Direct Response Copywriter on the Right Type of Advice

Last week, I attended a conference in New York City. Digital Marketer marketed and organized the event. They organize quite a few events including the well-known and well-attended Traffic and Conversion Summit. They also sell marketing advice and related items. I’ve actually worked for them in the past.

The event in Manhattan was primarily for the people who own and run digital agencies.

“What’s a digital agency?” you might be asking.

It’s sort of like an advertising agency but it’s primarily focused on PPC, SEO, lead-generation, email, social media, and the like. Perhaps some of these agencies provide other services.

I attended because I knew there would be plenty of people and organizations looking for copywriters. I’ve been to conferences for direct response copywriters and I’ve enjoyed them … and learned from them … but there are lots of copywriters there and not many people looking for copywriters.

Ryan Deiss, one of the founders of Digital Marketer, spoke twice at the event. In both speeches, he helped my cause, and the cause of all professional copywriters, by talking, at length, about the vital importance of copy when it comes to marketing and agency success. Ryan even pointed the amassed to several books about copy including Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples.

You can see a review of Tested Advertising Methods and other direct marketing books here.

On one hand, it’s surprising that someone has to tell a bunch of marketers about the importance of copy. But, on the other hand, I’m not especially surprised: it’s rare in the advertising and marketing world for agency types to take copy seriously.

Why the latter?

There are lots of reasons. There are some people in the field who don’t know much about advertising. Shocking but true. There are lots of people who think “branding” is the answer and that’s a huge mistake ... they don't even know what a direct response copywriter does. Very few people in advertising truly understand direct marketing because it’s not taught in business schools … or anywhere. You have to learn about direct response and direct response copywriting on your own. This takes a special type of dedication. And many agency owners don’t want to be accountable and so they pursue the branding path.

The agency owners at the conference had one thing in common: the desire to improve and succeed. All good. There was a serious commitment to attending this conference. Hopefully, they listened to Ryan Deiss and have already ordered the books he recommended. Direct response copywriting is not the "latest greatest sexiest" thing in marketing but it can still produce massive revenue.

Direct Response Copywriter on Writing Copy Quickly

"Speed is a strategy," says one of my mentors in direct response copywriting, Andrew Wood. The concept also comes from one of the world’s most accomplished copywriters, Clayton Makepeace.

Andrew and Clayton write copy quickly. I strive to write copy quickly and I might be faster than the aforementioned. In a copywriting race, it would be close.

Some copywriters like to write between three and five major direct mail promotions a year. These might be upwards of 50 pages. It will take a month to research the project. A month to provide a draft. A month to go through revisions. A month to work on the design with the graphic designer. Then a couple of weeks for final changes.

I’m not one of those copywriters, unless I find a client who is paying me a decent sum up front for that promotion … with the probability of royalties on the back end. This can happen.

However, most of my clients typically want to move much faster. The faster they get their products and services to market, the faster they generate cash. They’re not looking for copywriting perfection. They want copy that will create a positive response and they want it quickly.

One of my clients will contact me on Wednesday. They will need about 4,000 words of copy for a product by the following Monday. I’ll get them the copy and the promotion will be up and running in 10 days. That’s called SPEED. It’s easier to move faster on the web. But you can be almost as fast with direct mail.

Some companies like to take their time and take months before sending copy live, either online or offline. Others like to move extremely quickly. I’m happy working in either environment.

I’ve always written quickly. Back in high school, and even earlier, I was always under some degree of pressure to write a lot in a short space of time. This happened every day with homework. Then it happened during exams where I’d have three hours to write four long essays. I also wrote for the school newspaper, regularly writing long pieces in a couple of hours. Earlier in my career, I’d produce a 100-page quarterly magazine without any freelancers. I’d write the ads and write all the articles plus sell advertising and manage the entire publishing cycle.

Speed is great for my clients. I can turn work around quickly so they generate revenue faster. But it’s also good for the writer because it means more opportunities.

Where can you speed things up when it comes to marketing? Speed is a mindset. I eat slowly. I usually ski relatively slowly and in control. But I can produce copy quickly. I've worked to become a fast professional copywriter.

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.

*

YAWN.

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

PLUS

Direct response copy and creative

PLUS

An irresistible offer

PLUS

Testing

= TONS OF REVENUE.**

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 …

ACCOUNTABILITY.

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.

Excuses.

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.

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

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 a Part of Writing Copy That's Rarely Discussed

As a direct response copywriter, how are you going to learn to write direct response copy?

You can read all the books about writing copy.

You can buy and study some manuals. The Clayton Makepeace manual is superb, if you can find it.

You can mentor under more experienced copywriters. You can get paid as an apprentice or you can pay for training. I recommend the former.

You can watch videos to learn to write copy. I have some here.

You can work for an agency or marketing department and learn from the other copywriters.

You can attend a copywriting training seminar just about every week of the year. There’s even one in Poland coming up. I could go. The whole trip would cost me a mere $5,000.

All good (except Poland).

I have used all of the above to learn to write copy and to improve my direct response copywriting skills.

But there’s one thing that’s seriously missing in all this training. LIFE.

I was at an event a few years ago and met an extremely accomplished yet totally non-famous copywriter. He actually mentored under Gary Bencivenga. How many copywriters can say that? Not many. How I wish …

We started talking in the area outside the large ballroom. What’s that area called, by the way? I have no idea. Mezzanine? Room with ugly carpet?

Anyway, the copywriter told me a couple of things that were especially interesting.

First, he sold encyclopedias door-to-door as a teenager IN ORDER TO SUPPORT HIS FAMILY. No pressure there.

Second, he would often just sit in a coffee shop, look at the people, and imagine what they’re going through.

I lived in London as a teenager. I didn’t have a car and so I rode the tube all the time. I would sometimes look around the carriage and start to imagine who I was looking at and what their lives were like.

I would make up names and every part of their life.

Right now, as I write, I’m in a coffee shop. I'm looking around.

There’s a big man sitting in the corner. He’s about 45 but looks older and needs to lose around 70 pounds. I imagine he manages the water system for the local government but he loves Chess and is playing a game with someone in Borneo on his laptop.

Next there’s a bald guy, fit and trim, looking at his tablet. How old is he? He’s around 40. I imagine he’s about to inherit around $250 million from his great uncle, who owns a chunk of a Fortune 500 company. To this point in his life, he’s been struggling to make ends meet as an electrician. Now he’s thinking about where he’s going to travel and the house(s) he’s going to build.

There’s a family of five at the next table with three children aged 10, 8, and 8 months. They’re hammering some donuts. What’s the father thinking about? I imagine he works for a big company in the accounting department. He works hard for his family but he just got by-passed for a promotion because they gave the job he wanted to a person with an MBA. He's happy when he's with his family but now he's wondering about his career.

In the next corner, there’s a young woman on her laptop. She’s on Facebook (wild guess, I know) and thinking about a trip to Australia and New Zealand. She’s also chatting with some friends who might make the trip. Or maybe she’s a medical student starting to figure out what she’s going to specialize in.

And what about the five employees working behind the counter?

I don’t know their names. I don’t really know anything about them, other than their place of employment. Why are they here? It’s hard work with strange hours. Almost all the punters are pleasant, I’m sure, but what about that 1% who are jerks? I'd tell the person who is ordering their coffee while on their cellphone to go to the back of the queue.

Are the baristas here for the pay? The health insurance? The tuition reimbursement program? The stock options? The free shift beverages?

I can only imagine.

I will NEVER be correct when I imagine what people are going through and what they’re thinking. How can I ever get this right? It’s an exercise.

But I know, with total certainty, all these people have the following …

Dreams, goals, and aspirations. Feelings. Skepticism. Days of confusion and days of clarity. The ability to love.

I would add A LOT OF TATTOOS but that’s probably going a bit far.

There are lots of copywriting courses and events making a lot of crazy promises … like … be a world-class copywriter in 6 months.

It’s not hugely difficult to learn the craft of direct response copywriting. The techniques and so on. Headlines … bullets … writing a guarantee. That’s not impossible for a decent writer.

But here’s the difference between the copywriter who generates $50,000 from a promotion and the one who generates $500,000 … THEY UNDERSTAND PEOPLE.

Claude Hopkins touched on this in his book My Life in Advertising. He said that young graduates from expensive universities rarely make good copywriters. But it’s the hustling, street-smart person who writes direct response copy that converts.

That was in the 1920s but it’s the same today.

I’m fortunate in that I was very well-educated but I was never part of the “ivory tower” club.

I’ve been writing copy for over 30 years now but I’ve had a wide variety of jobs before I wrote copy and concurrent with copywriting. Here are just a few …

Application screener in HR department. Quality control specialist in an ice cream factory in West London. Filing clerk. Publishing salesperson. Magazine publisher. Ski instructor. Waiter. PR hack. Reporter. Soccer coach. Published author.

The result?

I understand people and what motivates them.

People who are brand new to direct response copywriting? They don’t have this. They can write some clever branding ads but they can’t write direct response copy that generates results because they just don’t fully understand people like I do … like that copywriter I mentioned earlier.

There’s no training course for this part of being a direct response copywriter. It’s something that happens over time but it’s a skill, if that’s what it’s called, that can be fostered.

For example, use that exercise above.

Here’s something interesting. With all those jobs I’ve had and all the varied experiences, and especially all that selling, you might call me a hustler.

In fact, I was at a meeting of the mastermind group I was in and there was a famous copywriter there. He said, after hearing about my work, “oh … you’re a hustler.” I'm not sure precisely what he meant, derogatory or otherwise, but I’ll take it as a compliment.

I’m a hustler. So I understand how human beings work. It’s one reason I’m a successful direct response copywriter.

*

And by the way, I didn’t spend $5,000 to attend that seminar in Poland. Why? Two reasons. One … the copy was rubbish. Why should I attend a copywriting training seminar when the copy selling the event is F-grade twaddle? Two … the copy mentioned a speaker who speaks at just about every event I've seen advertised by saying “he rarely speaks so now is your chance.” Or something like that. Lies.

Plus think of the opportunity cost of $5,000 … that’s a lot of bananas.

Direct Response Copywriter on Writer's Block

For some reason that I don’t fully understand, I’ve never had writer’s block. In fact, I’m not really sure what it is. I suppose it happens when a writer stares at a blank page (physically or digitally) and has no idea what to write.

When it comes to direct response copywriting, I suppose I avoid writer’s block through the research phase and also by having a lot of templates. I also go through my personal swipe file. I’m actually not that big on swipe files. I have a lot of swipe and sometimes I dig into it. But I like to use what I’ve written and what I know has worked.

I start most projects with my headline templates. It’s a file that’s only 5 pages but it has all my headlines. This file gives me inspiration for a theme for the promotion. I almost always use a headline using the John Caples headline writing method.

Curiosity + Self -Interest = Compelling Appeal.

Gary Bencivenga also championed this headline approach. If it's good enough for him, it's good enough for me.

If you’re a direct response copywriter, or any type of writer, then I have this advice when it comes to writer’s block.

Develop some templates you can use to start a project … everything from headlines to bullets and guarantees.

Let the research guide the start of the project.

Look around at some swipe but don’t plagiarize. Look at other projects that have worked in the past.

Understand the importance of headlines and leads. These can be a great way to start a project.

See if you can find a story. Some direct response copywriters are really into stories. Some aren’t.

Start with an outline of the project.

Or simply just start writing.

I hope this helps to solve the writer’s block problem … if you have this.

*

I'm a direct response copywriter. When you need help with a project, contact me here.