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Ad copy and direct response copywriting

Posted by Steven

Last updated on September 5th 2020

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What is direct marketing?

Direct response marketing is principally a type of advertising that tries to get you to respond there and then. It's very Ronseal in its name.

It's worth remembering that direct response advertising doesn't always need to result in an instant purchase – this is particularly true if you have a higher value or B2B service – but your direct ads should always aim to result in an immediate action.

That action may simply be signing up for a trial, demo or even enquiring about prices and becoming a de-anonymised lead.

Always be very clear about what you want people to do. If there's any waffle or ambiguity at all, they won't do it.

What does a direct response copywriter do?

We get a response. Directly.

Anyone can write an ad, right?

Sort of. Anyone can write a collection of grammatically correct words that get shoved into an email or a Facebook ad. Furthermore, most people in marketing can write a pithy line about their business's USP. Some can even focus on the benefits to the customer. And a few, and now we're talking about very few, don't let their clients' disease infect everything they write.

But only a pretty skilled and experienced copywriter can really lift the lid on the mind of the customer and pull the little cognitive strings that get a direct response.

Think about what an ad is trying to do; stop somebody in their tracks and make them buy when they previously had no immediate plans to buy. That's a minor fucking miracle.

Especially when you consider that each day you'll see up to 10,000 ads and 98% of them aren't even noticed.

But my ads are getting responses already

Yes, your advertising works already. Sort of.

But you wouldn't be reading this if your advertising was working as well as you wanted it to.

There will always be in-market consumers, people who need something in your category and you're the cheapest, or people who rang someone else, but they were too busy to pick up the phone. Are you sure your ads instigated any of that business?

Remember marketing is spending money to make more money

It may feel like a lot of the time your advertising budget is just making sure you don't lose ground on the competition. [Read How Brands Grow]

And there's some truth to that, but how do you get ahead of the game and actually grow? Get better advertising.

A good direct response copywriter creates new business. That's why the money men like direct responses. It's easy to see the ROI. Equally, it's why some of the richest people in marketing are direct response copywriters. 

How does direct response copywriting work?

Big question. There's a mix of techniques, bias, templates, research, lots of research and salesmanship. I'll cover them in detail in time.

But the starting point of all direct response copywriting? Meet the customer where they are. Some people need a lot of convincing, some just need a touch of reassurance and a CTA. Some even need to be told they actually have a problem, before you even mention your product.

direct response copywriting and stages of awareness

With stages of awareness you want to meet the customer where they are at… and then move them on to the next stage, so obviously you'll need more copy the less aware they are.

Another fundamental pillar of direct response is a healthy dose of humility; knowing you cannot create desire for your product. You can only channel existing desire towards your product and present it as the solution.

When you craft the copy itself, look for little hooks. You want to zone in on their state of awareness with a strong statement that they will feel.

Then it's just about using language that holds more mirrors up to the customer and methodically removes barriers to purchase/action.

Of course, that's just the ad itself. You'll probably want an accompanying landing page too.

What's my direct response advertising and copywriting process?

Direct response is like 90% research, 1% writing and 9% editing.

I'll normally begin with a kick-off call that gets you to explain your product in your own words.

After that you can send any follow-up materials you like.

Then it's time to look at the market, user reviews, competitor reviews, speak to the people buying it and not buying it in the shops.

At this point I'll probably tell you what direction we're going in, get any feedback and then produce a set of ads or a direct campaign for you.

So direct marketing is Facebook ads, PPC ads, and instagram ads?

Nope. We just said that direct marketing is simply advertising that gets people to act… straight away. That actual marketing channel doesn't really matter

Back in the day, this meant coupons in newspapers, dedicated hotline numbers or even sales pitches on top of soapboxes. But it's fair to say that the internet and clicking a CTA has made direct response advertising a lot more direct, and a lot more accessible.

And almost ubiquitous.

Almost 70% of digital advertising budgets are spent on FB and Google. That equates to about 56p in every advertising £1.

Old school direct mail accounts for less than 5p in every £1.

Part of what has changed the marketing landscape is the targeting effect of Facebook and Google. With these channels you can get your direct ads in front of your target audience, potentially knowing for certain what stage of awareness (and a million other data points) they are at. It's really helpful.

Direct response ads examples:

Contact me to see some of my portfolio.

Direct response v Brand advertising

Read Les Binet and Peter Field's The Long and the Short of It, but in summary direct response and brand advertising need to be used in harmony. If you want an lovely analogy, brand advertising waters the crop and direct response picks the fruit.

It's easy to look at it and say, you just want to convert customers and pick the fruit, but if you do direct advertising on its own, pretty soon the whole bush will shrivel. And no business wants to be a shrivelled bush.

Copywriting, direct response and brand

I'm a small business, I'm doing direct response because I can't afford above the line brand advertising.

Sure. Brand advertising is probably the best way to go 'big', and you may not be ready to do that yet. I don't think brand advertising doesn't need to be expensive, but it does need to be consistent over a long period and you might not have the luxury of time. 

Direct is obviously more direct and can be useful no matter what advertising budget you have to generate ROI.

However, even if you are not building a brand, be careful with direct response. You have to convert, but not at all costs. You can't be spammy, you can't be wasteful. You need to do it right. Get the message seen, understood and acted on, and the bush won't shrivel too much.

Using a freelance direct response copywriter

Most direct response copywriters are freelance.

That's helpful because you can usually avoid big agency fees and get a directly relationship with the person doing the actual work for you.

However, copywriting, and direct response in particular, has recently been the subject of a few get-rich quick scam courses, so always ask to see samples of the copywriter's portfolio 'book' before you part with any cash.

Let's chat about your ad copy

Nothing has a bigger impact on the effectiveness of your ad budget than your ad copy. Let's make it really convert.

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