Copywriting for customers takes two approaches: direct or indirect.
With TV shows like “Mad Men” and experience with television and magazine ads that attempt to be clever (and border on vague and confusing as to what is even for sale), most of us are familiar with the indirect response approach. This is the copywriting technique where you build your brand and product familiarity and hope that customers remember your product when in a store or when faced with an opportunity to purchase.
Direct response copywriting is different.
It is meant to take the customer directly to a buying decision right then and there. It triggers powerful emotions in customers and it is easily testable, while indirect response copywriting is much less so. You will know precisely whether people are responding to a specific piece of direct response copy or not.
Keep in mind that direct response marketing is not the same as content marketing. Content marketing provides information. Direct response marketing leads to a call-to-action and, when done correctly, has the ability to convert customers on the spot.
Let’s take a look at some examples, both from the past (mail) and today (landing pages and email).
Bill Jayme And The Bathroom Door
In the 20th century, Bill Jayme’s direct response (via mail) copywriting was second to none. He was the king of the direct response mailed letter with clients lining up to pay him to write their letter.
One of his better-known examples was something he wrote to help launch the magazine Psychology Today. Jayme also wrote the copy for the envelope, and for this particular piece, he posed a provocative headline:
From Mike Capuzzi’s blog post on provocative headlines.
The envelope needed to be opened, just like your marketing emails need to be opened, and the copy had to make that happen. Jayme wrote a headline that piqued curiosity, and then combined it with a free take-it-now psychological test and another free offer. Whether a person answered yes or no to the question was irrelevant.
Jayme was successful with his direct response copywriting because he took an unorthodox approach. He started all of his letters with “Dear Reader.” He was witty. Whatever approach he took, he relied heavily on empathy, focusing on not who the reader was, but what she wanted.
And his direct response copywriting helped launch and promote multiple magazines (e.g. Business Week, Smithsonian, Esquire) when other methods simply would not have worked.
Two Possible Worlds In Real Estate
Direct response copywriting often contrasts two possible “worlds” and prods the customer to choose the better one.
From the MarketingExperts.com website.
This letter was mailed to 1000 unfiltered recipients and got a 3% response rate. That’s pretty good, particularly, as the creators of this letter point out, the item for sale is information and the price point is $599.
The direct response copy approach to this successful mailing is to create doubts about a long-held belief (ownership of single family homes), suggesting that there is a better way to approach your real estate investment.
By the time the actual suggestion of investing in apartment houses is made (and not until page 3), the reader is dying to know what the solution to the problem is. And, even then, the terminology is carefully constructed. Instead of “apartment houses”, the copywriters used “multi family houses” to reduce the negative associations with apartment houses.
As the letter continues, examples of success are provided, and then the sales pitch begins: what you get, and how this will change your life for the better.
“Here are two worlds. One is clearly better. Which one would you choose?”
Pepsodent And Claude C. Hopkins
Claude C. Hopkins is known as one of the direct response copywriting greats (heck, someone is even taking a direct response approach to selling access to a collection of all of his old advertisement copy). His Pepsodent ad probably seems outdated to us now, but it was very effective in its time.
First, Hopkins found a trigger (the gross feeling of plaque on teeth), and then he offered a solution using the product he was trying to sell (Pepsodent). He then made a clear case for the rewards of using this product. Hopkins was known for his “reason why” approach to direct response copywriting, and a willingness to offer a free trial.
This made him one of the most successful copywriters in history. The Pepsodent ad is a classic example of his approach at work.
Hopkins’ direct response copy was so effective that it actually changed the habits of a nation, setting off a toothbrushing trend that stays with us today. Those old copywriters, like Hopkins, knew how to sell (you can learn a lot from them!).
Moz And $1 Million
A revamp of an old Moz landing page was so successful that it helped turn it from a membership site into a web app.
Through testing, surveying the audience, putting themselves in the audience’s shoes, and reworking to fit what they discovered, the team at Conversion Rates Experts were certain they had figured it out.
Within four months of reworking this direct response copy and design, revenues were increased by $1 million.
One of the most dramatic aspects of this retooling of a landing page was the sheer size of it. The previous page was short. The new page was long. The length of the copy, both in the snail mailings and in landing pages, leans towards longer. They also relied on the audience’s curiosity instead of obvious hard-sell messages. Finally, they lowered the barrier and reduced some risk to make it easier for customers to make the leap.
Landing pages are always a work in progress, so sites are continually testing and reworking them. With direct response, that’s possible. Remember, it’s testable copy, unlike anything else.
WikiJob Let Others Do The Talking
WikiJob is a website that helps people prep for interviews, and they were also a website with a problem: lots of people used the tools, very few ended in paid conversions. With a simple addition to their direct response copywriting, the improved on this by 34%. How?
With customer testimonials.
Sometimes the best way to empathize with your potential customer, as Bill Jayme was so spookily able to do, is to use the words of actual customers. A real customer, vouching for you, tells the reader that someone like himself bought in and saw good things come from it. You can be trusted and, of course, that onerous burden of social proof (needing to know others are purchasing, too) is taken care of.
If your direct response copywriting is targeting millennials, in particular, you need to have customer testimonials or reviews in your direct response copy.
A recent study revealed that 84% of millennials are hesitant to make any buying decision without some form of testimonial or user-generated content. It is likely that Jayme’s methods of direct response copy may not have worked as well with millennials unless he had included such content.
Neil Patel And Trust Elements
Neil Patel’s “Anatomy Of A High Converting Landing Page” recommends that you close out your landing page with what he calls “trust elements.” While millennials might prefer user-generated content to base their trust on, others (millennials, too) like to know that other companies (preferably ones we’ve heard of) use the product or service, too.
In your direct response copy, refer to those who use what you’re selling. Show how it’s been successful for them. Reading “Find out how Disney, the NFL, and Coca Cola use these same techniques” is a huge selling point. If it worked for the big guys, it must work for the rest of us, too.
Ramit Sethi And Exhaustive Copy
Selling guru Ramit Sethi is big on big copy. He suggests that copy that will convert to customers must be exhaustive. This means a lot of research to learn the words customers use to describe your product and gathering testimonials.
Then, write your copy. And write lots of it. Sethi has a program he sells which has copy that is 47 pages long! The key, according to Sethi, is to avoid the “breaking points”, those places people are bored by your copy and leave.
Long copy that is compelling will leave you with a reader ready to convert by the end of it.
Hand Out Your Digits
According to Andrew Warner from Mixergy, something as simple as adding a phone number to your direct response copy makes a huge difference. Did you know that 95% of the people who call you will end up buying?
Get your phone number in your copy and on your site. Direct response can be defined as a phone call, can’t it? Maybe your potential customer needs just one more nudge before she can purchase. Include your phone number with your copy and give her a chance to call you before she clicks or mails in her response.
In The End…
Direct response copywriting appeals directly to human emotions. No matter the product or the specific approach, the pattern is generally:
- You have a problem.
- We have the solution.
- Here’s proof that our solution works.
- Buy now.
The copy is often long. There aren’t a lot of graphics or fuss to distract from the copy. The language is direct, bold, and clear. If the setup and copy are done well, direct response copywriting is very basic, very primal, and very effective.
The web is the ultimate direct response medium. Take advantage of it.