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.’


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 "Voice" and Whether It's Important. Part 1.

A few years ago, a potential client contacted me about some work. This client needed a direct response copywriter, mostly for landing pages and emails. The client said, “I’m going to ask three copywriters to write about the same product and we’ll see who captures the voice the best.” To their credit, the client offered full pay for the project. Sometimes, a potential client will ask for a “spec” project without any remuneration. I’ll say “yes” only when it’s an established client with a serious copy chief and mega-traffic.

But I digress.

I told the client, up front, that I was more concerned with capturing the sale than capturing the voice but … I would write the spec anyway. The client sells consumer-based financial information based around a celebrity/personality. One goal was to capture “the voice” of the guru.

So I wrote the spec piece to the best of my ability. A few weeks later, I got an email from the copy chief saying, essentially, “we liked your work but we found another copywriter who more closely captured the voice.” A polite rejection, but a rejection nonetheless. I really wasn’t all that worried, even though it would have been a decent amount of work.

Why was I not lying on the floor, weeping?

Who likes rejection?

It’s pretty easy. “Capturing the voice” is seriously overrated and essentially irrelevant in direct response copywriting.

“HERESY!” you shout. “Advertising has to have personality … VOICE … you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Let me explain.

I’m a direct response copywriter, not a branding copywriter. “Capturing the voice” is an ethereal concept that relates to branding marketing and not direct marketing. The person interested in your product or service is NOT interested in your “voice.”

The potential client is asking, “what’s in it for me?” and “how will the product make me feel better about myself?”

I regularly write copy that’s essentially ghostwritten. The “author” of the copy isn’t me … it’s from the owner of the company. Again … I have no interest in “capturing the voice.”

I’m laser-focused on benefits … proof … clarity … grabbing the attention of the reader … the offer … you know … all the crucial elements of direct response copy.

For one of my clients, I write the copy but it officially comes from the founder of the company. This client has never ONCE said, “Scott, we need to talk about capturing voice.” I have written over 250 promotions for this client and every single one has met the sales expectation. Voice schmoice.

I’ve heard people say “copy has to have personality.” Once again … I don’t care. Why? Because the customer/client IS NOT interested in you and your personality. They are interested in themselves. It’s a reason why it’s almost always a mistake to build advertising around a celebrity, even if potential customers like the celebrity … a lot.

“HERESY!” you say.

Again … the potential customer is ultimately more interested about themselves and what they really want than any celebrity, unless, of course, they have a burning desire to learn more about the personality.

My clients are serious direct marketers. Let’s say I write a promotion and it fails miserably. What would happen if I said to the client, “no worries … I did a great job capturing the voice, though.” The client would fire me and I would not be surprised.

I'm in a marketing group comprising serious direct marketers. We recently had a speaker who essentially said he was more interested in capturing the voice in copy than results. I have to admit I was shaking my head in disbelief.

In the next part of this series, I’ll talk about further adventures in “capturing the voice” and a surprising email I received from an advertising agency in California.


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 a Myth About Conversion Percentage

A client just sent me an email about the conversion rate from a letter I wrote. The client sells consulting services to a specific niche.

The conversion rate is low for the letter.

But what is a “good” conversion rate? I’ve heard 3% … or thereabouts. But it’s generally a mistake to focus on conversion rates and related data. Conversion rate is only really useful when it comes to establishing, then beating, a control.

I’m more interested in the actual revenue the copy generates. You can put money in a bank account but you can’t put conversion rate in the bank. I currently have a VSL that’s generating a TON of money for a client. I don’t know the conversion rate. It’s irrelevant until I try to beat the control. Even then, conversion rate is just a number, a statistic.

Back to my client with the low conversion rate. If the conversion rate means he gets just one new client for his services, then the letter has been a raging success. That’s because the lifetime value of that new client will be tens of thousands of dollars. Plus there could be a “knock on” effect as the client tells other potential clients.

As a direct response copywriter, I’m interested in conversion rate … but I’m much more interested in the actual revenue.


I'm a direct response copywriter. I write direct response copy 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 when you have a project you'd like to discuss. I'm also a Dan Kennedy certified copywriter for information products.