Updated: Mar 16
Preparing to write a promotion? There are many ways to write persuasive sales and marketing copy. Copywriters have been testing what makes people buy for several decades, spanning millions of campaigns across every industry.
Fortunately, many of the methods that make copy persuasive contain the same few ingredients. By plugging these ingredients into your next campaign, you can greatly increase the conversions.
When done right, sales copy—also known as direct response copy or conversion copy—is the bare-bones, zero-fluff side of advertising. It introduces a product, offers the consumer your promotion, and makes it easy for people to follow through with a purchase.
What is direct response copywriting?
Direct response copywriting is the marketing language (called copy) used to nudge people toward an immediate purchase. You usually see it in the form of a promotion with limited time or quantity.
Direct response copywriting takes many shapes. It’s the script behind those “Call now!” infomercials we’ve all seen late at night or in the middle of the day. When your favorite clothing store issues you a coupon that expires in a week, you’re seeing the careful work of someone following a direct response formula.
What's the difference between direct response copy and conversion copy?
The term "conversion copywriter" was created by Copyhackers founder, Joanna Wiebe.
Unlike direct response copywriting, which tends to deal specific with special promotions, conversion copy is direct, conversational copy that's meant to provoke an action from the reader. The differences, admittedly, can be subtle.
Conversion copywriting is almost exclusively associated with web writing, like the copy on your website or landing page. On the other hand, direct response copywriting is often associated with things like direct mail, which are ads you receive in the mail.
But the biggest difference is the context in which you see these forms in action. Conversion copy is often meant to last longer. Many companies keep the same copy on their home page for years, for example. The nature of direct response copy is that you're promoting a limited-time offer.
(Want to write powerful website copy? You might enjoy this article about how to write website copy that converts.)
So how does direct response copywriting work?
Most successful ads contain the same basic elements. Here they are so you can use them for your next promotion:
1. There’s a discount, freebie, or deal
Direct response marketing always includes a deal. It offers a discount, give-away, bonus offer, or freebie.
No matter how successful you feel, finding a bargain on something you love still strikes an internal chord, enticing you to buy.
Think about it: When your favorite company offers a discount on one of your favorite products, it's hard to resist.
2. Present a clear – and prompt – deadline
By deadline, I also mean limited quantity. It doesn’t matter whether you say, “Deal ends tonight!” or “Only 11 more available!” Both serve as the deadline necessary for closing that sale through scarcity.
We’re creatures of habit. Sadly, one of those habits includes procrastination (but I’ll tell you about procrastination when I have a little more time…)
How often have you told yourself, “Wow, what a great deal! I’ll buy that tomorrow,” only to forget and never make the purchase? Many of us have this experience all the time.
Your customers are no different. Deadlines and limited quantities put a little pressure on those interested in the deal, resulting in more purchases, faster.
That’s why Amazon Prime Day works.
Direct response marketers know good and well about human tendency toward procrastination and forgetfulness. They overcome the missed sales by emphasizing limited supply and short deadlines.
Photo by Artem Bali
3. Track the response data and optimize after each promotion
Think back to high school science courses. Remember the respective roles that a control and a variable play during an experiment?
The variable is the subject of the experiment, while the control is the same subject, minus the experimental factor. The control doesn't change throughout the experiment. This allows your end results to be compared against something that was left unaffected during the experiment. When a scientist sees an interesting outcome, the control helps them confirm that other factors weren’t skewing their results.
Think of sales writing as an advertising science, complete with variables, controls, repetition, and revision. Except when a control and variable are used in marketing, we call it a split test. The control and variable are the same in almost every way, minus one detail. When both ads are sent to consumers, one ad will likely outperform the other, which tells an advertiser that their tweak had an impact. The goal of a split test is to see which minuscule changes to an ad can have the best effects on profit.
Let’s pretend you’re sending a promotion to 10,000 email subscribers. Your split test might send the exact same email to every subscriber, except half of your subscribers will receive that email with one subject line, while the other half receives a different one.
Let’s now assume that the first subject line is opened by 18% of your subscribers while the other is only opened by 7%. Since every other factor of the email was kept the same, the test confirmed that the first subject line performs better than the other.
The key is to only make one change per split test so that you can study which factors are making the best impact on your sales. The email that results in the highest return should be carried on as the control for the next split test.
4. Include a clear call to action
Never assume that the action you want a consumer to take is obvious. There should always be clear directions in your promotion about how the consumer must respond to take advantage of your offer. This directional element of the process is called the “call to action.”
Think of it this way: If nothing else is clear within an advertisement, readers should at least look away from your promotion with an understanding of how they could have purchased from you.
5. Guarantee purchase-safety
This point goes hand in hand with having a prompt deadline. We all hate buyer's remorse. If an ad has a deadline, the urgency can scare prospective buyers instead of encouraging them to buy. The key is to give consumers the protection they're looking for. To infuse that confidence, say clearly, “100% easy money-back guarantee!”
Each word is key for success: “100%”, “money-back”, and “guarantee” communicate to the customer that they won’t lose their money if they are dissatisfied with their order. “Easy” tells them that getting their money back won't be a hassle. No one wants to spend hours on the phone and internet trying to get reimbursed for a product we don't like.
The goal of selling a product through direct response marketing is not to trick people into a purchase. It’s to streamline the sales process to such simplicity that interested consumers find it easy and even a pleasure to buy from you. This starts with having a product you’re proud to put your name behind.
Show some confidence in your product by making it clear that you’ll gladly accept returns if the product doesn’t live up to the hype. Think of it as offering the customer to “buy now and decide if you want it later.”
6. Follow-up with leads and past clients
Businesses lose sales every day because they do not follow up on their leads or past clients. If someone has purchased from you already or shown interest in your product, the hardest and most expensive part of your marketing is already behind you.
The relationship gap is already bridged. Convincing these consumers to purchase from you a second time is simpler and cheaper, assuming you provided a valuable product and shopping experience the first time.
And the best way to follow up with a satisfied customer is to send another great direct response offer straight to their email (or whatever point of contact they’ve given you).
7. Optimize through quality copywriting
Bad writing is synonymous with scams. Clarity, on the other hand, reinforces trust between brands and their customers. When your sales messages are clear, easy to read, and direct, customers are reassured that a rug isn't about to be ripped out from under them.
Use clear communication, coupled with the other steps in this post, to deliver promotions that sell your products and services to the people who're excited about what you have to offer.
Build a career you love as a writer, with exclusive weekly stories, tips, and resources.
Subscribe below to my once-weekly email about freelancing, copywriting, and becoming a professional writer.