objection to ordering now.

6. Make Your Guarantee Easy to Find: Billboard your guarantee by placing inside banknote borders (as in the example), or by presenting it as a personal letter from your advocate, or by setting it up as “My Personal Promise to You.”

7. Add an Urgency Motivator: Ideally, I like to do this two ways: First, with boxed copy on the facing page showing a free gift my prospect gets for ordering now, and second, with a checkbox on the response device itself:

I’m ordering within ten days – please remember to include my copy of Build a Better Brain – a $19.95 value, FREE!

8. Always Include Your Street Address: Seems like a small thing; I know. But reply envelopes get used or lost. That’s why I include my client’s street address on every spread and especially on the order spread.

9. Give Your Response Device a Name: It’s never an ordinary “Order Form.” It’s a “Free Gift Certificate” … or “Special Introductory Offer” … or “$326 Savings Coupon” … or anything else you can think of to give it value.

It’s also a great idea to include a summary of your offer just below the main headline on your response device:

Up to $326.85 in FREE GIFTS and DISCOUNTS!

10. Create a Powerful and Benefit-Laden Positive Acceptance Statement: This copy, at the top of your order form, 1) Puts your product’s “big promise” into your prospect’s voice, 2) Affirms what he wants you to do, and 3) Relieves him of all risk with the details of your guarantee.

The sample above, (compromised somewhat by the legal beagles) reads …

YES! I want to eliminate the plaque that threatens my heart and experience the kind of dramatic results your users are talking about!

Please rush my free gifts and RISK-FREE supply of Enhanced Oral Chelation™ as indicated below.

I understand that I must feel the difference Enhanced Oral Chelation™ is making in my health within 60 days, or I can return the unused portion for a FULL REFUND. And the FREE gifts I’m getting are mine to keep no matter what.

11. Present Ordering Options in Descending Order: In the example above, the customer is presented with four choices. He can buy a one-year supply, a six-month supply, a three-month supply, or a one-month supply of the product.

Typically, I like to offer two choices only; almost never more than three. Doesn’t really pay to make your customer work to decide which offer he’ll accept. In this case, though, we tested the bejezus out of the offer and found that a four-tier structure got us the highest response, average sale and ROI.

Notice that each ordering option is given a name – “Best Value” … “Great Value” … “Good Value,” and so on. This is a great way to emphasize the maximum free gift value and discount on each option. Notice also that the option that will result in the highest average sale is presented first.

12. Do NOT Forget to Get Your New Customer’s Phone Numbers and E-Mail Addy! Failure to do so can mean a mountain of lost revenue going forward.

Always have a reason why you need this information. You need the telephone numbers “… in case we have a question regarding your order.” You need his e-mail address “… for urgent updates” on his investment opportunities or dangers, or on new breakthroughs in heart health, or whatever else pertains to the product you’re selling.

The #1 Blunder Marketers Make With Order Forms

Would you let a shipping clerk change your headline? Or deck copy? Or body copy?


Me neither. That would be dumb, right?

So why are shipping clerks allowed to change order forms – even in grand slam control promotions mailing millions?

I’ve had it happen more times than I care to count: I sweat bullets to make my order form as irresistible as possible and fall-off-a-log easy for my prospects to use … the promotion becomes a control with multi-million-piece mailing potential …

… And the order form begins to change on the very first roll-out.

Sorry – but that’s so far beyond dumb, you can’t even see dumb from there.

My advice is, pour everything you’ve got into your response devices. You’ve already slaved for weeks to get your headline, your opening copy, your body copy and your offer copy singing and soaring.

Your order form is the gate through which each prospect must pass to become a customer. This is no time to let up or get lazy. Or to allow some unqualified someone to futz with this critical part of your promotional copy.

So try this: Grab your swipe file and do something you may have never done before …

Flip past the headlines and all the other sexy bits. Go straight to the order forms. See how many of these 12 techniques you can find. Study how the copywriter accomplished these objectives. Then, think about new ways – better ways – you can accomplish them in the promotion you’re writing now.

A couple of hours work, maybe – but it’ll get you bigger winners, more often – guaranteed, or what you paid for this article will be cheerfully refunded.

Hope this helps …

Yours for Bigger Winners, More Often,

Clayton Makepeace
Publisher & Editor


Attribution Statement: This article was first published in The Total Package