What is Direct Response Marketing: A Beginner’s Guide

by Corey Philip
July 16, 2019

As a sales technique, direct response marketing is designed so that you will be able to evoke a response on the spot from a prospective client. It also encourages them to participate in what the advertiser has to offer. In this article, we will discuss what is direct response marketing and how you can take full advantage of this technique for your business.

Advertising vs. Direct Response Marketing

You’ve probably seen advertising and marketing loosely interchanged when used in reference to promoting a company or product to a target market. In a general sense, they are synonymous and can be used alternatively.

However, if you dig deeper into what each entails, marketing involves a wider range of tasks than advertising. While the latter is focused more on the execution of promotions, marketing includes research and results tracking, if possible.

In the more specific comparison between advertising and direct response marketing, you can distinguish one from the other by the means of execution.

Advertising is solely about creative gimmicks to increase brand awareness and recall. This is usually what big companies in big markets do to set them apart from the other big competitors. Billboards, magazine ads, commercials, and other traditional advertisements are usually products of advertising.

Direct response marketing, on the other hand, uses principles of persuasion to compel people to do an action now. It can be anything from low-commitment actions like opting into an email list or calling a number, to big ones like buying a product. One major advantage of direct response marketing is that the results are immediate and trackable.

What Makes Direct Response Marketing Unique?

Direct response marketing is different from other types of marketing primarily because you need less or no time to wait for the results. As an advertiser, you can access how the campaign is performing at the time that it is launched. This marketing technique delivers a call to action through online or direct interaction. 

You may not be aware of it but direct response marketing is being used in almost all types of advertising. This includes online ads, print ads, and TV commercials. Advertisers create irresistible offers that encourage prospective clients to the marketing channels. These are then generated into leads. 

Lead generation, as a process in marketing, is when people are converted into customers. The response that you, as an advertiser, expect from people highly depends on what your goals are for a particular advertisement. For example, you may provide something for free and the individuals may only have to register or sign up. 

When you compare direct response marketing to traditional advertising, there is a huge difference between them. With traditional advertising, the goal is to make people aware of the brand. In doing so, the brand is being promoted. In the case of direct response campaigns, there is an expectation for an immediate return on investment. 

If you use traditional advertising, it may take several months or a few years before your brand becomes recognized by your target market. It’s a long time before any ROI can be enjoyed. Whereas with direct response marketing, the target market is being offered instant deals and you’ll immediately know whether or not they’ll take it. 

What are the Key Elements to Remember for Direct Response Marketing?

If you want an ad campaign when you can immediately seel your products, then direct response marketing is a good strategy to use. The advertisement that you ought to use should be able to encourage people in such a way that they will act on it instantly. Therefore the advertisement and the prospective customer’s buying decision should come one after the other. Here are the elements that a direct response campaign ought to have. 

Irresistible Offer

The offer that you will be presenting to your target audience should be a combination of the product, cost, trial period, features, terms, guarantees, incentives, obligations, shipping, limit, and others. Most of the time, the goal of the campaign is not really to get sales but simply to spark people’s interest. 

Getting people interested in what you have to offer is important because it will then lead them to the next intended action. A common example would be requesting for a sample or a product’s demo version. The offer is usually fixed on the prospective client. It also appeals to their needs and desires. 

Clear Information

Using direct response marketing means that you should prepare sufficient information for your target audience. You have to be ready for the time that an individual accepts your offer. You should also keep in mind that if your product has been introduced only recently, then you have to provide people with a lot of information about it. 

The average time that you have as an advertiser to spark the interest of people is 4 seconds. Therefore, do take note that your message should not only be persuasive but also relevant and personalized. 

Make sure that you provide good reasons why the prospects should accept the offer. Emphasize the value of the offer along with the pieces of information as to why your product is much better compared to the competition. 

Strong Call to Action 

As an advertiser, you may already know the importance of a good call to action. You have to be able to encourage a visitor to do a specific action such as following or clicking a link, using a coupon at the counter, or calling a number. 

It is also common for advertisers to provide several options on how the prospects can respond such as signing up for a mailing list, sharing an article, or subscribing to the newsletter. You may add expiration dates or deadlines so that you can encourage the prospect to act fast. 

Additional Factors That Inspire Immediate Action

Those three aspects are the main components of direct response marketing. If nothing else, they should always be present when marketing a new product or company. However, these additional components add to the persuasiveness of your advertising efforts and increases the possibility that your market immediately responds with an action.

Big Claim

Will your customer become happier when they get your product? Lose weight? Have more time? Financial freedom? A big claim is something that your customer really, really wants such that when you say it, it immediately catches their attention.

The examples above are big claims. They may be simple, but they’re generally what people want out of life and would probably instantly instill curiosity.


Approaching your customer with just a claim may not work. When there’s a good amount of competitors in your market, it’s likely your customers have heard those same claims before. They’re less likely to take up your offer especially if they already did before and turned up disappointed.

At this point, it should be part of your marketing research to know what level of market sophistication your business falls under. If you’re on the 3rd stage, or what we’d like to call the “How” stage, it means your customers are looking for a mechanism to judge whether your claim is actually possible.


When you wait a long time for customers to make a decision, you run the risk of them forgetting you altogether. Putting a deadline to your offer makes it more exclusive, thus increasing the desire for it. Some people even add a timer to sales pages, which ingrains that time is running out on the offer.


Direct response marketing is a fairly new method of marketing, brought about by the integration of technology to marketing strategies. Most of the time, clarity means simplicity. Saying things as they are is favorable to direct response marketing as opposed to the creative and gimmicky antics of traditional advertising.

A good demonstration of this point is this video ad for Apple Homepod. Are you familiar with it? We’ll bet not. It didn’t equally rival Amazon Echo or Google Home because the ad was too creative that people didn’t really understand it.

Persuasive Copy

If advertisements work through clever slogans and witty captions, direct response marketing brings results with straightforward and to-the-point claims and information grounded on proofs.

Persuasive copy doesn’t mean flowery words and misleading fluff. It’s the complete opposite because it offers value right from the start. You lead with information and know-how to capture leads and convert them.

In advertising, short, catchy phrases do the trick. In direct response marketing, length doesn’t matter. It can be as short as a sentence or as long as a scroll-through landing page. Either way, it should contain the necessary information to attract the target market depending on the market sophistication and the customer’s level of awareness with your product or brand.


The ability to track the results in direct response marketing opens a lot of other options to make it as efficient as possible. That’s where testing and monitoring come in.

Most things don’t work out successfully the first time. Same with direct response copy, you need to test out which copy or visual work best. You can put out as many ads as you want. The practical amount or number will vary on the channel or platform you’re using.

Either way, if you’re not testing your copy and visual ads or monitoring how they’re performing, you’re not maximizing the best benefits of a direct response marketing strategy. You’re supposed to be able to change, edit, and improve it along the way.

Direct Response Copywriting

The last two points bring us to direct response copywriting. It plays a huge part in this kind of marketing because it’s what compels people to do an action right away. Sometimes it’s accompanied by visual media, but even then, it usually also contains words or you can leave it out altogether and let the words do all the work.

Identifying People’s Blocks

In any kind of interaction, especially if you’re leading towards making a sale, people automatically have blocks, arguments, objections, etc. It’s in our human nature to be skeptical and question everything.

One of the first steps in direct response copywriting is identifying people’s blocks and providing proper legitimate grounds to negate them.

They don’t think the pricing is right for the product? List out all its benefits. What could possibly happen if they don’t get it? If you’re offering a home improvement service, how much will the damage cost them if they don’t hire you and an unexpected situation happens? Then, the price wouldn’t seem too much if they can avoid future unexpected expenses.

They don’t know if you’re credible to deliver what you offer? If you’re selling information products online, introduce yourself, include all your credits, certifications, awards, testimonials from previous mentees. Get social proof and anything that would legitimize your value and product.

That’s how you identify and target blocks. It can be edited accordingly and it usually works as long as it’s honest claims. All of these should be inserted in your copy in a cohesive way. The more blocks and concerns you cover, the more you’ll strengthen the desire created in the customer.

Altering People’s Beliefs

For the sake of simplifying this, let’s categorize beliefs into three:

  • Core Beliefs — These are the beliefs we live and breathe. They’d been ingrained in our brain from childhood that they’ve become personal truths.
  • Beliefs from Evidence — Our brain has a certain bias towards things that go along with what we already know is true, and a bias against things that we know is false. They’re called confirmation bias and disconfirmation bias. This judgment comes from previous experiences or situations that made us believe in one thing and negate the opposite.
  • Weak Beliefs — These are the beliefs that we just picked up and accepted as our own without much consideration, testing, or argument. Therefore, they’re easily changeable with little persuasion.

In direct response copywriting, you should alter as many weak beliefs as you can. This usually pertains to people’s emotional and self-limiting beliefs. In a way, these are also blocks, but deals with the deeper perception of a person.

Beliefs from evidence can be a little more tricky because they can lean towards the core beliefs or weak beliefs territory, and you have to decipher on your own where it lies. Since they’re beliefs that developed through experience, sometimes they can be changed when there’s a strong proof that what they had a hard time believing can, in fact, be true. If this, then you can target these beliefs and try to negate them.

On the other hand, some beliefs are formed from hard evidence that they thoroughly tested and were constantly proven right to believe what they do. This, and core beliefs, are some things that you never want to mention in your copy. You can’t alter these kinds of beliefs and attempting to can actually make you lose the customer.

Infusing Emotional and Rational Triggers

All of us use emotions and rational thinking when doing something. Most of the time, people do what they do because of what it makes them feel. It’s typically the same when making a buying decision, only people also follow it up with rational justifications.

That’s why it’s important to offer two triggers in your copy. Emotional triggers usually hit desire, fear, etc. You probably know this already about advertising and marketing in general. Rational triggers, however, are solid reasons that getting your product or service is a good decision.

Direct Response Copywriting Formulas

With all that said, here are effective formulas to use as a template for your direct response copywriting practice.


AIDA stands for attention, interest, desire, action. That’s the actual format and order that you could start writing with. First identify the purpose of this particular text or copy that you’re writing.

Bring up a topic that resonates with your target person to get their attention. Once you have it, interest them with a fact or something about that topic that they might not know about yet. Now, instead of telling people to do something, you need to trick them into thinking they want whatever you’re offering. Create the desire. (Remember that they probably already have this desire but are unaware of it. You need to ignite it.) Then, that’s the time you tell them what exactly they need to do, which is the action you wanted them to take or the purpose of your copy.

As in the video, this works best for emails. It can also be done with short ad copies for social media or even long-form content or sales pages.


PAS stands for problem-agitate-solution. A simpler formula than AIDA, this is also a common format that copywriters use to incite an immediate action.

First, mention the common problem that your target market is experiencing, and that your product or service will resolve. These are the so-called pain points of your customers.

The second part is to agitate. Make that problem worse. Bring up the worst case scenarios that could happen if the problem is not solved immediately. This intensifies the need for a solution.

Then, be the hero and offer up the solution, which is your product or service. The age-old formula usually ends here and a lot of copywriters use this still.

To make it better, there’s a recently improved version of this called PASO. The O stands for outcome. This video talks more about it:

An outcome paints a picture for your customer of what life could look like if they go for the solution. This last step involves explaining and showing the transformation or the results of your offer. It’s better if you provide some tangible proof in this last section to prove that it’s a strong solution that they shouldn’t miss.

Benefits of Using Direct Response Marketing

There are several benefits that you can enjoy by using direct response marketing. When done correctly, you will get immediate results which you can then use to modify or improve your ad campaign. Let’a take a look at the benefits of direct response marketing. 

Immediate Return on Investment

Direct response marketing is not only about getting immediate action from your prospective clients, it’s also about seeing your return on investment fast. You’ll have immediate revenues from the sales that you get instantly. 

You can set a goal so you have a way of measuring the performance of your direct response ad campaign. You can also try variations of a campaign so that you’ll know which ones will work better for your target market. 

Measurable and Trackable Ad Performance

When your visitor response either by signing up or clicking, for example, then you will know which ad exactly generated that particular impression. As an advertiser, you will be able to determine if your ads are doing effectively well. 

You’ll also know if the ad is affecting your target market as you hoped it would. Doing so, you’ll know about the rate of engagement as well as the amount of generated clicks, and others. There are plenty of data that you will have access to from ad platforms which you can use to continually develop engaging ad campaigns. 

Specific Targeted Audiences

With traditional advertising where the goal is brand awareness, everybody is targetted. This is different with direct response marketing because you can target a specific group of people. These people are ones who are already interested in your product. 

You can take advantage of digital ads where the advertisements will be delivered to your target market at the best moment possible and during a relevant context. They will be reminded to continue their buying journey and finally purchase the product that you have to offer. 


Direct response marketing is a great strategy if you want to see immediate results. This will speed up the growth of your business because you will only need a short time to see whether or not your direct response ad is working for the right audience. You can take full advantage of this by making the necessary adjustments to your campaign to make it more enticing to your target market.

About the author

Corey Philip

Corey Philip is a small business owner / investor with a focus on home service businesses.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}