Direct Response and All it Entails

Posted by eLaunchers on Jul 25, 2019 4:31:00 AM


I suppose to enlighten the newbies and skeptics in the readership I should begin with a definition of direct response.  After all, it’s what we love to do, what we advocate, and what we insist upon from our clients.

Direct response is the second of two distinct means of strategy as it refers to marketing.  The first one is Branding – or mass marketing.  Direct is the one that makes the register ring, the number at the bottom of the P & L black and not red.

Direct response marketing is crafted to generate an immediate response, to elicit an action, or at least a reaction.  There are many ways in which to evoke such an emotional action. It might be the copy, the graphics, the weight of the paper, the length of the message, the offer, the call to action, the look and feel of the envelope.  Or, it’s more like a combination of all of them.

People buy based on emotion, it’s a basic human trait.  Sure, we might rationalize it as a need, but everything we purchase is based on want.  We need food, clothing and shelter,  but we buy organic, wear Ralph Lauren and Prada, and we live in homes that are as large as apartment buildings because we want to.  It’s emotion that create the “want” out of the need for the basics of living.

Direct response uses that understanding of human behavior to its fullest when it is done correctly.  There are a lot of marketers and would-be marketers that try a particular direct response tactic and call it a loser, a failure at generating both interest and revenue.  They try one time and banish the thought of ever doing it again for eternity.  That bucket doesn’t hold water.


There are critical elements that comprise effective direct response marketing and advertising campaigns.  They are:

  • They target a well-defined target audience. You understand your target prospects so well you know what they eat for breakfast. Your audience must be narrowly focused, otherwise your efforts will be in vain. Often when marketers attempt to speak to all audiences they completely miss the boat because the sheer volume of ads, offers and messages today is above 5000 per day as opposed to no more than 100 just a decade ago. Combine that with the pace of our lives compared to how we grew up and its not wonder why everyone is deaf and blind to advertising and marketing in a general sense.
  • The campaign must include an extremely specific offer. Some marketers refer to this as a brain-dead offer, an offer that cannot be refused, or a direct head-shot. The initial offer must be packed with value, designed to persuade the prospect to take some form of action. It may be to sign up for a specific piece of information like an eBook, a Podcast, a Special Report, or some other enticement. There will be time for ascension either as a secondary offer (tripwire), or it may be a follow up action in the next communication.
  • There must be testing to find the control. Small samples of the overall list of contacts must receive variations of the offer to determine which version of the message produces better results than any previous version. It might be changing the headline, adjusting the offer, changing the media, even perhaps even the manner it was presented (paper, TV channel, Color Ink, graphics, and the like).
  • Direct response marketing commands a response. That’s the critical importance of the CTA, the call to action. It must be compelling and so enticing that the recipient feels driven to take some sort of action. It might be purchasing a product or service, trading their contact information for more communications, or simply raise their hand to signal they resonate with the message you are sharing.
  • The look, feel, touch, must be compelling and resonate with the target audience. Because of the nature of direct response, the headline and sub-headline must immediately capture the recipient’s attention. The Hook as it is known is the first few lines of the ad or sales letter.  If it is visual or auditory, the opening statements including the title must invoke a similar reaction.  More succinctly, the first sentence must cause the reader to want to read the next sentence, and the third. Each progressive sentence builds on the previous one.  That is the hook.

The marketer must make it easy for the recipient of the message to take the action hoped for.  It might be clicking a button, placing a call, replying to an email, return mail from a delivered piece or whatever is called for.

  • The campaign must have tracking capabilities. Marketers should have a keen knowledge of knowing from where the responses originated, from which media used (multi-channel marketing uses just that. Multiple media to distribute the message like print and social media, inbound calls from billboard ads or video sales letters, etc.)

This knowledge is not something that should wait until the conclusion of the campaign, but at every stage of the campaign so that if needed, tweaks and updates can be implemented to maintain or enhance momentum.

  • There must be follow-up. To what benefit is it to capture someone’s contact information and not perform follow-up to produce a reaction after doing so?  It should be multi-step in nature in the short term, and long-term nurturing communications follow-up  until the prospect dies or unsubscribes or generates a cease and desist order. 

This is a mistake all too many marketers do is not follow up sufficiently.  Today it takes a minimum of 7-8 “touches” just to get people to devote sufficient time to take advantage of your offer. So long-term nurturing communications to follow-up is critical to success. Just because the prospect was not ready to take action at the time of the campaign doesn’t mean they will never be interested. It may mean the timing wasn’t right at the time for them.

  • Your actions must be measurable. Don’t think for a second that you won’t be measuring at each milestone planned prior to launching this endeavor.  Metrics provide invaluable insight into what works, what doesn’t, what needs adjustment, and what the net value of the campaign brought to the organization.  How much did it cost to produce what level of return? 

The absolute worst a marketer should ever produce is breakeven.  Breaking even is winning, albeit a thin one. The typical response rate in direct mail is anywhere from 2-3% to as high as 16%.  Some of our colleagues produce as high a return as 43-48%.  That means for every dollar they spent on direct response they received anywhere from $2 or $3 to as much as $48.  Even at doubling your money, you’re miles ahead because you not only made money, you have a much larger corral of paying customers.

Next time we discuss direct response marketing we’ll share with you some of the early pioneers of the game, like the former Amish farmer turned MadMan David Ogilvy,  Claude Hopkins, John Caples and Gary Halbert. Oh, and let’s not forget our favorite, Dan Kennedy.  Their wisdom and contributions to the direct response marketing revolution should prove to be interesting.

Until then,Cheers!

PS - To learn more about how eLaunchers can help you with your Direct Response Marketing, click the button and schedule a free conversation with me.

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Topics: Business Growth, concepts and strategy, inbound marketing, Magnetic Marketing

 parthiv shah


Are you one of the 99% of small businesses who are spending money on marketing but unhappy with results & ROI?

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