Do Multiple Response Options Decrease Response Rates?

The one rule I learned early on in the game of direct response is this:

Don't offer too may choices because the more complex the decision, the lower the response rate.

This makes sense because higher response rates rely on impulse. The creative team must focus on making the decision to respond both irresistible and immediate. Because once the recipient puts down your offer for a future decision, then you have either lost that sale or dramatically reduced your chances of getting a positive response.

But let's be clear here.

The recipient's decision to respond has already been made by the time they decide HOW to respond. So offering multiple purchase options such as a URL, an 800 number and a response mail in form actually can INCREASE response.

But does this "rule" still apply today? 

Let's challenge this assumption by posing this question to other experienced marketing practitioners.

One of my MENG member colleagues asked this very question of other members applying it specifically to credit card marketing. (MENG membership consists of senior marketers from multiple industries throughout the US who earn a minimum of $160,000 a year and pass an interviewing process).

  • "In my experience in Credit Card Marketing (@ Citicards, JPMorgan Chase, Amex), it is best to have all response vehicles (mail in, url and #800). Not having one may decrease the response of a prospect who only prefers to respond through that channel. Also, I personally believe that to make someone look for an #800 only to not find one brings on even more frustration and ill will. Also, keep in mind that fulfilling a credit card application via the internet or phone (but especially Internet) is less expensive than mail."

  • "The accepted rule of thumb in the industry (which is known for testing the minute possibilities of offers, formats, response vehicles, etc) is to have a printed application as part of the letter, while including an #800 and a url, all of which are uniquely coded to track that specific mail package and the overall response and the channel responses. If it didn’t work, [there is] no way issuers would include all three response vehicles."

  • "Offering many offers or multiple choices [as opposed to offering multiple response mechanisms] for a purchase does decrease response. Making a decision more difficult than it has to be will cause a delayed response when the potential customer decides to lay the piece aside for later when they can study the decision. The problem is, they rarely come back to make that decision. I call this a 'stop action.' But that is not what we are talking about here. The prospect has already decided to respond. Offering a phone, reply card or URL option simultaneously actually increases response in my experience. Some people find going to the Internet quicker, less prone to error and more automated. For example, my credit card numbers all have macros so they complete automatically without errors when I buy something online. At other times, I will want to call to ask for guidance on a purchase that I have questions about so I call the 800 number. Yet others will want to respond in writing because that is their preferred way. I have one client in the insurance business that offers all three options requested health insurance quotes. They get over 50% as write in response forms! So you never know."

  • "I can offer that following hundreds of application tests conducted across credit card prescreened and non-prescreened programs mailing at volumes of about 50 million pieces per month, I've consistently observed that removal of a response mechanism (web, phone, mail in) does produce some negative impact to Gross Response. These days, most issuers are seeing about 40% of respondent volume come in via web reply, 30% via phone, 30% via mail in."

  • "In my experience in direct marketing, having response options has ALWAYS increased response rates.  What hasn't always helped are #s of offers in a piece."

  • "In DRTV [Direct Response Television] we used both 800# and URL.  There is a high impulse aspect to DRTV, depending on offer and price point.  Addition of URLs expanded response, generally capturing consumers with more considered purchase, as the URL landing page could provide additional information to close purchase (vs. an inbound operator who may or may not handle inquiries in an effective manner)".

  • "...Leaving out a reply card is particularly perilous.  Even if few responses come back through the mail, it seems the presence of a reply card is a visual cue that response or interaction is invited."

So it appears my observation from testing in multiple industries holds true. Offering multiple response mechanisms actually increases response.

Apparently, experienced marketers find that respondents show a strong predisposition to respond using preferred channels. They also choose a given response mechanism based on their level of confidence in the decision to respond.

What have you seen in your testing when it comes to offering several ways to respond versus a single channel response?

Posted on December 27, 2008 and filed under Direct Response Creative.