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.

Direct Response Copywriter on The Not-So-Secret Secret

I run into a lot of people in/from the business world. I meet people with business degrees. I meet successful entrepreneurs. I meet business academics. Pretty much the whole shebang.

Many of these people want to know what I do.

I tell them, “I’m a direct response copywriter.”

And then I get a blank stare or a few moments of embarrassing silence … even from people in business.

Quite a few people think I’m some type of lawyer, specializing in the realm of intellectual property, specifically the little ‘c’ sign.


That’s copyright, not copywriting.

Quite a big difference.

Even though I’m in the writing business and words are my day-to-day existence, I’ve never really come up with a quick and simple definition of what a direct response copywriter really does.

Here are just a few of my efforts.

*It’s sort of like those infomercials.

I’m a salesman in print.

I write ads.


The problem with the last explanation is this … it makes me seem a tad low-end. That’s not how I operate. I’m not trying to fool or con anyone. I’ll leave that to the bankers from a certain national bank.

Let me make it much, much easier for everyone.

The people who know what a direct response copywriter does … and hire a good one … make a TON of money.

One of my clients has organized sales in excess of $400 million for their products. A major international company purchased another client for tens of millions. The copy is part of the equation.

Let me say it again …

The people who know what a direct response copywriter does … and hire a good one … make a TON of money.

Certain people in advertising and marketing fully understand my work and how I write copy. But they won’t hire me or another direct response copywriter because they’re worried about “brand equity” and other such nonsense.

Oh well … that’s your loss as the money leaves for your competition.

How many direct response copywriters are there in the world? About 200-300 who can genuinely motivate potential customers to become actual customers.

This explains, in part, why so many people in business don’t know what I do.

I hope that changes.

I’ll write it one more time.

The people who know what a direct response copywriter does … and hire a good one … make a TON of money.

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 Having a Laugh -- Sort Of

I watch very little television. However, during the fall, I watch some football (both types) and this means I, by default, have to watch TV advertising.

As a direct response copywriter, I watch the branding ads and laugh … but for all the wrong (or right) reasons.

On major networks, the ads are the usual pulp … entertaining branding ads with no call to action and, thus, no accountability.

Expensive media placement. Expensive production.

I won’t bang on about how big ad agencies do business (ripping you off) and I won’t mention how branding people view advertising (as a way to deceive clients into placing huge media) and I’ll avoid the subject of 95% of corporate marketing directors (who NEVER want to be accountable and hide behind social media and their branding agency), and I certainly don’t want to mention ROI (in the company of branding people) but a couple of ads currently running for big brands make fun of direct response TV ads.

Hmmmmm …

In a Geico ad, the Tasmanian Devil rips through a direct response TV ad for plates. How this relates to car insurance is a bit beyond me but, after all, I’m just a direct response copywriter. So what do I know? I write direct response copy that generates millions in sales. That’s all.

And another insurance ad, for a company I can’t remember (ha!), is running a semi-spoof of QVC. And QVC is a direct response medium.

Oh how those creative directors must be guffawing when they create these ads. They’re certain to win prizes! They’re so creative! Oh you’re so very very funny! It’s a new level of creativity! We’ll link this to social media and it WILL go viral! The client will be so so happy!

Let me tell you something, you super-clever branding people …

Sooner than you think, your party is over.

TV is over and that’s your medium. Online advertising, according to every source, now attracts more money than “traditional” media and that means, get this, you can measure ROI. And your clients will now be asking you to, get this, if you’ll excuse the split infinitive, produce actual financial results. Return … on … investment.

So while you might mock direct response, direct response copywriters, and direct response TV ads, we’re going to win. Or more saliently, the client is going to win … which is what really matters.

If you continue to hang on to your branding MO, you’ll be out of work extremely soon. Your game is over. If I were you, I would make some time, and soon, to discover the fundamentals of direct response marketing.

All of us will welcome you with open arms. This might shock branding types but direct response is collegial and welcoming. We’re all in this together. We’re all in this to help our clients make some money and build the value of the business. We happily share ideas to help each other grow.

Start with Scientific Advertising.

And spend some time with David Ogilvy, who actually loved direct response … as you’ll discover here.

Rant over.


My thoughts about the tragedy in Paris. Here in the United States, there’s a reason the First Amendment is the first amendment.

Free speech is the foundation of a free society.

For the last 30 years, the merchants of political correctness have been trying to take away our free speech by telling us what we should say and what we shouldn’t. It's an attempt to control us and take away our freedoms.

I wonder how the merchants of political correctness feel right now. I very much doubt they even get the connection.


I'm a direct response copywriter. I specialize in providing direct response copy for the direct marketing environment for clients around the planet. I specialize in sales page copy ... copy that persuades readers to pull out their credit card and buy. Enter your info to the right for my free series: Seven Steps to High Converting Copy. Or contact me here if you have a project you'd like me to quote.

I'm also a Dan Kennedy Certified Copywriter for Info-Marketers.


Disclaimer for the above.

The Dan Kennedy Copywriter for Info-Marketers Certification is awarded to professional copywriters who have successfully completed a course of study of preparation for such copywriting. This Certification has not been provided by an accredited education institution. It does not constitute endorsement of or liability for any individual copywriter by Mr. Kennedy or any companies or organizations affiliated with Mr. Kennedy. The client's relationship is solely with the individual copywriter retained via any agreement.

Direct Response Copywriter on Branding Copywriters

When I retire, I will become a branding copywriter.

I will get a cushy job at a big agency in a big city. The office will have exposed girders, vents, and pipes. Industrial.

The agency will have a wall with lots of awards. The office will have a phalanx of vixen-ish young girls…media buyers with beautiful hair and busy weekends.

Account executives will ask me to come up with ideas and concepts. I will spend caffeine-fuelled hours in meetings with award-winning art directors, creative directors, and producers. When I get stuck, I’ll leave the office for a walk and dive into a café for a couple of hours to “get the creative juices flowing.”

I’ll suggest a TV shoot somewhere in northern Arizona and we’ll trundle off in February to Flagstaff and quickly outspend the unlimited budget.

We’ll create funny ads that run on TV shows like The Simpsons. People in Lousiville, Kentucky and Beaverton, Oregon will laugh. The client will laugh. We’ll have client dinners at upscale restaurants and I’ll order comically expensive Bordeaux.

Of course, I’ll win some awards and this will delight the client. We’ll have a lunch that will start at 1 p.m. and end at a 1 a.m. somewhere in Brooklyn.

At some stage, inevitably, the client will ask about the lack of impact on sales. The Executive Vice President of Nothing in Particular, or the agency owner's expensively suited daughter, will remind the client that “we’re not really trying to push a response here” and that we’re helping to maintain “brand integrity” which can be especially important when the competition is spending $125 million on TV this year.

Sales will drop but I’ll get a raise and my work will appear in Communication Arts. I’ll get a confidential call from a brisk Manhattan headhunter named Holly who has a really exceptional opportunity in a big agency that's looking for a new senior copywriter. I'll leverage the offer for another raise.

That might be exceptionally pleasant. One day.

But for now, I’ll stick with being a direct response copywriter.

I will continue to dig deep to find what really matters to the buyer. I’ll spend hours trying to get into the head and soul of the customer to find what they really, really want. Headlines will float around in my head and I’ll write 20-30 before settling on one I like.

Laughter? Forget it. We’re trying to persuade someone to pull their credit card out of their wallet and BUY. I'm not trying to be funny. I'm trying to be persuasive.

Something I write won’t work so I’ll try again. And again. And again…until I beat the control or establish one that helps the company get in the black.

I will get the snot beaten out of me. I'll have success. But I'll have failures. But I will ALWAYS be accountable.

It’s not easy being a direct response copywriter.

As David Ogilvy said in perhaps the most perfect endorsement of direct response marketing...

The problem with many copywriters is that they don’t really think in terms of selling. They’ve never written direct response. They’ve never tasted blood.

I've tasted blood, my friends.

I spend my days at a desk or cyber-tramping in a coffee shop, tweaking copy to improve response from 2.3% to 3.1%.

And yes, I will giddily write “your satisfaction is completely and totally guaranteed” and “finally—there’s an easy way to…” and "It's clear you have nothing to lose."

There won’t be any awards on my walls. No prizes or languid company dinners.

But my clients, hard-core entrepreneurs, will benefit massively from my work. They get it. They don't want awards. They want customers and clients.

They know this important truth:

“The ability to organize words that motivate people to buy is a super power.”

That’s from Dan Kennedy, for the record.

Writing direct response copy is sheer joy and never a job. Yes—the ancillary stuff is a pain but actually creating copy that’s going to help a company thrive is a lot of fun.

No—I have no desire to become a branding copywriter. I’ll stick with being a direct response copywriter as long as someone will invest in my services. You branding copywriters can keep your awards and exposed brick offices and funny ads.

I’ll be busy helping my clients make money.


I'm a direct response copywriter. I specialize in providing content and copy for the direct marketing environment for clients around the planet. I specialize in sales page copy, landing page copy and copy that persuades readers to pull out their credit card and buy. Enter your info to the right for my free series: Seven Steps to High Converting Copy. Or contact me here if you have a project you'd like me to quote.

I'm also a Dan Kennedy Certified Copywriter for Info-Marketers.


The Dan Kennedy Copywriter for Info-Marketers Certification is awarded to professional copywriters who have successfully completed a course of study of preparation for such copywriting.  This Certification has not been provided by an accredited education institution.  It does not constitute endorsement of or liability for any individual copywriter by Mr. Kennedy or any companies or organizations affiliated with Mr. Kennedy. The client's relationship is solely with the individual copywriter retained via any agreement.