Where did the 30-day trial period come from?
Seriously – if you know, please comment below and tell me.
If you’ve written copy for online products or services, no doubt you know the 30-day trial well.
Or maybe, if you’ve written for a product or service that’s being sold on Clickbank or some other joint venture website, you’ve probably come across its older brother: the 60-day trial.
To be honest, I’m fed up of both.
Sure, they work. They’re ‘proven’ offers that – over the years – have incentivised people to buy Product X or try Service Y.
But still: I think we can do better.
As copywriters, I feel it’s our duty to understand what motivates people to buy and when we see opportunities to better motivate people, we should tackle them.
And so here’s my problem…
I feel like trial periods in copywriting have become stale.
It’s like when you join a new company and ask:
“Why do we do this obviously inefficient thing like this?”
And the only answer you get is:
“Because that’s how we’ve always done it.”
That, to me, is the reason the vast majority of copy is written to include a 30-day trial period.
Do you agree?
Or rather, are you open to the idea that there might be a better way to deal with trial offers?
I hope so.
Why do we offer trial periods?
Indeed, assuming you’re with me here, let’s actually look at why we offer trial periods at all in copy:
There are actually a few reasons:
1) It’s so that people have the opportunity to try something that is ultimately speculative with the assurance that – if it doesn’t work out as promised – you can get your money back. (I think I remember some old-school Ad-man like Drayton Bird writing that it was washing machines that started this – but I may have made that up.)
2) Everyone else does it. This IS a reason; don’t forget that. It’s the same reason so many people offer free delivery on stuff. Once upon a time, free delivery wasn’t a given like it is today. But slowly the market has changed and now you simply HAVE to offer it to compete. That’s how it is with trial periods too. You look weird if you don’t offer one.
3) It takes the risk out of the buying decision. When someone is contemplating a product or service, the decision to purchase is made much easier if they know they can change their mind in months’ time. (I’m reminded here of the character played by Jonathan Price in the film Glengarry Glen Ross, desperately trying to get Pacino to refund him.)
There are probably more reasons to include a trial period in your copy, but I’m writing this fast at a table in the Lord Nelson pub in Southwark, London and people are wondering why a guy is sat writing, rather than doing shots and being generally rowdy.
We can all accept that there is reason enough to include a trial period in your copy. The problem I have is not with the principle; it’s the execution.
I propose that there is NO REASON for a trial period to be limited to the arbitrary ranges of 30 or 60 days.
At this point I imagine a small group of rag-tag copywriters cheering wildly around me, chanting FISHER, FISHER, FISHER!
Why you should tailor your trial periods
But here’s the kicker, and ultimately my point…
A trial period should allow a potential customer to trial said product or service for such a time that they can establish if said product or service actually delivers on the promises made elsewhere in the copy.
Fair enough, right?
And so, in accepting this fact, we must look again at the product or service we’re writing copy for and ask: how long would a customer really need to use this to be able to confirm the promises made are achievable?
By natural extension we can suggest that a product that requires 16 days to mature, needs a 16-day trial period…
While a service that promises returns of X within a ten weeks, really requires a trial period of the same.
Of course, the businessmen amongst us will question the sense in risking such an extensive period in which you could hand back money on a service, but surely… if said business is not committed to its services delivering, there are bigger worries.
But us copywriters shouldn’t immediately start being preachy about the ethics of such businessmen. To be fair, the arbitrary periods of 30, 60 and sometimes even 90 days give us creatives plenty of wiggle-room.
You see, what I’m really suggesting here is that we just think a little more about the product or service itself and ask if there’s a way we can word things so that a three week trial period might actually be more appropriate to the copy we’re writing, than the arbitrary 30 day offer.
Sure, 21 days is actually LESS than 30 days and is technically a ‘worse’ guarantee period. But if the promise in your copy is that the reader will have completed X in 21 days’ time or made Y within three weeks, then it’s going to seem more convincing if your trial period gives that reader the exact time they need to achieve the aim.
Indeed, what’s the alternative? Er, you’ve got three weeks and then another random 9 days because, er, it might not work in 21 days, and er, that gives you a bit longer and er, well, er, the system is set up for 30 days.
You hopefully see what I’m saying. It’s not a big thing. It’s just something that many copywriters overlook. Yet at the same time, it’s such an easy thing to fix.
So, next time you come to writing an offer that includes a typical and essentially arbitrary trial period of 30 or 60 days: STOP. Think about it and question if there isn’t a way to make your trial period more apt.