Direct Response Copywriter on The Difference Between Direct Marketing and Branding. And Yes ... I'm a Little Biased.

Someone who is genuinely interested in marketing and improving revenue asked me two excellent questions.

What is a Direct Response Copywriter as opposed to some other kind of copywriter?

What is direct marketing as opposed to some other kind of marketing?

So … in this blog I’m going to answer these questions. The answers are extremely important if you’re serious about marketing, being super-successful, and generating serious revenue.

I go into much more detail in a book I’ve almost finished. It’s about 3 months from being available. Stay tuned. But I'll summarize here.

If you fully understand the full power of direct marketing, there’s nothing new in this blog. You’ll just nod along. But if you're somewhat new to marketing, what I'm going to write will seem contrarian. If you're a branding and image person, you'll hate my guts because I'm telling the truth and it's not a truth you want to hear.

I’m going to start with the second question first.

The “other kind of marketing” has various names including branding advertising, general advertising, and image advertising.

For clarity and consistency, I’ll simply call it image advertising.

The goal of image advertising is to create awareness for a company and its brand. The theory …

You see (or hear) the image ad and the next time you’re in a store or you’re shopping online, you buy products from that brand because you’ve heard or seen the company.

Click here for an example.

Notice the tepid copy ... tired clichés like

* World-Class Instruction

A guided ski or snowboard experience is essential to reaching new heights on the slopes. Whether you’re new to the sport or an experienced rider, there’s always an opportunity to refine your skills and take on new terrain.



Image advertising is EVERYWHERE.

It’s on the websites you visit. It’s in newspapers and magazines. It’s on TV, especially during prime-time TV and soap operas. And head to a big city and you’ll see image advertising everywhere: in the subway … on the side of a bus … even on train station turnstiles.

I live in a ski town and I see image advertising everywhere. It’s in the bus as I head to the slopes. It’s on the chairlift. It’s on the side of warming huts.

Image advertising is, at its core, an exercise in awareness. Companies spend millions, billions even, simply to make you AWARE of their existence.

You see the ad. You’re aware. You choose the product. That’s the idea behind image advertising.

Companies pay advertising agencies and also pay vast sums to in-house “branding” experts to create ads to boost this brand awareness.

But there’s a HUGE problem with image advertising … as I’ll reveal in a minute.

Now let’s head to the world of direct marketing. It’s a very different space. In fact, it’s remarkably different considering it’s all supposed to be marketing. Branding people don’t like direct marketers and direct marketers laugh at branding people.

In direct marketing, we create awareness and lots of it. But we go one step further and seek an immediate response that leads to a sale.

Image advertisers crave creativity and awards for said creativity.

In direct marketing, we crave revenue … aka MONEY.

And the last time I checked, you can take money to the bank. Try taking “awareness” to the bank and see what happens.

But I digress.

Here’s the basic formula for direct marketing success.

**A database of people who have an interest in the benefits of the product or service


Direct response copy and creative


An irresistible offer




Here are some examples of direct marketing ads.

Click here.

Click here.

Not always the best-looking ads but testing shows that ugly wins when it comes to REVENUE.

As I mentioned earlier, direct marketing requests a direct and immediate response from the customer. We call this the “call to action” or CTA. Some examples …

  • Call this toll-free number to discover more.
  • Click here now.
  • Add to cart.
  • Enter your first name and best email.

Ironically, everyone has seen direct marketing and bought a product or service from a company that uses direct marketing strategies and techniques.

In fact, EVEN BRANDING PEOPLE have bought from direct marketers even though they will tell you how much they hate direct marketing.

Very few people really understand direct marketing.

Why? Nobody teaches direct marketing in business schools. Plus we tend to operate under the radar.

I won’t go into direct marketing strategies and techniques here because that would take a book, and there are many great books about direct marketing, but here’s one of the biggest differences between direct marketing and image advertising …


A company can spend $2 million to run an image campaign and will have no idea about the financial success, or otherwise, of the campaign.

There might be a slight uptick in sales. If this happens, the people behind the campaign claim all the credit. But if there isn’t an increase in sales, the creative types will blame outside factors like the weather, or Brexit, or something equally ridiculous.

What about internal morale? The people who work for the company look at the campaign and know it cost a lot of money and they ask, “why did the company waste all that money on that stuff when I’m not getting any work or the company won’t raise my pay?” People inside a company know how much the CMO is getting paid and when the marketing department pushes out marketing that fails to deliver accountable results, it can hurt internal morale. Never a good thing.

Direct marketers measure everything TO THE PENNY. This raw accountability can hurt. Sometimes, a campaign will not produce a positive ROI. So direct marketers change things, test some more, and figure out what works. We ALWAYS figure it out, provided there’s a great product and a clear demand for the benefits of the product or service.

When we experience success in direct marketing, we’re not satisfied. We test some more and strive to become even more successful.

It’s a scientific approach and it’s no irony that the seminal book in our space is called “Scientific Advertising.”

David Ogilvy, perhaps the most successful advertising man of the 20th Century, understood the difference.

He articulated it brilliantly in this short video.

Click here.

But be careful, you branding types … you won’t like what Ogilvy has to say.

The answer to the question …

What is direct marketing as opposed to some other kind of marketing?

Is …

The goal of direct marketing is to generate revenue through proven direct marketing techniques and through constant testing and constant improvement and refinement of the message sent to carefully chosen prospective customers. Through direct marketing, the company also generates brand awareness.

Image advertising aims to increase awareness of a company’s name through creativity. Its impact on revenue is not accurately measurable.

Direct marketers create money and awareness. Branding advertisers create awareness. Do you want money? Or do you want just awareness?

Copywriting and Direct Response Copywriting

Now to the first question. “What’s the difference between direct response copywriting and other copywriting?”

The “other” copywriting is the work of branding copywriters.

Here’s an example of this type of work.

Click here.

And this type of branding copy is from, you guessed it, an advertising agency specializing in branding.

And here’s the work of a direct response copywriter.

Click here.

Branding copywriters write fluffy, creative, and mostly vacuous copy in order to create awareness for a product or simply fill space. Branding copywriters have no idea how to sell. However, branding copywriters can be clever, witty, funny, and creative.

Direct response copywriters use tested and proven writing and sales techniques to motivate a prospect to try a product or service and generate money.

My goal is to DRIVE REVENUE for my client. I’m a writer but I’m also a salesperson.

One of my ads, a video, generated $1.5 million a month for a $19 book in the health space. That’s 78,947 books if you’re counting. A book that sells 10,000 for a "regular" publisher is a New York Times Bestseller.

I’ve had many other MEASURABLE successes like a promotion for a company that sold $1.7 million worth of golf clubs in a week. Nobody ever wakes up in the morning saying “I must have a new golf club today” but we sold a ton of clubs.

So a branding copywriter can ask me, “how did your advertisement perform?” and I can answer the question down to the penny.

But when I ask the branding copywriter how one of their ads performed, they don’t know. They have no idea. They might mumble something like, “it came 2nd in a contest” or “the marketing director’s wife thought it was really, really funny.”

Quite honestly, I have no idea why any company would ever spend even one penny on image advertising.

The biggest reason is accountability. There aren’t many people in any line of work who crave accountability. Most marketing directors don’t want to go anywhere near it because it’s a threat to their stature and huge salary. They want to win awards for creativity and will take credit when things are going well and hide behind vapid excuses when sales are down.

There are some misconceptions about direct marketing.

It will negatively impact the brand.

My clients have built their brands through direct marketing. You can build your brand AND drive measurable results through direct marketing.

It’s obnoxious and packed with scammers.

Direct marketing can be obnoxious but doesn’t have to be. Most of my writing is toned down, clear, and straightforward. And I’ve helped my clients generate over $400 million in revenue in the last 6 years with this approach. Direct marketing has some scammers, sadly, but there are scammers in every business.

Branding copywriters can say ANYTHING and get away with it. Who is the scammer?

It’s not creative and you have to be creative to be successful in advertising.

So a branding copywriter writes a really clever, witty ad that makes people laugh. It wins an award for creativity … an award given by other branding copywriters. The client or company owner can go “that’s nice but what about revenue?”

Let’s say I write an advertisement for a client and it generates $1.5 million in revenue for a book that cost 75 cents to produce ... and sells for $19.

No awards for creativity but who is the real winner?

The direct marketers I know who fully understand direct marketing and know how to use it are among the most successful people I know in business. They generate millions in revenue, create jobs, and create super-valuable businesses.

Here’s another difference between image advertising and direct marketing.


When sales are down, the branding types will point to things like … the economy … interest rates … weather … what happened last season … snow hangovers (whatever that may be) … foreign wars … rogue governments … changing demographics … robots … exchange rates … and so on.

Failure is a big part of direct marketing. We fail ALL THE TIME because we’re closely measuring results plus we’re constantly testing.

No excuses, though … we try something else and keep trying and, with the power of persistence on our side, we get it right eventually.

I’m biased. I’m a direct response copywriter. I love direct marketing for all the reasons above.

Image advertising? I have no time for it. I’m routinely stunned when I hear highly-paid marketing executives at multi-million dollar companies blabbing on about “brand authority” and “respect for the core branding philosophy” and “brand empowerment” and “brand leverage” and other nonsense.

I see people with titles like “chief branding officer” who are getting paid whopping salaries and I want to weep. What's the ROI on that salary?

If I were the CEO/owner/stakeholder I’d boot them out the door in a millisecond and find a direct marketer to run my marketing department.

Here’s what people often fail to understand. The ramifications for this raw nonsense are real. There’s a direct impact on jobs, prosperity, and whether people get to work or not. It’s not a joke. It’s real.

And even worse, there’s a snobbery involved. The merchants of branding look down their noses at direct marketers and direct response copyrwriters as “crass” and old school and obnoxious.

That’s fine. I’ll be over here helping my clients generate whopping revenue and wealth. You'll be over there winning awards and worshipping at the altar of creativity.


There’s another huge difference between direct marketing and branding marketing and I rarely see this discussed.

Branding advertisers build their advertising around creativity, image, feel, warm fuzzy stuff, and the like.

In direct marketing, we understand customers deeply due to our testing and research. We know the following: the most important person to the customers is … THEM.

People don’t care about the image of a company. They don’t care about fancy logos. They don’t care about “brand authority” and other such guff.

When looking at a product or service, they’re asking two questions.

“What’s in it for me?”

“How will this product or service help me get where I want to get?”

In branding marketing I rarely see advertisers answering these questions. But in direct marketing, we know PRECISELY how to answer these questions.

We know these answers and I write copy based on these answers. The result? Rivers of revenue.