What is direct response marketing, why it works for small businesses, how to implement it and make money fast?

There are two major types of marketing strategies. They are branding (or mass marketing) and direct response marketing. Only one of these strategies delivers a consistent return on invest for small businesses.


Branding is a type of advertising. It aims to remind customers and prospects of your brand as well as the products and services you offer. The idea is that if you run your ads many, many times, people will remember it. So when they make a purchasing decision, it will be top of their consciousness.

The ads from major brands such as Coca-Cola, Nike, and Apple, use “image” marketing. The vast majority of advertising falls into this category.

Illustrate the difference between brand marketing and direct response marketing
Brand ads differ from direct response ads in that they don't need to inform, educate, or build trust.


There’s no doubt that branding or mass marketing is effective, but here’s why it’s not for everyone.

1. It is very expensive to pull off.

2. It takes a lot of time.

You have to saturate advertising media, such as TV, print, radio, and the Internet. This takes time and is expensive. It’s not a problem for big brands. They have massive advertising budgets and product lines. They don’t need an immediate return. 

But problems arise when small businesses try to imitate the big brands at this type of marketing.

An Outbound Engine study found that 55% of small to medium businesses spend less than 5% of their annual revenue on marketing. Thousands of marketing messages bombard their target market daily. The few times they run their ads is like a drop in the ocean. It’s not enough to reach their prospects’ consciousness.

They get drowned out and see little or no return for their investment.

It’s not that small businesses aren’t able to create excellent “branding” or mass media ads. It’s that they don’t have the budget to run their ads in ample volume to make them effective. Without a marketing budget of millions of dollars, you have a high probability of failure. 


The purpose of direct response marketing is to evoke an immediate response. It compels prospects to take some action. It could be to opt into your email list, pick up the phone and call for more information, place an order, or visit a web page.

Explain what direct response marketing is.


This type of marketing works for all businesses, small, medium, and large. But here’s why it should be the only option for owners of small-to-medium-sized companies.

Leadpages found that there are two digital marketing priorities for small businesses. They are driving sales (51.3%) and building brand awareness (48.4%).

There are also three primary marketing challenges for small-to-medium-sized businesses. Hubspot’s 2019 State of Inbound Marketing report revealed them to be:

  • Generating traffic and leads – 63%
  • Proving return on investment – 40%
  • Securing enough budget – 28%
Graph showing the top three marketing challenges of small businesses
Direct response marketing effectively addresses the top three marketing challenges of small business owners.

Direct response marketing ticks these boxes.

  • It focuses on lead generation.
  • It doesn’t cost a lot.
  • It’s trackable.

A good marketing team will monitor the number of leads they get and how many convert to paying customers. So your direct response campaign is measurable. It quickly delivers a return on investment. And this makes it perfect for small to medium-sized companies.


Direct Response Marketing differs from branding in that it targets a niche audience. It also uses compelling messaging to get an immediate response. So, it will most likely offer a solution to a problem that their audience has.




Melyssa Griffin wrote a blog post on 6 Strategic Ways to Actually Make More Money with your Email List.  Something that business owners who are struggling to get new leads might google.

So, she creates her blog post and a nice-looking image. Then she uploads it to the likes of Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and Google.

If she’s done her SEO homework, anyone searching for How to make more money with your email list will be served her content. One-click, and you can read her blog post where she explains the six steps that have worked to scale her email list.

Her article shares insightful advice and actionable tips based on her experiences. But she also offers a FREE Sales Funnel Cheatsheet. You can download it and use it to strategize how you will grow your list.

To show how compelling headlines work in direct response copywriting
Lead magnet is the value add in direct response marketing

This is direct response marketing in action. At no point is she selling. Instead, Melyssa has:

  • Delivered value.
  • Established credibility.
  • Positioned herself as an authority.
  • Offered an ethical bribe (which I’ll go into more detail below).
  • Begun to build trust.

Now branding or mass marketing targets everyone. It focuses on building brand awareness. It doesn’t require immediate buy-in or that the consumer takes action. For example, let’s look at this Coca-Cola ad.

Show the difference between a brand advert and a direct response advert

Now everyone knows Coca-Cola. They’ve been marketing since the 1950s, so they don’t have to offer value to get buy-in. Their audience is massive. They already know, and like Coke, so they can spend tons of money on pretty and feel-good. 

They don’t need to convince someone to buy it. This ad doesn’t even show the entire product. The logo takes up half of the ad. The other half is a simple line, open a Coke, open happiness.

As a small business owner, if you tried this with a brand that very few people know, it wouldn’t resonate. People wouldn’t think I’m going to go out and buy that now. Remember, they don’t know you or trust you, so how can you create an advert that grabs their attention?


Most ads focus on name recognition. Direct response ads, in comparison, focus on acquiring leads.

Let me be clear, that while direct response ads include a call-to-action, the point is not to sell.

It’s about getting people who are interested in what you do to raise their hand and say I want to know more. These leads go into a follow-up database (or sales funnel). From here it’s up to you to deliver value and position yourself as an authority. To gain their trust and build a relationship. 


Step-by-step guide to crafting a direct response ad
Use this checklist to effectively implement direct response marketing into your small-to-medium-sized business.


So what makes a direct response ad? Here are some of the main characteristics: 

1. It’s trackable.
When someone responds, you know which ad and which media generated the response. This is in direct contrast to mass media or “brand” marketing. No one will ever know what ad compelled you to buy that can of Coke, heck you may not even know yourself.

What’s more pressing is that you actually track your ads. A survey by Blue Corona Media revealed some shocking statistics. Less than 30% of small businesses use website analytics or call tracking. 18% admit to not tracking anything. What gets measured, gets managed. You can’t improve your numbers if you don’t track and measure the results.

2. It’s measurable.
With direct response marketing, you know which ads received a response. You know how many sales you’ve received from each one. As a result, you can measure the effectiveness of each ad. Now you can drop or change ads that are not giving you a return on investment. 

But what is my point? Measuring, managing and improving your key marketing numbers (ever so slightly)  will impact the result.

3. It uses compelling headlines and sales copy.
Direct response marketing has a compelling message of strong interest to your chosen prospects. It uses attention-grabbing headlines with persuasive sales copy that is “salesmanship in print.” Often the ad looks more like an editorial than an advertisement (hence making it at least three times more likely to get read).

4. It targets a specific audience or niche.
It’s served to prospects within specific verticals, geographic zones, or niche markets. The ad aims to appeal to a narrow target market. Your goal should be to become a big fish in a small pond.

5. It makes a specific offer.
Usually, the ad makes a specific value-packed offer. It does not sell. Instead, the ad aims to get the prospect to take the next action, such as requesting a free report.

The offer focuses on the prospect rather than on the advertiser. It talks about the prospect’s interests, desires, fears, and frustrations. By contrast, branding has a one size fits all marketing message. It also focuses on the advertiser.

6. It demands a response.
A direct response advert always has a “call to action.” It compels the prospect to do something specific. It also includes a means of response and “capture” of these responses.

Interested, high probability prospects have easy ways to respond. It could be via a regular phone number, a free recorded message line, a website, a fax back form, a reply card or coupons. When the prospect responds, it captures the person’s contact information. You can now contact them whenever you choose.

7. Multi-step, short-term follow-up.
In exchange for capturing the prospect’s details, it offers valuable education and information on the prospect’s problem. It includes a second “irresistible offer,” which ties into whatever next step you want them to take. For example, this could be calling to schedule an appointment or coming into the showroom or store. Then it makes a series of follow-up “touches” via different media such as mail, e-mail, fax, and cellphone. Often there is a time or quantity limit on the offer.

8. Maintenance follow-up of unconverted leads.
There are many reasons why people don’t respond immediately. They may not have the money, or they may not need your services now. There is value in this bank of slow-to-mature prospects. Make sure they continue hearing from you once to several times a month.

For example, let’s look at this LinkedIn Marketing Solutions (LMS) ad.

Illustrate what an example of a direct response ad looks like
  • As a promoted post on LinkedIn, LMS can track how many times the ad was served to prospects and who clicked on it.
  • It uses an enticing headline and compelling copy. It shares the stories of six successful lead generation campaigns. If you want to drive real business results, you’ll read it.
  • It makes a specific offer. It will show you how to build a sophisticated lead generation strategy on LinkedIn.
  • It includes a call-to-action. Learn more.
  • On clicking the link you can read the article. A pop-up asks if you’d like to subscribe to the blog. You have to input your email address to subscribe to the blog. See their multi-step, follow-up form below.
Visual example of direct response marketing at work, using an opt-in form


Direct response copywriting pushes the emotional hot buttons of your target audience. Many businesses don’t like to use this type of copy. Especially those that sell products and services to professional or commercial customers. They feel like it’s not appropriate for their market. You couldn’t be more wrong.

Whether you are marketing to a CEO or a stay-at-home mom, you are selling to humans. We are all emotional beings. While we might like to think we make decisions based on logic, this isn’t true. Our choices are driven by our emotions and justified with logic.

So you need to write your sales copy as though you were talking to a single person. You need to get into their heads and spend a day in their shoes. What are their struggles, and how can you help?

Forget about B2B and B2C.

Focus on H2H, human-to-human marketing.


    1. Remember, one ad, one focus. Don’t jam-pack your copy with loads of unnecessary information. Doing this will only confuse your prospects. Choose the focus of your ad and only include relevant information.
    2. Use an eye-catching headline. Headlines are one of the most important elements in your sales copy. Their job is to grab the attention of your target market and get them to start reading your body copy. The headline is the ad for the ad. It should encompass the self-serving result your reader will get.
    3. Keep it short and concise. Don’t waffle in your body copy. Use bullet points, headers, italics, and numbers to break up the text. People often skim read, so you want to make sure that you give them all the information they need.
    4. Include a must-have offer. It’s your job to create an exciting and radically different offer from that of your competitors. One of the main reasons marketing campaigns fail is because the offer is lazy and poorly thought out. It’s something crappy and unexciting, like 10% or 20% off. The offer is an essential part of your marketing campaign. So you need to spend much of your time and energy on structuring this correctly.
    5. Create a sense of urgency. This could be something like limited time only, offer expires in 24 hours, or while stock lasts. It puts pressure on your prospect to make a much quicker decision than they would normally.

It’s a major mistake to discount emotional direct response copywriting.

Here’s an example I found that utilizes most of the characteristics of direct response copywriting.

To demonstrate direct response copywriting
  • Ad focus: How to grow your business with live events and webinars. Something that many companies with high-ticket clients are trying to do these days.
  • Eye-catching headline: Wealth from workshops
  • Establishes credibility up front: Mentioning where the company has been featured. That it was named in BRW Fast100 Company establishes credibility upfront.
  • Perceived value: It uses emotive words. So “step-by-step formula” and “smartest way to build a business.” These play on your emotions. It suggests that they’ll give you a formula for success. Wouldn’t you rather use a tried a tested method instead of winging it?
  • To the point copy: The ad gives the prospect all the information they’d need to make a decision.
  • Must-have offer: Free 1-day course. Who doesn’t like FREE things? This will always be compelling to a prospect.
  • Sense of urgency:  It’s a digital advert. We know that once we scroll by, finding it again will be difficult. Webinars usually take place in a week or so of advertising it. So we need to make a decision fast. That’s why most people will click through immediately.

While it’s not the best design, it knows it’s target market and delivers the information that would make them act. So the prospect gets to attend a free event. It will likely provide actionable advice, and the business gets to build its database.


Direct response marketing is an ethical way of selling. It’s focused on the specific problems of the prospect. And aims to solve these problems with education and particular solutions. It is also the only real way for a small business to reach the consciousness of a prospect affordably.

Your marketing system must deliver profitable results. You have to know what a customer is worth to you. Then you need to decide what you are reasonably willing to invest in acquiring one. Only then should you build systems that work within that limit.

Direct response marketing is accountable. Because it’s focused on ROI, it’s the responsible way to run marketing for a small business.

If I sold $10 bills for $2 each, how many would you buy?

The name of the game with direct response marketing is ‘money at a discount,’ e.g., $2 into advertising to get $10 out in the way of profits from sales. When you turn your ads into direct response ads, they become lead generating tools rather than name recognition tools.


I wrote the 1-Page Marketing Plan because I’d been that business owner struggling to figure out how to win at the marketing game. I’d spent thousands of dollars on bad advertising that didn’t bring in leads or make a sale. It took me ten years to crack marketing my business, and that was ten years too long.

I wanted to give business owners a blueprint for success. It would be something they could use to build a strategic marketing plan and propel their business growth. The book is an implementation breakthrough. It will show you how to create and implement a sophisticated direct response marketing plan for your business.

Download the 1PMP Canvas to create your strategic marketing plan now. 


Are you new to marketing your small business? Or do you just want a reminder of the essential characteristics of a direct response ad? Whatever your reason, get our free infographic now.

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97 thoughts on “What is direct response marketing, why it works for small businesses, how to implement it and make money fast?”

  1. Testing is a very important part of Direct Response Marketing; it allows you to see where the ideal audience is for a certain product or offer which then allows you to use your money more wisely. Thanks for a great post.

  2. Ravindra Kathale

    A very concise and clear article on the topic of DRM. It’s easy to understand and gives a complete idea about what it is. Thanks for an excellent post!
    — Ravindra Kathale

    1. I totally agree, Ravindra. If you want to learn more about DR and how to effectively track results, let me know! My company has years of experience and can share case studies with you that highlight the different strategies and approaches.

  3. Thanks Allan for the well written and informative article. Direct Response Marketing is a term that I have never really read about before, but now I read it I see that it is something I have been working towards for ages……I just didn’t have a definition for it!

    The internet age obviously provides the opportunity to get your offer in front of so many more people….and track and test it…a great opportunity. Now to master DRM and learn from those who have led the way…..

  4. In a general sense this is good information to have an idea about Direct Response Marketing. I just wish there was more specific info. about the topic, such as what websites that can offer you this type of service or training …etc.

  5. Direct Response Marketing is a type of marketing designed to generate an immediate response from consumers, where each consumer response and purchase can be measured, and attributed to individual advertisements.

      1. Hi Allan

        Thanks for your great article.
        In my opinion you have defined the meaning of direct response marketing in your own words and it was a strong frame for the entire article.

  6. Great post. Just what I was looking for when explaining to my clients how to use direct marketing. Glad I found you here I will be back.

    A very clear and concise easy to understand piece of writing,


    Greg De Tisi

  7. Hi Allan

    Great post – completely agree with what you’re saying about direct response marketing being trackable and measurable, which is what makes it so tangible for retailers!


  8. Many thanks for the article Allan,

    I definitely feel DRM is the way forward for us. It gives us the chance to understand and serve our customers much better, nurture relations and place ourselves as the expert in our industry.

    I just have to improve my understanding and action!!


  9. Great article Allan.

    I’ve been in the direct response industry now for over 15 years, and we are quite passionate about it. For many companies, direct response offers an unparalleled opportunity. Where else can a tiny company grow to millions of dollars in revenue in just a few short months? For us, it’s the new American dream, where entrepreneurs can compete against global brands. We’ve had the pleasure of working on the George Foreman Grill, with Richard Simmons, and many others… it never gets old.

    Thanks again for posting.

    Best regards,


  10. Hi Allan,

    How would this play out in radio advertising? As a production guy at a radio station, I often find myself writing commercial copy. With some of our ads, I try to make them emotionally compelling to our target audience of women 25-54, but does that fall more under the “branding” umbrella, or could it still be direct response marketing if I have a specific call to action?

  11. vincent cheruiyot

    thanks for such a good definition can you please shed some light here i often confuse direct response advertising and direct response marketing?

    1. People won’t patronise things they do not know it exist or have access to. That is where marketing and advertising becomes necessary.

      It is advisable that you have a professional website or blog where you can demonstrate what you do and build credibility.

      Once you’ve achieved that, develop a direct response advertisement copy as discussed above, then place your ad on platforms that are most visited by your target market.

  12. Thanks, Allan Dib !!
    For writing this fantastic and very detailed article about ”Direct Response Marketing.” I have a brand, and I am doing its marketing, but I was very confused about this after reading your article most of my problems have solved.

    thank you!!

  13. Yes, you are right about direct about direct response marketing. Especially the fact that it targets niche targeted customers for your business. Moreover, its easily trackable. I am glad i found some other points i was not aware about. Thanks for this useful piece of information.

  14. Direct Response Marketing is really cost effective for most small businesses. This is the kind of strategy I use when I create: Offers, Specials, Bundles, BOGO, Discounts, Free samples, Free trials. Great for getting new clients who does not know much about you yet !!!

  15. I really appreciate the insight here in this post and confident it’s going to be helpful to me and many others. Thanks for sharing all the information and tips.

  16. I really like how this article mentions that direct mailing is trackable and measurable. I can imagine if you are a business that these things are very important to have. I had no idea bout this method before I read this article and so I am going to pay more attention to my mail from now on.

  17. Great article Allan. In total agreement.

    Having many years experience – launching brands new to TV – I’ve found a carefully planned and well executed Direct Response TV campaign, can be a great place to start. It’s an instant litmus test to discover the potential appetite, for a product or service.

    It’s a shame the mere suggestion of ‘direct response’ can still seem like a dirty word. There have been many an occasion, where we have pitched to prospective clients only to hear, ‘I don’t think direct response is really us’.

    I believe the direct response model is as strong as ever; being enforced by the likes of google, who have undoubtedly changed the game.

    Overlook at your peril.

  18. Great high-level read into what direct response marketing is. Hopefully it creates an appetite for newcomers to get involved with it!

  19. Thank you for a very informative, clearly written article, Allan. DRM has been the mainstay of many small business for decades, but as the online world and the internet exploded, many forgot this method of advertising and did exactly what you mentioned – tried to copy the giants – and failed.

    Many small businesses are now discovering or re-discovering the power and effectiveness of DRM. As you mentioned, follow-up is important as well as having a strong call to action.

  20. The posting was informative though I wanted some more information. Can anyone tell me who developed the direct-response marketing theory, when it was developed and what it says.

  21. Very useful information! This post definitely exposed many important concepts regarding successful marketing techniques.
    Thanks for sharing!

  22. Marketing is a very unique field. The key to good marketing is understanding how people think. With most other fields, you only need to know a small portion of the material. While with marketing, you must understand a wide array of differing types of people. This makes marketing difficult because no two people are alike. The key to being successful is understanding your target audience even though it will still be very diverse.

  23. Hey, great explanation a bout direct response marketing and its benefits. I believe that every single business owner and marketer should pay attention to it, because it can drive excellent results.

  24. Everything about your article was deep for me & I could relate to them. I have being struggling with my production company for 3 yrs now but with all the tips I got here, certainly sure of a brighter tomorrow. Thanks a bunch

  25. Thanks for this really instructive article,
    If I understand well you would advise small companies to focus on brand experience rather than brand advertising?

  26. Thanks for sharing this. Direct Response Marketing refers to the on-the-spot response given by the customer or any other organization to your product.
    This blog contains all relevant factors regarding Direct Response Marketing. keep posting.

    1. Thanks Brad, I always love hearing from my readers. Glad you enjoyed the post and look out for new articles coming soon.

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