What is Direct Response Copywriting? (+ Tips and Examples)
- Andrew Folkler
If you are a marketer, copywriter, or business owner, you probably have heard the term ‘direct response copywriting.’
In this article, you will learn what is direct response copywriting, how to write it, and see some proven examples.
Let’s start with the definition.
What Is Direct Response Copywriting?
Direct response copywriting is marketing content that intends to move the audience to take immediate action after reading.
Since its inception, the principles of direct response copywriting have been the same. What has changed over time is the medium. Direct response copywriting first appeared in the mail.
If you remember pre-internet days, you may remember seeing large magazine articles with detachable mailing cards. You might read the article, decide to buy something, fill out the card, and mail it to the company with a check!
This method is still used today. If you’ve ever checked the mail to see a credit card advertisement, that’s an example of direct-response copywriting.
When television became an entertainment staple in every household, direct-response copywriting evolved. Commercials with call-in phone numbers are a form of direct response TV advertising. These commercials differ from branded product commercials meant to be purchased in a store. The difference is that direct-response commercials want you to take action now.
After the internet boom, direct-response copywriting evolved again. This time, in the form of sales letters, email marketing, pay-per-click ads, and landing page copy.
Why is Direct Response Copywriting Important?
Direct response copywriting is critical to your marketing campaigns because it is how you make sales.
Remember, direct-response copywriting is persuasive copy that aims to move the reader to take action right away.
Here are some possible actions you may want the reader to take after reading your copy:
- Making a purchase
- Signing up for your newsletter
- Downloading a freebie or lead magnet
- Following you on social media
- Book a call
- Schedule a product demo
- Share your content
So why do you want to move your audience to immediate action?
The answer lies in the science of purchasing. When someone is thinking about buying something, they usually have a problem that they are struggling with. Your product or service is one of the consumer’s many potential options. The consumer could pick your business or a competitor’s business. Or they might not make a decision at all.
If you do not move the consumer to immediate action, they might spend too much time thinking and analyzing the buying decision. They might talk themselves out of buying or go with a competitor instead. Direct response copywriting capitalizes on the emotions that the consumer is experiencing based on their current pains and struggles.
Presumably, your business will have a product or service that can alleviate the consumer’s pain. Your research will also inform you what happens if the consumer does not take immediate action.
For example, let’s say you are a life coach who is looking to help clients beat their procrastination. Your direct response copy will help these potential clients realize that you understand their pains. They may miss out on opportunities because they are afraid to start. Once they feel understood, they will trust your business, and be more willing to purchase your program and learn from you. After all, if they do not act, they will continue to struggle with procrastination.
So now that you know what direct response copywriting is and why you need it, let’s dig deeper. Here are 12 must-know direct-response copywriting tips.
Direct Response Copywriting Tips
1. Know Your Target Audience
As always when it comes to marketing your business, you start with the basics. Knowing your target audience is the first and most critical step in creating great direct-response copywriting.
After all, it’s hard to convince someone to do something if you don’t know that person well!
The target action that you want the reader to take at the end makes direct response copywriting so important. This also means that it is incredibly easy to measure the success of your copy by analyzing how many people read the copy compared to how many people took the target action.
If your audience feels you do not understand them, they will tune out. They may not even need your product or service. For example, you wouldn’t try to sell an online course about running a business to people who do not want to be entrepreneurs!
When you are clear about your target audience, you can speak to them at their level. When you speak to them at their level, you can tap into their emotions and pains to build trust.
Because without that trust, they won’t read your copy.
2. Craft a Compelling Headline
Your headline is the first thing your reader will see. Therefore it is the most important element of your direct response copy.
The headline carries the burden of the first impression. A strong and compelling headline will hook the reader and make them want to continue reading. On the other hand, a boring headline will make them move on to something else.
So what does a compelling headline look like?
A good rule of thumb when writing a headline is to use the rule of the 4 U’s. A compelling headline should be useful, unique, urgent, and ultra-specific.
Let’s craft a sample headline right now for an entrepreneur who wants to sell their online course about business accounting.
The first of the 4 U’s is useful. The headline should convey that your copy will be valuable to the reader. The reader should instantly know that you are making a promise to help them and that they should continue reading to learn more.
So we could write something like, “Learn Business Accounting to Grow Your Business.”
This is an okay start, but it only shows its usefulness to the reader. There are 3 more U’s to add in. So let’s spice it up some more. The next quality of a good headline is how unique it is. Currently, the headline is quite generic so here is an example to make it more unique.
“Helpful business accounting practices to stop your business from bleeding money.”
It still doesn’t quite land, and that leads us to urgency. You want your readers to read now so they will buy after reading your copy. The headline needs to build a sense of urgency within the reader. So, our headline might evolve into something like this:
“Stop Bleeding Money Today. Business Accounting Made Easy.”
Now the headline is starting to look good, but there is one more attribute to a good headline. And that is making the headline ultra-specific. You can communicate the product’s specific benefits or a promise to your reader. Add ultra-specificity to your headline, which might look like:
“Stop Bleeding Money Today. Manage Your Business Accounts While Spending Less Than an Hour a Week!”
Now you have a clear headline with a compelling promise. Practice this exercise with your headlines. Ask yourself how you can make your headlines more useful, unique, urgent, and ultra-specific.
3. Opt for Long-Form Content
Most direct response copywriting is long-form, often between 1500 – 5000 words. Now you might think, “Hold on… who has time to read all that? Especially with everyone’s short attention spans!”
And believe it or not, people read the long-form copy, which is why you should write long-form. Here’s why.
First and most important, you are looking to address all the concerns and fears your target audience is experiencing. That means you will slowly need to introduce your product or service’s different benefits. To effectively address each concern, you must take the time for each fear and explain how your product or service can alleviate their pain. Building trust takes a long time. That is why you must invest time in creating compelling long-form direct-response copy. Otherwise, your readers will finish reading your copy and feel unsure about your offer.
Another reason to write in long form is that it filters out the people who might not be a good fit for your offer. Closing sales is great, but if that person asks for a refund immediately after buying, that creates more work for you! When someone sees a large amount of copy, they will quickly decide how important this offer is to them. If it is not important, they filter themselves out by not reading. However, if the decision is important to them, they will take as much time as necessary to ensure they made the best possible decision.
The third reason to write your copy in long form is to lay all the cards on the table. The last thing you want is for your reader to finish reading your copy and feel confused. The reader should be able to decide immediately whether the offer is right for them or not. This is an opportunity to explain exactly what they would be getting when they opt into your product or service and how it will benefit them.
4. Write in the Second Person
As a quick refresher, writing in the first person means writing from your perspective. You would write sentences that start with the word ‘I’ (I went to the store today).
Writing in the third person means writing from a narrator’s perspective. Instead of saying, “I went to the store today,” you could write, “They went to the store today.”
So what is writing in the second person?
It means you are writing your copy as if you are speaking directly to the person. You start your sentences with ‘you.’
A quick example would be to examine how this blog post is written. You are someone who is interested in learning more about direct response copywriting, and this post is written as if I am having a conversation with you.
Writing in the second person has several advantages.
First, your copy will feel more personal. The reader will feel like they are speaking to you and will be more likely to trust you. Writing in the first person makes the reader feel put off. They might even think you care more about yourself instead of about them! Trust from your reader is delicate. That is why being mindful of how you speak to the reader is so important.
Another reason to write in the second person is it’s easier for you to outline your target audience clearly. Chances are, your readers will come from all kinds of backgrounds. If you recall at the beginning of this article, you will see that the article is addressed to business owners, copywriters, and marketers who want to learn more about direct response copywriting. If someone outside those categories stumbled on your article, they would know it wasn’t written for them.
Likewise, writing in the second person can give you the tools you need to speak directly to your target audience.
5. Follow the AIDCA formula
The AIDCA formula is a proven and effective technique for creating direct response copywriting that engages and motivates the reader to take action. Each letter of the acronym represents a specific stage in the process of creating copy that is compelling, persuasive, and ultimately results in a conversion.
A – Attention: The first step is to capture the reader’s attention with a compelling headline or opening statement. This can be achieved by addressing a problem or pain point that the reader may be experiencing or by making a bold statement that grabs their attention.
I – Interest: Once you have their attention, you need to build their interest by highlighting the benefits of your product or service. This is where you provide information that appeals to the reader’s needs and desires, demonstrating how your product can solve their problems and improve their lives.
D – Desire: Once you have built their interest, you must create a desire for your product or service. This is where you showcase the unique features and advantages of your offering and explain why it is the best solution for the reader’s needs.
C – Conviction: After creating a desire for your product, you need to convince the reader that they need to take action. This is where you provide social proof, testimonials, or other forms of evidence that demonstrate the effectiveness of your product or service.
A – Action: Finally, you need to call the reader to take action, whether it’s making a purchase, signing up for a newsletter, or requesting more information. This is where you provide a clear and compelling call to action that motivates the reader to act.
Using the AIDCA formula can help you create direct response copywriting that is focused, persuasive, and effective. By following each stage of the process, you can create copy that engages your target audience, communicates the benefits of your product or service, and motivates them to take action.
Whether you are writing a sales letter, landing page, or email marketing campaign, the AIDCA formula is a valuable tool for any direct-response copywriter.
6. Remember Your Value Proposition
Your value proposition is a statement that clearly and concisely communicates your product or service’s unique benefits and value to your target audience. It’s an essential element of your marketing strategy, as it helps differentiate your offering from your competitors’ and helps you stand out in a crowded marketplace.
Remembering your value proposition is crucial because it forms the foundation of your marketing message. It’s what sets you apart from your competition and tells your audience why they should choose your product or service over others. By focusing on your value proposition, you can create messaging that resonates with your target audience, speaks to their needs and desires, and ultimately motivates them to take action.
Identify your target audience and what they’re looking for in a product or service to find your value proposition. Conduct market research, analyze your competition, and identify your unique strengths and advantages. Consider your product or service’s benefits, such as how it solves a problem, saves time, or improves the quality of life. Then, distill your findings into a clear and concise statement that communicates your unique value proposition to your target audience.
Remembering your value proposition is critical to the success of your marketing efforts. It helps you stand out in a crowded marketplace, connect with your target audience, and ultimately drive conversions. By understanding what sets you apart and communicating that effectively to your customers, you can build a strong brand and achieve your business goals.
7. Use Impactful Language
Using impactful language is crucial in direct response copywriting because it captures the reader’s attention, engages their emotions, and motivates them to take action. Impactful language uses powerful, descriptive words that communicate the benefits and advantages of your product or service in a way that resonates with your target audience.
For example, instead of using boring language like “good,” “nice,” or “quality,” impactful language might include words like “amazing,” “spectacular,” or “premium.” These words evoke a stronger emotional response in the reader and help convey the value and uniqueness of your offering.
Similarly, impactful language can also use metaphors or analogies to create vivid imagery and help the reader better understand the benefits of your product or service. For instance, instead of describing a product as “easy to use,” impactful language might use an analogy such as “as simple as a child’s toy” to illustrate how intuitive and straightforward it is.
On the other hand, using boring or generic language can make your copywriting dull and forgettable. For example, using phrases like “best in class,” “industry-leading,” or “top-rated” without any specific evidence or examples to back them up can sound generic and unconvincing. Similarly, using vague language like “improves performance” or “reduces costs” without specific details or data can make your copywriting seem unremarkable.
Impactful language is a critical component of direct response copywriting. It helps capture the reader’s attention, engage their emotions, and motivate them to take action. By using descriptive, powerful language and avoiding generic or boring phrases, you can create copy that stands out and effectively communicates the value and benefits of your product or service to your target audience.
8. Ensure Your Copy is Easy to Read
Writing direct response copywriting in easy-to-read language is critical to ensure that your message is effectively conveyed to your target audience. Your copy should be written in a clear and concise manner, avoiding complex sentences, jargon, and technical terms that may be confusing or difficult to understand. This approach ensures that your copy is accessible to the broadest possible audience and can be quickly and easily consumed.
One way to measure the readability of your copy is by using the Flesch-Kincaid (FK) score. The FK score is a metric that measures the reading level of your copy by analyzing factors like sentence length and syllable count. The score ranges from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating that your copy is easier to read and understand.
While no universal FK score is ideal for all types of content, a score of 7 is generally considered a good target for direct response copywriting. This score corresponds to a reading level of around grade 7, meaning that your copy should be easily understood by a wide range of readers, including those with lower levels of education or reading comprehension.
By aiming for an FK score of 7, you can ensure that your copy is accessible and easy to read, making it more likely that your target audience will understand and act upon your message. Whether you’re writing a sales letter, landing page, or email marketing campaign, using simple and clear language can help you create copy that resonates with your readers and drives conversions.
9. Engage Your Customers With Stories
Storytelling is a powerful tool in direct response copywriting, as it allows you to create an emotional connection with your target audience and communicate the value and benefits of your product or service in a compelling and memorable way. By sharing stories, you can illustrate the impact that your offering has had on real people, highlight the unique advantages of your product or service, and differentiate yourself from your competitors.
One scenario where storytelling can be effective is in the form of case studies. A case study is a detailed account of how your product or service solved a specific problem or challenge faced by a real customer. By sharing the customer’s story, you can demonstrate how your offering can deliver tangible results and showcase its value.
Another scenario where storytelling can be effective is in the form of customer testimonials. By sharing the experiences and feedback of satisfied customers, you can build trust and credibility with your target audience and provide social proof that your product or service is effective and worthwhile.
Storytelling can also be used more broadly by sharing your company’s origin story or brand values. By telling your story in a compelling and engaging way, you can create an emotional connection with your audience and demonstrate why your company is unique and deserving of their attention and loyalty.
In conclusion, storytelling is a powerful tool in direct response copywriting, allowing you to communicate the value and benefits of your product or service in a compelling and memorable way. By sharing stories, whether in the form of case studies, customer testimonials, or brand messaging, you can create an emotional connection with your audience, build trust and credibility, and ultimately drive conversions.
10. Leverage Social Proof
Social proof is a powerful tool in direct response copywriting because it leverages the principle that people are more likely to take action when they see others doing the same. By demonstrating that others have used and benefited from your product or service, you can build trust and credibility with your target audience and encourage them to take action.
One way to use social proof in your direct response copywriting is to incorporate customer reviews and ratings. By showcasing positive feedback from satisfied customers, you can demonstrate that your product or service has delivered value to others and increase the likelihood that potential customers will be motivated to try it out for themselves.
Another way to use social proof is by highlighting endorsements or mentions from respected sources in your industry. For example, if your product has been featured in a major publication or received an award, mentioning this in your copy can help build trust and credibility with your target audience.
Using social proof can also be as simple as stating the number of customers or users you have. By sharing the volume of people who have used and benefited from your product or service, you can create a sense of momentum and demonstrate that others have already made the decision to try it out.
In conclusion, social proof is a powerful tool in direct response copywriting that can help build trust and credibility with your target audience and encourage them to take action. Whether through customer reviews and ratings, endorsements, or the sheer number of users, incorporating social proof into your copywriting can help demonstrate the value and benefits of your product or service and motivate potential customers to take action.
11. Create a Sense of Urgency
Creating a sense of urgency is critical in direct response copywriting because it motivates your target audience to take action now rather than putting it off for later. By highlighting the benefits of acting quickly and creating a sense of scarcity or limited availability, you can increase the likelihood that potential customers will take action and drive conversions.
The consequences of not creating a sense of urgency can be significant. Without urgency, potential customers may put off making a decision or forget about your product or service altogether. This can lead to lost sales and missed opportunities to connect with your target audience and drive conversions.
Urgent language can be used in various ways to create a sense of urgency in your copywriting. For example, using phrases like “limited time offer,” “act now,” or “don’t miss out” can create a sense of scarcity and encourage potential customers to take action quickly. Similarly, highlighting the consequences of not acting now, such as “prices will increase” or “stock is running low,” can create a sense of urgency and motivate potential customers to take action before it’s too late.
Creating a sense of urgency in your direct response copywriting can be powerful in driving conversions and connecting with your target audience. By using urgent language and highlighting the benefits of acting quickly, you can increase the likelihood that potential customers will take action and drive results for your business.
12. Close With a Powerful CTA
Having a powerful call-to-action (CTA) at the end of your direct response copywriting is crucial because it tells your audience what action to take next and motivates them to do so. A CTA is a statement that prompts your target audience to take a specific action, such as purchasing, signing up for a newsletter, or requesting more information. It’s the final step in the conversion process and should be clear, compelling, and easy to follow.
There are several types of CTAs you can use in direct-response copywriting. A direct CTA is straightforward and tells the reader exactly what to do, such as “Buy now” or “Sign up today.” An indirect CTA is more subtle and invites the reader to take action without explicitly telling them what to do, such as “Discover more” or “Learn how.”
Another type of CTA is the fear of missing out (FOMO) CTA, which creates a sense of urgency by highlighting the consequences of not taking action, such as “Don’t miss out on this limited-time offer” or “Act now before it’s too late.”
Additionally, social proof CTAs can be used to leverage the principle of social proof by highlighting the number of customers or users who have already taken the desired action, such as “Join over 10,000 satisfied customers” or “See why so many people love our product.”
In conclusion, having a powerful CTA is essential in direct response copywriting because it tells your audience what action to take next and motivates them to do so. Several types of CTAs can be used, including direct, indirect, FOMO, and social proof CTAs.
By choosing the right kind of CTA and making it clear and compelling, you can increase the likelihood that your target audience will take action and drive conversions for your business.
Direct Response Copywriting Examples
They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano…
In 1927, John Caples wrote one of the oldest and most popular direct response copy in marketing history.
This is none other than his piece, “They Laughed When I Sat Down At the Piano But When I Started to Play!~”
This piece of direct response copywriting was promoting a musical instrument learning program where readers could order from 25 different instrument programs.
As you read through this piece, you will see that the foundation of the copy is rooted in storytelling. The story is about a man who taught himself piano and played for his friends and family at a party. As he starts playing, everyone goes from confused to impressed. At the end of the performance, everyone is intrigued. How did he learn to play so well? Who was his teacher? And then he attributes his success to the training program.
Throughout the story, the copy addresses several fears of people when it comes to learning music. Most people fear the time commitment, the cost of the program, and the fear of failure. Yet, the main character in the story learned the piano with ease.
For the music enthusiasts, you might have picked up the main character playing Liszt’s Liebestraum. Liebestraum is a piece that requires quite a bit of technical skill which means that the reader has an expectation of the skill they can acquire if they purchased the program.
Another powerful component of this copy is the headline. The first half shows a common fear of performing for an audience, “They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano…” Then, the headline sharply contrasts with the line, “But when I started to Play!”
Creating contrast is a common part of persuasion. What is fascinating about this ad is that it is the reverse of how comparisons are typically made. Most people compare by discussing the positives first, then the negatives. Compare these two examples below.
“The burritos at this restaurant are amazing, but the restaurant is not that clean.”
“The restaurant is not that clean, but their burritos are amazing.”
Which one sounds more convincing? The language is exactly the same but the second version sounds much more compelling than the first.
If we apply the same comparison to the headline of this copy, you might see that a headline might look like, “When I started playing they were amazed, but everyone laughed when I sat down at the piano.” That small switch in language killed the magic in the headline.
There are many other powerful insights to be found in this piece of direct response copywriting. It is best to read it often and even practice handwriting the entire article to learn the principles embedded in this copy. To read the full copy, click here.
Million Dollar Smile
Not many people like going to the dentist. It can be really uncomfortable with all the needles, drills, wires, and other tools being pushed into your mouth. Some procedures can be outright painful and expensive. And for some reason, the cavities and plaque just keep coming no matter how hard you try to keep your teeth clean!
That is why Gary Halbert focused on the benefits of healthy teeth… the million-dollar smile. Halbert writes the 16 levels of cleanliness in dental cleaning and explains how to identify what level your teeth are at. He compares polishing teeth to polishing diamonds, where he derives your smile’s value.
Everyone remembers that person with a beautiful smile. When you see someone with a perfect smile, you feel their joy. You feel a sense of security and warmth when you are with that person.
By putting your focus on that feeling, the author is slowly building desire within you to want to give that feeling to other people with your smile. Halbert also hits on the fact that if you smile, you start to feel happier. He explains the connection between the facial muscles and our feelings. Try it right now! Smile for 30 seconds, and you will feel a difference in your emotions.
The next thing Halbert tackles is common objections that readers might have. Readers might be worried about costs, pain, and who the primary dentist would be. Each objection is handled with precision as he explains all the benefits Dr. Gleghorn offered new patients.
To read the ad in full, click here.
Aces Business Acceleration
Now that you have seen a few classic examples, here is a more modern example of an online direct-response sales letter. If you are familiar with Mirasee, you would know that ACES Business Acceleration is the flagship business coaching program offered by the company. Every year, many business owners sign up to receive coaching and support to grow their business.
One of the first things you see that is different from the previous examples is the use of video. A short video in your sales letter can be a great way to convey information quickly. Those who watch the video will see Danny Iny share the success stories of several entrepreneurs who enrolled in ACES. Viewers will think about their business and want to achieve that success, instantly building credibility and desire.
The next item you might notice in this sales letter is the frequent use of testimonials. ACES is a big commitment for business owners so they will be very unsure initially. However, once they see that many other entrepreneurs went through the program and were able to grow their business to six to seven figures, they will feel confident to join the program.
Another component of this direct response copywriting piece is how the value of the program is explained. Closer to the end, the copy shows exact dollar amounts to reflect the value of each program component.
This technique is powerful as it underlines what the reader is getting. The dollar amounts are not arbitrary. Often they show the industry averages. Often the value offered is lower than the program’s total cost, which helps reinforce the trust you are building throughout the direct response copywriting.
Your goal is to show that you are providing the reader with an offer so good they cannot pass it up. Thus, showing the valuations of each component makes it crystal clear to your reader.
To see the ACES Business Accelerator Sales Letter, click here.
Give Direct Response Copywriting a Try Today!
Direct response copywriting is a powerful tool to help businesses connect with their target audience, build trust and credibility, and ultimately drive conversions. Whether you’re writing sales letters, landing pages, email campaigns, or social media posts, the principles of direct response copywriting can be applied to all types of content across all industries.
Now that you’ve read this article, you have a better understanding of the key elements of effective direct-response copywriting. You recognize the power of creating a strong value proposition, using impactful language, incorporating social proof and urgency, and including a powerful call to action.
With this knowledge, you have the tools you need to begin your journey in direct response copywriting and start creating compelling, persuasive copy that drives results for your business. So don’t wait, start putting these principles into action today and see the impact they can have on your marketing efforts.