What Is Direct Response Marketing?

There are two major types of marketing strategies. The first is known as mass marketing or “branding”.

The goal of this type of advertising is to remind customers and prospects of your brand as well as the products and services you offer.

The idea is that the more times you run ads from your brand, the more likely people are to have this brand at the top of their consciousness when they go to make a purchasing decision.

If you’ve seen the ads from major brands such as Coca-Cola, Nike and Apple you’ll have experienced “image” marketing.

The vast majority of advertising falls into this category.

There’s no doubt that this type of marketing is effective, however, it is very expensive to successfully pull off and takes a lot of time.

It requires you to saturate various types of advertising media e.g. TV, print, radio, Internet etc. on a very regular basis and over an extended period of time.

The expense and time involved are not a problem for the major brands as they have massive advertising budgets and product lines are planned years in advance.

However, a problem arises when small businesses try to imitate the big brands at this type of marketing.

The few times they run their ads is like a drop in the ocean. It’s nowhere near enough to reach the consciousness of their target market who are bombarded with thousands of marketing messages each day.

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

Another advertising victim bites the dust.

It’s not that the small businesses aren’t good “branding” or mass media ads. It’s that they simply don’t have the budget to run their ads in sufficient volume to make them effective.

Unless you have millions of dollars in your marketing budget, you have a very high probability of failure with this type of marketing.


The second type of marketing strategy is called “direct response”.

Direct response marketing, is designed to evoke an immediate response and compel prospects to take some specific action, such as opting in to your email list, picking up the phone and calling for more information, placing an order or being directed to a web page.

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

It’s trackable. That is, when someone responds, you know which ad and which media was responsible for generating 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.

It’s measurable. Since you know which ads are being responded to and how many sales you’ve received from each one, you can measure exactly how effective each ad is. You then drop or change ads that are not giving you a return on investment.

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 strong sales copy that is “salesmanship in print”. Often the ad looks more like editorial than an ad (hence making it at least three times more likely to get read).

It targets a specific audience or niche. Prospects within specific verticals, geographic zones or niche markets are targeted. The ad aims to appeal to a narrow target market.

It makes a specific offer. Usually the ad makes a specific value-packed offer. Often the aim is not necessarily to sell anything from the ad but to simply 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 and talks about the prospect’s interests, desires, fears and frustrations.

By contrast, mass media or “brand” marketing has a broad, one size fits all marketing message and is focused on the advertiser.

It demands a response. Direct response advertising has a “call to action”, compelling 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 such as a regular phone number, a free recorded message line, a website, a fax back form, a reply card or coupons.

When the prospect responds, as much of the person’s contact information as possible is captured so that they can be contacted beyond the initial response.

Multi-step, short-term follow-up. In exchange for capturing the prospect’s details, valuable education and information on the prospect’s problem is offered. The information should carry with it a second “irresistible offer” – tied to whatever next step you want to prospect to take, such as calling to schedule an appointment or coming into the showroom or store. Then a series of follow-up “touches” via different media such as mail, e-mail, fax, phone are made. Often there is a time or quantity limit on the offer.

Maintenance follow-up of unconverted leads. People who do not respond within the short-term follow-up period may have many reasons for not “maturing” into buyers immediately. There is value in this bank of slow-to-mature prospects. They should continue hearing from you once to several times a month.


Direct response marketing is a highly ethical way of selling. It’s focused on the specific problems of the prospect and aims to solve these problems with education and specific solutions.

It is also the only real way for a small business to affordably reach the consciousness of a prospect.

Your marketing system must deliver profitable results.

You have to know what a customer is worth to you, and then decide what you are reasonably willing to invest to acquire one, and then build systems that work within that limit.

Direct response is an accountable way to run marketing for a small business, as it is highly focused on return on investment.

If $10 bills were being sold 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 just name recognition tools.

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95 thoughts on “What Is Direct Response Marketing?”

  1. Pingback: What Is Direct Response Marketing? | Attraction Marketing

  2. 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.

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  4. 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

  5. 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…..

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  7. 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.

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  9. 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.

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      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.

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  14. 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

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  20. 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!


  21. 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!!


  22. 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,


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  24. 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?

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    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.

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  32. 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!!

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  34. Pingback: Your Business Needs This Successful Direct Response Marketing Strategy – Smart Marketer's Choice

  35. 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.

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  39. 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 !!!

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

  42. 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.

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

  47. 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.

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  49. Anthony Murage

    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.

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

  51. 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.

  52. 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.

  53. 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

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

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