What Is Direct Response Marketing?

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Direct response marketing is a type of marketing strategy that compels a high-quality prospect to take immediate action and opt into the advertiser’s offer. It educates instead of selling. It costs very little to produce, and the results are measurable, making it ideal for small businesses.

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.

Here’s everything you need to implement an effective direct response marketing campaign. Click to jump ahead:

What is it? Why it works? And which businesses will benefit from it?


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. 

Unlike branding it costs little to nothing, results are immediate and, more importantly, measurable.

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.

There are also three primary marketing challenges for SMEs. 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 ticks these boxes.

  • It focuses on lead generation.
  • It has a faster response rate.
  • 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.


To show how compelling headlines work in direct response copywriting

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.

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

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 adverts, in comparison, focus on acquiring leads.

Let me be clear, that while direct response advertising includes 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. direct response marketing in 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. Direct response is 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. direct response ads use compelling headlines & 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. direct response 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. direct response marketing 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. direct response ads demand 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. DIRECT RESPONSE DELIVERS A 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.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy our article on Building Business Systems. It will help you to skyrocket your sales, and attract investors.

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102 thoughts on “What Is Direct Response Marketing?”

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

  2. 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.

  3. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us. Direct response marketing also creates a huge impact on the marketing of the product or any other organization. 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.

  4. Pingback: The One-Page Marketing Plan with Allan Dib | Marketing Speak

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