Direct Response Copywriting

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Learning Sales

My first exposure to sales was selling computers at a Gateway Country Store.  I made mistakes that many untrained salesmen make.  I talked about the computer’s video card, the hard drive, and processor speed.  In other words, I talked about the features.

But I didn’t understand something crucial.  Customers wanted to know what the computer and software would do for them.  Would he be able to play games?  Would her computer have a printer?  Would he be able to watch a movie?  Would she be able to send email?

I learned to ask better questions and then listen.  The knowledge that came from listening to my customer was crucial. With better information, I could recommend a computer with the features that mattered.  (For instance, I wouldn’t want to sell a gaming computer that came with an integrated video card).  I could show how those features gave the customer what he was looking for.  And how the customer would benefit.​

My next exposure to sales was door-to-door sales.  I sold high end pressure washing and house painting work.

Leaving an advertising flier in a paper box or on a door mat was a waste of time and money.  People don’t read fliers, door hangers, or other advertising left at their houses.  Instead, I knocked on the door, introduced myself, and handed the owner a flier.  This often resulted in a warm sales lead.

I believe this worked for three reasons.

  1.  The personal interaction.
  2.  The homeowner was already interested in having the work done.  I was tapping into that desire.
  3.  I happened to show up at the right place at the right time.

I’ve written a short book about this.  The book targets blue collar professions.  People who are in door-to-door sale might also benefit.   It is available through Amazon as How I Went From Failure To Success In Selling.

Single Best Copywriting Idea in 2015

Bad Habits of Copywriters

I have a confession.

I’ve developed a bad habit since getting into copywriting.

I buy products, skim them, but fail to spend the time to read and think about what I’ve learned.  I am not applying what I’m learning.

This is something a lot of wantrapreneurs experience.  They’re always looking for a magical product.  A product that will tell them how to make money, launch a business, create a product, or get rich.

They consume lightly, but never take action.

Another trap I fall into is the temptation to buy the deal.  Who wouldn’t want to save $100 or 50%?  But with so many deals piling up and no time to read the products, I end up wasting my money.

My Nominee for Best Copywriting Advice

So my attention was peaked one Sunday morning when I was listening to the Ben Settle Show.

Ben said, “Don’t buy any more products. First read everything you already have ten times.”


I’ve never heard a marketer say that, and I’ve been mulling it over ever since.

I don’t think Ben means read the same product ten times in a row.  It would numb the mind!  And, at least in my case, there would be certain things I’d subconsciously memorize and begin to skip over by the third or fourth time through.

After thinking about it, here’s how to apply Ben’s advice.  For me, it means to list three to five half-read books, marketing materials, newsletters, incomplete courses and cycle through the material ten times.

By doing this, you’ll give your brain a break and much needed variety.  You’re conscious mind will forget what you’ve read.  (Which is the point).  But the sub-conscious will begin to make connections, grasp insights that it otherwise might not have been able to make.  By the ninth or tenth read through, the material will be familiar, but not stale.

Another advantage to this approach is that you’ll be far more discriminating when it comes to buying your next copywriting materials.  You’ll have a better idea of what quality material is versus what it is not.  You’ll also have a better idea of which marketers know their subject versus who is in the pump and dump business.

I love Ben’s idea and I’m nominating it as the single best copywriting idea of 2015.

Advertising Archive of History, News, and Ads

Advertising image of Commander Whitehead examining a bottle of Schweppes

If the image of Commander Whitehead pouring a Schweppes Bitter Lemon makes your taste buds tingle in anticipation of experiencing Schweppervesence . . . .

Or if finding an original ad written by Dan Kennedy, Eugene Schwartz, Gary Halbert or other advertising legend gets you hot with excitement, keep reading.

Though I’m new to the copywriting business, it did not take long before I found myself hunting online for copies of David Ogilvy ads which inspired me . . . ads I wanted to print, frame, and hang on a wall.

Sometimes though these ads just can’t be found . . . no matter how hard you work Google’s search algorithms.

But here’s a secret.

There’s an online service where you can find hundreds of newspapers all scanned, digitized, and searchable.  It’s the U.S. Newspaper Archives.  Just their U.S. newspaper database spans the years 1753 to 2016.

They have digital copies of hundreds of American newspapers and billions of pages.

While the site is directed towards genealogists who are tracing family histories, the site is useful for a lot of other reasons.

Including, for our purposes here, advertising written and tested by famous advertising legends.

The site is cheap.  They offer a free 14 day access and promise to bill you twice a year for the amount of $49.95.

Well worth the price if you’re hunting an elusive bit of advertising history.

Advertise Your Job

Door-to-door advertising enabled me to get the job of painting this house

When I owned a painting and pressure washing business, I used some fairly mundane ways to advertise.

  • Word of mouth
  • Recommendations from the paint store
  • Fliers on bulletin boards and newspaper boxes
  • Knocking on doors
  • Yard signs
  • Magnetic sign on my vehicle
  • Direct response mailings

But one of the most effective ways I found to advertise was simply to be seen working.

When you’re high up on a ladder scraping paint, scrubbing windows, pressure washing siding, painting, or doing whatever labor you do, it catches the attention of people.

It communicates that you work, that you show up, and that you complete your job.  People also get a sense of how hard you work as well as the quality of your work.

The evidence speaks for itself.  And people think, “Hey, I want someone to work that hard on my house too!”

Remarkably, I found that people wanted to personally meet me and receive a business card.  They’d walk right past the yard sign with my name and number on it and instead personally ask for my contact information.

Of course the personal interaction helps communicate that you’re a real person and not merely a name and number on a chloroplast yard sign.

The next time you have a chance to advertise your business, be seen working and doing.

Copywriting: A Cheap Way to Learn


Traditionally, copywriting meant sending letters through snail mail, waiting, and monitoring response rates.  That was expensive and if your ad bombed . . .  well that was even more costly and painful.  But what if there were a less costly way to learn copywriting?  Less pain?  Faster results?  In real time?

Craigslist is a great site for this and at the same time to learn copywriting and marketing.

The benefit of Craigslist is not only is it free, but you can make changes to your ad copy and monitor how people respond.

In addition to learning copywriting, you’ll learn about picture and layout design.

Most everyone has something to sell. But if you don’t, go to a thrift shop, buy something cheap and try to re-sell it at a profit.

First, study how Craigslist works.

Second, what does a good Craigslist ad look like?  You can read what a good ad looks like here:

When you site down to write your ad, think about the person you think might buy your product.  What will get their attention?  Is there a headline that will push an emotional hot button?

Next, what are the interesting things about your product?  Tell your readers about that.

Then ask yourself, “What will this product do for this person?”  Write that down.

Finally, make it obvious how the reader can contact you and get them to buy your product.

By learning to sell, you will pick up useful copywriting skills.  You’re learning to convince someone to buy your product based on the effectiveness of your words.

Selling is a valuable skill and it is something that can benefit you throughout your life.

What is the Most Powerful Desire You can Apply to Your Product?

In Breakthrough Advertising, Gene Schwartz writes,

Every product appeals to two, three or four . . . mass desires.  But only one can predominate; Only one is the key that unlocks the maximum economic power at the particular time your advertisement is published.  Your choice among these alternate desires is the most important step you will take in writing your ad.  If it is wrong, nothing else that you do in the ad will matter.  This choice is embodied in your headline.

This is why testing is so important.  With email lists, this can be done at fairly low cost.  Given three headline choices, send each one to a third of the list and test the open rates.  Go with the headline that receives the most response.

Your USP is the Answer

In The Ultimate Marketing Plan, Dan Kennedy writes,

When you set out to attract a new, prospective customer to your business for the first time, there is one, paramount question you must answer:


“Why should I choose your business/product/service versus any/every other competitive option available to me?”

AIDA: A Formula for Writing

Attention, Interest, Desire, Action Diagram

You’re stuck.

You’re looking at the blank screen thinking, “I don’t have any idea what to write.  What am I going to say in this email or sales letter?”

The AIDA formula may help get you thinking and writing.

Attention:   Get the reader’s attention with a headline that pushes the reader’s emotional hot buttons. This might be a “How to . . . .” or creative headline.

Interest:  Get the reader’s interest.  Tell the reader interesting facts about your product.  Give them interesting uses for your service.  Give the reader interesting information about the industry. Tell him interesting results that came from using the product you’re selling.  Is there an interesting customer story that you can use?

Desire:  Make the reader desire the product or service that you’re selling. Show an example of what your product can do for your reader.

Action:  Ask for the sale.  Get the reader to act.  Make it obvious how to buy your product:  Press this button and fill out your information; Pick up your phone and call this number.

The AIDA formula is a well respected and widely used method of writing ad copy.  When your stuck with nowhere to go, it will help you to focus on the basics of ad copy.