Direct Response Copywriter on The Crossroads Close and Open

I’m sure you’ve seen the crossroads close. I use it for just about every promotion I write. It's an important tool for the direct response copywriter.

Basically, I write, “you have two ways to go here … you can continue to live without a head on your shoulders … OR … you can get the Acme Head Attacher and live with a head firmly on your shoulders for the rest of your life. I know you’ll make the right decision. Click here now to get your head back.”

It’s a little bit aggressive, for sure, but it’s copy that moves the prospect toward buying the product or service.

But have you considered the crossroads open?

I rarely use the crossroads open in print or web copy but it’s a vital part of writing for video sales letters. I write about VSLs in a later chapter. But here’s how it might go in a VSL.

Look … you have a really simple decision to make right now. You can ignore this free presentation and never really discover this new way to find stocks that are poised to explode in value … OR … you can stay with me for a few minutes and you’ll get some exclusive information about the financial expert who has created this new stock-picking algorithm. And one more thing … this free presentation may be gone if you come back later or there may be a charge for it. Watch it now while it’s still here and still free.

You can even use the crossroads open in a headline and/or deck.

“You Can Ignore This Page and Continue to Suffer With Painful Feet … OR … You Can Meet the Doctor Who Recently Helped A Patient Go from Being in a Wheelchair to Climbing the Highest Mountain in Colorado.”

You can also use the crossroads open in your lead plus there are subtle variations. Here’s an example of a lead.

I know you’re busy and I know your time is precious. And I know you could be doing something else right now. But stay with me for the next few minutes.

Why?

Because I’m going to reveal an all-new way to take your accounting business from a disaster that’s always a headache … to a practice that’s fun and 4 TIMES MORE PROFITABLE.

Try the crossroads close, certainly, but also try the crossroads open.

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I'm a direct response copywriter working for clients around the world. Enter your information to the right for my free series: Seven Steps to High Converting Copy. Or [contact me here][2] when you have a project you'd like to discuss. I'm also a Dan Kennedy certified copywriter for information products.

Direct Response Copywriter on Branding and Building a Brand

Serious veteran direct marketers, and direct response copywriters, like this one, get headaches when they hear the word 'branding.'

I've been told by potential clients that my direct response copywriting, which has helped my clients generate over $400 million in revenue in the last 5 years, is a bad fit for their 'brand idendity' ... whatever 'brand identity' means. I could help these prospective clients generate a lot more revenue if they hired me. But the potential client believes that focusing on 'brand identity' instead of paying for direct response copy, and testing, must provide more revenue. Some people are on the bus. Some are not. Oh well.

Most of the action and talk in the advertising and marketing world, especially when it comes to advertising agencies and corporate marketing departments, revolves around ‘the brand.’

Why?

Here’s a guess. Business schools teach branding and not direct marketing. You won’t find a serious direct marketer teaching classes in a business school. Plus there’s a general aversion to the raw accountability of direct marketing in corporate marketing departments. They’ll take credit in those departments when things are good and blame the economy when sales are down.

I’m not totally brand averse. It’s good when a company, however small, has a well-designed logo and a consistent ‘look.’ A well-known name can help when people are choosing products or services. Big companies with big budgets, and I mean HUGE, can afford to spend tens of millions on branding advertising. It’s basically an exercise in name recognition. That’s it. And there's no way to measure its effectiveness.

Unfortunately, there’s a bevvy of consultants, advertising agencies, and others who tell their clients to focus on the brand.

That’s a huge mistake.

I have potential clients talk about “brand voice” and I tell them, “that’s irrelevant.” I've written copy based on how I always write copy, based on proven direct response principles, and not worrying about 'brand voice' and the client has said, "you did a great job capturing the voice." I'll say thank you and ask about what really matters, capturing the revenue.

Advertising agencies work with EVPs of marketing and get all gushy about ‘brand authority’ and such. It’s a waste of time, energy, and money for all but the world’s biggest companies. And I mean Fortune 200.

Here’s my biggest problem with branding.

In direct marketing, we know something that’s absolute. THE CUSTOMER IS NOT INTERESTED IN YOUR BRAND. THEY’RE INTERESTED IN THEMSELVES.

That’s so important, I’m going to paste it in again, using my pasting skills.

THE CUSTOMER IS NOT INTERESTED IN YOUR BRAND. THEY’RE INTERESTED IN THEMSELVES.

It’s why ugly advertising from companies nobody knows about works … when the company uses direct response tactics and focuses exclusively on the needs, goals, dreams, and desires of the client.

I’ve worked extensively with two clients who have built super-successful companies. One company is a huge 'brand' in the sports space. The other is a huge ‘brand’ in the health space.

Six years ago, when I started working with these companies, nobody knew who they were. But now they’re big. NBC Sports just bought one company. Another has sales in the $400 million range by now and is on TV all the time.

What built these brands? Was it hours spent talking nonsense with branding agencies and branding consultants? No.

DIRECT MARKETING built these companies. The people who run these companies are direct marketers.

Joe Sugarman built a huge name in sunglasses with his famous Blue Blockers. A big brand, a big name, if you like. He built this through the rigorous execution of direct marketing principles.

Ditto David Ogilvy who started his agency with direct mail to marketing directors. Want proof? Go here to this famous video. It’s a video branding people hate.

Want to build a successful brand? Use direct marketing and hire a direct response copywriter. Direct marketing brings you revenue, precisely measured. Branding brings you awards and kudos but little else.

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I'm a direct response copywriter working for clients around the world. Enter your information to the right for my free series: Seven Steps to High Converting Copy. Or [contact me here][2] when you have a project you'd like to discuss. I'm also a Dan Kennedy certified copywriter for information products.

Direct Response Copywriter On The Offer

Soft Offers. Hard Offers. Flaccid Offers. Continuity.

I’m confident you can define a soft offer and a hard offer but just in case these are new to you, here you go.

• Soft offer. The marketing company lets the new customer try the product for free and then bills the credit card after a certain time. One of my clients provides a 30-day free trial for a dietary supplement. The client pays the $4.99 shipping then gets billed after 30 days for the next shipment at the full price.

• Hard offer. You buy the product right there and then.

In both cases, there’s usually some type of guarantee. Plus you’ll see variations that combine soft offers and hard offers. Sometimes you’ll see an installment offer where you can make “nine easy payments” but get the product right away. I use this technique for my copywriting course.

“What’s a flaccid offer?” you’re asking. The flaccid offer is not clearly defined and just confuses the consumer to the point where they don’t buy. I see this all the time.

The role of the modern direct response copywriter is to suggest offers to the client and to write copy that makes the offer totally clear. Here are the basic types of offer in direct marketing.

HARD OFFER … Pay right now.

SOFT OFFER … Send no money now.

NEGATIVE OPTION … Bill me until I tell you to stop.

INSTALLMENT OFFER … Pay once a month for a pre-determined number of months.

CHARTER OFFER … Be the first to get this … at a special low price.

EXCLUSIVE OFFER … just to a special few.

LIMITED OFFER … only a certain number available and only for a certain time.

ONE TIME … it’s the only opportunity.

You can combine some of the above for an even more powerful offer.

Some additional thoughts about offers.

• Your job as a direct response copywriter is to help the client with offers and the positioning of the offer. In a perfect world, you are also testing offers.

• If you’re unsure about your offer, take a look at what Claude Hopkins said … “Make your offer so great that only a lunatic would refuse to buy.”

• Is there a reason for a special offer? Maybe there was a fire in the main store. Maybe the bank is about to repossess everything. A relocation means a moving sale. In a perfect world, there’s always a believable reason for the current offer but don’t make it up.

• Can you come up with two versions of an offer for one product? It’s the simple A vs. B technique, often successful with children who don’t like vegetables. Beans or carrots? I only ever like to sell ONE product in the promotion, with copy targeted to those who will buy … but a solid A vs. B offer eliminates the “no” reflex from the potential customer.

• What are the competitors offering? If it’s been running a while, then it’s working.

• When you’re testing price, you may discover the higher price increases response.

• Can you organize the offer so it becomes a monthly plan? Continuity is lucrative but the product or service has to be like electricity … so vital that you can’t possibly stop. It’s not as easy as people say.

There’s been a lot of advice given to ambitious copywriters in the last few years about moving away from being a direct response copywriter and becoming a ‘direct marketing specialist who also writes copy.’

I’m not a big fan of this advice as it usually comes from people who are not copywriters. The number of direct response copywriters who can convert readers into buyers is extremely small, at around 200, if that, but the number of people who call themselves a ‘marketing consultant’ is vast. So I’ll stick with being a direct response copywriter … BUT … as I stated earlier, your job as a copywriter is to help your clients with direct marketing tactics and strategy. You can start with organizing the offers for maximum revenue.

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I'm a direct response copywriter working for clients around the world. Enter your information to the right for my free series: Seven Steps to High Converting Copy. Or [contact me here][1] when you have a project you'd like to discuss. I'm also a Dan Kennedy certified copywriter for information products.

Direct Response Copywriter on The Art and Science of Finding Clients

It’s one of the great conundrums in the world of the freelance direct response copywriter … or the freelance copywriter. Either way, it's a conundrum and I like the word conundrum.

  • On the one hand, I routinely this plea … “I can’t find any clients.”
  • On the other hand, I hear this from the clients … “I’m finding it so hard to find copywriters … where are all the copywriters?”

I must surmise, therefore, that copy just simply never gets written and copywriters starve and become homeless or enter other fields of employ … when all this could so easily be avoided.

At the annual AWAI copywriting conference, I see the same dynamic on the Friday afternoon of the event. Over 40 companies are there to look for copywriters. Over 500 copywriters are looking for work. It should be one bang-up party yet after the music has stopped, here’s what I hear.

“I didn’t find any clients.” “I didn’t find any copywriters.”

Yes, I’ve made connections and got some work at the conference but it’s not the life-changing fandango it seems like it should be.

Nothing against AWAI and the event. I enjoy it very much and it’s fun to hang out with (most of) the copywriters there. Some mega-famous copywriters pitch up to speak, most notably Bob Bly and Clayton Makepeace, who are regulars and people I intensely admire.

Even John Carlton, “the most the most ripped-off writer on the Web” according to his website, showed up one year and set new standards for ornery-ness … if ornery-ness is a word. It is now.

An ultra-famous copywriter showed up and, with 20 minutes left in his presentation, if that’s what it was, simply said, “that’s all I’ve got.” Not true. I later saw him in a Delray Beach watering hole/hideout and he was with a young damsel. The copywriter had a LOT to give; his verbosity was off the charts. This copywriter seems to have mastered the art of making tons of cash while doing pretty much nothing, or at least that's what his copy says.

If I need respite from the conference, I head to the magnificent Blue Anchor, a hostelry that must surely win the award one day for “America’s Top Ersatz English Pub.”

But I digress. Where was I? Finding copywriting clients. The gap I just discussed.

Various companies have emerged trying to bridge the gap. There was elance, now Upwork. These "commodity sites" are unfailingly biased toward the people who need copy. They get a low bid. They get garbage. The copywriters work with garbage clients. Great.

These commodity sites come … and they go. Some stick, most fail. Bob Bly says don’t go there and I agree with Brother Bob. It’s a mess.

I also see Facebook sites and other sites on social media platforms where clients and copywriters can meet but I’m not swayed. I’ve ventured into these waters and the clients are fifth-rate at best. A friend once described the woman who had taken his bartending job as a “D-grade stripper.” These are D-grade stripper clients.

I see some opportunities through my Google Alerts settings but there’s not much to see. If there’s a spot where I believe I can get some traction, it’s Linked In. I need to try their new service that promises to place a surfeit of great matches right in front of my very eyes for just $75 a month. We’ll see what transpires.

In all of this, I’m a little biased and I’m a little fortunate, perhaps. My website ranks highly, organically, for many key search terms. I’m not an SEO expert and I’ve never hired one. I don’t know why my site ranks so well. Maybe it’s because I actually put some serious effort and resources into my site. It’s generated hundreds of leads, usually from solid prospects. I tell the clients who want a low price NOT to contact me and they don’t. So … if you’re a direct response copywriter or a copywriter of any ilk, how good is your website? I’ll be remarkably blunt, especially for me … I see a lot of copywriters with really bad websites. And by saying “really bad” I’m being super-generous.

I’ll get back to the copywriter side in a minute. But what if you’re a client and you’re looking for a top copywriter? Well … you’re a marketing company. This means you should be able to market yourself to copywriters by finding or building a list and then making yourself a sought-after client. David Ogilvy found the top copywriters and then serenaded them. He would visit their apartments unexpectedly just to check them out in person. Imagine a knock on the door.

“Who is it?” “David Ogilvy. I hear a good copywriter. Can I talk to you?”

Ogilvy built a whopping and super-successful agency replete with talent. To get this talent, he used direct marketing tactics: he had his list and then he sold to that list, in essence.

Until about six months ago, I ranked #1 organically for many key search terms. Then a firm of copywriters took away that spot and now I’m #2. I’ll battle against that firm’s so-called direct response copywriters any day of the week. But they’re #1 and I’m #2 in organic search. I could disappear tomorrow from all the rankings. Poof. No more free traffic to my website just with one minor re-organization of the algorithm, or something.

So I’m in a phase right now where I’m starting to go on the offensive. This does not mean I want to be rude. The only person in the direct marketing world who thinks I’m rude is John Carlton, “the most ripped-off writer on the Web,” according to the copy on his website.

Let me explain. I was waiting for a flight a couple of years ago in the stark environs of Palm Beach International Airport and yon fair John was also waiting for a plane in the same departure lounge. I went up to Mr. Carlton and re-introduced myself. I had just seen him at the AWAI conference.

"Hi John," I said, "I'm Scott Martin and we met at the conference. Do you have a few minutes so I can ask you a few questions?" He reminded me we had met in the pub the night before. Then I got a "no" and a glare which said, “I’d rather repeatedly French kiss the plastic/vinyl seats in this airport departure lounge during a six-hour delay due to wind sheer in Dallas than even acknowledge your peon-like presence.”

Oh well. Such is my level of import among the epochal giants of direct response copywriting. That’s what happens, I guess, when people think I’m offensive, or on the offensive. And people say that referrals are great.

Listen, sports fans ... if I EVER become so well-known that other copywriters come up to me in the airport, ANY airport, and want to talk about direct marketing and/or direct response copywriting, I will sit down with them and happily chat away until the gate agents are saying, "FINAL" last call.

But, again, I digress.

Gary Bencivenga talked about getting what he wanted. What did he want? Success and cash, for starters. Nothing wrong with that. To reach his goals, he wanted to work with the world’s top direct marketers. They had the lists and the traffic. Plus they had the products people actually wanted. Plus these companies HAD to have copy because the entire company depends on selling stuff … and lots of it. No copy … no revenue.

Are you starting to figure out what I’m saying?

I have a couple of clients like this. But I want more. So I’m identifying these epic clients and going after them. It’s an exercise in direct marketing and sales and, the last time I checked, I’m in direct marketing and sales.

In fact, I have list of 2,000 potential clients I hand-crafted through months of research. One of these days, I might make this list available.

How did I create my list? That’s my secret and that’s where your nous and creativity and research must come into play. The more I think about creative ways to build my list, and the more I work on my list, guess what happens? My list of potential clients gets even stronger and deeper. Here's a hint when it comes to how I've researched my list. Let's say I get an email with a link to an event that's choc-full of big-time marketers. Guess who gets put on my list?

And, to use a hackneyed phrase, I leverage off my strengths. I’ve had success in some niches, niches where everyone knows my clients and wants to be like them. So I get the attention of people who will hire me.

Do YOU have a sense of your ideal clients? I know who mine are. I can look at a crowd of 100 potential clients and spot THE ONE I might want to work with. I’m a one man band. I don’t need or want a lot of clients. Just 3-4 or maybe just one. Clayton Makepeace worked with just one client, Weiss, for about a decade.

Where’s your list of potential clients? Where’s your database of contacts with clients? How is your follow up? When was the last time you contacted 10 potential clients in a day? When did you last send 2,000 post cards to your database? When did you last improve a page on your website? Are you getting rejected a lot? Yes? Good. You’ll start to find that great client soon.

A lot of nascent copywriters ask me about finding first clients. I tell them to get their website together, create some samples, then ATTACK the digital marketing agencies. These agencies won’t pay a lot but they have huge needs for copy. How many of the young copywriters actually take my advice? Not many, I fear. I wrote over 200 projects for a digital agency in Australia when I went out on my own in 2010. I paid the mortgage and there was food on the table. And I got tons of great experience ... plus some valuable training from the guy who ran the agency, himself an excellent copywriter.

“What about referrals?” you ask. “Word of mouth. Best form of advertising.” I suppose that Gary Bencivenga was able to rely on referrals at one stage but I’m NEVER relying on this method. Why? The referrals haven’t been any good. I’m not “in” with the “in crowd” as evidenced by my experience with J. Carlton and the copywriting cabal that hangs out at events like the AWAI bootcamp and steadfastly refuses to talk to anyone but themselves … unless you’re perhaps attending one of their events or paying them huge sums for coaching.

The raw snobbery is startling, especially when most of this cabal relies on past copywriting glories. I just helped a client sell over $750,000 worth of subscriptions at $2,000 a pop … to a cold list with a conversion rate north of 4%. A VSL I wrote was producing $1.5 million a month for a $19 ebook, despite scathing criticism from the copy expert that client hired. What have you lot done recently? Oh … show up at each other’s events so you can tell each other how great you are. Ah.

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I’ve rambled and ranted in this blog, much more than usual. I’m all over the place with my tenses.

An especially anal copy editor would tell me to start gain. Apologies. I’m glad you’re reading this. I might have to take it down once I read it again. Or sanitize it.

It’s getting a little late and I had an early start this morning. But if you’re a copywriter and you’re moping around thinking, “I’ve got to find clients or I’m bagging groceries soon” when all you’re hearing from potential clients is, “we’re desperate for copywriters,” then stop moping around.

Get your website and your stuff together. Build a list. Define your ideal clients. Attack the clients you want with a barrage of communication. Be persistent. Follow up. Stay in front of them. Market. Sell.

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I'm a direct response copywriter working for clients around the world. Enter your information to the right for my free series: Seven Steps to High Converting Copy. Or [contact me here][1] when you have a project you'd like to discuss. I'm also a Dan Kennedy certified copywriter for information products.

Direct Response Copywriter on Gary Bencivenga and What It Really Takes

I've been listening to an interview with Gary Bencivenga. Brian Kurtz calls Bencivenga the greatest living copywriter. I just spent two days with Brian and other direct marketers at a mastermind group run by Brian.

One of the guest speakers used to hire Gary Bencivenga. The speaker revealed the amount of just one of the royalty checks he signed for Bencivenga. I can't 'print' the exact amount here but it was jaw-dropping. A ton of money today. A ton of money 20 years ago. It's no wonder that Bencivenga had a house in The Hamptons among the titans of Wall Street.

I wonder what those Wall Street types thought about Bencivenga, especially when he said, "I'm a direct response copywriter." Did they give Bencivenga the "blank stare" I get 495 times out of 500? Or did they instantly know about the work and potential power of a copywriter like Gary Bencivenga? Maybe one day I'll find the answer.

But I digress.

The interview with Gary Bencivenga reveals the following.

He learned from the best of the best, including John Caples and David Ogilvy. He spent almost two decades around direct marketers who tested the actual results of his copy ... before heading out on his own. He initially struggled to find clients when he began his life as a freelancer. He stayed mostly quiet about his techniques and kept his secrets, secret. He was fiercely competitive, despite being very soft spoken and having a kind and welcoming disposition.

In essence, Gary Bencivenga spent at least 20 years working at being a direct response copywriter before getting out there and working for the big mailers and competing against the world's top copywriters.

I see a lot of copy today saying, "you can be a successful and practicing copywriter in just 6 months, even if you've been repairing motorcycles for the last 23 years."

Nothing against people who repair motorcycles, just so you know.

If you're considering a career in direct response copywriting, that's great. It's a fabulous career. But you have to understand you won't be a top copywriter in 6 months. You won't be a top copywriter in 6 years.

It helps if you've spent a chunk of your career in writing, publishing, sales, advertising, communications, or some type of related field. But anyone who says, "you'll be on top in 6 months" is not telling the truth.

You can get started and get some basic work in 6 months but to come anywhere near mastery takes many, many years and a ton of failure, hard work, reading, researching, and sales work. You can accelerate the process a little but it takes time.

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I'm a direct response copywriter working for clients around the world. Enter your information to the right for my free series: Seven Steps to High Converting Copy. Or [contact me here][1] when you have a project you'd like to discuss. I'm also a Dan Kennedy certified copywriter for information products.