Direct Response Copywriting is all about structuring your words (copy) in such a way that the reader is compelled to take an immediate action (direct response). Direct Response has been around for many years but with the proliferation of the web its become even more relevant because website technology helps to facilitate the action more resulting in better ‘responses’ than ever before. In this episode, we talk with Stefan King from Vivid Web Copy about the ins and outs of direct response copywriting and how a small business can benefit from it.
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Mentioned in this episode;
- Stefan’s business; Vivid Web Copy
- Vivid web copy ebook (and sales page)
- Influence by Robert B. Cialdini (book) – Six Principles of Influence
- Customer personas (read our post on how to create customer personas)
Nick: Welcome back to the Lead Generation podcast. Today, we’re going to be talking with Stephan King from Vivid Web Copy about direct response copywriting. So thanks for joining us Stephan.
Stephan: Thanks for having me, good to be here.
Nick: Stephan specialises in creating web copy and landing pages for Software Companies but the techniques and strategies we will be discussing today are going to be applicable to many different types of businesses. So, hopefully many of our listeners will be able to learn something from this. Let’s get started by defining copywriting. Stephan, so, what is direct response copywriting?
Stephan: Direct response copywriting is when you want to have the visitor of the page to take action immediately. It originated with the traditional sales letter that you send out in the mail and you want people to act immediately when they read it, based on very little trust but a lot of information. This is in contrast to copywriting for branding where, for example, if you place a Mercedes advertisement in a magazine, then you’re not going to expect to have the readers run to the store immediately after they see it and buy the car.
It’s more like, because the boy throughout his childhood and then adulthood sees a lot of Mercedes ads in magazines and other places, he begins to form a connection with the brand. At some point in the future, when he can afford to buy a new car, he’ll just naturally know that the Mercedes is right for him – so this is at the extreme end of the spectrum. In between, you have TV advertising and radio advertising, where you make people slowly familiar with a certain brand name over time so that brand is top of mind when they are ready to buy. So that is branding advertising and that is in contrast to the direct response advertising where you just want to have people act immediately. You ask for a significant action from cold traffic based on information.
Nick: Cool, cool. So, this sounds like it’s definitely applicable to the web, where people often have the ability to take an action right away as opposed the example of someone reading something in a magazine, where; (1) they’re not near to a store, and (2) they probably don’t have the money ready to make a significant purchase, such as a car.
Thinking about a typical listener, which might be a small business, probably a service-based business, what are some of the typical actions that they might want to encourage on their website from visitors?
Stephan: If you are service-based business, for example you are lawyer and you have a website, you probably want people to give you a call because that’s when you can engage with them in the sales process and ask questions about their needs. In this case, the purpose of the website and copy is to filter a prospect who comes to your website down to a real lead and then get them on a call. So, the action is, “Call me now.”
Another example could be; if you’re selling an expensive product or an expensive service, then you might start the sales process by asking visitors to download a report or case study. The objective is for them to verify two things.
- First of all, that you really know what you’re talking about, so you position yourself as an authority that really understands what this business is and what this equipment does
- And the second thing is, it introduces them more into the details of how the value is going to be delivered
Then, the goal of the website is to get the visitor to download your free report and get more information. Usually, you would exchange that report or that case study for an email address. When someone enters their email address to get the report, that is like them raising their hand and saying, “Hey, I’m interested in this stuff and I’m willing to give you my email address. I trust you enough that you will not spam me.” As the person behind the website you know they care about the information so it makes it very easy and natural to continue the dialogue and follow-up with them afterwards.
So, those are two typical actions that you want people to do when they come to your website.
Nick: That definitely makes sense. The ‘phone call’ action is particularly relevant to our listeners but the ’email submission’ action to get the report is quite interesting too as it then allows the business to deliver a number of emails to the lead over time with more information. We’re going to be talking more about this type of marketing in future episodes.
What are some of the typical tactics or methods that a direct response copywriter such as yourself can use to drive and encourage the actions we’re actually talking about?
Stephan: I have a very regimented process for writing sales copy. I know that many people have different style of working but for me, I use a very specific set of techniques and go through it step by step. One of the things I do, for example, is to create a customer avatar. You need to have some understanding of your target audience and who the person is that you can help with your service or product and you want to keep this type of person always in front of you when you are writing the sales copy because you’re talking to them as a person. It’s not like “Hey, you guys out there on the web,” like those thousands of people that I might reach, you need to be specific. With a customer avatar, you take all the features that your target customers have in common and combine them into one character and you can just imagine what type of person it is. You can even give him a name, him or her, and then you imagine that person sitting in front of you and then you start talking to them or writing them a personal email. And that is a very powerful technique to say exactly the right thing with exactly the right tone.
The second thing I do is define the value proposition. The ‘value proposition’ is quite a technical term for a nuts and bolts understanding of our statement or model of how the value is going to be delivered to the costumer. The customer has certain needs based on who they are and your product has features, physical stuff that they pay money for and there need to be a sync-up, like there’s a way in which those features of the product are actually going to make the customer happy, make their life better or make them more money, if it’s business to business. So you have to have a very detailed understanding of how that is going to happen. There are several models of how you can construct that value proposition and that’s a good way to get started writing the sales copy.
The third technique or thing that you might say is typical of creating sales copy is that you pace the emotions of the people towards this action that you want them to take; their “direct response.” You do that by modulating their emotions through the sales copy and the more space you have, the more time you have to play around with this, but you typically do this using several techniques including changing the sizes of the paragraphs or putting in exclamation marks if it’s a more of a business to consumer product. You can use underlining or bold, and you just use a certain amount of those emotion-pacing elements in your copy, depending on what type of offer you are selling.
Nick: Cool, cool. Something that I’ve read about when I’ve been looking into things like copywriting, things like landing pages, is various techniques that people use to get a response, like scarcity ie. scarcity of time, limited time offer or scarcity of availability ie. “we’re only accepting 500 customers.” Are these the sort of things you would be including within the copy or is this more of a broader strategy-type thing, which goes in there?
Stephan: Yes. There’s this set of concepts that you play around with, the most famous book about this is ‘Influence’ from Robert Cialdini, most marketers have heard of that. He describes these six principles, these overarching principles that make people act without thinking too much about it. On the one hand, you have an economic model that describes how people behave in a rational way or in a context, on average the model predicts how people will respond in this market situation. And then Cialdini’s innovation here was to use the knowledge of psychology to see in which situations people react without really thinking about it because they are wired by evolution to respond in a certain automatic way. And these six principles that, I think it was five or six principles that he came up with are consistency, reciprocation, social proof, authority, liking and scarcity. Those are the principles that he described and this has become such a standard set of principles in marketing that everybody usually applies them almost like subconsciously.
I would say that everybody knows that you need to have testimonials and that’s an example of social proof. And of course, if you’ve done business with a new famous airline and you have, then you want to put those logos or your front webpage, that’s automatic. And as copywriter, I usually include them more deliberately at the end, for example the scarcity principle is a thing, always give limited time offer if you are running a sale in an email, it’s a very good example. But you can’t always use those, you have to be careful, you have to use some taste to decide which of these persuasion principles you apply to your copy.
Nick: Yeah. It’s something that, I like what you added at the end there about the taste because it can come off badly if you don’t execute it well. So, I think having someone like yourself to consult on this kind of stuff is pretty handy.
Let’s move along now. One of your key services on your website is you talk about writing copy for your about page. I know this is a page that many businesses perhaps don’t spend a lot of time creating, maybe just throw something up there. So, what are the kind of important elements that should be on the about page, and how can it be used to further the business goals?
Stephan: First of all, I want to say that the about page is a very challenging piece of content because of the specifics of your situation, that you have to apply before you can write it well. I’m even still struggling with my own about page. It’s usually very difficult to do your own about page well. It’s easier to write it for someone else. I’ve done it many times and what I find is that you have to distinguish, first of all, between whether the business is a single person or something impersonal.
For example, I may be writing for a single person here, it’s his personal website, this is lawyer John from Vancouver, who is just the best lawyer in Vancouver. He’s been practicing for 20 years and you want to know all about John. Or, is it an impersonal thing e.g. there’s this Software as a Service that everybody is using and I don’t care who the CEO is, who the developers are and who is actually making the thing run, but I just want to use it. And then ‘oh!’, because this is so popular, and I saw it on TechCrunch, I also want to know what this company is and what is the history of this company. And you of course, you have a radically different approach to writing one about page versus the other.
And there’s one thing that you have to start with, that is they both have in common and that is the concept of storytelling. This is a big thing in marketing now, since about three years, everybody’s talking about storytelling and the about page is a very good piece of content, where you can apply this idea of storytelling. Because stories always have the hero and the hero has to overcome certain obstacles and then he gets the goal, and he gets the girl, and then everything is alright in the world.
(14-15 mins) So, that’s the very simple structure that everybody’s familiar with, through books, and through movies, and TV shows and now you don’t literally tell a story on your about page but this framework of a hero overcoming obstacles and gaining a goal, you have to use that because if you are lawyer John in Vancouver, then you want to show your background, like how do you become a lawyer, why as a kid, were you interested in arguing, debating, in law? And that you have to tell a story. And it doesn’t have to be so long but there have to be a few key points that explain why you became who you are as a person, and then that naturally extends into why you are so great at delivering this services. It’s completely natural, just like a line lights on the Savannah, just in the same way you have become this person. It’s completely natural, there’s no doubt about that you are in the right place at the right time, because there’s this history. And the company page is very similar. The company is a hero as well, or you could say that the costumer is the hero and the company is helping him or her achieve his or her goal. So, you have this history of the company that is completely inevitable, that they’re creating this value for you and that is the basis of an about page.
Nick: Cool. That’s a really a detailed answer which, this is so much, the stuff, that’s the thing I love about this kind of stuff. This is so much, [inaudible 00:15:41] service when you start talking to someone like you, someone who knows what they’re doing whereas, someone like me, just sort of, he has an about page, so I throw out a few details on it. But you can really delve deep [inaudible 00:15:54], which totally makes sense and about making it seem natural, and I guess you can tie it back to the costumer avatar, which you mentioned before, really saying what that person is looking for and how you can appeal to them specifically. Let’s move along to another thing, another type of copy writing, involving, I guess, which is the long form sales page. I thought maybe you’d be able to explain to us, to our listeners little bit about that, what that is, and how it should be used.
Stephan: Yes. So, the long form sales base is a long sales page and typically long means about, 3,000, 4,000, 5,000, in extreme case is even 10,000 words of sales copy and if you’re not familiar with counting words, that is one of those pages you might have encountered on the internet that just goes on and on. You just keep scrolling and you still see more stuff, and you just can’t get to the bottom. That is a long form sales page, and you use that type of sales page when you want to have people act now. It’s a very pure form of direct response copy and they are called traffic. They’ve never heard of you before, you’ve just ran a campaign on Google or Facebook and you paid for the advertisement and they click on it because they found it interesting. And the only thing you know about them is that they clicked on your ad and they came to your webpage, and the only thing they know about you is that you had that ad on Facebook.
So, there’s zero trust to begin with and the only thing you know that they might be interested in your products and then you have to engage them. You have to keep them on the page. That’s the job of the headline and then you engage them to read further down the page. So, you can scan the page like people usually go up and down, you see what is this thing about and, if they already recognize that this is the sales page, they go down to the bottom, like how much I’m going to pay at the end of this story, right? So that is a long form sales page.
Nick: Is this the sort of thing that a small business might use or is this typically for like a bigger purchase? What are your thoughts on how a small business might use a long sales form page? Do you recommend that they use this kind of thing?
Stephan: I think, it’s independent of the size of the business, not a matter of who is the organization, who is going to deliver the product, that is irrelevant. What it is about is the price level and the level of familiarity and the type of marketing that you have done to reach them, right. The more you want to rely on your brand, the less likely you are well off the direct response and the less brand capital you have and the more likely you want to have a sales page like that.
Nick: Is it more useful for new businesses, in that case? You think it’s useful in cases where it is less familiar, so it’s less brand value. So does that mean it’s particularly good for new business or…?
Stephan: If you are a new business that has a relatively large marketing budget, then I would definitely try to sell your product like this. If it’s not too expensive, if it’s possible for someone to be persuaded in about 2, 3, 4,000 words to spend that amount of money on someone they don’t know. If it’s in the price point up to $100 or maybe $150, if you have a really good source of traffic, then it’s a good idea to use it, but you have to spend the money on the traffic. So, if you are a new business and you have a product of about $100 or less and you have the cash to optimize the sales page and to spend money on the traffic, then I would recommend to make a long form sales page for that.
Nick: Cool, cool. Thanks Stefan for joining us today. I think we’re going to try and wrap up about there. It’s been a really good overview of response copywriting. Before we go away, I just want to know, do have anything that perhaps our listeners could take away from this podcast today and sort of apply to their business to see results?
Stephan: Yes. The first thing I would suggest is to just go to your website and load it up on your screen, take a few steps back, I don’t know where you are, could be 2 meters or 5 ft. You just take a quick glance from a larger distance and you ask yourself, like, what is the first thing that I’m seeing here? What is the first impression? Is it the headline that is large enough to inspire people to stay, does it say right thing? Does it speak to your target audience, yes or no? Is it a picture that evokes the right type of feeling?
What is the thing that is the most salient on your landing page? You can see that by stepping back a few feet and just deciding for yourself, is that the thing that I want people to see when they get to my website? And maybe not, maybe yes. So, work on that, if you’re not satisfied with the results. The second thing that is very important is, make sure you have your social proof elements on the front page because this is something you tend to forget if have done a lot of business over a long time and you have so much capital built up in your clients or your customers. And maybe you’ve never asked, like what do you think of our products?
Can you say something about it? And if you have those tests away somewhere and emails from people, thanking you for what you did. And then you can just use that as content and put on the front page because the first thing that I’m worried about as a prospect is, can I trust this person here on this website? Is this going to be worthwhile to continue to read? And if other people are saying that you are worth spending my time on, then I will probably stay.
Nick: Do you have tips on how to set up this testimonial? Should there be a photo, if possible? Should it be long or short, or does it matter?
Stephan: I’m really glad you asked that question because I’ve written actually a chapter about that in my book. It’s, if you can get this, if you can get the best possible thing would be to have a video of someone talking about your product or service. And this person has to be your perfect target audience, has to be a perfect member of your customer base. So, if you were selling expensive marketing services to large brands, then you want to have that video be some CEO or some big-ass company talking about how great you are.
If you are selling a kitchen knife for $47, you want to have either a chef cook or a housewife talk about how great this knife is. And just be a few minutes or most, depending on how complex the product is. That’s the absolute best thing you could get. In practice, you usually get a piece of text, an email or a transcript of a conversation that you had, because this is easier to get, easier to have them say yes to you. You don’t have to produce a whole video and that it is what I’ve personally done. I don’t even put up pictures there. If you can get pictures, make sure that they are good pictures, they’re all consistent and made in the same way, maybe even made by the same photographer and then just have it well-designed on your page.
If that’s too much trouble, then it’s okay to just have a line with a name and a job title. It’s very important that the identity of this person is very viable because if the name is with a letter, like if it’s John M, from some city that I’ve never heard of before had look up in the phonebook, then it’s probably a fake testimonial. So, it has to be real. And then you can make it work.
Nick: Thanks so much for those tips. It’s good to something for our listeners to take away from the episode. Before we leave you here Stephan, you mentioned your book there. How can people get a hold of that? Maybe just give us a bit more information about that and how people…
Stephan: Yes, you just can go to my website, that’s vividwebcopy.com, and on the upper right, there is a menu item that says book and if you go there, you go to the sales page. And you have a medium form that piece of sales copy that explains why this book is so great. It only cost $9, so it’s a total steal. You can just, if you’re curious about copywriting at all, if you want to take a stab at writing your own sales copy, it’s a no-brainer, just click the button and you buy it.
Nick: Great! We can get an idea, I guess of what the copywriting is all about by example, by going out and checking out that sales page that Stephan just mentioned and like he said, grab a copy for yourself. It sounds like a pretty good value at only $9. So, thanks very much for joining us today, Stephan. It’s been fantastic talking to you about this topic. It’s like I said before, the about page it’s, there’s so much content here and it’s really interesting to delve into it. Thanks very much for joining us.
Stephan: Well, thank you for having me. It’s really good talking to you and then sharing my ideas. It’s good to talk about what I love, so thank you for that.
Nick: Well, that brings us to the end of another episode. Thanks again for tuning in. To find the show notes of this episode, head to our website lgpodcast.com. You can also find information about subscribing there, so we’re available on both iTunes and Stitcher. You can also subscribe to our email list, to be emailed each time we release a new episode. So, just head to lgpodcast.com