CAUTION: The answer could light a fire under you, because, as you'll soon find out, direct response ads are among the most lucrative... Good direct response copy will help you sell more of whatever you make a living selling.

How can I be so sure? Because effective direct response copywriting follows a proven step-by-step formula...

The formula's purpose: To elicit a specific reaction from the recipient, whether she's reading it on a website or hearing it in a video.

In other words, the primary goal of direct response copy is to drive an action, such as:

  • Clicking a website link,
  • dialing a phone number,
  • signing up for an email newsletter,
  • filling out a quote form,
  • or entering a credit card number to make a purchase.

Ready for the steps? Here they are:

  1. State a problem.
  2. Aggravate the problem.
  3. Offer a solution.
  4. Show proof that the solution works.
  5. Present a strong call-to-action.

Business-owners use this formula:

  • in sales letters,
  • in commercials,
  • in emails,
  • on pay-per-click landing pages,
  • on the homepage of their company's website...

It can be applied just about anywhere you want to grab a prospect's attention, keep it and, ultimately, drive a specific action (e.g., sell something)...

Now lets briefly break down each step:


1. State a problem.

At the core of every purchase is a problem.

People buy products and services to assuage or completely alleviate a personal or professional issue.

That's why stating a problem is the first step in the formula, because it gets your prospects attention -- so a headline, for example, is a great place to bring it up.

2. Aggravate the problem.

So you pointed out the deep, nasty bruise on your prospect's arm... good work. Now press it. Press it hard. Make it hurt...

The best way to do so is by calling attention to the negative consequences said problem creates, or aggravating it.

Remind your prospect how annoying or detrimental or dangerous their issue is, then step in and save the day...

3. Offer a solution.

That bruise you pointed out and then pressed, that's called a pain point -- and it's making your prospect miserable.

Fix it. Make the pain dissipate like it's mist rising from a waterfall. Offer your prospect a solution.

This is the point at which you introduce your product or service, then you call in the cavalry...

4. Show proof that the solution works.

You got your prospect's attention and you gave her an inkling of hope. Now you have to convince her that your solution is going to work -- you have to prove it.

Proof comes in many forms:

  • Statistics,
  • testimonials,
  • endorsements,
  • money-back guarantees,
  • before-and-after comparisons...

Without proof you're most likely not going to drive consumers over the edge, which is exactly where they need to be to make a purchasing decision. And you're certainly not going to sell anything if you forget the next and final step...

5. Present a strong call-to-action.

Here's a sad story:

You wrote a great ad. You reeled in your prospect word-by-word. You captured her attention and imagination. You made her believe in you and what you're selling...

Then you forgot to tell your prospect what to do... so she did nothing.  

Remember: The call-to-action, or CTA, is what you created your ad to do in the first place.

That's why a CTA is arguably the most important part of your ad: It's your closer.

Now what was I saying earlier? Oh yeah...

"Direct Response Ads are Among the Most Lucrative."

What makes them such cash cows? They're measurable and, therefore, quick to mold into winners.

Direct response marketers and copywriters use A/B tests, or split tests, to improve their copy. A/B testing means pitting two versions of an ad against each other, collecting the response data, and measuring the results.

Copywriters, like scientists, measure one variable at a time. The version with the higher response keeps its respective variable -- and then it's on to the next test until your response is tremendous.

You can test all sorts of variables, like:

  • Headlines,
  • CTAs
  • opening verbiage,
  • and even small things, like text color...

Every test makes the ad better. More effective.

Every test yields a higher response. More revenue.

Split testing is the key to great ads that convert, because testing is the only way to truly know your ads will work before you even use them. Without testing you might as well be in the indirect response business...

Direct vs. Indirect

Indirect response ads are your Superbowl commercials; your highway billboards; your Coke commercials with Santa and polar bears. Don Draper creates indirect ads for tobacco companies and Chevy.

Indirect ads don't have a call-to-action. Typically, they're designed for branding purposes, not immediate sales.

Don't get me wrong, indirect marketers collect data, too. They also do tons of research. But it costs an arm and a leg -- and, given the number of variables and uncontrolled viewership, it's still not as scientific (and, therefore, effective) as direct response.

At the end of the day, indirect ads are designed to linger in a prospect's mind until she comes across the opportunity to make a purchase (e.g., "should I buy the Campbell's Soup or this generic brand?"), while direct response ads drive that same prospect to act -- fast (e.g., "I have a coupon for Campbell's Soup, so I'm going to the store to buy it right now.").

That's why direct response copywriting is a smart investment and a downright dangerous skill to possess.

Master it, and the possibilities are endless.