There is no shortage of marketing forms. You can create a compelling ad, launch it into cyberspace, and then keep an eye on your sales to see if they’ve been nudged in the right direction. You can create awesome social media profiles, and slowly build your list of potential customers; they might not buy anything from you on the first day of following your page, or the following day, or even in the weeks or months ahead. But you’ll slowly be burrowing your way into their heads, and when it comes to buying the thing that you sell, it’ll likely be to you that they turn 🤔

Both of these methods are effective, but they’re slow burners. They form part of your ‘shout your message out into the world and hope someone listens’ approach.

There are other methods that are more direct, however. Yet strangely, these are often overlooked, even though their effectiveness has been affirmed again and again, and indeed, they were considered essential by the gurus who defined and sculpted the modern marketing industry. Direct response copywriting, for example, was highly valued by David Ogilvy, a man who should be deeply understood by anyone involved in the marketing game: he was a genius at what he did, and many of his practices still hold up today, many decades after his best ideas were presented to the world. And if it was good enough for Ogilvy, then it’s good enough for your business 👈🏼

What is it?

So now that you’re aware of just how highly thought of direct response copywriting is, it’s probably a good idea to take a look at what it is. Essentially, it’s the act of encouraging your customers to take action immediately, rather than at some vague point in the future. Indeed, it’s all in the name -- it’s writing that encourages a direct response from the people that see it. It should involve a strong call to action, which pushes the reader towards an action. And they’ll either respond, or they won’t -- but you’ll know what they’ve done.

Compare this approach with a traditional marketing campaign, which can be measured somewhat, but not nearly as much as you’d like. For example, you might launch a new campaign and make some sales in the weeks that follow, but was it the marketing campaign that got you those sales, or was it other factors? You’ll never know unless you asked your customers, which you wouldn’t do and even if you did, may not get a response anyway 👀

So how do you make this work? It’s not enough to just put something out that prompts the reader to act. Well, it is, but how you do that is more complicated. You’ve got to direct the marketing straight at the individual. Advertising posters at bus stops are direct towards everyone; there’s nothing specifically individual about them. You have to hope that the people who walked past the ad can “see themselves” in the scene that you’ve created. Direct response copywriting, on the other, is directed towards the person. If you think of a regular ad as if you’re talking into a megaphone in an attempt to get people’s attention, direct response copywriting is more like tapping them on the shoulder.

One of the main characteristics of this type of marketing is that it creates a sense of urgency. There has to be a sense that if the customer doesn’t respond or act quickly, then they’re going to miss out. Compare this with advertisements that help to brand a company, which works by digging the company into the viewer’s mind 🧠

It’s important to focus on branding, of course. But the issue is that it can take a long time for this method of marketing to become established. And in any case, ultimately you won’t be sure if it was because of your branding that people discovered your brand, or if they just fell into place. One of the main advantages of direct response copywriting is that it’s measurable. If one campaign works, then you can repeat the same formula in the future. If one doesn’t work, then you’ll be able to pinpoint why it didn’t work.

How it works 🗒

So now that you have an idea of what direct response copywriting is, it’s time to think about how it works and how you can use it into your own marketing campaigns. If you’re going to run a direct response ad, then you’ll need to integrate a few proven formulas into your copy.

To begin, let’s just think about the aim of the ad: to get the reader to act. Given how frequently consumers are bombarded with messages, this will likely be your biggest challenge. It takes something special to get noticed these days! And this isn’t even just about getting noticed. You’re trying to get someone to actively do something -- if you’ve ever tried to convince a friend to attend something fun with you, then you know that this can be more difficult than you’d like. And that’s a friend: what about someone who has never heard of you?

The first characteristic of your advert has to be persuasion. If your writing isn’t persuasive, then it’s highly unlikely that anyone’s going to follow through with the call to action that you’ve set. In order to do this, you’ll need to make a compelling case -- and what’s the best way to do that? By making an argument that appeals to their emotions, needs, worries, fears, and so on. If there’s no emotion in your copywriting, then something is wrong. Humans are fundamentally emotional creatures. The feeling comes first, logic comes second. If you’ve worked to tug at their emotions somewhat, then you’ll find it much easier to get them on board. The stronger the emotional pull, the more likely it is that they’ll act. You’ll probably know this from your experience: in nearly all cases, it’s the emotion that takes the lead in our decision-making process -- how many times have you bought something because of the emotion you were feeling, even if logically it didn’t make the best case?

Another guiding principle for your direct response copywriting is that it has to feel personal. It’s easy to fall into the trap of shouting from the rooftops about how good your brand is, and why it’s better than your competitors, but that’ll only get you so far. Your potential customers will be happy to know that you might be the best around, but that’s not going to convince them to move quickly to snap up whatever it is you’re offering.

Instead of focusing on yourself, focus on your customers. It should be aimed at them, and that means using language that addresses them directly. Essentially, the writing should make the customer feel large, as if they’re the center of attention in this dialogue. Other marketing tactics can make customers feel small since they can sense that they’re just one in a million that is being spoken to.

To put this in a non-marketing context, think about group emails versus individual emails. How much nicer does it feel to receive, say, an invite to a party through direct communication with the host, versus getting a blanket group email or text? It helps you feel involved -- and you are certainly much more likely to respond too.  

If you’re trying to get people to act, then it’s best not to let them believe that they can make the most of your offer tomorrow, or the week after, or a month from now. There has to be a sense of urgency. If they believe that they’re in a race against time to take advantage of what you have to offer, then they'll be inclined to do so. If they don’t take advantage of your offer, even when they’re against the clock, then they weren’t interested in the first place.

You can do this in two ways. The first is to have an actual time limit on your offer. You’ll probably have seen deals online where there was a clock ticking down next to it; it’s that kind of thing. The other way is to use language that invokes urgency. For example, words like ‘limited,’ ‘opportunity’, and so on can all help. As well as the language that you’re using, you also need to think about how it’s presented. There’s something to be said for an advert that naturally draws the reader’s eyes to the most important parts.

Finally, remember that the whole point of this type of marketing is to urge the reader to act, so there has to be a strong call to action placed within the ad. How this is done will depend on what you’re trying to get them to do. It could be that you’re nudging them to buy, download something, or subscribe to your newsletter, or anything else. If you’ve got it right, then they’ll hit that click button.

Best Practices 💯

If you’re going to make your direct response copywriting as effective as possible, then it’s best to follow a few rules. When you’re developing your ad, it’s recommended that you come up with a clear goal for the campaign. It’s not enough to just hope that your customer engages with your company in one way: something specific that has to happen. They’re going to sign up for your newsletter, and that’s good, but what’s the end goal? Are you going to market something specific to them once they’re on the hook? Understanding your end goal will help shape the formation of your ad.

It’s also really important that you know your target audience. This is important for all facets of your business, since it can guide many decisions, and thus it’s important when you’re developing your ad. You can’t write your ad until you know the type of person that you’re hoping will pay attention -- if you know your target audience, then you can craft the words using the language that they’ll understand. An ad aimed at business professionals would be worded much differently than an ad aimed at prospective college students, for example.

Marketing campaigns examples 🧐

Now that we’ve discussed direct response copywriting in detail, let’s look at how they may look in practice. Of course, there are many different mediums in which direct response copywriting can be utilized; it works in traditional print ads, junk mail letters, and so on. But we’re going to focus on direct response in the digital sphere. You’ll likely have come across an example of this type of marketing as you browse the web. If you’ve ever been on a website and been hit by a pop-up banner that essentially advertises the webpage that you’re on, then you’ve experienced direct response copywriting.

A pop up may offer the visitor a free ebook that goes into depth about a subject that they’re interested in. If it was a website that’s aimed at small business owners, then the ebook might be about something like how to increase your marketing reach on a budget. They will receive the ebook if they enter their email address. This is direct response marketing because it’s asking the visitor to make a decision: they can click away, or they can enter their email address. Either way, they have to do something.

Another example are Facebook ads, which are already generally geared towards the ideal target audience. Companies use strong opening lines and create a sense of urgency by signalling that the promotion (or general availability) will expire soon, prompting the reader to either ignore the offer or to click through.

If you can create a sense of urgency, have a clear goal, and write persuasive copy, then there is a lot of potential to make the most direct response marketing. It is different from branded marketing, and not used anywhere near as much, but has been a mainstay in marketing for decades for one very good reason -- it is proven to work.

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