What Is Direct Response Copywriting? 6 Real-Life Lessons

What Is Direct Response Copywriting? 6 Real-Life Content Lessons From This Form Of Copy

by | Oct 20, 2016 | Copywriting | 0 comments

Direct response copywriting is the antithesis of the ad copywriting you see on TV.

Those TV ad copywriters are working a long-term game.

They want you to remember their product at some point in the future, when/if you see it on supermarket shelves.

In contrast, direct-response copywriting focuses on the immediate moment. This is copy that’s about inspiring the buyer to take action as soon as they’re finished reading.

In other words, when you use this method, your goal is to get a direct response from the reader as soon as they have digested your words.

You’re trying to get them to complete an action like:

  • Making a purchase
  • Signing up for your newsletter
  • Downloading a freebie
  • Following you on social media

To do this, you have to craft copy that tugs at your reader’s emotions, and, most importantly, addresses their worries, fears, pain points, or immediate needs.

direct response copywriting tips

The Art of Deeply Understanding Your Reader

You can’t talk about direct-response copy without also mentioning David Ogilvy, who is routinely cited as the father of modern advertising.

This ad man headed up uber-successful and memorable campaigns for American Express, Rolls Royce, Hathaway, Shell, Dove, and more during his heyday in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Ogilvy knew that the most effective direct-response copy doesn’t just talk to your targets – it speaks to them on a personal level.

The combination of this deep understanding and direct, personal approach is the engine that runs this form of copywriting.

6 Direct Response Copywriting Takeaways from Real-World Examples

So, how do you write great direct response copy?

There are a few key principles you must follow.
To understand them better, let’s look at real-world examples and see what they can teach us.

First up: an example of a perfect direct response copy headline.

1. A Great Headline Snags Your Readers

The first principle of direct response copywriting is to craft a headline that makes your readers want to keep going.

The headline needs to snag their attention, inspire their curiosity, and spark their interest.

Here’s a classic example from none other than David Ogilvy:

“At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock”

Ogilvy called this headline the best he ever wrote. And, as a result of the success from this Rolls-Royce ad, other companies like Shell specifically requested Ogilvy and wouldn’t consider another copywriter for their campaigns.

There are a few reasons why this headline worked so well. In fact, it ticks a bunch of boxes for proven headline formulas:

  • The benefit is cleverly hidden within the headline – it’s not stated, it’s implied. (When you’re going 60 on the interstate in this car, it’s so quiet, you’ll only hear the clock.)
  • It’s simple and to-the-point. It doesn’t use any hyperbole or fluff to pad it out.
  • It states something exciting and provocative. When this ad came out, most cars had loud and obnoxious engines.
  • It’s useful information. It’s helpful for the person looking at buying a car like this.
  • It sparks your curiosity. What kind of car IS this? What else can it do? The headline makes the reader want to learn more.

From the get-go,you must write a headline that makes readers want to know more when you’re writing direct response copy.

You will never find a lazily-written headline with this form of copywriting.

2. Long-Form Copy Informs, Persuades, and Convinces

Most direct response copywriting is long-form.

Why is this?
First of all, to be more persuasive, you need to give the reader more information.

After all, what’s easier: Having to convince somebody to buy something in one sentence, or having an entire page to do it?

To quote David Ogilvy again, “The more you tell, the more you sell.”

In other words, the more information you can give your reader, the more likely they’ll want to follow up on the desired action.

For a good example, let’s look at this sales page for Adobe Photoshop CC:

It starts out with a solid headline, some intro copy, and a video.

But, it doesn’t end there. Scroll down the page, and you’ll find great explanations of why you might need this product:

Then it dives into exactly what you can do with the software’s features and how they help you with creative image editing:

There’s a lot of copy on this page, but it’s all useful, informative, and persuasive. It helps you make that purchase decision.

Most importantly, it keeps you scrolling and entices you to click “buy now.”

Imagine, for a second, if the only copy on this page was the first paragraph. Suddenly, it’s a lot less convincing. You don’t have enough information to decide if you want to buy.

Data backs up the case for long-form copy, as well.

Neil Patel actually ran a test to see whether shorter or longer copy resulted in more conversions on a landing page.

He discovered that his landing page with long-form content (1,292 words) converted 7.6% better than the page with short content (488 words). The leads on the page with long-form content were also higher-quality – meaning they were more likely to end up buying.

Crazy Egg also did a case study about long vs. short content.

They designed two homepages: One was short and sweet, and the other was about 20x longer.

They did an A/B split-test to find out which page would perform better at converting visitors to customers.

The results: The page with long-form content outperformed the short page by 30%.

It makes sense, though. When your customers have more information, they feel like they’re making a better, smarter decision.

Long-form direct response copy helps them get there immediately.

3. An Irresistible CTA Clinches the Response You Want

All that copy you wrote to inform, persuade, and convince your reader to act will be useless without the climax:

The call-to-action.

Think of the CTA like your battle-cry. It inspires your readers to get moving now with exactly what they should do next.

Here’s a perfect example of a motivating CTA for joining the 5-minute Copywriting Crash Course by Copy Hackers:

The specific wording (“give” and “get”) inspires direct and immediate action, which is the hallmark of a good CTA.

So, what would an ineffective, lazy CTA look like?

Imagine if the above example read “Submit” rather than “YES, GIVE ME ACCESS.”

“Submit” simply does not have the persuasive power that’s needed, here. It doesn’t tell the reader to do anything concrete. It’s a weak, uninspiring verb for this scenario.

Meanwhile, “GIVE ME ACCESS” shouts at the reader. When the reader follows this CTA, it translates into their command for the website. All of a sudden, the consumer has the power.

It also says exactly what they’re getting (“access”).

In short, this CTA is actionable, concrete, and persuasive – three things you must have to push your reader into the direct response you want your copy to produce.

4. Staying Customer-Focused Keeps Your Copy Relevant

Direct-response copywriting must stay relevant for the audience/reader to net the results you want.

It’s about them, your customers, not about you.

In fact, this form of copywriting exclusively uses the second person voice to address the reader. It’s “you” focused.

Here’s another good example from Copy Hackers. This page is all about their copywriting training, Copy School:

It’s about what Copy School gives you, the reader/prospect. It is not about how great Copy School is, in and of itself.

This is a mistake many well-meaning businesses make over and over again. They make their direct response copy about them, when it should be all about their customer.

And, to make it about the customer, you have to know yours, inside-out.

ThriveHive offers some concrete steps to help you get to know your targets:

  • Take a look at current customers and pinpoint similarities among them.
  • Observe your competitors and analyze who they’re targeting in their content and why. Identify how this audience could be similar to/different from your own audience.
  • Swim around in social media and interact with your followers and customers. See how they interact among themselves and with other businesses, too.

5. K.I.S.S. Ensures You Don’t Go Over Their Heads

If your customer can’t understand your copy, you’ve failed.

To inspire direct action from your words, you must write at their level – not over it, and not under it.

Think of it this way: The more readable and understandable your copy is, the more people you can guide into the fold.

Don’t speak to your audience like they’re first-graders, but don’t make your copy unnecessarily complicated, either.

There are a few ways to make your copy readable:

  • Abide by the K.I.S.S. principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid)
  • Use tools that grade your copy’s readability and edit as necessary

Use K.I.S.S.

The U.S. Navy originally coined the K.I.S.S. principle to apply to design, but you can apply it to copy, too.

According to HubSpot, this means you should:

  • Avoid over-explaining. Keep your explanations of your product or service to-the-point. Tell customers how it solves their pain points and what other people think of it. Don’t harp on and on about one feature or one aspect.
  • Present trustworthy content. Your customers want guidance. Present content that’s well-researched, that cites reputed sources, and presents facts and statistics to show you can be that trusted guide.
  • Keep your stories clear and logical. Telling stories is a fantastic way to convince customers to bite. Just remember to tell tales that have a point. They should move from A to B to C clearly and logically. If you have a tendency to be wordy or long-winded, get yourself a good editor with a sharp eye.

Use Readability Checkers

A good readability checker gives you a quick glance at how easy your copy is to read.

Most checkers base their scores on the Flesch-Kinkaid Reading Ease formula. This formula determines the readability of a piece of text by looking at the total ratio of words to syllables to sentences.

There are two basic scores you can get from the formula: a readability score and a grade level (i.e. the minimum grade level knowledge a person needs to have to understand the text).

The readability score is scaled from 0-100 (hardest – easiest).

The higher the readability score, the lower the grade level that can understand it.

Here are some readability checkers you can use to test how easy your copy is to read:

For an example of incredibly simple and readable direct response copy, let’s look at Apple’s page for the iPad Pro:

When we plug this copy into Hemingway Editor, it gets a “Grade 3” score for readability. It’s so simple, anyone will understand it:

Also noteworthy: 0 sentences are “hard to read” or “very hard to read.”

We can also test the readability of the entire page by plugging it into WebpageFX’s Readability Test Tool:

The page will be “easily understood by 12 to 13 year olds,” which means anyone older will also have zero problems reading the page.

6. Cultivating a Sense of Urgency Makes Direct Customer Action Inevitable

The final piece of the puzzle for direct response copywriting is urgency.

Let’s return to Apple for a great example of cultivating urgency in your copy. This is from the product page for the Apple Watch Series 3. It describes how the watch can be your “ultimate sports watch”:

How can it “take your workouts further”? As you scroll down the page, little bits of copy tell you how:

The features pile up as you keep scrolling, which builds your anticipation. You might find yourself wondering “What can’t this watch do?”

As the benefits pile up, you get more excited.

It’s an irresistible build-up that will inevitably convince the customer on this page, who is likely very close to buying, to pull the trigger.

What’s another way to create a sense of urgency?

According to Econsultancy, using the scarcity principle is a good way to do it.

This simply means tapping into a basic buyer fear: that an item will sell out before they get their hands on it.

You’re probably familiar with this phenomenon. Phrases like the ones below are good indicators that a business is using this selling technique:

  • “Hurry – While supplies last!”
  • “Only 3 left in stock”
  • “Limited quantities available”

Here’s an example of the scarcity principle at work:

There’s only going to be one pressing of this vinyl record, and there’s just one left! *cue buyer panic as they fumble to click the “buy” button*

As you can see, that sense of urgency is ultimately what might push your reader/customer over the edge to take the action you want.

Make Direct Response Marketing Work for You in Your Copy

Direct response copywriting is a tried-and-true method to clinch that reader action, whether it’s on your sales page, landing page, blog, email, or another piece of content.

If you employ direct response copywriting, follow the above examples to make it truly effective.

You can also check out examples of direct response copy at these various resources:

Looking for a Direct Response Copywriter?

If you need a direct response copywriter right now who can inspire the customer actions that will help your business, you’re in the right place.

Here at Express Writers, our talented team can craft compelling direct response copy that gets results. See what we can do for you and check out the possibilities for sales pages, email sequences, and more.

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