Your research is done. Your strategy is set. It’s time to start writing copy. How do you begin?
Before letting the words flow, you need to decide on the strategic approach that will best express your message and connect with readers.
To help, I’ve compiled 13 direct response formats that are proven to provide a strong, results-oriented structure for your sales copy.
13 winning direct response formats
Before and After. You’ve probably seen the power of this format when it’s done visually, but it can be just as effective in copy. Basically, describe life before the product, with all its problems. Then describe life fully transformed by the product. Make sure you keep it believable. Provide lots of proof elements that verify your claims.
Insider knowledge. This approach promises to reveal insider knowledge about changes in the marketplace that will negatively affect your reader. This works particularly well for financial and health markets, but it can work in any industry. The key is that your big news must threaten the status quo of your reader. The knowledge you promise is their only hope.
Advice. The crux of this approach is your sincere desire to help your readers, and it can take several forms. It might be an editorial piece that reads like a how-to article, then sneaks in the sale. Or it might take a more lateral approach, offering tips and tricks related to the product. Say, investment tips for a financial newsletter, health tips for a fitness club, or a free personal debt consultation for a life insurance package.
Common enemy. One of the best ways to build rapport is to establish that you and your readers are “in this together.” The common enemy is an effective strategy for doing this because it takes the focus off you, the seller, and places it on the enemy you both share. You earn trust simply by disliking or distrusting the same things they do. Your driving emotion will likely be outrage or anger.
Empathy. Similar to the common enemy approach, this strategy contains a built-in “same as you” message. Do it right, and you could build strong rapport. Oversell it, though, and you could turn them off. The idea is to demonstrate with your copy that you “get” the problems your readers struggle against every day. Your goal is to describe these problems as they probably play out in your prospects’ head, agitate the situation, then offer a solution. To get it right, adopt a friendly or even a soothing tone. Just be careful not to sound condescending.
Testimonial. This strategy builds credibility for your product by demonstrating that it works as promised. It’s best if your testimonial comes from someone who belongs to your target audience or has some celebrity with them. Don’t confuse this with endorsement, though. You’ll get far more credibility if your celebrity is also a customer. A good way to make this work is to make the testimonial your headline, then weave the success story throughout your copy.
Guru. Sometimes the product itself doesn’t have a unique selling point. It’s the person behind the product that makes it noteworthy. When this is your situation, consider creating or developing this person’s guru status. To make this work, promote the guru first, then the product.
Challenge. Think Nike’s Just do it campaign. Or Lays potato chips’ Bet you can’t eat just one. Sometimes you can get more traction by asking people to do something than buy something. The challenge doesn’t have to be product related: It can dare people to be better than they are, to do more or risk more. Whatever it is, though, it should relate back to your product.
Contrarian thought. A sure way to get people’s attention is to go against the grain. If everyone else is zigging, zag. Of course, your contrarian position needs to be valid, and you better have some proof that it works. But if you can make it work, you’ll definitely get noticed.
Competitive comparison. Great examples of this are the Pepsi challenge and the Mac and PC commercials. In many cases, this strategy is used by market leaders to win customers from the competition. But it can also be used to reposition a brand, forming a new image as a member of a higher-level category. Take Target, for example. For years it was seen as a low-quality discount chain. But under the direction of chairman and CEO, Robert J. Ulrich, it now sports a new image as a hip, stylish retail chain, more of a mid-range store than a discount provider. It wasn’t a direct comparison that achieved this transformation, but an indirect one. By advertising higher quality products, it created a subtle comparison to mid-range department stores.
Logic. This strategy adds logic to the comparison approach. Your basic message goes something like this: If you would do this, why wouldn’t you do that as well? For example, let’s say you’re promoting a financial newsletter on futures trading. You want to position pork bellies as being similar to the corn bull market of several years ago, so you build a logical comparison between corn in the early 2000s and pork bellies now. Then challenge readers to get in before prices rise too high. It’s hard to argue with logic, so done right, this can be very compelling.
Honesty. There can be no better way to win trust than to be disarmingly honest about your product. Particularly now, when consumers are jaded by over-the-top marketing, this approach is a refreshing change of pace. So go ahead, confess your weaknesses. Then tell your readers how your lack of perfection can be a positive for them. One of the best examples I can think of is an ad written in 1900 by explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton:
Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.
Shackleton only needed 28 men. He received 5,000 applications. Talk about results!
Choose the approach that expresses it best
There are no hard and fast rules about which format will work best. And this is by no means a comprehensive list.
But if you focus on getting to know your prospects — who they are, what they care about, their aspirations and fears — you’ll also develop a sense for which format is most likely to work.
Ultimately, you must adopt the strategy that allows you to present the essence of your unique selling proposition.
The approaches I’ve listed will give you a good head-start. Be creative. Don’t be afraid to adapt and combine them. But at all costs, showcase your product in a way that makes it irresistible.