Direct response marketing is a huge industry that’s raking in nearly $200 billion dollars every year…even during recessions. It’s based on a few principles that the real Mad Men like David Ogilvy, Claude Hopkins and George Lois have used over the last century of advertising.
Knowing these principles can make you a lot of money…especially online where the Internet is a medium that is perfectly suited for these direct-marketing principles.
Let me share with you the 7 most important lessons I learned.
Lesson #1: Creating the right list
Direct marketing success lives or dies on you having the right list. This list could be your blog subscribers or Twitter followers. But the tried-and-true method is to grow your email newsletter list.
There are only two ways that I recommend you grow it:
- Organically: Place an email newsletter subscribe box on your site or use a Hellobar to encourage people to sign up.
- Guest posting – In your byline of your guest post entice people to visit your site and sign up.
And if you are impatient like me, you probably are going to make some of the mistakes I made when you start creating your list:
- Mistake #1 – Buying lists – I totally understand that you’d like to have a list of 50,000 email subscribers by tomorrow, but as tempting as it is to buy a list, don’t do it. You’ll get blacklisted by your ISP, fired by your email service provider and you’ll look like a spammer because people are going to mark your email as spam if they didn’t directly sign up to your list.
- Mistake #2 – Focusing on quantity and not quality – Large lists aren’t always better. They are difficult to manage, and only about 20% of that list is paying attention. So focus on things that get your readers active and engaged.
- Mistake #3 – Breaking expectations – When you start your list, set up expectations of frequency, design and content. And never break those expectations without giving your readers fair warning.
- Mistake #4 – Looking at open rates only – Open rates only tell half the story. You also need to look at other metrics like CTR, soft bounces, hard bounces, abuse complaints and, of course, unsubscribes.
- Mistake #5: Boring or repurposed content – If you want to destroy your email newsletter quickly then don’t give your readers anything new, special or exciting. Just feed them stuff you can get off your blog, or some random thoughts you had over the weekend. This deserves your best attention and content…so give it to them.Â
Lesson #2: The longer your copy the more you will sell
There is a long history of advertising people proving the claim that a long copy will always beat out the shorter version.
Let me point out that this doesn’t mean you should write 8 pages when two will do. The question isn’t “Is it too long?”
The question is “Is it interesting?”
As long as you are focused on the needs of the readers and giving them exactly what they want…they’ll read a 16-page sales letter.
Does long copy work on the web where attention spans are short? Of course! When someone has a problem they want solved they will slow down and read.
So how do you make long copy interesting? One of the best formulas I like to use is called Pain-Agitate-Solve. Here’s how it works:
- Pain – Identify the number one problem that your prospect has. Are they overweight? About to lose their job? Facing a divorce? Want that promotion so bad?
- Agitate – Once you’ve identified and explained that problem in such a way that resonates with them…stir it up. Tell them the consequences if they don’t do something to change. Paint a picture of the pain getting worse and worse.
- Solve – Once you’ve agitated, now give them the solution…which is your product.
And best of all, long sales copy doesn’t have to look spammy. Look how we do it on Crazy Egg as well as on my Quick Sprout Traffic System. The copy on both of those pages convert very well, and the design is clean.
Lesson #3: Use conversational copy to sell
Whether you are blogging or writing a sales letter, you need to write like you talk. If you find this difficult, imagine yourself sitting down with a friend and then telling him or her about your product.
How would you explain it? You wouldn’t use business talk or jargon. Your business partner might know what you are talking about…but your customer won’t have a clue.
Here are the 3 essential rules that I live by when it comes to writing conversational copy:
- Keep it simple – Use words that are about a 5th grade reading level. This is a proven method of keeping attention that newspapers and direct marketing advertisers have used for years. Programs like Microsoft Word will allow you to test the reading level.
- Ask questions – Ever met a really good conversationalist? Notice how they always keep the attention on you by asking questions? It’s a technique that works equally well in sales copy.
- Use the word “you” – To help you keep your copy focused on the reader, always write “you” instead of us, them or we. This makes it really personal and conversational.
Lesson #4: You have to tell your readers what to do
It may sound pushy, but telling readers what to do is actually a proven technique to generating sales, email subscriptions…in fact, any action you want your reader to do.
In the direct marketing industry, this is called your “call-to-action” or CTA. Every sales letter has to have one. If not, then I don’t care how persuasive your copy is…it will fail.
What are the principles behind good CTAs? Here are four:
- Only one – If you are trying to get your prospect to sign up for a coaching spot, then your CTA should focus on that…and that alone. Don’t offer other CTAs.
- Short – Great CTAs tell you what to do in as few words as possible. “Join Us.” “Buy Now.” “Donate Here.”
- Urgent – Great CTAs also will create urgency by a deadline. “Limited supply. Order now.” “75% Discount ends midnight tonight.”
- Irresistible – You will probably think that this is obvious, but you won’t believe how many times I’ve analyzed a clients site to see boring CTAs. If you want to see some really great CTAs, study Groupon’s offers. These are irresistible, plain and simple.
Lesson #5: Your headline really counts
When writing blog posts, I spend about ten percent of my time on creating good headlines. I have a few books on my shelf that I leaf through to get ideas and several blogs I look at.
Using the 4 U’s, I then write about ten or twenty headlines until I hit one that feels right. I then sit on that one for a while or even run it by a friend. Sometimes I’ll even send myself an email with the title as the subject line and not look at it until later. If I see the subject line and get pulled…even though it’s my headline…I keep it!
Here are the books I recommend for writing great headlines:
- Testing Advertising Methods – This classic has over 18 chapters devoted to headlines. It is essential for any advertisers shelf.
- Psychological Triggers – Joe Sugarman wrote some really great short headlines. While I don’t think these short ones would work now, they are great for generating other ideas.
- Breakthrough Advertising – Eugene Schwartz’s book is a must read, but also essential for the headline ideas.
The blogs that I look at for headline ideas are these:
- Gawker – They really know how to be sensational and get people’s attention. In fact, you may have to tone back a headline if you copy one of theirs.
- Fast Company – They generate a lot of content, so there are fresh new ideas every morning. These are often very long and specific.
- Copyblogger – Of course this list would be incomplete if not for this blog.
Lesson #6: Test everything
Direct response marketing wouldn’t be what it is without the component of testing. Testing is what makes it “direct response.” You get to see the response of your marketing campaigns.
In the past this was measured several ways. An advertiser could buy a one-page ad in the Wall Street Journal with an offer on a coupon prospects clipped and mailed in. All the advertiser had to do was count the number of coupons to measure his success.
The same goes for an advertiser who mails a sales letters to highly-targeted homes. How many reply cards did he get back? That’s the response.
This is what makes direct marketing response so powerful…you can measure return and the tweak to improve conversion.
While it’s pretty simple to test and measure your online campaigns, the growth of the industry has created a lot of confusion and has overwhelmed a lot of people, which is the reason I wrote a guide to help you understand web analytics. Here are the bullet points:
- Identify your business objectives before you start creating copy and testing.
- Specify website goals like “sell more widgets.”
- Create KPIs like landing page hits, economic value and conversation level.
- Discover your segments based upon acquisition, behavior and outcomes.
It will take time to truly understand web metrics, but mastering this skill will give you a powerful edge over your competitors!
Lesson #7: Never stop learning and never give up
When you go through steps 1 through 6 things won’t always work out the way you want them to. I know it didn’t always work out for the people like David Ogilvy and it definitely didn’t always work out for me.
With Crazy Egg, we went through 6 variations of our homepage before we found a version that worked out…and it happened to be a long sales letter. The previous versions were all created based upon customer feedback and data, but none-the-less they didn’t convert well.
With my Quick Sprout Traffic System I launched a long sales page around 3 years ago and it failed. The current version on the other hand is doing extremely well, but I had to go through a few iterations before I created something that converted well.
You probably aren’t going to succeed on your first shot. But that’s ok. As long as you are learning through the process and you keep pushing forward like the real Mad Men, you’ll do fine.
The Internet is truly the direct response marketers best friend…it’s quick and easy to test, create conversational content and build a money making list.
There really isn’t any excuse for anyone who is willing to put in the sweat equity to create a profitable online business. You just have to be willing to open your eyes and leverage some of the tactics that are old, boring, but yet still work… such as direct response.
How are you using direct response techniques?