This is an article dedicated to my love of Direct-Response (DR) advertising and marketing. I was introduced to the idea of direct response marketing from a little book called The Education of Millionaires by Michael Ellsberg. In this book he tells the story of now famous marketers such as Frank Kern and Dan Kennedy who discovered the hidden world of direct marketers, and as a result, now make hundreds of thousands of dollars from a simple sales letter. Mastering direct response marketing is in fact the closest you can come to actually printing money...
What most of these direct marketers have in common is that they all got started in sales, mostly in a cold calling environment or door to door. They realized that they could make the customers come to THEM, instead of the other way around. If you ever worked in one of these environments, you can only imagine how powerful this is- to have prospects actually call you and beg you to buy their products!
There are countless stories out there about how overworked business owners managed to save their businesses and become wildly successful from learning this discipline. A direct response copywriter is typically someone from a sales background who discovers that they can essentially duplicate themselves and highly leverage their sales ability by reaching hundreds or thousands of people through the written word. Using time tested methods, they are able to write a messages which prompt their readers to take whatever action it is that they want them to take.
(The catchall term for someone who creates sales letters, ads, brochures, annual reports, essentially anything designed to create a certain action, is a copywriter, not to be confused with the legal idea of copyright infringement.)
If you are not using DR in your business, you are wasting your money on your advertising and marketing efforts. If you look at almost every billboard, commercial, radio ad, magazine ad, or any other of the numerous ways people choose to advertise, the ads you will see are 90% “awareness advertising”. Think of Coca Cola commercials where the polar bear family meets the penguins and they all drink coke- they are essentially designed to make you relate their brand with warm and fuzzy feelings. They can be entertaining, thought provoking, beautiful, stupid, and everything in between. The thing they are not however, is effective.
The truth about these awareness campaigns is that yes, they may produce an increase in your business, however...there is absolutely no way to know the exact number. There is no accountability or trackability. They say in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king, well the direct response marketer is in fact that one eyed man. (A side fact, more money has been made through the media of direct mail than any other).
Let me break down the core rules of DR:
- There must always be an offer
- There must be a reason to act right now, in other words, urgency
- There must be clear instructions.
- There must be a way to measure and track results
- There must be follow up
- Results rule, period.
Numero Uno- The Offer
One of the core tenets of DR is that you must first determine who is your ideal customer (IC), or target market. The old saying “If you are trying to please everybody, you end up pleasing nobody” is true and extremely relevant to your marketing efforts. You should create a customer avatar of your IC, this is everything from their age, sex, marital status, profession, sector, interests, fears, etc. You should even this fictional person. Let’s say my IC, Joe, is a 25 year old male who is just getting into the professional world and he wants to know exactly how to grow his business, he is educated and highly motivated to not live an ordinary life, but one of his own design. The reason why most business owners won't do this is because they think that by focusing on a target customer, they will lose the business of everyone else. The fact is this: you will get more qualified customers using this method. People who will beg you to take their money.
You really need to know everything about your IC in order to create the most compelling offer for them. You have to live and breathe in whatever niche it is you are targeting. Copywriting is almost entirely about research, the writing part is pretty formulaic, and the rest comes down to testing.
To think in terms of fishing, an offer is your bait. If you want to catch a certain kind of fish, it won’t bite just any old bait, it has to be something so irresistible to that fish that is compelled to take action and bite.
Numero Dos- There must be a reason to act now
One of the four impulses that salespeople utilize is urgency. You have to give your prospect a reason to act now, whether that is a limited time offer, a certain bonus for acting now, anything that will get them to move off the couch and reach for their credit cards.
Number 3- There must be clear instructions
Let’s face it, people are lazy. They don’t like ambiguity or unclear instructions. It is always safer to err on the safe side and make all your marketing materials tell the prospect exactly what you want them to do, and how to go ahead and do it. In marketing terms you want a clear call to action (CTA) which tells them exactly what you want them to do. The more you can take them by the hand and lead them exactly where you want them to go, the better. For example:
Step 1) Fill out this form
Step 2) Read our terms and conditions and click agree
Step 3) Fill out your credit card information
Step 4) Click the big order button that says buy now
Number 4- It must be measurable and trackable
This is exactly how you determine your ROI from your advertising efforts, and it is also how you will test your ads and optimize your sales funnel. If you are an internet marketer this step involves measuring how many people click on your ad, how many of them immediately leave your website ( bounce rate), if they fill out the shopping cart but end up leaving before purchasing, and if they follow through and purchase your product or service, or in marketing lingo, convert. If you are marketing through direct mail, then you can track using a certain telephone number attached to that ad, or using different coupon names for example.
Number 5- There must be Follow Up
The unseen cost of business is how many customers were interested in your product, they reached for their credit card and started to dial the phone to order, but they got distracted and ended up forgetting about your offer. A good marketing funnel typically starts with an offer like a free consumer report in exchange for the prospects contact info ( email, telephone, address for direct mail). Once you have their contact information, they are entered into a marketing sequence which follows up with them over a predetermined number of days with offers and follow up messages. There are plenty of good marketing automation software out there which can easily be programmed to do this.
Number 6- Results Rule
The name of the game with direct response copywriting is that results are the only things that matter at the end of the day. You can put out the most well-worded, perfect grammar letter with beautiful designs and illustrations, but if it isn’t compelling someone to pick up the phone and buy your product, it is destined for the trash bin. In other words, don’t fall in love with your copy, if it isn’t achieving its purpose, trash it. One of the cardinal rules in the marketing world is this: Always be testing. Let’s say for your business you have a sales letter that starts to produce sales. At this point, your letter is the “control”, it is essentially the yardstick that you measure your other marketing messages with in order to get the highest conversion rates. There is a practice known as split testing or A/B testing that marketers use in order to optimize their advertisements, essentially they put out their control ad with a test ad and see which one has a higher success rate. The winner becomes the new control and the process starts over again.
Most entrepreneurs start out as entrepreneurs, but gradually turn into marketers once they realize the power it gives them in their business. Implementing the 6 rules above is the first step in order to turn your business into a marketing machine where you simply pull a lever at will, and produce more leads and sales. The good news is that most businesses have set the bar so low with their marketing efforts that it doesn’t take much to stand out from the crowd and become very successful.
The marketing world is very exciting and there is a ton to learn, this is only the very basics of direct marketing. If you want to learn more about it, I would recommend you find Dan Kennedy’s books, read them, and implement them daily. He is responsible for creating more millionaires than almost anyone else. You can also check out podcasts like I love Marketing, and you can follow me as I learn more and more about the world of copywriting and marketing and share those insights here.
Until next time,
PS. Here are the "8 profit activators" from the I love Marketing podcast... Guaranteed ways to increase the effectiveness of your business:
- Narrow your focus and select ONE target market at a time
- Use direct response offers to compel your prospects to call YOU!
- Patiently and systematically educate and motivate prospects
- Present your unique offer in a way that makes it EASY to get started
- Deliver the dream come true experience from your clients perspectives
- Provide after sale services-even after you've been paid
- Nurture lifetime relationships and focus on lifetime value
- Orchestrate referrals by giving your clients the opportunity to feel great