I Spent $285 on Low Cost Offers So You Don’t Have To

Here’s What You Need to Know

By Maggie Patterson

All opinions in this post are my opinions and mine alone.

You can view our full disclaimer here.

If you’ve spent a hot minute in the online business world, you’ve probably been targeted with a Facebook or Instagram ad selling you a low-cost offer of some type. The price point of these offers makes them enticing as they’re relatively low risk.

In this episode and essay, I’m sharing my findings from an analysis I did after spending $285 on nine of these low-ticket offers. I’m doing the work so you don’t have to and then sharing what you need to know.

Why I Did This Analysis

As long as I’ve been in the online space, these low ticket offers have been a thing. They used to be called tripwires, and now they’ve been rebranded into the more palatable “small offers” or “self-liquidating offer”.

At a high level, I don’t have any issue with selling a smaller offer at a lower price point. I’ve personally sold multiple products under the $100 mark, and I just did a promo last week of a bundle priced at $100.

The price point isn’t the issue, but instead the ecosystem around these offers.

First, there’s been increasing hype over the last two years around the power of these small offers. The idea being that with a lower price point, you’ll have more buyers, and then you’ll make more money overall.

Everywhere you turn there are stories about getting to six, and even seven figures thanks to these low ticket offers. While it may happen, there’s a complete lack of transparency about the level of marketing savvy and investment it takes to build an audience and execute accompanying ad campaigns.

Truth? All the blueprints in the world for how to build this type of offer and the funnel to sell it will not help you build an audience. It’s yet another massive promise made by celebrity entrepreneurs that fails to deliver for a large percentage of their audience.

The other part of this puzzle is the fact that it’s very rarely about selling a single low-priced offer.

As I shared in my essay and podcast on Trust-First Pricing Principles, these low-ticket offers are essentially loss leaders. The same way a sale on butter is designed to get you into the grocery store, these offers are designed to get you into the celebrity entrepreneur’s funnel.

This is called ascension model marketing, and it’s built on the premise that once you buy a low-priced offer, you’ll continue to buy offers at higher price points. For the marketer, they’ll nurture you and coach you to the sale of the next product.

Ascension Marketing Model

It’s important to note that this type of marketing is resource-intensive despite the promises of celebrity entrepreneurs that you’ll make money while you sleep. Plus, it’s deeply rooted in using fear, shame, and manipulation to make the sale.

The lure of these offers is very real to us as consumers, and as business owners, the idea of making small offers on autopilot that make five figures a month while you sleep can be enticing.

Rules of Engagement for This Analysis

That’s where my analysis comes in. I was inspired to do this after having someone I bought a low-ticket product from a year ago pop back into my inbox with the hard pitch. (I was extra curious as I had definitely unsubscribed, but since returning to my inbox a month ago, I’ve received 25 emails.)

Plus, when the Trust-First Pricing Principles essay and podcast episode went live, I had a lot of questions about why I labeled these low-cost offers as a “tricky” pricing tactic.

Before we dive into my findings, let’s talk about the rules of engagement for this analysis: 

  • All products were purchased from a Facebook or Instagram ad between August 20 and 27, 2021.
  • All steps of the process from the ads to the sales page to the upsell offers had to be documented via screenshots.
  • All emails after purchase were saved for a period of two weeks.
  • I only purchased products that are relevant to my business.
  • I couldn’t have a relationship with the person making the offer.

Ultimately, I purchased a total of nine products, spending a total of $285 USD, with products ranging in price from $7 to $47.

The products were focused on a variety of topics including social media, client attraction, email copywriting, and goal setting. I will not be naming the products used or the creators as I want to focus more on what we can learn from these offers than the distraction of naming people using these tactics. As always, my goal is to critique business practices, not any one person’s character.

The analysis of these products is limited to the sales/marketing ecosystem around these offers. Evaluating the quality of these products is beyond the scope of this project.

Here’s what I uncovered and what we can learn from every step of their marketing/sales process.

Facebook Ads

Let’s start at the beginning with a quick review of Facebook and Instagram ads. For this part of the analysis, I looked at three main factors.

First, I checked all of the ads to ensure they were transparent with their pricing. 100% of these offers included clear, easy-to-understand pricing in their ads.

Then, I looked at three key areas to assess the “hype factor” of these ads:

  • Income Claim Marketing: Did they use claims of their income or clients' income as part of the ad?
  • Big Promises: Did they make big promises about what the product could do for you if you purchased it?
  • Personal Story: Did they share a personal story?
Facebook Ads Hype Tactics_1

Only 22% used income claim marketing, 56% big promises, and 56% personal stories.

Overall, the hype factor of these ads was pretty low. That's likely the result of Facebook policies around what claims you can make in an ad.

However, the level of hype rises substantially once we look at the sales pages for these offers.

Sales Pages: Hype Factor

Low-Cost-Offer-Hype

To do this analysis, I read each one of these sales pages multiple times, which was no small feat as some of them were over 20 pages once saved as a PDF.

I looked at two main things on the sales pages: the hype factor, and the overall messaging.

For the hype factor I examined three slightly different factors than the ads:

  • Income Claim Marketing: Did they use claims of their income, or clients income as part of the ad?
  • 1% Testimonials: Did they use results not typical testimonials?
  • Personal Story: Did they share a personal story?
Sales Page Hype Tactics

This is where things get interesting. 67% of these offers relied on income claim marketing to sell their offer. While 67% of them used testimonials that shared results that were clearly unrealistic for the majority of customers.

About half of these sales pages (56%) featured dramatic personal stories. These were mostly in the rags to riches category of celebrity entrepreneur storytelling, with an emphasis on the point that “I did it and you can too”.

This type of storytelling is par for the course in online business, but it’s so overdone. When you rely on dramatic (or even traumatic) storytelling, you’re going to sound like everyone else and you’re doing little to build lasting trust.

The other part of the sales page analysis I did was focused on the messaging. As a communications professional, messaging is a big part of the beef I have with the current state of online business. The messages all sound the same and rely on a few tired tropes to sell their offers.

I was on the lookout for four specific types of messages on these sales pages:

  • Secret or Method Focused Messaging: Did the page include messaging focused on selling you a specific secret or method?
  • Client Attraction Messaging: Did the sales page focus on attracting clients so you can make more money?
  • High Level or High Ticket Messaging: Did the message concentrate on messaging related to high-level or high ticket offers or clients?
  • Scale/Growth Messaging: Did the sales page include messaging on scale or business growth?
Sales Page Messaging

First, let’s look at scale/growth messaging as 89% of the sales pages included in this analysis shared this message. The relentless focus on scaling your business is seen as one of the only ways to get people’s attention as it’s believed by celebrity entrepreneurs that everyone’s goal is always to make more money.

The other message that was found on the majority of the sales pages was around client attraction, coming in at 67%. Honestly, I hate this message.

The idea that you simply "attract" clients turns a process that requires effort and a plan into a magical act so people can sell you their secrets.

Speaking of secrets, I was pleasantly surprised to see that only 44% of these pages included messaging about selling you their secret system. The focus on secrets is a continued problem in this industry as I share in my essay, The Dark Side of Online Business.

Finally, just under half of these offers shared messaging using “high level” or “high ticket” (44%) which I found fascinating, as this is a clear bid to play off the industry fixation on high-end clients and high-ticket offers.

I plan to talk more about high ticket pricing but from a messaging point of view, but this strikes me as seriously overpromising. It’s not realistic to expect that you’ll learn how to book high ticket clients from a $27 product.

Order Bumps: Do You Want Fries With That?

Upsell-Offer

If you’re not familiar with an order bump, this is an additional offer made on the sales page to add to your purchase. It’s the digital equivalent of items at the cash you grab when you’re checking out.

Order bumps are a big part of how people are able to make money with their low ticket offers. Which, on the surface seems okay, but once you dig into the mechanics of how these offers are made you quickly see how they can be problematic.

Of the products I purchased, 67% of them included the option for an order bump, and 33% let you check out without an additional offer.

Here’s where things take a turn. There was a lot of fuckery around the checkout process, and in many cases, you were trapped in what’s called a dark pattern. A dark pattern is a trick designed to get you to do things you didn’t mean to do.

Of those offering an order bump, 67% of them were using tricks designed to get you to buy the upsell.

For example, there was only a button to check out with the upsell and to not add it to your order, you had to click on the tiny print below the button.

Order Bump Buttons

On one of the pages, I had to scroll down to the bottom of the page to purchase the original product without the upsell.

Also, the language used around the upsells was often negative and designed to pull on emotional triggers. This type of passive-aggressive copy is designed to get you to buy in a way that’s manipulative.

Order Bump Button 2

Finally, in multiple cases, the price of the upsell was hard to find as it was in tiny print in a box on the checkout page, which is a tactic to confuse you into buying.

Order-Bump-Button-3

Upsells: But Wait
There’s More!

After the order bump offer, the majority of these products - 89% in fact - provided an opportunity to supplement your purchase with an upsell.

In some cases, these upsells made perfect sense and in others, they were confusing as hell. They were tangentially related at best, and trapped you in a web of offers.

Low Ticket Upsell Offers

At this point in the sales process, you’ve been through the process of going from the ad to the sales page to the checkout page plus the order bump, and now you’re confronted with another offer.

Your defenses may be down, and you’re easily enticed by big promises.

Let’s say you decline the first upsell, you may be confronted with further upsells: 38% of these offers had a second upsell, and 25% had a third offer.

The pricing of the upsells ranged as follows:

  • First Upsell - $37 to $297
  • Second Upsell  - $27 to $197
  • Third Upsell - $97 to $197

Ask any bro marketer (remember they don’t need to be a bro) and they’ll tell you that the real money for their low ticket offers comes on the back end of the funnel.

The thinking is that only 10 to 20% of your customers may buy the upsell, but if you put enough people through the sales process, you’ll make exponentially more money.

Follow-Up Emails

For the analysis of the emails, I reviewed two weeks of emails immediately following purchase.

No joke, this was a lot of emails, with a total of 110 during that two week period. (See, I did the work so you don’t have to!).

The frequency and intensity of emails varied anywhere from a single email to a total of 18 over 14 days.

Follow Up Emails in 2 Weeks Following Purchase

The email part of this was really interesting, as the one product emailed me only the confirmation of purchase, and then disappeared entirely, which is a missed opportunity.

On the flip side, just under half of these products emailed me nearly every day following the purchase of these products. The nature of the follow-up ranged from helpful (as they were walking you through the product), to downright ridiculous with high-pressure tactics dishing up a dose of fear and manipulation.

The high-pressure sales tactics were mainly to drive me towards the upsells I didn’t previously purchase, and in two cases, they were inviting me to buy the product I’d initially purchased. (Which is yet another trick to ensure I’m engaged or is poor list segmentation, either way, not here for it.)

Then, there was the one product that had their sales team calling me. I provided a fake number that didn’t work (as I knew this was going to happen) and each time they followed up by email. The first call came within four hours of my purchase, and with four more in the following week.

According to the emails, they wanted to get me signed up for free training with their team, which I’m confident was a hard sell for their funnel setup services.

This was particularly entertaining to me as they preached not following the “gurus” on their sales page, and then pulled every single BS bro tactic possible. This included three upsells, 17 emails, and five phone calls.

Another offer was from someone claiming to be anti-sleaze, which is dissonant at best as they hit their upsells and email follow-up hard. They emailed most of everyone, using FOMO and manipulative marketing to try to get me to purchase their upsell.

The Low Ticket Offer Ecosystem: What Can
We Learn?

The entire point of this analysis was to break down the ecosystem around these low-ticket, loss leader-style offers.

Low Ticket Product Ecosystem

As detailed above, it’s a mixed bag of shady and shifty tactics which we need to be aware of as consumers, and consider carefully as business owners. Every step of the way there are countless tricks and tactics used in order to make the sale.

As Business Owners: Put Trust Over Making a Buck

As business owners, if we’re truly committed to building a trust-first business, many of the traditional tactics around these types of offers are incompatible with that focus.

Consider how the offers start with transparency around the pricing in the ad, but then, the further you get into the funnel the more tricks are used to boost sales.

Transparency may build trust initially, but then these tactics (such as using dark patterns at checkout) quickly break that trust.

For your business, you need to consider if these types of offers truly serve your customers and if they’re aligned with your values.

After that, if you want to make low-ticket offers, you’ll need to unpack the business as usual tactics and find trusted alternatives.

I do believe you can make low-cost offers in a way that builds trust, but it'll require much more time and respect than what discovered in this analysis.

Do the Math: What Do You Really Need for a Low Cost Offer?

There’s way more to setting up these small products than it appears on the surface, so don’t just default into thinking they’re an easy way to make more money.

Before you go this route, ensure you take the time to do the math on the cost of creating, marketing, and selling your potential offer.

Amid the cries of “you don’t need a big email list,” it’s easy to be lulled into thinking this will work for your business.

However, there's a lack of understanding of the fact that you need to consistently be adding people to your list or connecting with them using organic or paid means. Plus, you’ll need to invest in the tools needed to make these types of offers as well as sales pages, email marketing, and more.

Questions to ask:

  • How many products do you need to sell to break even?
  • What are your monthly marketing costs?
  • How much time/energy will you need to invest in marketing?
  • What tools or platforms will I need?
  • How much will those tools cost each month?
  • Do I have the budget for ads?
  • Do I need to hire someone to help set things up?

There’s a place for low-cost offers in the market, but it’s important that we look past the big promises of these products and do the math for ourselves. Many times there’s a simpler offer that will help us make more money in a shorter amount of time.

Sales Pages

With your sales pages, Ditch the hype and figure out why people really buy your offer. Defaulting to 1% testimonials and income claim marketing on your sales pages creates short-term trust using tricks, which will not last.

Look at your messaging and see how you can move away from the cliched, tired tropes that make you sound like everyone else. In a crowded space, it’s hard to get noticed, let alone build trust when you sound like yet another celebrity entrepreneur.

Order Bumps

If you want to offer an order bump, ensure it’s easy for people to skip that offer. Don’t make them have to find their glasses to read the small print in order not to add it to their order. Make the price clear and easy to find so that they know they'll be paying more if they add it to their cart.

Upsells

At the point you’ve made the initial offer, and an order bump, consider if you really need to make an immediate upsell.

What message are you sending to your customer by making yet another offer and does it build trust? Many times, the way these offers are executed brings pushy, manipulative energy that makes your customer feel like they're an ATM, which does nothing to build trust.

As an alternative, consider if that other offer could be made at a later date so you can nurture the relationship and build trust over time.

While you may make a sale in the heat of the moment using upsells, your customer is much more likely to have buyer’s remorse as they were driven not by trust, but by fear or manipulation.

Email Follow-Up

Your email follow-up is a great place to truly understand what your customers want. Everything from the tone to the frequency of your emails should be executed in a way to build trust.

One of the cores of building trust is time, so you may need to email at a cadence that provides your customers with time to get to know you.

As Consumers: Let the Buyer Beware

Most of us aren’t just business owners, but the target market for these low ticket offers, so there’s an element of let the buyer beware based on this analysis.

This ecosystem is designed to extract money from us quickly using a series of hyped-up promises and fear-based marketing tactics.

Before you decide to buy a low-cost offer, consider the following questions to identify potential red flags:

  • Does this offer make realistic or hyped-up promises?
  • Does it rely on income claim marketing or dramatic storytelling?
  • Is the offer clear and what’s included is transparent?
  • Is the checkout page clear and does it include a confusing order bump?
  • If there’s an upsell, can you easily opt out?
  • With the follow-up emails are they pushing you to buy more?

The price point of these products means they're often an impulse purchase and is driven by urgency, value, and excitement. The same way you may strive to stick to your grocery list, look at why you may find these offers appealing, and how you may need to have guardrails in place to ensure you're not buying them in the heat of the moment.

While the price point may make it low risk on the surface, the order bumps and upsells can easily take a $37 purchase and turn it into a much, much bigger one with greater financial consequences.

The Verdict: Save Yourself and Your Money

SBB About Yellow Mark 1

Where does that leave us after this analysis of these products? My take on low ticket offers is that despite how exciting it can be to purchase a product in the heat of the moment, we should proceed with caution.

The ecosystem built around these offers is designed to play us on multiple fronts. As consumers, it’s designed to get and keep us in the funnel. While we have agency when deciding if we get into that funnel in the first place, once we’re in, there’s a high degree of manipulation being used to keep us there.

It’s worth noting, that many of these products featured “sales psychology” as part of the offer, which means their creators are well-versed in tricks and tactics designed to keep you buying. The field of sales psychology is a legitimate and valuable one, but in the online business world, it’s often shorthand for how to use fear, scarcity, shame, and manipulation to make sales.

That’s at the heart of many of these offers, so we need to be wise to how these seemingly harmless offers can go seriously wrong.