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What is direct response copywriting? Lessons we still use today.


Direct response copywriting inspires the reader to take action immediately after they’ve read the copy. It’s a direct-line sale to the customer and is found mainly in print materials.

What is direct response copywriting?

Direct response copy must:

  • Ask for an immediate response from the customer
  • Be at the point of conversion
  • Have measurable results
  • Speak directly to the One Reader (addresses pain points, desires, objections, etc.)

When you think of direct response copywriting, what comes to mind?

The mailers for local landscaping companies?

Maybe the last letter you got from a non-profit?

Charlie Brown looking in mailbox and sighing.
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Direct response copywriting is so much more than that!

It’s all about connecting with customers and understanding their desires and concerns.

Direct Response Copywriter Amy Posner says that “demonstrating an understanding of the problem leads to trust in the solution.”

This connection and trust encourage the customer to make a decision.

Whether they’re making a purchase or signing up for an email list.

Ultimately, direct response is effective because it can be measured and optimized.

“What direct response aims to do is quantify response, by having a way for the recipient to respond to a particular message, so you know which channels are working, and how effectively.

It allows marketers to streamline their processes and focus on what works and eliminate what doesn’t.”

Amy Posner

Where did “direct response” come from?

The term “direct response” comes from the days of copywriting legends like David Ogilvy and Claude Hopkins.

A sales letter or ad would be written for a specific product to the intended audience, printed in a newspaper, or mailed directly to the prospect.

The company would then get a “direct response,” through the mail or by phone, from the customer wanting to purchase the product.

When it comes to direct response copywriting, customers feel they need to buy the product. Three women from Fuller House. Text reads: I want it! I gotta have it!
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Even though a lot of copy now is digital, direct response copywriting is still mainly focused on print materials.

Such as:

  • Flyers
  • Sales letters
  • Ads in a magazine or newspaper
  • Catalogs
  • Brochures
  • Postcards

Is the term “direct response” still relevant then?

Heck yeah.

The direct response methods developed in the 1900s were created to get an immediate response from the customer.

These methods form the basis of the strategies we use in modern-day copywriting.

As Amy says,

“Everything from states of awareness to finding hooks and leads, creating crossheads that tell the story down the page and writing copy that your audience wants to read (or look at/listen to) – copy that’s about them and their interests.

Direct response was the beginning of turning away from selling features and instead selling benefits.

It’s the foundation of everything we use today in conversion copy.”

Now, direct response techniques are a part of conversion copywriting.

Conversion copy also speaks directly to the customer and asks them for immediate action.

Like:

  • Sales emails
  • eCommerce sites where customers can click ‘Buy Now’
  • Anywhere a customer can sign-up instantly (ex., lead magnets or free webinars)
  • Landing pages
  • Pay-per-click ads (ex., Facebook ads)

For example, this Facebook ad by Focusmate is considered direct response copywriting because,

  • it asks the reader to take action immediately, and
  • the response can be measured to determine the ad’s effectiveness.
Direct response copywriting in a facebook ad. Text gives information about the product (Focusmate) and includes a button with the text 'Get Started!'.
Image from personal Facebook feed

Direct response vs conversion copy

With the rise of the internet, direct response copywriting took on another level.

As so many of its techniques are now used in conversion copywriting, it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish the two.

According to Joanna Wiebe, the main difference between these two areas falls under the medium used.

Direct response is primarily print, and conversion copy is digital.

There are some factors you have to consider with conversion copy that you wouldn’t with printed direct response copywriting.

Including, but not limited to:

  • Extremely active environments/contexts (i.e., tabs open, mobile environment)
  • UX and UI design for digital environments which are varied and difficult to control
  • Search Engine Optimization

She also adds that direct response copywriters have factors that conversion copywriters don’t need to consider.

  • What goes on the envelope
  • What to put above the fold (on the letter)
  • How to optimize for the moment when the reader flips the letter over to scan both sides

And the main similarity between the two?

Getting that direct-line sale with no go-between.

4 techniques we learned from direct response copywriting

Catchy headlines

Ogilvy said it best:

“The headline is the most important element in most advertisements.”

The example below is a very well-known piece of Ogilvy’s work and the one he considered his best headline.

Direct response copywriting by David Ogilvy. Headline reads: At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.
Source

This headline stood out to customers because cars were obnoxiously noisy in 1959 (when this ad was published).

In this headline, Ogilvy used techniques we still use today:

  • The benefit is clear to the reader
  • It prioritizes clear wording over being clever
  • The idea grabs the reader’s attention and entices them to read more

The whole point of a headline is to move the reader down the page, so they read the copy explaining more about the product.

And this copy leads them to the sale.

Benefits over features

If you’ve done any studying with Copyhackers, then you already know that just giving the customer a list of features isn’t going to cut it.

It was direct response that turned other copywriters onto the idea of listing and explaining the product’s benefits.

Now, copywriters show the customer how their life would be better after purchasing the product.

For example, this direct mail piece from Carnival Cruise Lines outlines three benefits customers will get when they book a cruise.

direct response mail piece from Carnival Cruise Lines
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And did you notice how the benefits aren’t the generic “Save time!” “Save money!”?

Another thing to consider when writing benefits is to make them specific, so your reader knows exactly what they’re getting.

Strong calls-to-action

All direct response copy must have a good call-to-action (CTA).

Additionally, you can’t measure your results without giving your reader an action to take.

And your copy is no longer direct response.

In this Tutorial Tuesday, Joanna explains how to create button copy using effective calls-to-action that lead your reader to take the desired action.

For example, Mooala includes a big, clear “Shop Now” button on their landing page, but they also have a pop-up.

The pop-up is a great way to get that immediate response from your customer by enticing them with a free coupon.

This example gives the clear call-to-action of "get your coupon". This is a great form of digital direct response copywriting.
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Focus on the One Reader

Having direct contact with the customer was a turning point in copywriting.

Writers understood they could increase conversions by knowing who their customer was – thus voice of customer research was born!

Amy says that direct response copywriting taught copywriters and marketers a valuable lesson:

“We learned that the audience doesn’t see the product or service the way the business owner does.

From the customer’s initial interest right through purchase – we speak to their desires and concerns, so we can connect with them.”

For instance, Edupath knows that a segment of their audience will be the parents of the teens preparing to take their SAT or ACT.

This landing page addresses the parent directly and shows them why Edupath is right for their teen.

The page also gives them a clear CTA with an easy way to sign up immediately.

Direct response copywriting focuses on their intended audience. The headline reads: Unlock your teen's potential. The CTA is: Send the app to your student now.
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Is there a market for direct response copywriters?

Most definitely.

Joanna and Amy believe this is an in-demand skillset – for both digital and print copywriting.

Jo says there’s definitely room to train in direct response print materials.

“I think because print is so under-used, it’s actually really interesting to get a print piece.

You’d notice a long-form sales letter if you got one today.”

And Amy says there’s plenty of space in the digital direct response arena.

“There’s definitely room, especially in the info market space. There’s lots you can do with digital direct response and even a combo of direct response/digital.

That’s how I started my copy business, a package in the mail that took them online to learn more.”

How you can learn more about direct response

Amy gives this advice:

“See who’s using direct response. Follow them to get the lay of the land.

Find out what’s happening and who has a challenge or problem you can solve.

Direct response is fun and great to cut your teeth on because you learn all the copy fundamentals.”

Of course, studying the great direct response copywriters will also help you on your journey as a copywriter.

And you can see how the techniques developed in direct response can be used in all forms of copywriting.

Jo agrees that “we learn so much from direct response as conversion copywriters.”

Copyhackers has all the courses you need to study these techniques, from 10X Landing Pages to 10X Facebook Ads to 10X Sales Pages.



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