Direct Response Copywriting 101
Welcome to “A Beginner’s Guide to Direct Response Copywriting”.
In this guide, I will cover the basics of direct response copywriting, what the primary job of a copywriter is and why this is such an important skill to master.
Together, we will do a deep dive into everything you need to know to have a good basic foundation in the craft of direct response copywriting.
So, let’s start by answering the question…
What Exactly Is Copywriting?
First of all, copywriting is primarily about communication. Communication designed to influence and persuade the reader to take a specific action.
What kind of action and what type of communication? In most situations, the action desired is getting your potential customer to BUY whatever it is you are offering them.
Now, normally we would primarily be talking about print media but now there are many different ways to transmit a sales message.
Thankfully, for us, they all have one thing in common.
Whether we are talking about video advertising, radio ads, online sales pages, magazine or online magazine advertorials or through the old workhorse of the direct response world – the direct mail letter…
… the one thing they all have in common is that before anything else happens…
… the sales message has to be written by a copywriter.
What Is The Job Of A Copywriter?
The truth is, the term “Copywriter” doesn’t mean much to most people not directly involved in the advertising or marketing world.
Now, I think of my job as a copywriter as much more than just the writing of sales copy.
First and most important, my job is to be a strategic marketing advisor to my clients. To help them determine who their perfect prospect is and what the biggest benefit is, that their product or service can offer to that perfect prospect.
It was legendary copywriter John Carlton who I first heard call the main job of a copywriter is that of a “Sales Detective”.
To me, this means taking the time to really dig deep into the psychological factors which makes someone buy…
… and then creating the perfect sales message which uses those psychological factors to persuade your prospect to buy.
In the end, it’s all about getting the sale!
What Can Learning Copywriting Do For You?
I truly believe that copywriting is the most powerful and profitable skill anyone can ever learn.
Being a master of direct response copywriting is like wielding an incredible super-power or mega-weapon. One that allows you to attain virtually anything you want in life.
I mean, just think about it for a second:
What could be greater than being able to control someone’s actions in a hypnotic way which leads them to do the hardest thing you can get anyone to do …
… which is pull out their wallet and actually SPEND their hard-earned money?
It’s truly an AMAZING skill to cultivate which will pay off HUGE in all areas of your business and life!
The Incredible Power of Direct Response Copywriting
Direct Response Copywriting is what I specialize in as a Freelance Copywriter and teach as a Marketing Coach and Consultant.
I first discovered the power of Direct Response Copywriting early in my life when I was in my late teens and started two small businesses.
The first was a landscaping and odd jobs business and the second was a small mail order operation selling bootleg videos through underground newsletters.
Both of these VERY small businesses were driven by small ads I wrote which asked for an immediate response from those interested…
… and with absolutely NO experience writing advertising I received a REALLY good overall response.
Enough of a response that allowed me to have quite a bit of spending money in my pocket. Far more than most kids in my age range at the time.
As I went along in life, I found myself continually in business-related situations where my success or failure was the direct result of my written communication skills and just as importantly my ability to SELL.
This combination of written communication and master salesmanship is what attracted me to copywriting as a profession.
Direct response copywriting to me, is best described as…
WRITTEN COMMUNICATION + MASTER SALESMANSHIP…
… then multiplied by whichever advertising medium is being utilized.
Most advertising that you encounter on a daily basis on television, radio and in magazines is brand advertising. This is also what the majority of advertising agencies specialize in and the advantage to them is very easy to understand.
Brand advertising is about imprinting a product image or slogan into your subconscious. You see the same ad or slogan over and over on television, on billboards, maybe hear the slogan on the radio.
All with the hope that when it is time for you to decide which car to buy. What movie to see. Or what brand of soda you pick when grocery shopping.
Now, there is no doubt that…
Brand Advertising Can Work… If You Have A Limitless Budget
However, most businesses are what we call “Mom and Pop” operations. They are strictly family-owned and have little to no outside employees. They are also usually run on a shoestring budget.
Then there are the one man or woman online startups; entrepreneurs who are running an e-commerce business strictly from their laptop. This now represents a large number of business owners worldwide.
These small business titans of capitalism are fighting on the front lines of our economy just to survive. And they certainly can’t afford to spend the kind of money that BIG CORPORATIONS can.
It would take years (or even decades) to build up their brand recognition enough to bring in the positive cash flow they would need.
That’s why being able to write advertising with the tools of Direct Response Copywriting is the ultimate skill for the independent entrepreneur to utilize.
Direct Response Copywriting Persuades its Reader, Viewer or Listener to take an Immediate, Positive Action…
Usually with the Ultimate Intention Of …
MAKING THE SALE!
It relies on the time-tested, proven techniques of master salesmanship. Using “ninja” like persuasion skills to romance and titillate the targeted prospect. To push all of their “hot buttons”. And cause a burning desire to have what you are selling.
Now, the classic definition of Direct Response Advertising is “Salesmanship in Print”.
That was a very accurate statement in the days where advertising primarily appeared in newspapers, magazines and in direct mail.
But now with television and especially the internet, a more fitting term is that …
“Direct Response Copywriting Is Really Master Salesmanship Multiplied”
You want whatever type of advertising medium you choose to be like a master salesperson.
A personable type who puts your prospect at ease and then grabs their full attention. And then holds it while he or she tells the exciting story of your product or service. And why they need it RIGHT NOW, explaining all they’ll be missing out on if they wait.
Your ad needs to sell your prospect on the emotional benefits of what you are offering. It does this by painting a pleasing picture of what your prospect is going to gain by owning it.
You want them to visualize the prestige that your product might bring them.
Consequently, you want them to imagine how much better off they will look to others…
… maybe even how they might be more attractive…
… or make their next-door neighbor or that one annoying brother-in-law GREEN with envy over the incredible deal they just got in on.
Then after really convincing them of all the ways they are going to be…
HAPPIER or HEALTHIER or RICHER or SEXIER…
… by buying your product, you need to then back it all up by giving them the LOGICAL reasons why they should buy…
… and you have to do it FAST.
Why? Because once their logical side starts kicking in, it will do everything it can to convince your prospect NOT to buy from you.
Chief among all is that it often HURTS to spend money. For some of us, there is a literal pain that hits us in the stomach when we have to part ways with what we have worked so hard for.
That’s why the next job for your ad (maybe the most important) is to convince your prospect that there is MUCH more value in owning your product than what they are giving up in paying for it.
More than anything, you want to position your product as the savior of whatever situation they are in.
Do this by targetting their most pressing PROBLEM, WANT or DESIRE. Then show them how what you are offering will fulfill it.
And you want to squash any doubts that they might have by being like Marlon Brando in “The Godfather”.
In other words, …
“Make Them An Offer They Can’t Refuse!”
Again, we’re talking about an offer which reverses all risk, so that it makes buying seem like a “no brain” decision.
If your product or service does everything you are promising it does. And it does it at a fair price. With NO risk at all…
… then there’s nothing for your prospect to lose by buying from you. This creates the perfect “Win-Win” situation!
The Critical Importance Of Testing
Now, another major difference between brand advertising and advertising created with direct response copywriting is the level of accountability for the success or failure of the ad.
In brand advertising, the advertising agency or writer can use the excuse that “it takes time” to see results from any campaign. And by the time their clients either run out of money or go belly up altogether the agency has already soaked them for tons of money.
With advertising created with direct response copywriting, there literally is nowhere to hide. Every ad you run can be easily tested. It can be proven to work or not work before you risk large amounts of money.
It’s always a smart move to write at least two or three different versions of EVERY ad. For every product, you have to sell. And then…
TEST… TEST… TEST!
Test every major element of every ad you write.
Test different headlines …
Test different openings …
Test different premiums …
Test different scarcity elements …
Test different guarantees … and …
Test different offers!
TEST… TEST… TEST!
This is THE most important principle of what makes direct response copywriting so effective.
Testing will help you prove the viability of your ad without unneeded risk. This increases the odds that capital invested in a campaign will make a profit.
Writing That Sells – The Core of Direct Response Copywriting
Copywriting is much less about “writing” and much more about selling, so let’s spend some time taking a close look at what selling is all about.
If you ask a top copywriter what the number one factor was in their success, I would bet most would say it was first having experience in face-to-face or over the phone sales.
Why? Because the fundamentals of getting a sale are the same whether you are peddling vacuum cleaners door to door…
… closing million-dollar real estate deals…
… or are selling financial newsletters online.
What Is Selling Really All About?
Selling really comes down to figuring out what someone wants and then finding a way to give it to them.
Yes, there’s more to it but I like to break things down to the simplest way of looking at things.
Now, if you want to be as successful as possible, it’s important to drill down to the most urgent WANT, NEED, DESIRE or PROBLEM your prospect needs to solve.
You want to target what they are already thinking about.
Hopefully, something they are so consumed with, they are even having trouble sleeping at night or concentrating on during their workday.
Then when you find a way to reach them and start out your sales message by addressing that which you know is important to them…
… it is SO much easier to grab their attention in order to give them all of the details of what you are offering them.
If you have a product or service which solves a problem or fulfills a desire and you can then get…
… the RIGHT message in front of…
… the RIGHT audience and make…
… the RIGHT offer that compels them to act.
Then once you have tested and proven you have a winning formula you can go back to it repeatedly…
… steadily increasing your advertising investment and…
… truly make a fortune with even just one product.
Now, before we get into the advanced techniques of direct response copywriting there are some VERY important questions we need to find answers for.
Answers which are every bit as important to whether our advertising will be profitable as the magic words we will eventually choose to use as our psychological weapons.
“Is there a market for what you’re selling?”
This doesn’t mean there has to be a HUGE market for your product or service to be viable. There are MANY entrepreneurs out there making BIG money selling to SMALL niches.
But you do need to make sure there is enough of a market for you to be able to easily reach them. And then to be able to sell something to them they will desire enough to hit that “BUY” button.
“Do you believe in this product?”
If this is your own product that you are writing the copy for, then you ask yourself this and if you are writing for someone else, then ask them.
But the heart of both of these questions is:
If someone is to buy this product or service, are they going to be better off than if they had just kept their money in their pocket?
If the answer is anything OTHER than their life being enhanced by buying what you are selling, then you might want to go back to the drawing board…
… BEFORE you start writing the copy for a sub-par product…
… as you will ONLY be hurting YOURSELF and YOUR BUSINESS in the long run if you have unsatisfied customers.
Now, I am NOT saying you should only sell products or services that people “need”.
If the only things sold were things that people actually NEEDED, then our economy would CRASH in less than a day.
What I am saying is that what you are selling should be something that provides a benefit in SOME manner to your prospect…
… even if that benefit is ONLY an emotional benefit, such as…
… making themselves feel a little smarter, better looking, confident or anything else that we as humans desire.
In other words, don’t sell garbage! Selling garbage will instantly disappoint.
So, keep things on the up and up and give your customers something of value.
Many people will buy a product JUST for the feeling they get knowing it is there and they MAY someday use it…
… if they desire to.
The Real Reasons Why We Buy
Now we’re going to look at “The Real Reasons We Buy”.
What do I mean by the “Real Reasons”?
Well, there’s an old saying I like that’s attributed to Mark Twain.
It goes something like this:
“There Are Always Two Reasons A Person Buys Anything.
#1. The Real Reason. #2. The Reason They Tell Their Spouse.”
Most noteworthy, I take this saying to mean that everyone makes purchasing decisions for the deep, emotional benefit they perceive they are going to gain from it. Then they often need a “rational” reason to back up that purchase they can tell their spouse, nosey neighbor, and often more importantly THEMSELVES.
Now, this isn’t referring to basic necessities like groceries, clothes or lodging. But it is referring to GOURMET foods, DESIGNER clothing or LUXURY accommodations. Certainly, none of us NEED to spend $100 on a steak dinner. Well, it sure does feel nice though to go out to a fancy restaurant, with a swanky atmosphere and be treated like a king or queen for the evening. These “feelings” and how we can use them to sell is what this article is all about.
So, let’s look at how we can use these “buying feelings” to create a more successful sales message.
First of all, it’s important to realize that we as human beings are very EMOTIONAL creatures.
We might think we’re logical, but trust me, Mr. Spock (referring to the Vulcan, not the doctor) we are not. All non-essential buying decisions are based on how that product or service makes us feel deep down inside.
Which is why…
Good Copywriting Is Emotional Copywriting!
Your copywriting should be SOAKED in emotions in order to be successful.
The most powerful emotional triggers that need to be pulled in order to get the sale are:
- Pride and Danger
- The Desire to Gain …
- … with the overwhelmingly most persuasive emotion being FEAR.
Why Is Fear Such A Powerful Emotion?
If you want to guarantee the highest rate of sales conversion, then you can never go wrong selling from the perspective of FEAR.
You can create the foundation of your FEAR based sales message by first writing a “Fear Statement”.
A “Fear Statement” is a short summary of the deepest, darkest fear your prospect has that your product or service will ultimately solve.
This fear statement should be featured first in the headline and then hammered home throughout the body of your copy over and over again all the way through the close.
If you can catch your prospect’s attention first in the headline by saying something that hits them DEEP inside emotionally…
… you have the best chance at pulling them into the body of your copy and keeping their attention the whole way through.
But only if you keep stoking the fires of that emotion until you introduce your product as the solution.
Fear Is The Ultimate Villain That Your Product “The Hero” Can Vanquish
A great example of a classic headline that provokes both fear and its frequent ally curiosity at the same time is:
“What Never… EVER… to Eat on An Airplane!”
When this was written, meals were still commonly served on airplanes whenever you would fly.
If you were someone who flew frequently for work (as did most of the target audience, this ad was written for) then this headline would have made you react to it by wanting to find out the answer.
And anxiously hope for that answer to arrive soon.
Preferably before your next flight.
This is one of the reasons I firmly believe in an advertising rule which says…
Fear of Loss Is Far More Powerful Than the Desire for Gain!
When I first learned this rule of marketing it really surprised me. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made to me.
If we have something, and there is a threat of us losing it, we get VERY defensive and will do almost ANYTHING to keep whatever it is.
This is why a guy or gal might totally take their partner for granted but as soon as someone else shows interest in them…
… they are ready to FIGHT, BEG and PLEAD to keep their once neglected love from becoming someone else’s soon-to-be neglected love.
Using FEAR In Your Sales Message the More Success You Are Almost Guaranteed To Have!
Because FEAR motivates us to TAKE ACTION!
Consequently, this is why you always see politicians using fear tactics in their advertising to try and SCARE THE CRAP out of you from voting for anyone on the other side of the aisle.
And the fact is, they do it because IT WORKS!
Okay, so we know good copywriting is emotional copywriting and that fear is perhaps the most powerful of the buying emotions.
But does this mean we just heartlessly manipulate our prospects into buying something that’s not really going to be of any help to them?
I truly believe in the Golden Rule, which is:
“Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.”
But it’s more than just a moral code. Dealing with others in an ethical and honest way is just good business!
If you want to have ANY chance at repeat business, you better develop a reputation of being fair and honest with your customers.
Think back to when you’ve felt you have been given a “snow job” to get you to buy something. Didn’t exactly give you the warm and fuzzies, right? And, I’m sure you didn’t ever want to do business with this person or company again.
But, if you have had a really good buying experience, and felt the salesperson treated you fair. And especially if they went above and beyond the “norms” of their industry to make you happy…
… well, you probably were so happy that you told everyone about it who was around to listen.
Remember this as your customers will do the same thing if YOU go above and beyond, to be honest, ethical and have their best interest at heart whenever you are dealing with them.
If you start every advertising and marketing project out with the best interest of your prospect you will almost never write a fatally-flawed sales message.
A BIG Secret to Copywriting Success
Now we are going to discuss what may be the single most important secret to writing truly breakthrough sales copy. Moreso, it’s also something rarely talked about in the current era of “Ninja” persuasion tactics.
And, this just might be THE most important article in this entire series on the “Fundamentals of Copywriting” despite it being a quick read.
What am I referring to?
I’m talking about…
Having Genuine EMPATHY For Who You Are Writing To
Having empathy goes beyond just doing what most copywriters and marketers will do. Which is just looking up basic demographic information.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s the bare minimum of what you need to do. And it’s not going to help you with developing true empathy.
Empathy is all about legitimately caring about your prospect.
Caring enough to get to know their deepest WANTS, NEEDS, DESIRES and urgent PROBLEMS which they need solved and are dealing with RIGHT NOW.
Then you put your full effort into really helping them, rather than just trying to get their money.
Not that there’s anything wrong with making money (and that IS the end goal). But that shouldn’t be what’s first in your mind.
What should be first and foremost in your mind is caring about how your product or service can provide your customers with what they really desire.
Then the natural result of showing them your product or service fulfills those desires and persuading them to BELIEVE in your sales message is …
… YOU GET THE SALE!!!
Now, it’s been said a million times that you should write like you are writing to a close friend or family member.
But what if the market you are writing to isn’t like anyone already in your life?
How do you make sure you are really in sync with your market?
This gets back to doing research. You should learn everything about…
… WHO your prospect is…
… WHERE they live…
… WHAT they spend their time doing (both work and leisure) and most importantly…
… HOW they think about everything currently going on in their lives and what is keeping them up at night.
It’s an old saying which is completely appropriate for what we are talking about and that’s:
“To Be Successful You Must Walk A Mile In Your Customers Shoes”
Okay, so you might think this makes sense but are wondering how you will accomplish this. Well, the best way is to find out what they are thinking and where they are in life is by actually talking to them.
I know, I know. This is a BIG and SCARY thought to most people. But the truth is people (in general) LIKE to talk to others, especially when it comes to anything and everything that’s important to them.
If you already have a customer list, then send them an email asking if you could give them a call for a quick chat. Tell them you could really use their feedback and then get it. Many people love feeling important and will jump at the chance to help you.
How Do You Find Your Prospects So You Can Get The Answers You Need?
Well, this depends totally on your market.
First I would start with where I know for certain they are. For example, if I were selling a product to senior citizens I would go to a local assisted living facility or senior activity center and sit down and speak to several of the folks.
Trust me, as someone who has a parent in a senior facility, I can PROMISE you there is nothing most of these nice folks would enjoy more than to have someone sit down and actually LISTEN to them! They will LOVE to answer any questions you have and it will give them a feeling of being important which most of them desperately desire.
Okay, so you might be thinking; “That was an easy one, but I’m NOT in a market geared towards seniors”. Alright, but it doesn’t matter WHAT the demographic is of your ideal prospect. It just takes a little bit of thinking to figure out where they are and how to best approach them.
Use The Internet To Streamline The Research Process
With the internet pretty much dominating most of our lives, it’s honestly never been easier to LASER TARGET your ideal potential customers. Using social media sites like Facebook or Linked-in you can find groups relevant to your niche or you can even set up Google Ad-word campaigns to drive your prospects to a Quiz or Survey on your website.
You could hold a drawing for a legitimate prize where only those who participated were eligible. It will amaze you what people will do for a chance at getting something for free!
Really, there are limitless ways to find people who are in your target market so you find out what’s truly important to them. Again, you are doing this so you can really know what keeps them up at night and what keeps them daydreaming about during the day.
Then you will have a HUGE advantage over all of your competition as you write your sales messages from a true perspective of empathy.
What To Do BEFORE You Start Writing
Okay, now we will look at the crucial steps you need to take BEFORE you start writing your sales message.
I’m NOT kidding when I say ignore this message at your own peril! Our nature as human beings is to be LAZY, but skipping this important part of the copywriting process will KILL your chances of success.
Okay, so now that I know you are ready to take this to heart, let’s get started!
The Critical Pre-Copywriting Process
Before you start writing your sales message you first must figure out the core message you will get across to your ideal prospects.
You need to know what your prospect is thinking, what’s important to them and what they need to hear in order to for them to be interested enough in hearing your full message and then eventually in order to buy.
You also need to know what they DON’T want to hear.
In other words, you need to be extra careful to not say something which ends up turning your potential buyers away.
You must decide what you are going to emphasize in your copy…
… and what you need to AVOID saying which could cause you to lose the sale.
So, once again, before you start the actual copywriting process you should carefully write out a two or three sentence statement that highlights your “Big Benefit” and what differentiates you from all the competition.
This message should be part of your headline first and then weaved throughout your copy over and over again right until the close.
Remember, It’s All About the Customer
When you are preparing to write your sales message remember to keep in mind that it REALLY is ALL about your customer…
… and NOT you or your product.
It helps to keep a mental image of your typical prospect in your mind and write directly to them, just like you would talk to them in real life. And say exactly what you would if you were selling your product to them face to face.
The degree of success you will have is tied directly to how much you really know your prospect.
The more you study them and get to know their most intimate…
… the easier it will be to put yourself in their shoes, to look at things from their perspective and have real empathy with them.
This will shine through your sales message stronger than anything else imaginable.
Always, look at EVERYTHING from your prospect’s point of view.
Think to yourself…
“What would I have to hear in order to buy this product?”
Figure that out and then say EXACTLY what you would say to yourself if you were your customer.
Questions Are the Answer
To guarantee I get as close to hitting the target as possible when it comes to pushing the emotional “hot buttons” of my prospects, I have a series of questions I try to find an answer to before I ever start writing.
Here are just some of my standard questions:
I HIGHLY recommend you make a similar list or adapt this one for your own marketing needs.
#1. What keeps your prospect awake at night? (Their biggest worry)
#2. What are they afraid of?
#3. Who are they angry with? (if anyone)
#4. What is their daily life like?
#5. What are your average prospect’s age, sex, and ethnic background?
#6. What are they already buying?
#7. What are they sick of hearing about?
#8. Do they have their own special “insider” terms or language?
#9. What is their deepest (maybe secret) desire?
#10. Who else is selling to them successfully?
#11. Who else has tried selling to them and failed?
#12. What is the one thing you could say to them if you saw them in a hurried rush on a busy street, that would stop them dead in their tracks to listen to every single word of your sales message?
The Unbeatable Power of Proof
There is nothing more effective in gaining the trust of your prospects than piling on the proof and doing so as early as you can in your copy.
To bulletproof the success of your ad, gather as many proof elements as you can during the research phase, so you can insert these proof points throughout your copy as much as possible, all in order to establish a feeling of trust with your prospect.
You want to include things like success stories, testimonials and anyways you can demonstrate your product in action.
Being able to demonstrate your product or service in action, doing exactly what is promised, is the HOLY GRAIL of persuasion.
Determine Your USP
USP stands for the Unique Selling Proposition. It’s all about positioning yourself or your product or service in a way where you will stand out from all your competitors in the marketplace.
The USP answers the question “Why should I do business with you compared to your competition?”
Another way of saying it is that a USP is a short statement which encapsulates the biggest differentiating benefit of doing business with you instead of your competitors.
To create the best USP for your business you need to put on your sales detective’s hat and figure out why people buy products or services like which you are preparing to sell.
Then find ways where you can offer what they want…
FASTER, EASIER or for LESS MONEY, etc. …
… then any of your competitors.
When deciding on a USP, remember it always needs to be about what you sell does for your customer.
A tough but true rule to keep in mind is that your prospect doesn’t care AT ALL about you or what you want or need, but only about what you have will do for THEM.
Now, you might get SICK of me repeating this… BUT it’s so important I’m going to keep on drilling it into your head.
Always remember that it doesn’t matter how excited YOU are about your product. If it doesn’t fulfill a burning WANT, NEED, DESIRE or solve an URGENT PROBLEM they already have…
… then you are not going to break through the deafening noise they already dealing with in their mind.
I want to thank you for reading “A Beginner’s Guide to Direct Response Copywriting”. I really hope you have enjoyed this and have learned some cool things you can use in your business for a long time to come.
If you found this guide to be valuable please do me a HUGE favor and share it on your social media. THANKS!!!
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