KILLER POETS DROP GEMS: PART ONE
The #1 Direct Response Copywriting Guide:
Lessons From Legends
I spoke with a gang of 18 elite direct-response copywriters to find out EVERYTHING you need to know to become a top copywriter.
I almost quit when the project got out of control.
But finally, it’s here:
The most monstrous direct response copywriting guide on the internet.
It’s time to share the wisdom of the legends with you.
Buckle up, bud.
We’re on a mission.
Beauty without the beast
Save 73 minutes of your life with the free e-book. All the expert advice without the hoopla—like a little copywriting wisdom snack box.
- 19 copywriting ballers (plus little old me)
- 70+ actionable tips (includes secret bonus gems)
- 0% risk of brain meltdown from reading exhaustion
You’ll also join my weekly newsletter. Unsub anytime.
How I tracked down 18 successful
direct response copywriters
Direct response copywriting is all about driving leads, sales, and MILLIONS of dolla dolla bills in revenue. Not just likes and shares on social media.
I wasn’t gonna bluff my way through this direct response copywriting guide.
I’ve got some chops, but I knew I didn’t have all the answers.
So, I had to find the people who did…
I hunted down known experts in direct response copywriting who generate huge revenue for clients with long-form sales pages, email sequences, and ad campaigns.
After weeding through the fake gurus, bots, and mutants, I sent my little survey to about 40 of the most widely-recognized, bonafide, wish-I-could-be-as-good-as-them copywriting legends.
Some blanked me completely.
Some replied but then ghosted me.
Some said they were simply too busy right now.
But as I trudged away, I knew I couldn’t quit. So, I walked around the back of the club.
And that’s where I am right now—broadcasting to you in real time.
I told you we were on a mission!
There’s nothing but darkness on the other side of this glass.
I need to get inside.
Oh look, a big stick right here on the ground. That’ll do the trick!
*loud smashing noise*
Okay, we’re inside.
That was pretty easy.
Well, aside from the huge shards of glass in my hand. But it doesn’t look too bad.
Better get moving up the corridor before a bouncer shows up.
The music is getting louder, we’re getting close. Oh, look, there’s a door up ahead—the club must be right in here.
Sweet, here’s the cloakroom. I’ll borrow this big black hoody and try to blend into the shadows.
Let’s get in there…
The Killer Poets
OMG, there are hundreds of people here!
Most of them look like NPCs, but I can already see a few of the best direct response copywriters in the world.
I just found the guest list.
Check it out while I shoot to the bar…
Doug D’Anna is a seasoned direct response copywriter who has created hundreds of direct mail, email, and video sales letter promotions for the world’s largest specialized information publishers—helping them generate over $100 million in direct sales. You can learn more about direct response copy with his powerful tool, The Million-Dollar Copywriting Formula.
Kim Krause Schwalm has built a reputation as one of the top direct response copywriters. Her copy has generated nearly $1 billion in revenue for her clients. Kim is also the founder of the Get Dangerously Good copywriting training and mentorship hub, where she helps copywriters, marketers, and business owners become dangerously good at their craft.
- killer methods to find the unique value proposition
- More in Part 2 (Out April 14)
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter with over four decades of experience in direct response and B2B marketing. He has worked with over
100 clients including IBM, AT&T, Intuit, Grumman
and more. He has taught copywriting at New
York University, and is the author of over 100
Lisa Pierson is a conversion copywriter who helps ecommerce brands sell (way) more of their products. Lisa has worked with brands such as Riversol, Drumeo, Disco Skincare, PooPourri, Snow, and more! She loves how something as simple as words and caring about your customer have the power to 10x sales (or more).
Eden Bidani earned her sales and marketing stripes walking the beat in direct sales. Now she combines her signature “selling-not-selling” acquisition strategies with conversion copywriting to help SaaS, ecommerce, and tech businesses drive crazy-good growth at every customer touchpoint.
Elle Rosselli helps busy coaches, consultants, and creatives with copy that increases conversions and sounds authentic in their unique brand voice. After spending a decade as a dental hygienist, Elle loves the freelance lifestyle, enjoying every excuse to get outside with her husband and 2 little boys.
- why you shouldn’t compare yourself to other copywriters
- why you must throw away your audience
- More in Part 2 (Out April 14)
Olena Bomko is a tech messaging strategist who believes in research, strategy, and creativity. She is the author of The Customer Research Report—a set of practical templates for marketers and copywriters.
- the proven method for research
- getting clear on a key principle of direct response copy
- More in Part 2 (Out April 14)
Robert Lucas helps authors, speakers, coaches, and consultants earn more money from their email lists. His course, Stories That Sell, shows students how to turn everyday events from their lives into story-driven emails that make sales.
Dustan Gumaer is a full-stack marketer-turned-direct response copywriter and consultant for D2C brands. This extreme Type-Aer is obsessed with results. He helps you get more conversions, leads, and sales with research- and psychology-driven copy, and a message-to-market-match that makes your ideal customer feel understood.
Samuel Ng is a copywriter for health and wellness. He specializes in writing copy that converts your audience into paying clients.
- the best forms of research in direct response copy
- More in Part 2 (Out April 14)
We might have a problem...
Okay bud, honesty street:
My hand is worse than I thought.
The barman just gave me the stink eye when I paid him in blood and copper. I need to get to the bathroom and MacGyver this situation pronto.
I’m gonna have to stay in deep cover mode.
Look out for my live messages in the dark blue dropdown boxes.
Meanwhile, you can get familiar with the fundamentals of direct response copywriting below.
*Pulls up hood and disappears into shadows*
Direct response copywriting guide:
In this chapter, we’re gonna get to grips with the basics of direct response copywriting.
We’ll answer some of the questions you have on the tip of your toenail tongue.
You’ll find out:
- What direct response copywriting is
- What types of direct response copywriting exist
- Why businesses need direct response copywriters
- How it differs from indirect response copywriting
- What direct response copywriters do
Let’s get stuck in.
What is direct response copywriting?
Direct response copywriting is written communication that speaks directly to people in a way that compels them to take immediate action in the moment.
Unlike other forms of content that seek to build brand awareness and trust over time, the goal of direct response copy is to influence the reader into a buying decision on the spot.
In a nutshell: direct response copy is irresistible sales writing.
Because of its immediacy, direct response copywriting has a major influence on whether or not you (or your client) makes a lot of sales.
And for that reason, it’s one of the most lucrative types of copywriting—if you’re damn good at it.
I just bumped into Doug in the bathroom. He seemed a little spooked. Maybe it was the hood, maybe it was my stick, or perhaps it was the massive ball of blood-soaked toilet roll wrapped around my hand. Who knows? At least we got something. A great start! I’m off to find our next targets.
Types of direct response copywriting
Direct response copywriting has been around for many moons, from long before we all got addicted to screens.
Way back in the 1900s, ad men like Caples and Ogilvy would use this form of copywriting to target prospects with printed ads in newspapers or even send letters in the mail.
Yes, really, I shit you not.
Whenever the customer got in touch by mail or the phone, the company called that, “a direct response”.
So, what does direct response copywriting actually involve?
Is it all about sales letters or can you use this superpower in other mediums?
Nowadays, most copywriting has gone digital. But there are many types of direct response copywriting that still focus on print materials, including:
- Newspaper ads
- Magazine ads
- Sales letters
Okay…and what about digital copywriting types? If it’s on digital, is it still considered direct response copywriting?
It sure is. While it hasn’t stayed true to the old-school methods of print advertising, digital copywriting has hitched its wagon to data analytics, which makes it possible to track how many responses your campaigns get.
From ad clicks to email opens to sales page conversions, data gives marketing teams the info they need to see if their direct response copywriter is hitting home runs or firing blanks.
Here is a quick rundown of the most common types of direct response copywriting for digital mediums:
- Video Sales Letters (VSLs)
- Google Ads (Pay-per-click)
- YouTube video ads
- TikTok video ads
- Instagram ads
- Facebook ads
- Landing pages
- Sales pages
Quite a selection, right?
Often, many of these types will be used together in a single direct-response copywriting campaign.
The social media ads drive traffic to a landing page, which converts people and captures email addresses, and then you can use email sequences to upsell other products later.
Ultimately, if the message speaks directly to customers and encourages them to make a purchasing decision immediately, you can consider it an example of direct-response copywriting.
Many copywriters will offer an array of services. You might spend some time dipping your toes in different areas, before honing your craft in one or two areas.
Picking a niche and becoming “The Direct Response Copywriter for Sales Pages for Fitness Coaches” is often a more lucrative career move than spinning plates as a Jack-of-All-Trades.
Guys, I think the barman ratted on me. Or maybe it was Doug? There are bouncers patrolling in the club now, and they look like they’re on high alert. I’m back in the cloakroom. I’m going to have to lie low. Keep the line open in case I need to radio for help. Shhh…
Why do businesses need direct response copywriting?
Every business on the planet is trying to sell something. Yes, even your BFF on LinkedIn has an ulterior motive for commenting on your post.
But unlike people playing the long game with branding and SEO content, direct response copywriters take the game by the scruff of the neck.
It’s all about making the sale.
One of the main characteristics of direct response copy is that it stirs up a sense of urgency.
Done right, you can light a fire under your ideal customer’s ass and make them feel that if they don’t take action right now, then they will miss out.
Underneath the sales side of copywriting lies something even more valuable—an emotional connection.
A great copywriter will get to know a company’s customers and help forge a relatable brand personality that builds trust and loyalty. This process helps companies earn more from every customer in the long run.
Now that you know what direct response copywriting is let’s see what makes it different from any other copywriting you might encounter.
Phew. I just pretended to be the cloakroom attendant there when Robert Lucas showed up. All good, though, I think he bought it. He also mentioned something about a private lounge. I’m going to snoop around and see if I can find it.
What is indirect response copywriting?
Most advertising is not direct. Typically, ads you see on TV or on a billboard don’t seek to encourage you to make purchases right there in the moment.
Instead, the goal of these forms of advertising is to increase brand awareness.
How does that impact sales?
With enough promotion, brands can take up residence in consumers’ minds, gradually growing in influence before the time for a purchase comes. Over time, good advertising causes an indirect response.
Think about it:
When you see a Coca-Cola ad on TV, you don’t instantly dive off the sofa for your credit card (unless you’re Buddy the Elf).
It doesn’t matter how much you think you want to feel that black, bubbling sugar sweetly burning the back of your throat.
The advertising isn’t that powerful—nor is it supposed to be.
But as you see the brand and its advertising, again and again, its influence will slowly grow.
And then, the next time you find yourself in a shop, standing in front of a cool fridge on a hot day, suddenly, you’ll reach out for a bottle of Coca-Cola.
When that happens, an advertising team huddled in the tallest, rickety tower of a castle in Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Transylvania high fives each other. They played the long game and won.
Indirect response advertising is more commonly known as branding.
And we’ve got a secret to tell you about this approach:
Branding is polite, not punchy.
It’ll make people feel good about your product or service, but it won’t elicit an immediate response.
Direct response copywriting is the polar opposite of branding. It cuts to the chase by sending a torpedo through all the foreplay and pussy-footing.
While branding still has a crucial role—and will continue to be part of a broader advertising effort in marketing campaigns—businesses will always need direct response copywriters to make sales campaigns really take off.
Well, at least until the day robots can write with real emotion, personality, and creativity (yes, take that right in your cold, bionic heart, ChatGPT).
What does a direct response copywriter do?
The day-to-day for a direct response copywriter is quite unlike a content writer.
- You won’t get a template-style brief.
- You won’t churn out blog post after blog post.
- You won’t smash through thousands of words per week.
Typically, direct response copy involves much fewer words, but don’t let that fool you into thinking there’s less work involved.
Hell fugging no! This path is not for the faint of heart.
This truth is what so many new writers (and clients) don’t fully appreciate about this game.
In direct response copywriting, every word that makes the cut is a carefully engineered, polished, and positioned cog in the greater machine.
And here’s what bad, pushy clients don’t understand:
The words are only written after countless hours (read: days and weeks) invested in deep research on the business, offer, market, and customer.
Well, that’s if you want your copywriting to be effective.
As in the kinda copy that gets leads, not likes.
Of course you won’t that.
The most effective copywriting is based on the proven methods, frameworks, and formulas of decades of research and testing.
It’s not just writing—it’s psychology, science, sales, and marketing all rolled into one.
The purpose of direct response copy is to increase conversions by persuading people to take action. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing an ad, sales page, or email—the end game is the same.
As the hired ink-slinger, your mission can vary, but conversions are always the ultimate goal.
For example, your high-converting copy could persuade people to:
- Download a lead magnet (e.g., an ebook or free course)
- Sign-up for your webinar
- Book a consultation
- Join your email list
- Buy a product
So, while you will likely write less words that the average content writer on the hamster wheel, every word matters.
Which begs the question: just what kinda genius do you have to be to become a straight killer in a direct response copywriting career?
Let’s find out.
It’s a narrow room with a long, wooden table in the middle. Fancy wood, dark, and aged, like the half-dozen Jameson bottles that sit atop the center.
Ten chairs flank the long sides of the table, most of them filled. A few stragglers loiter around the corners of the room.
Some are taking off jackets and getting settled. Acting naturally, as if I belong, I pull off the hoody and hang it on the back of a chair.
A group huddles near the far wall, circling around someone. I can hear a Scouse accent. The laughter of the group punctuates his sentences.
Emerald chandeliers glisten above the table. To the left, memorabilia adorns the black and gold wallpapered walls.
On the right, gold velvet curtains hang heavy and still.
I hobble to the window to peek through the gap in the curtain. Pressing my face close to the glass, I stare down at the dancefloor. I can see the NPCs dance to the muffled hum of the music.
Suddenly, I’m acutely aware of the silence in the room. The laughter has stopped. I look back to the table again.
They’re all staring at me.
Some of them glance at the muddy, moss-covered crook I’m clutching.
Others are staring at my hand as the blood has completely soaked through the tissue.
This silence is getting awkward.
“Hey, it’s CJ,” comes a voice from the back of the room.
I recognize Jacob McMillen.
With that, the others peer at me curiously, like a confused toddler who just saw their sun-baked parent return from a two-week absence in Ibiza. They’re trying to figure out if they know me.
Standing at the door, I hear them mumble and whisper between themselves.
“Oh yes… it’s the survey guy! ”
“Ah….yes, that survey, I think I remember….from like a year ago?”
“I think I saw one of his posts on LinkedIn one time, something about eyebrows…”
“Yes, yes, the guy who keeps changing his headline emojis, right?”
Suddenly, I’m feeling a little out of place…
Direct response copywriting guide:
The 12 Golden Principles
After chatting with 18 successful direct response copywriters (and digging up a few takes from beyond the grave), I’ve distilled their wisdom into this guide to help you become better at your craft.
Here are the 12 golden principles of direct response copywriting:
- Become an expert listener
- Study your market
- Capture the voice of the customer
- Get familiar with the product
- Define the unique value proposition
- Make it hyper-personal
- Focus on clarity
- Include social proof
- Use storytelling
- Bust objections
- Edit ruthlessly
- Master headlines
So here we are, in a room with the copywriting legends.
I’m feeling nervous.
I think about running.
But then, a woman walks up to me.
It’s Elle Rosselli:
Okay, I’m ready.
Let’s do this.
Here’s what you gotta do to become a kickass direct response copywriter.
1. Become an expert listener
If you were hoping you could just grab a brief from the client and go do your thing in a cave, think again—great copywriting thrives upon deep conversations.
Sure, you can get a lot from basic research, but if you really wanna create messaging that hits the mark, you have go a little further, and talk to some people. An introvert’s nightmare, I know.
You’re going to speak to the client first, maybe the marketing director, and possibly some customers, too.
But here’s the good news for any shy types:
You don’t need to do much talking—your main job is to listen.
Olena Bomko understands just how damn important it is for a copywriter to become a great listener. Taking her cues from one of the greats, she shared a Eugene Schwartz article with me titled “I Write With My Ears.”
In it, the man himself effuses that “The first step, therefore—the essential step—in turning an item into an ad, is turning yourself into a listener.”
Big takeaway: You need to hit the record button, shut your piehole, and prick up your ears. The only time you need to talk is to recap their points and ask more questions. (Bonus tip: use a real-time transcription service like Otter so you can follow the conversation even closer).
2. Study your market
Before you can position a brand or product in the market, you must know the lay of the land.
If you’re the hired quill, at a bare minimum, you should conduct a Discovery Call where you kick over all the rocks to get the info you need. (That’s the conversation with the client and/or marketing director we mentioned a moment ago).
You can also read market reports, case studies, and white papers to better understand consumer behaviors, industry trends, and the company’s competitors.
The more, the better.
Big takeaway: It doesn’t matter if you’re selling B2B or B2C, medicine or manufacturing, SaaS or snowcones. If you don’t understand your target market, all the fancy wordplay in the world will count for diddly squat.
3. Capture the voice of the customer
There’s no better way to make your copy compelling and relatable than to use the language your prospects use. A discovery call with the client will give you a ton of useful info—but it won’t give you the voice of the customer.
Eden Bidani explains the best ways to get voice of customer:
That’s when you create messaging that people remember after the moment has passed.
Good sticky copy lives on, growing like a little seed in your customer’s mind.
You can get it from interviews and surveys, because you’re interviewing real customers, and learning how they speak about products and services.
So, when people read your copy, it’s not only relative to their situation, desires, and worries—it’s also written in the same language and tone your customers actually use online.
It’s like you’re reading their minds.
But what if conducting customer interviews or surveys isn’t possible?
Maybe your client is in a rush.
Maybe it’s a new client without any customers yet.
Maybe none of the customers want to share information (kinda like how lots of people didn’t reply to my survey. It’s okay, I’m not mad.)
So, what then? Do you just skip voice of customer research?
Fuck no. This step is one of the most important parts of direct response copywriting.
When surveys and interviews aren’t an option, you can poke around the internet to find out where your target audience is hiding, and see what conversations they’re having.
Hmm, how do you do that? Let’s ask Samuel Ng:
In these places that Samuel mentions, you can find your ideal customers doing all of this shizzle:
- Talking about pain points and challenges
- Discussing their favorite aspects of products or services
- Complaining about the current shortcomings in the market
- Asking questions they can’t find an answer to anywhere else
- Explaining the outcome or transformation the right offer brings to their life
These conversations are all off-the-cuff and unfiltered, coming directly from the
horse’s customers’ mouth (hence the term “voice of the customer”).
If you dig enough, you’ll find absolute gold.
Some quotes from reviews and forums are so damn good, you can put them directly into your copy, with minimal tweaks.
Big takeaway: Go deep with your research to find out what your ideal customers are actually saying about the existing products. Interviews and surveys are best, but forums and reviews are a goldmine. Dig deep, and you’ll get the info you need to write irresistibly relatable copy.
4. Get familiar with the product
Okay, so far, in a nutshell. Before you write copy, you should get to know:
- The client and company (via discovery call)
- The market (via research + competitor analysis)
- The customer (via data mining + voice of customer research)
You should also get to know the product really freakin’ well.
Okay, you may have known that already.
But how do you actually do it? Won’t you cover this in your discovery call with the client or during your follow up research of the market?
Sure. You will.
But do you wanna write copy for this product to position it a unique way?
A way that makes it stand out, sell more, and appear more valuable and awesome than any competitor?
So much so, that your client throws money at you, and your peers talk of you like you’re some type of copywriting demi-god?
Yeah, thought so.
If you’re gonna stick the landing with so-damn-good-it-hurts copywriting, you must know the product. Once you do, you will find it much easier to map its benefits to the customer’s pain points.
Take it from Charles Gibson:
This advice is as old as time.
As Eugene Schwartz once said: “Sit down with the owner of the product — the man who’s hiring you — and pump hell out of him.”
It’s a good idea to speak to the product design team to intimately understand the product. Also, chatting with customer support reps will help you get insight on the questions customers ask, problems they have, and objections or complaints that arise around the product.
Big takeaway: Your client and/or the product designer will need to spill their guts about every little detail. One way or another, you can’t write convincing copy until you know the product inside-out.
5. Define the unique value proposition
Most products or services have a few bells and whistles when it comes to their features. Some features are bog-standard for the market, while some are a twist on something that another competitor is doing.
But then there’s one standout feature.
That one really good thing that makes this product a little bit special. It’s that X-factor that makes this product worth buying before all the others.
That, my friend, is your unique value proposition.
Dave Harland tells you how to find it:
Did you hear that?
You must go “uncomfortably deep” to make the UVP really shine.
You might spend a lot of time poking your client with a stick until they give it up, but eventually, with enough probing and clawing, you’ll get that gold dust.
According to Kim Krause-Schwalm, this persistence is worth it:
Big takeaway: In a crowded space, the UVP is what makes your offer stand out from the pack. Before you write a single word of copy, you should circle around like a vulture until the UVP becomes crystal clear.
6. Make it hyper-personal
Bob keeps it short and sweet—the mark of a great copywriter.
And, ya know what? He’s dead right.
It can be scary to write for a massive audience.
If you’re thinking about that when you write copy, you’re probably going to mess it up.
You must get personal to create effective direct-response copywriting.
Forget about the audience.
Forget about the product or service you’re selling.
Forget about the pressure to deliver awesome results.
Instead of thinking about the big audience, narrow your focus.
Elle Rosselli explains how:
The research you conduct through interviews, surveys, and scouring social media and forums is the foundation for personable and compelling messaging.
Once you know your ideal customer on a more intimate level, you will understand their problems. When you get this far, you’ll know how to persuade people with relatable, emotive copywriting that speaks to their needs.
Lisa Pierson emphasizes that you must become ruthless to connect on a personal level:
Want another tip on getting focused?
Dave Harland says visualizing your reader makes it easier to write copy that is more personal.
Here’s how to do it:
If it helps, you can picture them naked.
It probably won’t help, though. But lemme know, k?
Big takeaway: Direct response copywriting is inherently personal. If you don’t approach your messaging as a real conversation that connects with people on an emotional level, chances are it’s going to fall flat.
Save time with the free e-book.
All the expert advice without the blog post hoopla—like a little copywriting wisdom snack box.
- 19 direct-response legends (plus this fuggin’ guy)
- 70+ actionable tips (includes secret bonus gems)
- 0% risk of brain meltdown from reading exhaustion
You’ll also join my weekly newsletter. Unsub anytime.
7. Focus on clarity
Many copywriters—including myself—harbor dreams of penning a fiction novel someday. But you must remember selling is the point here.
When writing direct response copy, you must keep the creative beast on a leash. It’s fun to let it play around, but you must always have control, or it will rip your client’s conversion goals to shreds.
Jacob McMillen believes clarity is the key to winning copy:
The last thing you want to do is lose a bunch of potential customers because you made your offer too confusing to understand.
Don’t muddy the decision-making process: make it simple for the right people to see you are the right choice.
Great copy puts clarity before cleverness.
Can you make the two work together?
Absofugginlutely. But it’s a fine art.
Olena Bomko nails it with this gem:
Big takeaway: Don’t ever sacrifice clear messaging for some fancy wordplay. Clarity always, always, always trumps cleverness.
8. Include social proof
93% of people rely on customer reviews before buying from unfamiliar retailers. And the truth? People trust recommendations from other customers over any other form of advertising.
You can write great copy without social proof. But when you add it to your ad, email, or landing page, it’s like sticking a nitrous injection system in your conversion campaign.
If you want your direct response copywriting to grab people by the short and curlies, there are few things more powerful than testimonials.
“Okay, but how?” you ask.
Here are a few types of social proof you can add to turbocharge your direct response copy:
- Case studies that give an in-depth look at how you helped take a customer from Paintown to the Promised Land.
- Reviews serve up a nitty-gritty look at your product or service, showing the full picture of all the features and benefits.
- Testimonials are hmmm-inducing quotes and scroll-stopping stats from loyal folks who want to tell everyone you’re awesome.
- Trust icons like the logos of media publications you partnered with or certification badges from your industry to prove you’re the real deal
- Data is a convincing method you can use by dropping some impressive numbers in your copy. For example, you could tell people you have 75,000 happy customers and have helped B2B customers earn $538 million in profits.
Here’s what Eddie Shleyner has to say about using social proof:
Big takeaway: Positive social proof acts like a magnet, attracting attention and dispelling objections in one fell swoop. The more social proof you have, the more trustworthy you appear.
9. Use storytelling
Just about everyone in digital marketing spouts about storytelling at some point. And yet, not as many digital marketers or copywriters will use this technique in their direct response copy, and even fewer will use it to good effect.
Part of the reason is that it risks muddying the waters like we mentioned above, where you end up with a “clever” message or fluffy, overbaked story, instead of a clear, compelling offer that drives an immediate response.
Doug D’Anna explains how storytelling relates to sales copy:
Hear that? A coherent sales story.
Whether it’s short ad copy for trinkets or long-form copy to sell $10,000 tech products, remember this is direct response copywriting. You’re not JK Rowling or GRR Martin, writing the next Great American Novel or fantasy fiction epic.
The goal is to drive specific action. So, if there’s anything in your ad copy that may be considered “fluffy,” then it better have a purpose.
That said, having a fundamental grasp of the storytelling elements below will help you win people’s trust.
- Connect with people emotionally (relatable origins tale + motivation)
- Set up a nemesis (your customer’s pain point)
- Provide a path to victory (your solution)
- Overcome challenges along the way (objection-busting)
- Inspire them to slay the dragons (call-to-action)
Even if you can’t measure storytelling’s impact with precise data, the power of emotive, human-centric copy is clear.
Over time, the storytelling approach to copywriting shapes a brand’s image, making its messaging stand out in memorable ways that inspire customers to unite behind a brand’s mission.
But don’t forget the science behind the art—something many would-be storytellers might not realize when it comes to writing copy. Take a tip from one of the best hook-writing copywriters in the game, Dina Calakovic:
Big takeaway: Great storytelling builds brand awareness ad fosters loyalty in ways that drab, vanilla-spiced-latte copy does not. Use it alongside proven copywriting frameworks to captivate attention and sell more.
10. Bust objections early
People will always have doubts. The higher the price tag, the bigger the roadblocks.
As a direct response copywriter, you have to get damn good at anticipating the niggling worries in people’s minds.
Once you know, don’t hide that knowledge up your sleeve like some crafty poker player. It’s crucial to eliminate any doubts before they fester and the fear takes over your prospect’s mind.
Listen to Eden Bidani on this point:
Big takeaway: Your research—if done right—will unearth every little (and large) objection your customers have about the product or service. Leave no stone unturned, and you can dispel objections in your copy to convert more.
11. Edit ruthlessly
I bet you’ve heard this saying before:
“Kill your darlings.”
William Faulkner said it first (apparently), and Stephen King hammered it home in his book, On Writing, when he wrote:
“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
As writers, it’s easy to get attached to little words, phrases, characters, and features in our work.
But this habit can be kryptonite for your client’s conversion rate — you must learn to detach yourself from the copy you write.
Sometimes, the only way to get back in the flow and make the asset work is to cut something you might love.
But remember: your job is to sell.
You must be a cold-blooded killer in your editing process to ensure your pages are free of anything that creates friction in the sales process.
Your sales pages should flow like a waterfall, relentlessly sweeping prospects off their feet and carrying them to the checkout without a struggle.
Here’s a great tip to help root out friction in your copy, from Lisa Pierson:
Big takeaway: In direct response copy, nobody gives a damn about your darlings, so neither should you. There’s no room for fluff and filler—every line must drive the action forward, pushing the customer closer to conversion.
12. Master headlines
We’ve saved the most important one for last.
There are few skills more important to master in direct response copywriting than the ability to craft an attention-grabbing headline.
Just look at some of the fastest-growing influencers on LinkedIn, like Jasmin Alic, Ryan Musselman, and Matt Barker.
Like Dina, they mastered the art of hooky headlines to capture people’s attention.
Although LinkedIn influencers are a relatively new thing, this dark art is the stuff of classic copywriting legends.
If you’ve been in the game for more than a minute, you’ve no doubt heard of David Ogilvy.
Often referred to as the “Father of Advertising,” Big Dave is a bit of a legend in the copywriting community—a mythic status only exacerbated by his passing in 1999.
Ogilvy once said:
“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
Think about that for a moment: 80% of a copywriter’s work is to nail the headline. If you get it wrong, there’s a good chance nobody will read any further.
So, what can you do?
Here are three quick tips to craft better direct response copywriting headlines:
- Be clear. If you’re vague, you’ll lose them. Get tunnel vision, with precise details that make your offer specific and easy to understand.
- Be concise. Per principle #10, cut the fluff and lead with the facts and benefits.
- Be compelling. Many writers use similar phrases or headlines regardless of what they’re selling. Aim to stand out and create curiosity in a unique way.
Want another great tip?
Here’s what Dustan has to say about writing headlines:
I’m with Dustan on this one. I don’t specify seven times per se, but the concept of writing multiple headlines is good practice.
Even if you are a machine when it comes to doing research and collecting the voice of the customer, you won’t always nail the perfect headline on the first attempt.
On every project, get into the practice of writing LOTS of headlines. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a homepage, sales page, product description, ad, or email. Get those reps in at every opportunity.
You can even present the best options to your client and run some split testing to determine the winner.
As Big Dave once said, “Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.”
If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for the rest of us.
Big takeaway: Headlines are critical. Practice them relentlessly, and don’t be afraid of writing (and testing) lots for every page, ad, or email until you find the winner.
That’s Part I of Killer Poets Drop Gems in the bag.
Good timing, because the bouncers just showed up at the lounge door.
Lucky for me, they couldn’t get in right away because Dina Calakovic filled the keyhole with hooks.
We have to leave the lounge. I’m gonna switch off my phone so the bouncers can’t triangulate my movements.
Catch you on the flip side…
Wanna cut to the chase?
I distilled the best quotes from all the interviews into a short n’ sweet e-book.
You can get easy access to all the tips and wisdom from both beast posts in a quick and easy read.
- 19 direct-response copywriters
- 70+ wise nuggets (includes bonus quotes)
- 0% risk of meltdown from overreading
It's just 97 seconds away now (unless your wifi sucks):
You’ll also join my weekly newsletter. Unsub anytime.