What the heck is the difference between conversion copywriting, direct response, sales copywriting, direct marketing, and… ?
This question might seem simple to some readers. If that’s you, stick with me a moment and I promise you’ll still get a ton of value.
For others, it’s that lingering question that just won’t go away. You’ll ALSO get immediate value, so read on…
Before we get to that, the obligatory housekeeping…
I know it’s Tuesday. But yesterday was Memorial Day (here in the States, at least) and I wasn’t at my desk.
So it’s a belated issue of Mailbox Monday (seeing as how my queue is pretty full, I didn’t want to skip it).
If you’d like to add your question on the back end of the Mailbox Monday queue and have it answered here, click here.
I want to know whether I should focus on direct response OR conversion copywriting. Or can I do both?
I’m attracted to direct response because I specialize in health & wellness brands, and I know it’s a lucrative business.
When I hear ‘direct response’, I only think about direct mail and infomercials. However it’s difficult to look for clients for these types of copy.
Right now, I’m working on sales emails, ads, sales pages, and content. (more online copy)
I’d like to know if studying direct response would be a great opportunity when I create online sales copy.
I’m reminded of a parallel…
When I used to DJ regularly, I considered myself a “house” DJ. Which roughly meant that I played music based on a heavy 4/4 beat with a snare or clap (or other accent) on the 2 and 4. And probably with a beats-per-minute somewhere between 110 and 150.
But considering that in electronic music, the DJ’s role is to mix songs seamlessly together into one ongoing, danceable mix, that’s a really broad spectrum.
For example, you can have hard acid house that has a heavy synth line and a hard beat at about 145 BPM… And a laid-back disco house number with smooth “organic” instrumentation, with a speed somewhere around 115 BPM. Which any DJ will tell you is pretty much impossible to mix back-to-back and have it feel natural at all.
And so you get sub-genres. And new names for old genres. And new genres for old names.
So at one time I played hard tech house. Followed by UK hard house. Then I pulled back a bit, and played more progressive house. I also was really into a specific tribal style of beat, so my style shifted slightly toward tribal progressive house.
For a house DJ, that all means something. For most people, it’s gobbledygook. “Do I feel it in my body? Can I dance to it?” If yes, we’re good.
But when you’re buying records — particularly sorting through thousands of monthly releases — it all meant something, and was important.
This is the answer to the question above…
What’s the difference between direct response and conversion copywriting? What if someone is a sales copywriter? What about a direct marketer?
And while we’re at it, why is there such a big difference between the kind “direct marketing” that most members of the Direct Marketing Association do, and “direct marketing” from Agora and other prominent names in our space?
In short, it’s mostly superficial.
A while back, I wrote a piece that I believe is pivotal in understanding how to get really good at anything, fast.
It’s called The Architecture of A-List Copywriting Skills. In it, I break down the layers that add up to mastery of any skill.
Underlying the pinnacle of skills development are the core principles of any skill.
These are the underlying truths, understandings, and guiding rules for what it means to be performing the skill at a high level.
There tends to be very few of these, but they are very important.
So, for example, when I think of direct response, I think of:
— having an offer
— having a clear call-to-action, with a clear expected next action
— having a way for the buyer to respond
That’s not an inclusive list, but it’s probably the core principles that differentiate direct response from most other fields of marketing and advertising.
And they also describe what is required for successful conversion copywriting, or sales copywriting, or direct marketing.
This can look like a 10,000-word video sales letter script… Or it can be a 1-page letter. It can be online, offline, or delivered through brain waves (whenever that technology exists, and before it’s outlawed). It can also be in just about any market, from the restaurant industry to health and wealth publishing, to professional services, to fundraising and more.
If it expects a direct response, it can be called direct response…
And yet, inside this broad definition — like “house” music — you can find a million distinctions.
Speaking to The Architecture of Skill, the principles are applied with specific strategies. Each strategy can be applied through different technique. And the techniques are executed on a tactical level.
There are near-infinite options as the core principles are applied on all these different levels. Add in different media — from YouTube channels and Facebook posts to infomercials and direct mail — and the variations only grow.
And how a life coach uses YouTube will vary greatly from how a supplement company uses YouTube, and different still is how I use YouTube, and anybody else.
We could all be doing direct response in these different channels, but each of us will create something that looks and feels a little different — even before you account for our unique voice and personality (making even two direct competitors’ use of direct response in a channel look and feel different).
Quick example: Even within the big Agora group of companies, you can end up with some massively different styles.
I remember a couple years back, the two dominant franchises within Agora were Stansberry and Money Map (not speaking to any present conditions — but those were the two biggest at the time).
Stansberry was running video promotions that were black text on a white screen, very modestly-produced, and they were doing incredibly well.
Practically next door at Money Map, they were doing full-on video productions that I called “documercials.” If the magalog “looks like a magazine but sells like a catalog,” a documercial “looks like a documentary but sells like a commercial.”
To different child companies inside the bigger company, in the same tight-knit community, that had adopted somewhat different styles that led to a very different-looking finished product.
And both were wildly successful.
All while in the same industry, I was also writing pieces that were going into direct mail, to sell to the same general customer base, but that looked and felt completely different.
Same principles, similar strategies, different techniques and tactics…
That’s what it all came down to.
So online, you have people calling themselves “conversion copywriters.”
Some thinking it’s a brand new thing. Invented after Al Gore invented the internet.
Others trace the history of their craft back to Claude Hopkins and Scientific Advertising (if not before), when it was called “mail order marketing” and there was no “direct response.”
Call it what you will.
If you learn the core principles and strategies of direct response, you can adapt them to new industries and new mediums.
It won’t exactly be “copy and paste” because techniques and tactics often shift (in flavor, if not in essence) depending on context.
But it’s still largely the same rose. And yes, it still smells just as sweet.
And if you’re interested, my best primer on the principles behind profitable, winning, effective direct response (by any name) are in Think Like an A-List Copywriter: 17 principles for maximum profit.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
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