What is Direct Response Copywriting? 5 Best Practices for Better Copy

March 31, 2020
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Direct response, or direct response marketing, is designed to prompt its audience to take an immediate action, such as making a donation or signing up for a service. While this isn’t a new concept, cutting-edge techniques in email and social media marketing have brought the demand for direct response copywriting to all-time high.

Direct vs. Indirect Responses

It’s easiest to understand direct response copywriting in the broader context of advertising. Most advertising falls into the category known as "indirect response." It's not there to get you to buy something right away. Its main purpose is to build awareness so that consumers will recognize and remember a brand or product at a later date.

The goal of a Coca Cola ad isn’t for viewers to make a purchase as soon as they see it. Instead, the company wants to float its logo in front of as many people as possible. They're hoping that the next time you're at the grocery store or stopping to pump gas after a hot day at the beach, you'll reach for a Coke. Indirect response advertising is a general and long-term game.

Since it isn't trying to get users to convert immediately, Coca-Cola's "Share a Coke and a Song" campaign exemplifies indirect response advertising.

Direct response copy takes the opposite approach. It's a specific and short-term form of marketing—sales copy designed to inspire consumers to make a decision on the spot. If you've ever read a landing page with a sign-up form advertising a subscription, online course, or coaching program, you've read direct response copy.

For more effective direct response copy, follow these five best practices.

1. Make it personal.

Do not address your readers as though they were gathered together in a stadium. When people read your copy, they are alone. Pretend you are writing to each of them a letter on behalf of your client. –David Ogilvy

Many marketers cite David Ogilvy as the father of modern advertising. He wrote copy and designed many of the ads that shape the tone and practices of the advertising we see today. One of his main contributions to advertising was his technique of integrating the product or service into potential customers' lives by using a scenario or image.

He became famous and sought after when he wrote an ad for Rolls-Royce that began "At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in the new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock."

The ad campaign was wildly successful. Ogilvy didn't just recite a list of features; he painted a picture in the consumer's mind about the experiences they would have with that product.

2. Culminate with a call to action.

The purpose of direct response copy is to inspire the potential customer to make a purchase once they're finished reading. The entire piece of writing is formulated with this end in mind.

The copy focuses on the urgency of taking a specific action right away, whether it be signing up for a newsletter, enrolling in a course, or purchasing a product. Copywriters do this by advertising a time-sensitive deal, an exclusive offer, or a cap on enrollment. Much of the language in direct response copy should serve to illustrate why it's important to take action now.

The call to action (CTA) goes at the end of the piece, but the desired action is mentioned frequently throughout the copy. The copy is geared toward customers at the very end of the sales cycle, so the writer assumes the reader is already interested. The final purpose of the piece is to convince the reader to pull the trigger on the purchase.

3. Go into detail.

While quality direct response copywriting can begin with a catchy headline, its ultimate purpose is to make the consumer feel like they're making an informed decision. This includes details about the product and evidence supporting the company's claims.

If you've ever seen an infomercial, you remember that they're much longer than normal commercials. Most commercials have an indirect-response goal. They only need to impress you, make you laugh, and flash a logo on the screen that's easy to remember. An infomercial has to go into detail and provide as much evidence as possible to support its claims.

What that in mind, don't skimp out with your direct response copy. Include details like:

  • Relevant facts and statistics
  • Use cases and examples
  • Helpful stories and anecdotes
  • Supporting research

4. Aim for long-form.

It's an age-old question in digital marketing: is long-form or short-form content better?

Many advertisers are afraid to write long-form copy because they think potential customers will lose interest. However, tests have found that long-form copy increases user engagement and is rewarded by search engines. It also sees more sharing activity on social media.

For direct response copywriting, long-form content is the general standard.

When trying to convince a reader late in the sales funnel to pull the trigger on a purchase, the time for flashy graphic design and building brand awareness is over. If the consumer is bothering to read several paragraphs of direct response copy, they're already interested in making a purchase. They want to know more about how the product can benefit them and why it's a better choice than similar products.

With that in mind, don't shy away from length with your direct response copy. You should, of course, avoid meandering and irrelevant tangents, but know that it's OK for your content to run on the longer side.

5. Make your product benefits clear.

Popular wisdom dictates that indirect advertising is about the brand and direct advertising is about the consumer. This is a bit of a simplification—there will always be a little of both. Most importantly, direct response copywriting is about showing the consumer how a product will affect their lives.

Many successful life and business coaches describe the new lifestyles clients can lead if they follow the coach’s programs. World-renowned coach Tony Robbins markets his events by first describing how clients will benefit.

He focuses first on the outcomes he claims you'll achieve from his program—outcomes that you likely already want.

Only in the end does the copy provide details and credentials to provide substance and confidence for the consumer—the copy is less about him, and more about you. Finally, he includes testimonials, hoping the audience will become more confident in his program by relating to the struggles and successes of previous customers.

<div class="tip">No matter which type of copy you use, it's not easy to get users to convert through the written word. Only the most persuasive wordsmiths can achieve this. Consider trying Compose.ly's copywriting services if you'd like some help with your own copy.</div>


Since this type of copy is longer, more detailed, and more personal than standard advertising copy, direct response copywriting requires a skilled and informed writer. The best direct response writers generally have an inside or in-depth knowledge of a specific product or industry, and are capable of adopting the perspective of potential consumers.

While direct response copy may require more savvy than big-net advertising, such as posting an appealing image of a discounted product on Facebook, it's one of the most important parts of closing sales in your business. If you run a small business and are pitching products on your own, it's in your best interest to learn direct response copywriting.

Engaging direct response copy is what makes customers say "Yes" instead of "Maybe later"—and every business owner knows what a difference that is.

This article was written by Compose.ly writer Jensen Oness.

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