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FutureNow Article
Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2008

The 7 Deadly Claims (Part 5) — “100% Risk-Free”

By Jeff Sexton
January 8th, 2008

set it and forget itWant to sound like an innnnfomercial?

Want to make your product or service sound too good to be true, and in a way that adds no value to the sale?

Then this deadly claim is for you.

But wait, there’s morrrre!

Not only will “100% Risk-Free” put you in the august company of infomercial Valhalla, it’ll even alienate your readers, causing them to suspect all your other claims as well!

Now, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Jeff, that’s amazing! But how can 100% Risk-Free possibly do all of that?”

(Switches out of Guy Smiley voice)

Allow me to explain…

YouTube Preview Image

Time vs. Money

First of all, time is frequently more valuable to your audience than money. So even if you’re offering a free trial, your audience still feels considerable risk. And that disconnect between the risk your audience feels and your website’s “100% Risk-Free Guarantee” kills your credibility — especially as your visitors (consciously or otherwise) ponder the following questions:

  • How much of my time am I going to waste trying this thing?
  • How frustrated will I get trying to learn how to use it?
  • How annoyed will I be if it turns out to be a complete piece of garbage?
  • How difficult and time consuming will it be to return?

Want to see a company who gets this? Visit Here’s how they address each of these time vs. risk bugaboos:

  1. They let you see the shoe up-close and personal from almost every angle imaginable and they have better than average product descriptions.
  2. They carry top brand name products, which helps to transfer confidence from the brand onto them. (If you’ve had good luck with Keen shoes, you’re probably not worried about your order disappointing you.)
  3. They have very good customer reviews that frequently bring up any possible issues, especially “fits true to size.”
  4. They ship the shoes amazingly fast, so you don’t waste your time waiting for them to arrive.
  5. Zappos has made the return process so unbelievably easy and pleasant, it’s amazing. You simply print out a return label, slap it on the same box the shoes came in, and everything is prepaid. In fact, if you ask a customer, the first thing you’ll likely hear about is their policy of providing free shipping both ways.

If your website is pitching services (not products), you’ll need to slightly modify these steps. Still, it’s easy enough to see how comprehensive demos do the same thing as product photos, or how case studies could accomplish similar persuasive goals as reviews, etc. And for services, the second point is even more important than the first.

The Wrath of Con

Customers are way too used to being ripped off by catch-22’s, fine print, and outright cons. Worse, in the face of this aggravation, almost nobody’s Web copy closes all the loopholes. Fail to answer the following questions and you’ll be presumed guilty without ever getting the chance to prove yourself innocent:

  • Is this an opt-out system, or an opt-in system? What happens at the end of the free trial? Do customers have to remember to cancel their free trial to avoid the shock of seeing strange bills on their credit card, or have you resisted the temptation of sleazeball profits?
  • Is the free trial for a stripped-down module, or for a basic offer that has all the useful features reserved for paid membership? Am I going to get 30-60 minutes into a project, only to find I can’t complete it without buying into the full service?
  • What kind of customer service and help do you provide during the trial? (Free trials won’t do much good if I’m constantly frustrated or if I have to waste hours to get a simple question answered.)
  • What kind of time limitations have you placed on me? 30-days may seem more than adequate until you’ve been burned a few times by running over the trial period. 90-days is better, but I’d recommend Zappos’ one-full-year or L.L.Bean’s lifetime guarantee.

Like all of the other Deadly Claims, the first step in fixing this one involves seeing your visitors as real. Determine their true concerns and then address them with specific, substantiated claims. Lay off the generalizations and let your visitors come to their own conclusions based on the specifics. In other words, “Show, don’t tell.”

UPDATE: Read Jeff’s follow-up article, “Infomercial Marketing Techniques that Work (or Your Money Back!)

Read more about the 7 Deadly Claims at your own risk…

  1. Superior Customer Service
  2. Easy to Use
  3. Most Experienced
  4. We’re #1
  5. 100% Risk-Free
  6. Cutting Edge
  7. Best Value

[Editor's note: Has your website become risky business? Sharpen up your virtual sales pitch at our Persuasive Online Copywriting seminar on March 28th in San Francisco. Jeff and Holly will be your instructors for this first-ever West Coast edition of our popular one-day copywriting crash course. Class size is limited so that attendees can get real advice and actually learn something. You'll even get $100 off if you register by 2/29.]

Add Your Comments

Comments (18)

  1. Ah yes, absolutely no risk! Step right up…it slices, it dices, it makes your hair curl and your thighs thinner…Aside from the fact such claims make our BS meter start screamin’ – it’s just tacky, tacky, tacky.

    One of the reasons I “hate” a lot of the self-anointed marketing gurus and “experts” out there – they sell lots of pre-packaged binders, CDs, forms, guides, etc. etc…all absolutely guaranteed! No risk! “Money back if not satisfied.” Yes, and the poor schlub has to wade through hours and hours of stuff before they know rather they’re satisfied or not. *Sigh* Sure, it’s no risk – to the seller.

    Thanks for reminding me of the bass-o-matic. Made my laugh for the day!

  2. Good post.

    “100% Risk-Free” to me doesn’t seem to far removed from the inane spam emails we keep geting over here in UK from people in developing countries in Africa saying absurd things like a plane crashed in the forest and they would like to invest it in the UK and they request people’s bank details etc ..

  3. (in case anyone cares: plane crashed in forest with lots of money on board …).

    Anyway, my point is how do so many people think that they can get away with these ’100% Risk-Free’ ads?

  4. Great Post Jeff. This has given me few pointers about what we can do with our website to make visitors more comfortable with taking decision to buy from us.

  5. Thanks to all of you for your comments. I’ve been itching to respond to each one but my thoughts seemed to congeal into a follow-on post which I hope to have up shortly.

  6. This all sounds very convincing, but have you figured this out by testing or is this more of a gut feeling kind of thing?

    As I am not personally involved in infomercials I can only guess, but knowing what TV time costs I am fairly certain that infomercials and the methods used are extremely successful. So why wouldn’t they work online?

    When venturing out in uncertain waters as a buyer, I have to admit I am an easier catch when the seller offers a strong guarantee. If all else fails I can always dangle a screen capture of the sellers “100% Risk free”-guarantee in front of him.

  7. Hi Jeff,

    I was wondering do you have any real hard data regarding one using risk free vs. not using risk free in their copy and or website. Does one convert better than the other?

  8. Jeff,

    Dan Kennedy, one of the highest paid direct marketers / copywriters in the world, would probably disagree. To see how he use free trials and guarantees check out his web site.

    He has been instrumental in writing content for some of the Tony Robbins and Guthy-Renker infomercials. These are huge money makers.

    If the goal in business is to make money, it would be hard to argue with his success. He has over 100 personal clients that annually make over $1,000,000.00 per year income from his direct marketing approaches.

    What data do you have to support what you are writing?

  9. I agree with Steve 100%, risk free trial offers has been in used over hundred years, quite sucessfully.

  10. First, let’s distinguish between effective and substantiated risk reversal techniques from ineffective, unsubstantiated claims of “100% Risk Free.”

    I am a huge proponent of effective risk reversal techniques, as this post makes abundantly clear. If anything I would encourage online companies to more aggressively look at ways that they can reduce the visitors total perceived risk (in the style of, rather than relying on lazy – and untrue – generalizations.

    Risk reversal techniques represent
    the solid money-making side of infomercials.
    “100% Risk Free,” on the other hands, represents not so much a persuasive technique as the signature laughably cheesy delivery that has become synonymous with infomercials. And it’s that unsubstantiated, hype-filled delivery that I’m advising copywriters to stay away from.

    As for hard data, I have to admit that I have no hard data on this specific claim, but plenty of testing experience with substantiated vs. unsubstantiated claims, or specific vs. general, claims. And, yes, specific, substantiated claims always outperform general or unsubstantiated claims.

    What I can tell you though, is that I have participated in the redesign of at least one Direct Mail style site. This was a lead generation site that had enjoyed fabulous success when first released on the Web around 2000 or 2001. It worked extremely well.

    Until it didn’t.

    Then it failed to perform at all.

    Sometime around 2004 or 2005 it tailed off and stopped generating any leads whatsoever. As in zero. None. The site redesign launched in the fall of this year and has already provided numerous leads that have turned into paying clients.

    There is a new generation that is rapidly upselling its values to the rest of society, and those values are transparency and authenticity. “100% Risk Free” flies in the face of those values, as it represents exactly the kind of hard sell, overstated hucksterism that millenials are rejecting. It’s “Old School” Selling.

    I stand by my advice in this series and in this post: Get specific. Get Substantiated. Get Real.

  11. I’m an independent marketing consultant/coach that’s using a 100% guarantee with great results. If anything, my “ONEconditional” guarantee makes me stand out in a very crowded and very wary consulting market. I’ve put a lot of effort into my website to ensure that any prospective client knows who I work with, how I work, what I offer and what type of problems I help to solve. My website goes a long way towards qualifying prospective clients.

    My guarantee is, “If you’re not happy within the first 30 days of working with me (typically three or four sessions) for whatever reason, I’ll refund all of your money and we’ll move on.” My “one condition” is that they tell me how I could improve my services to better meet their expectations or needs. I do this with both my low-cost diagnostic services as well as my higher priced one-on-one mentoring offerings.

    Now, I also spend a lot of time qualifying each prospect to better ensure that we’re compatible and on the same page with regard to roles, outcomes and expectations. This greatly reduces the chance of someone scamming me out of a few free sessions.

    It’s just one element that makes it easier for the owner of a small/medium-sized professional services firm choose me. And since I don’t negotiate on fees, it helps me alleviate any price issues before they come up. It’s just the little nudge required to get them to sign on the spot.

  12. Nick,

    Thanks for the comment. I just wanted to make clear (again) that risk reversal techniques and money-back guarantees are both crucially important and NOT the same thing as hyping “100% Risk Free”. To that end, your ONECondiational guarantee is brilliant. It uniquely brands your promise and creates just enough curiosity for the Web visitor to read the details.

    Also, when you get down to the nitty gritty of your website, your “Risk Free Services” sub-heading comes under a “My Services” page and after a long list of different services. This is hugely effective as it looks like you have a different sub-section of risk-free services and then the reader learns that all of your services are covered by your ONEconditional guarantee. Nicely done.

    You’ve provided a strong, substantiated risk reversal and done it in a manner that very much removes you from any association with the over-hyped style of infomercial deliveries.


  13. Jeff I don’t get it. Could you please explain to me the difference between “100% risk free” vs. “Money-back guarantee”. If one is providing a product and or service that states that they get there money back if they don’t like what they have purchased. Is it not the same thing as “100% risk free”? The main reason why you like Nick’s site is that it looks trust worthy; it has the elements that make up a site that a consumer would trust. I believe that this is the main topic of your article and “100% Risk free” is not the culprit that you are making it out to be. Having a trust worthy looking site should be the topic. Risk reversal on the internet as I am sure you know is very important in order to build trust with your potential customers. Having a trust worthy looking site, testing different wording of your risk reversal for better conversions should be on every business owners to do list.

  14. Roger,

    Quite simply, a money-back guarantee DOESN’T make your offer “100% Risk Free.” As the post explains, people have more at risk than just money. Moreover, 100% Risk Free is an unsubstantiated claim, but things like a ONEconditional Guarantee ARE substantiated (and specific).

    If you are tempted to use “100% Risk Free,” the best thing to do is to pull a Zappos and spend some time thinking about how else to eliminate and reverse risk and to include those additional – and specific – guarantees in your copy.

    Lastly, the phrase “100% Risk Free” has become a cliche. It sounds like a pitch. ONEconditional guarantee upsets that expectation and raises enough curiosity to get visitors to read the specifics. That’s what I like about it.

    Hope that clears things up for you.


    - Jeff

  15. [...] "100% Risk-Free" [...]

  16. [...] might be a matter of changing the offer.  Or changing the emotional appeal behind the offer.  Or the guarantees and risk-reversals that you’re [...]

  17. [...] want to sniff a product out BEFORE downloading it and investing time with it.  Realize that “Free” doesn’t really equate to risk free.  Dmitry writes about the positive benefits users’ emotional “sunk costs” that [...]

  18. Good post awesome.

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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