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8 Data-Driven Direct Response Techniques That Propel Conversions

July 30, 2020
Roy Rasmussen
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Direct response marketing is a sales method that invites an immediate call to action (CTA). Learn how businesses use this powerful tool. We’ll cover:

  • What direct response marketing is
  • Why a direct response is so effective
  • When to use direct response ads
  • How to create effective direct response advertising

Discover how you can use direct response marketing to increase your traffic and multiply your sales.

What Is Direct Response Marketing?

A direct response ad is a type of ad that directly invites you to take some action, such as buying a product, clicking on a link or making a telephone call. 

For example, a television ad that asks you to call now to buy a product is a direct response ad. Other direct response marketing examples include:

  • A social media or pay-per-click (PPC) ad that invites you to click on a link
  • A website landing page that asks you to sign up for an email list
  • A sales page that tries to persuade you to click on a buy button
  • A newspaper or radio ad that invites you to visit a store for a sale

You can think of direct response marketing in contrast to more indirect promotional methods designed to build brand awareness without directly asking for a sale. 

For example, many companies publish promotional blogs on their websites and social media profiles. Such blog posts don’t necessarily ask the audience to take any action. They serve to make the audience aware of the brand, to attract social followers and to drive traffic to websites. 

In these ways, they indirectly set the stage for a sale later in the marketing process. In contrast, a direct response ad asks for the sale directly and immediately.

How Effective Is Direct Marketing?

Direct marketing was one of the main forms of advertising before the advent of the internet — and it remains highly effective in a digital environment. 

For example, 74% of brands say that PPC ads are a huge driver for their business, according to a 2019-2020 report by digital marketing consultancy Hanapin Marketing. The report found brands spend most of their PPC advertising budget on:

  • Search engine ads, used by 93% of brands
  • Social media ads, used by 83% of brands
  • Remarketing ads (ads using cookies so they appear on other sites after a visitor has left a site), used by 82% of brands
  • Display ads (ads appearing on website banners or sidebars), used by 79% of brands

Among these options, 65% of brands report that search-engine ads generate the best results, according to Hanapin Marketing. Social media ranks next, with 15% of brands saying it delivers their best return on investment. Google and Facebook are the most popular PPC platforms.

PPC and other forms of direct marketing are effective for several reasons:

  • Platforms such as Google and Facebook allow you to target a niche audience so you can closely match your ad to your market’s interests and needs
  • You can easily track the effectiveness of direct marketing ads using analytics
  • You can create multiple versions of ads to test which ones generate the best results, a practice known as split testing or A/B testing
  • Once you have an effective direct marketing ad, you can scale it up to reach whatever size audience you can afford
  • Because you can reach large audiences, you can rapidly accelerate your traffic and multiply your sales

These advantages make direct response ads a favored tool for marketing agencies and departments.

When to Use Direct Response Ads

There are several scenarios where a direct response ad can be particularly useful:

  • When you want to test the effectiveness of an ad on a small sample audience before scaling up to a large audience
  • If you want to compare the effectiveness of different versions of an ad
  • When you have an ad with proven effectiveness and you want to present it to a large audience
  • If you’re trying to scale up your traffic quickly
  • When you want to reach a niche audience

When using direct response ads, it’s easy to outstrip your budget if you don’t follow best practices on ad testing. To avoid wasting money on an ineffective ad, don’t use an ad on a large scale until you’ve tested it on a small scale. When you find an ad that works on a sample audience, begin displaying it to a bigger audience. Pay close attention to your ad performance and spending so that you can pull an ad if it starts to underperform or if your costs start to rise too high.

It also is important to balance your use of direct response ads with other forms of advertising and promotion. Direct response marketing doesn’t replace other forms of promotion. Rather, it complements them. Other types of marketing such as blogs and social media posts remain vital for building brand awareness. For sales pages, long-form copy that gives you room to persuade your audience sometimes works better than short direct response ads. 

For instance, in a study by website optimization provider Crazy Egg, a long-form landing page pulled results 363% better than a short version of the page.

However, whether short or long copy pulls better can vary widely by ad, audience and other variables. In another study by project management software provider Basecamp, a shorter version of a landing page generated conversions at a rate 102.5% than the longer equivalent. This illustrates why you should test your ads instead of making assumptions.

Whether short or long copy pulls better can vary widely by ad, audience and other variables.

How to Create Effective Direct Response Ads

A number of elements contribute to the effectiveness of your direct response ads. These include:

  1. Market research
  2. Headlines
  3. Visuals
  4. Appeal to audience needs
  5. Offers
  6. Calls to action (CTAs)
  7. Response mechanism
  8. Follow-up

To maximize the effectiveness of your ads, strive to optimize each of these elements.

1. Market Research

A direct response campaign depends heavily on good market research. Platforms such as Google and Facebook allow you to target audiences based on keywords or demographic characteristics. How well you match your message to your audience helps determine how your direct response ad performs.

Market research for direct response advertising aims to answer questions such as:

  • Which keywords does my target audience use for searches?
  • What are the demographic characteristics and interests of my target audience?
  • Which platforms does my target audience use?
  • Which devices does my target audience use?
  • What are the needs of my target market?
  • Which benefits will appeal to my target market?
  • What sales objections are my target buyers likely to raise?
  • Which competitors is my audience currently buying from?

You can conduct market research using numerous resources, including:

Investing the time to do solid market research will lay a foundation for an effective direct response marketing campaign.

2. Headlines

In order for your direct response ad to generate results, your ad’s headline must attract the attention of your target audience and motivate them to read your ad. You can use a number of techniques to create attention-grabbing ads:

  • Address your target audience by identifying who you’re speaking to
  • Mention a need your audience is concerned about
  • Offer a benefit that appeals to your audience
  • Promise information of practical value
  • Ask an intriguing question
  • Make a provocative statement
  • Announce interesting news
  • Say something funny

Use your market research to craft a headline that matches your audience’s interests. Study direct response advertising examples for ideas on how to word your headline. If you need help creating effective headlines, a digital marketing agency can assist you.

3. Visuals

The visuals that accompany your headline serve a critical role in capturing your audience’s attention. Visuals can include images or videos. Facebook recommends a number of best practices when using image ads:

  • Size images to recommended aspect ratios
  • Use high-resolution images
  • Display your brand or product
  • Avoid excessive image text
  • Focus on your message
  • Preview images before posting

When it comes to selecting images, advertisers have found that certain types of images tend to pull better. For example, split-testing provider VWO has corroborated scientific research that shows photos of humans tend to increase ad effectiveness by building trust. People are present in about 70% of newspaper and magazine ads, and nearly 80% are smiling, according to research by the University of Rijeka. A digital marketing agency or graphic designer with advertising experience can help you select the right image to accompany your ad.

People are present in about 70% of newspaper and magazine ads, and nearly 80% are smiling.

4. Appeal to Audience Needs

To motivate action, a direct response ad must appeal to some need your audience has. What problem does your product or service solve? That language and visuals you use in your ad should connect the solution you offer to a problem your audience has.

Needs vary by audience and industry. Examples of needs common to many audience and industries include:

  • Saving money
  • Saving time
  • Reducing labor
  • Increasing revenue

Use your market research to determine what specific needs will appeal to your target audience.

The quickest way to connect to what your audience needs is to mention it in your headline. In cases where the wording of your headline doesn’t lend itself well to this function, you can use supporting text to raise a need.

In some cases, your audience already will be aware of their need for the solution your product or service offers. In other cases, they may not be aware of their need or they may not recognize the connection between their need and your product or service. When this is the case, your ad may need to educate your audience members or drive them to a landing page where you can elaborate.

5. Offers

The success of your direct response ad pivots on the persuasiveness of your offer. Your offer consists of what your prospects get and what they have to do to get it. Offers come in 2 main varieties:

  • Offering free information or a free product in return for an action such as clicking on a link
  • Selling a product or service in exchange for payment

A free offer serves to generate leads, which can indirectly generate revenue, whereas a sale offer directly generates revenue.

A persuasive offer should promise a value your prospect wants that outweighs the cost you are asking from them. This is easiest to do with a free offer, which is why many brands use free giveaways to generate leads. For offers designed to prompt an immediate sale, you can use a number of tactics to strengthen your offer, including:

  • Lowering the price
  • Increasing the value through techniques such as free bonuses
  • Offering superior service, such as free delivery
  • Reducing risk through techniques such as free trials and guarantees
  • Emphasizing scarcity through techniques such as limited availability or sales deadlines

The stronger your offer, the more persuasive your direct response marketing ad will be.

6. Calls to Action

Your CTA tells your prospect what action you want them to take to respond to your offer. Generally, most digital direct response ads invite the prospect to click on a link to join a list, go to a landing page or buy a product. Some ads may invite the prospect to call or text a number, mail in a form or visit a store or event. A CTA often tells your prospect what they will get when they take the directed action.

The language you use to express your CTA helps determine whether or not the prospect takes the action. A WordStream analysis of top-performing Google text ads ranked the most popular action verb phrases as:

  • Get
  • Buy
  • Shop
  • Try
  • Learn
  • Build
  • Sign up
  • Discover

Use these types of verbs to invite your prospect to take the desired action.

7. Response Mechanism

Your response mechanism is the means by which your prospect responds to your offer. Typical response mechanisms are:

  • Links
  • Payment buttons
  • Phone numbers
  • Forms

The easier it is for your audience to use your response mechanism, the better your chances of getting a response. For instance, a payment button that allows your audience to choose between several major credit cards, PayPal or Amazon Pay will be more convenient for most buyers than one that requires them to only use one type of payment. 

A best practice is to test your response mechanism to make sure that it doesn’t have any technical problems. A broken link or a shopping cart malfunction can undermine an otherwise-successful ad.

8. Follow Up

When a prospect responds to your CTA, the actions you take next set the tone for the customer relationship with your brand. Your prospect will expect prompt fulfillment of whatever your offer promised them. Whether you will be fulfilling your offer digitally or physically, make sure your delivery method works.

If you’re inviting prospects to sign up for a mailing list, sign up your own test account to make sure the process works smoothly. If you’re delivering a digital product, make sure your download process works. If you're providing a digital service, test your onboarding process. If you’re mailing a physical product, do a test order and track order deliveries.

Customer service is another important key to follow up. Make sure you’re prepared to handle common customer service issues that might arise from your offer. Preparations may involve steps such as setting up a frequently-asked-questions page, installing a chatbot on your site or providing a customer service phone number or email.

Tracking and Testing

Succeeding at direct response marketing depends on careful tracking of your results. If you pour money into an ad campaign that isn’t performing, you risk losing large amounts of cash quickly. Even if your ad is working, you can rapidly exhaust your budget if you don’t monitor your spending.

To avoid these risks, always test results on a small scale before scaling up, and always monitor the results of your campaign on a regular, ongoing basis. You can track the success of your ad by using key performance indicators (KPIs), which are metrics that measure performance according to specific criteria. The criteria you use will vary with the goals of your ad campaign. For instance, you may choose to track:

  • Views
  • Click-throughs
  • Leads generated
  • Email subscriptions
  • Social media follows
  • Revenue generated

Another best practice is split testing different versions of your ads to identify which version performs best and make adjustments and improvements. To do this, create 2 versions of your ad with only one minor difference between them, and show the 2 alternatives to a small sample audience. You can test one element at a time to optimize your ad.

Use Direct Response Ads to Drive Traffic and Sales

Direct response marketing represents one of the quickest ways to scale up traffic to your site and generate sales conversions. For best results, direct response marketing should be deployed as part of a comprehensive digital marketing strategy that combines paid advertising with other effective promotional methods such as search engine optimization (SEO)

Kantaloupe helps enterprises create customized omnichannel marketing strategies that make full use of a complete arsenal of promotional tactics, from SEO analysis to web development. Fill out our free online form to get your proposal and learn how we can help you increase your traffic and conversion rates to attract more customers and make more sales.


Roy Rasmussen

Roy is a contributing writer for Kantaloupe. He is a respected, published author on topics including business coaching, small business management and business automation as well as an expert business plan writer and strategist.

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