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Direct Response Marketing 101

“What is Direct Response Marketing?”

Given that I run a business called, “Indiana Direct Response Marketing”, I figure that it’s high time we actually define what in the heck direct response marketing actually is.

I live and breathe direct response marketing. It works, it holds everyone accountable, and it actually recoups the investment when done right. Which is why I’m such a big believer in and advocate for direct response marketing strategies and tactics.

So the question is – what is direct response marketing?

Here’s a video by David Ogilvy which I love:




… On second thought, perhaps it’s best to start by explaining what direct response isn’t. Because like it or not, all marketing is not direct response marketing. That doesn’t mean that all marketing is bad, it simply means that not all marketing shares the same goals or success metrics.

What is Indirect Marketing?

Logically, the opposite of direct response marketing would be “indirect response marketing.” That’s marketing that doesn’t directly ask for the response or action of the consumer and which doesn’t have a way to track campaign metrics to sales results.

I’m talking things like….

  • Website redesign
  • Educational emails that don’t ask for action
  • Brochures and “brand” marketing
  • Advertisements with no specific call to action

Here, I am reminded of the time I once spoke with an SEO expert.

It was in 2017-ish and I lived in Bloomington, Indiana. The guy seemed bright and friendly, and obviously knew his stuff when it came to search engine optimization.

Buuuuuuut when I asked him about tying results to marketing spend, he froze like a deer in headlights. He seemed generally perplexed that anyone could tie marketing spend to revenues, much less that someone (e.g., me) would make an entire business out of it.

Let’s just say that the conversation kind of ended after that.

Unfortunately, there are many entrepreneurs who spend a lot of money to not see results out of their marketing investment. More than a few well-meaning business owners have been swindled out of thousands of dollars only to get a few hundred “likes” and a couple thousand “views”… when they could have used that money to create real, measurable, and accountable results.

Sometimes, indirect marketing is used to bolster the image of a company. For example, the Super Bowl Ads you see every year are a great example. Companies will spend millions upon millions of dollars to air a short commercial…

… and have no way to directly tie that exorbitant ad spend to increased revenues.

Another example is advertising which doesn’t immediately ask for action. Billboards with a generic URL or phone number is one common example of this lack of immediacy.

To recap, we can say that indirect marketing :

  • Is not easily tied to the sales cycle
  • Does not ask for a response immediately
  • Does not have a “Call to Action”
  • Is more concerned about overall image/reputation
  • Cannot be expected to have an ROI

Here are some types of marketing which aren’t direct response, at least not by themselves. (I’ll share in a moment how to tie direct response elements into almost all of these.)

Types of “Indirect Marketing”

Website Rebranding

Website rebranding is, for whatever reason, one of the first steps businesses make when they want to start marketing. I’m guessing it’s because most believe that a classier website will automatically translate to more sales.

Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization makes you more “findable” by search engine. This is important, because being found online is everything anymore. If you aren’t online, you don’t exist! Of course, you can get all the traffic you want and still not make the sale. Which is why most businesses try the following…

Content Marketing

Blogging and article writing is often the next thing businesses try. Content marketing uses blog posts to educate and “pre-sell” the prospect. Often, these articles are written around core “seed keywords” businesses want to rank for. Although again, you can have a lot of views and shares and still not grow your database of prospects or buyers.

Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing is another avenue many small businesses take to try to get more sales. Unfortunately, social media marketing can be one of the biggest time wasters out there. That’s because most of the time, it’s not tied to a funnel of any kind.

Email Marketing

Finally, some businesses owners try email marketing. Email marketing is marketing which does most of the selling via email campaigns, either through regular broadcast emails or automated email campaigns. More often than not, small business owners use it as a platform to brag on themselves rather than as a means to sell.

Each of these are good actions to take, but none by themselves qualify as direct response marketing.

To make each of these “direct response marketing”, all you need to do is add a call to action at the end which you can track.

So a blog post would have a call to action to get into the funnel. (Perhaps with a worksheet or checklist of the blog post, for example, available as an opt-in to your email list)

The social media would have a CTA to a front-end offer… and if not, the blog post would have the CTA to the front-end offer. Your site should always have advertisements to take the next step, whether that be book a call, answer a quiz, download a lead magnet, or purchase a relevant tripwire. And for emails, the same thing applies in that you should always be selling the action you want the prospect to take.

As for the website rebrand, the best thing you can do is create a case study for the company which did your branding and then make them point that “success story” back to your site – of course using Google tagging so you can track by referral source. (Ka-ching! Free traffic you can track!)

See how that works?

And when you make everything you do work for you in this way, you can actually track the efficacy of all your marketing efforts. (More on that below.)

The Definition of Direct Response Marketing

In my mind, direct response marketing is the type of marketing which requires immediate action directly from the consumer. Whether that action come in the form of filling out a reply card, calling a specific number, requesting a lead magnet online, or signing up for a special package on the spot, there’s an action the marketing piece requires the consumer to take (or not!). And it’s that action, or lack thereof, which gets tracked.

Direct response marketing is often found in:

  • Email campaigns with a call to action at the end
  • Landing Pages with a front-end lead magnet
  • Marketing funnels with upsells and downsells
  • Direct mail sales letters with a special offer
  • Postcards with a call to action on them
  • LinkedIn messages with a proposed next step
  • Video sales letters (VSLs), webinars, and YouTube videos with a CTA
  • Space ads with a unique number to call

… And much, much more.

As you can see, direct response marketing is found in online platforms and offline platforms. It’s been used for over one hundred years to generate more sales and increased revenues for businesses of all sizes.

Direct response marketing is responsible for creating success for brands and products you may be familiar with, such as:

  • L.L. Bean
  • Proctor and Gamble
  • Harlequin Books
  • Duluth Trading Company
  • “Blue Blocker” Sunglasses

And because the response is immediate and measurable, it’s super attractive to most business owners who need a quick return on investment.

Direct Response Marketing Example

For example, let’s say that between the copywriter, the list rental, the postage, and the production that running a piece of direct mail to a list of 10,000 names cost you $25,000. But let’s say that of those 10,000, a good 100 respond and spend $597 on your offer. Congratulations! You have a 1% response rate and earned a whopping $59,700 for your $25,000 spend, netting you $34,700.

Now let’s say you follow up with those who didn’t spend by sending a series of 5 letters, each one selling the benefits, proof, guarantees, etc. By the end of that sequence (which you already paid for up-front), you’ll have earned another 75 buyers and $44,775 dollars.

Not bad, eh?

And when it’s time to run the campaign with a new list (which you’ll do, because you’re savvy like that), you have three options:

  1. Run the same campaign with a new list.
  2. Split the list in two, with half running the “control” campaign you just ran and half running a new campaign you want to test.
  3. Run a completely new campaign with a new list

Doing this sort of tracking and testing is the hallmark of direct response marketing and direct response advertising. It’s what direct response copywriters (like me) are trained to do!

As you can imagine, we “direct response copywriters” can apply this same testing methodology to all sorts of media:

  • Space ads in magazines or newspapers
  • Display advertising in websites
  • Facebook, Google PPC, LinkedIn, etc ads
  • Marketing Funnels (Clickfunnels, Leadpages, etc)
  • Webinars and VSLs
  • Email campaigns
  • And so many more…

Which is why a good direct response marketer can make you so much more than you ever pay out to them IF you hire the right one and are willing to test, test, and test some more.

How We Do It

There are a few ways direct response copywriters get people to respond to your marketing.

Attention-Grabbing Headlines

In order to grab the reader’s immediate attention, we use headlines that “jolt” and “jar” the reader out of their somnolence and into whatever it is we want them to see. And then we keep them glued until they either opt out of reading more, or end up buying. John Carlton calls it the “greased slide”, and it works well to increase your bottom line.

Laser-Targeted Focus

Direct response works because it’s laser focused. That is, we write copy for a specific avatar with a specific problem that can only be solved with a specific product – yours! It’s this laser targeting in avatar, language, and pain points that makes what we do so successful.

Benefit-Driven, Emotionally-Charged Copy

Another way direct response copywriters get the sale is by using benefit-driven, emotionally charged copy. We understand that people buy on emotion and justify with facts, which is why we use emotional language and reasoning in our marketing messages.

Short-Term Follow-Ups

Campaign success depends on short-term follow-ups requesting immediate action. It’s this measuring of “immediate action” that tells us whether the marketing campaign worked or not!

Long-term Follow-ups

We understand that not everyone is going to buy on the first go-round. Which is why a good direct response copywriter will help you plan a long-term campaign to nurture your prospect and buyer database. That way, you continue to be “top of mind” in the eyes of your prospects.

Want some help?

And if you’d like some help with creating accountable marketing campaigns, simply book a call with my team. We can talk one-on-one about your business and campaigns and see if we can inject a little direct response into it. If not, no worries – the call is free of charge.

Hopefully, this has given you a little bit better idea about what direct response marketing is all about. In Part 2 of the series I’ll share the benefits and drawbacks of direct response marketing.When you’re ready to see how direct response marketing can help you get more leads and increase your conversion rate, then feel free to book a no-cost discovery call with us today.

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

About the author

Lynn Swayze

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Direct Response Marketing: Advantages and Disadvantages - Indiana Direct Response Marketing

[…] Could direct response marketing be the answer to your business growth problems? In part 2 of the “Ultimate Guide to Direct Response” series, we take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of direct response marketing for small businesses. Click here for Part 1. […]

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