Direct Response Advertising and Direct Response Copywriting

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Direct Response Advertising and Direct Response Copywriting

direct response advertising

Direct response advertising (formerly known as mail order) has existed for a long time now. It's a modality of advertising that allows for precise monitoring of the promotion's performance by means of tracking keys or other mechanisms that operate with a logic similar to keying the response of the advertisement's call-to-action. If you still don't know, an example of keying is the little number some coupons on magazines carried, that if you managed to see it, you always wondered what did it mean.

    Sales Letter, the Textbook case of Direct Response Advertising
      Sales Pitch Writing
        Sales Letter Writing Variables
      Landing Page
      Squeeze Page, The Evolution of Direct Response Advertising
      Lead Magnets
    General Direct Response Guidelines

The person in the gold disc above is Gary Halbert, one of the most famous and controversial copywriters. If you read the Boron letters to learn about copywriting you find out that back then when Gary, The King of Copy, wrote his letters, the copywriting business relied very heavily on direct response marketing and its main tool: the targeted customer list for mailings. Variables by which they used to build lists back then were:

    Frequency of purchase
    Amount of purchase

I dare say that a quarter of a century ago, lists were the lifeblood of any copywriting business worth its salt. Today there are many more techniques available and buying targeted email lists from brokers doesn't carry the same weight that it did when snail mail was the standard modality of direct response marketing.

Still, there's a market for it and there are list sellers ready to furnish you with from half a million to over ten million emails if you have the cash to pay for those lists. I think one should approach this subject very carefully. You don't want to use targeted lists without knowing what you're doing, because you have the potential to deliver a (probably mortal) blow to your business if you do it wrong and get classified as a spammer.

Direct response advertising and copywriting and selling using direct response methods (especially through keyed ads) doesn't even require the seller to have a website, you can always sell the products of others. 

Direct response has many advantages when compared to a full-fledged copywriting and/or marketing operation. For one, you don't have to worry about web presence. If you can make your email marketing campaigns an awesome value-dispensing and benefits overdelivering entity, by means of the correct content and copy, you can make a living without the need for a more complex business structure.

You can use advertising-type split test techniques not just with advertisements, but also to do multivariate testing in a barrage of other types of content.

A good and safe way to start with direct response advertising, even while one is a novice and still learning is, if you have a website, to implement forms in certain sections of the website for your users to sign-up for your list or to register in your website. This will build you a very good list because is the most targeted kind of prospects list you could build, a list of persons that are already interested in what you have to offer.

Anyway, it's always a good idea to warn them that you are collecting their email to send them an email campaign later. In parallel, you might also build a list from people that contacts you for x reason, but your contact page must have a different form that will build a different list, separate from your email marketing list. In that form, you must give them a 0 spam assurance that it's just a contact form and they are not opting into any marketing list by giving a contact email address, but also you must tell them that they may receive promotional offers related to the contact query they sent you.

In any case, always put special care into creating an opt-out method in any forms and lists you build.

Sales Letter, the Textbook case of Direct Response Advertising

Many categories of sales letter, two of which are the direct response (email) sales letter and the sales letter as part of the copy in a squeeze page or as a component of any other type of long copy advertisement.

There's also de video sales letter (VSL,ᔥ/r/_mai_pen_rai_) which is the same as a readable one, the only difference it's the sales letter is streamlined into the video's script.

Sales Pitch Writing

Another type of letter that is very different from a cover letter is the sales letter. Sales pitches have the benefit that they can cover all of the sales stages. An example of a sales letter is the “saving offer sales letter”, which is an effective direct mail type of promotion.

Characteristics of a sales letter that make it powerful:

    Appeals to the emotions of the reader, rather than to the intellect
    It’s a sequential method for the exposition of value that makes the reader act
    Deeper subtleties, like colors, design, etc., in it, are carefully crafted

Readers must be awakened out of indifference by the excitement of the feelings that you must splice into the sales letter.

The most valuable proposition must be portrayed in wording the reader knows, to pick up the readers’ consideration for your offer, and to intrigue them. In other words, the copy in the letter must stimulate the correct feeling. This is because to get the most wanted action from your audience, you have to stir feeling in them.

The letter must have the option to show the nexus between the advantage or benefit the reader seeks and your MVP (most valued proposition). The letter must make the readers imagine a succession of impressions in their psyche that consolidates the need for the product or service that you are offering them.

A suggestion must assist the internal thoughts of the reader about their personal needs as related to what the letter is selling. Those impressions are suggested by picking something with which the reader identifies, or some other thing that connects with him, and afterward expanding on that. 

Offers can be directed to the reader’s insight or the reader’s feelings. Emotional sales letters are in every case superior to cerebral ones.

Sales Letter Writing Variables

You must stir the reader’s want for an x thing through an urging and appealing to his y feeling and an appeal to his z personality.

x thing = your product or service.

y feeling = the feelings that you must stir, that are more appropriate for your target market, for example, a feeling of urgency.

z personality = you must include, in different parts of the letter, one sentence appealing to each the feelings of all four personality types: Idealist, Guardian, Rational, and Artisan. Since you must cover all four personality types in each sales letter, you must craft four different sentences with the feelings that click with each type.

Landing Page

A landing page is the masthead of a streamlined, contemporary website. I personally see the landing pages, especially when they make handsome use of the opportunity that the mandatory hero image gives, as an aesthetic opportunity, and as an evolution of the direct response advertising methods of the past.

To me, the landing page feels like a revival of websites that were 90% java-powered. What those sites wanted to be two decades ago, couldn't achieve, and made them end up in virtual obsolescence due to their uselessness for SEO.

Landing pages can be simple, like when they are used as the homepage of a website. Or they can be complex, like in the case of a landing page with heterogenous content divided into more or less contrasting sections.

Some of the design elements that make or break complex landing pages:

    Embedded Video
    Price List
    Media Carousel
    Countdown Timer
    Author Box
    Google Map
    Author Mugshot
    E-commerce Integration
    Block Quotes
    Icon box

Squeeze Page, The Evolution of Direct Response Advertising

Also known as lead capture page, or opt-in page. These are more in-your-face sort of landing pages. Generally, they are one click above landing pages, but this isn't a rule and sometimes they're presented as an overlay to the homepage. A common practice nowadays is the fly-in squeeze page. They can be considered the evolution of keyed direct response advertising of the past, in which those who were interested in the offer had to mail a coupon.

A great percentage of sites that have some sort of squeeze page have either a lightbox CTA or a fly-in CTA among their lead-generating pages. The mechanics of lead capture is to use a lead magnet to make the opt-in irresistible for the lead.

Lead Magnets

A lead magnet is a relatively short piece of original content that your target market will not be able to resist. Content (written, audio, video, etc) is the most common, most generic type of lead magnet, but I have seen different types of items used as lead magnets, for instance, one, ten, or a hundred resources other than content, that you can only download after you registered with the website that distributes it.

It can be a video to watch on a webpage, a PDF file or other document format to download, or any kind of similar content format that will be able to hold a substantial piece of content that will satisfy a need or solve a problem of your target market. Still, innovation in lead magnets is all about offering something that your users must have, no matter what.

It's not a rule that your lead magnet should also be a selling instrument of your product or services, it can be a disinterested piece of value unrelated to your business, but valuable for your customer. Nevertheless, your lead magnet is a great place to use inline links to your website and to the product pages of the affiliate products you promote.

General Direct Response Guidelines

Follow these rules if you want to write good direct response advertisements.

    You must research untapped angles to your product
    You must research your target market: what, when, and how is your prospect more likely to buy?
    The channel (medium) you choose to run your promotion must match the offer
    Your headline must be irresistible and promise a benefit or useful information 
    Don't fret too much about headline length, make it around ten words 
    If you have news, leverage the headline to tell them
    Boost credibility by stating who you are, what you do, and why it matters
    The visuals must complement the copy, not compete with it 
    The best visuals are those that pique the curiosity of the reader 
    Include captions below each visual 
    Put special care into crafting the lead (the first 300 or so words of copy)
    The copy must be customer-centric
    Everything in the copy must be specific and factual 
    The copy must be long, 700+ words 
    Use short, simple sentences, short words, and short paragraphs 
    You must use power words in the copy, headline, and subheadings 
    Splice subheadings into the copy often 
    Try to break up whole pages of text (use visuals, subheadings, etc)
    Don't overdo emphasis, pick one kind (bold or italics) and stick with it
    You can use white space to create emphasis
    The copy must be original and it must match the reader
    The offering must be clear 
    Don't play word games 
    Don't use lingo or uncommon words 
    It should sound conversational
    You must address the customer in the singular
    Use meaningful details instead of grandiloquent boasting 
    Include testimonials whenever possible 
    You must give clear instructions to the prospect on how to act 
    Anticipate and defuse arguments against your offering 
    You must give a guarantee 
    Use deals and special offers 
    You must give reasons for immediate action
    Add your signature at the bottom
    Always ad a postscript after the signature
    Test, test, test. Test headlines, visuals, copy, and entire ads
    Write a variation of the promotion and run split tests by segmenting your list and rotating the control and the variation

These are general rules that apply to all kinds of direct response copywriting. In the pages of this section of the website, we will go over each type of direct response copywriting and related topics in detail.

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Ed Dale

© Martin Wensley, 2022 — Direct Response Copywriting and Direct Response Advertising