When most people think of advertising, they think of massive campaigns by brands like Coke, Disney or Doritos. They’re creative, emotional and larger than life. They pull customers in and leave a lasting impression.
If that’s your idea of advertising, as a small business, it can be a bit overwhelming.
Instead of trying to take the giants head-on, you need a different approach. You need to create marketing that drives action today.
In this article, I’m going to walk you through seven examples of direct response marketing in action. Each example takes a different approach you can apply to your business.
But first, you need to understand what makes direct response marketing different and effective.
What Is Direct Response Marketing?
Large brands spend hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars to saturate the world with their marketing.
Consumer juggernaut Johnson & Johnson spends 28% of its budget on sales, marketing, and related administrative expenses:
Salesforce spends nearly half of its budget on sales and marketing:
The list goes on. L’Oréal spends $8.3 billion, Samsung spends $9.9 billion, and Procter & Gamble spends a whopping $10.5 billion developing their brands. All together the 100 largest advertisers spent $267.3 billion in 2016.
It can be impossible for a small (or just not massive) business to compete against these companies at “brand building” marketing.
Fortunately, you can use direct response marketing to acquire customers and grow your sales without competing against these megabrands head-on.
The purpose of direct response marketing is to send customers targeted messages that drive specific actions—buy a product, read your blog post, join a newsletter, refer-a-friend, any business goal.
A lot of people often think of direct mail when they hear direct response. But it can really be any type of marketing that demands a response—landing pages, email, even Twitter ads:
Direct response marketing is targeted to a specific audience who are likely to be customers, and the specific call to action is intended to drive measurable results.
This makes it easier to budget and plan for, because the ROI calculations become much clearer. Either the campaign converts, and pays for itself. Or it doesn’t, and you cut it.
As you’ll see in the following examples, successful elements of direct response marketing are:
- Makes a specific offer
- Clearly outlines the benefits
- Has a clear call-to-action
For example, Salesmate is currently giving away cold email templates in exchange for your email address:
Once a potential customer fills out the form, they’ll be added to a mailing list. Salesmate will track the lead magnet, so they know that cold email interest that customer. Then, Salesmate can send them an email offering more content that would be interesting to them, such as a blog post about sales email scripts:
Then, eventually, after nurturing the lead for a bit, they’ll send them a specific offer—a free trial of their sales email tracking software:
You’ll notice that this final offer meets all the criteria.
It’s trackable because they know if a reader creates an account, and it’s measurable because they know how much that conversion is worth (based on past customer analysis).
It’s targeted because it doesn’t try to sell too much, but simply makes a specific offer that the customer segment would be interested in.
The copy clearly outlines the value of the offer by stating not only the features of their program but what benefits the customer will receive like more deals won and time saved.
It has a single, clear call-to-action: “Get Started Free.”
And most importantly, it’s personalized based on the earlier behavior of that customer (the lead they signed up with).
Now let’s take a look at some other great examples of direct response marketing in action.
#1: Use Facebook Ads to Drive E-Commerce Sales
A classic example of a direct response ad is the e-commerce ad. It has a very clear goal: “Buy This” or “Shop Now.”
Here’s a good one from M.Gemi:
It clearly displays the offer (the shoes) and explains what makes them special:
- “The classic profile of a lace-up meets the comfort and ease of a slip-on.”
- “Pioneering a movement”
- “Impeccable shoes”
- “Family-owned specialist factories”
- “Free shipping & returns”
And since it’s on Facebook, we can assume they used targeting data to choose who they advertised to.
When you click on the ad, you’re taken to their website. But it’s important to look at the actual link they use. You’ll notice a bunch of UTM codes following the landing page:
And a bunch of other terms like “First Time Buyers” that M.Gemi can use to track the results of their ad campaign and calculate ROI.
#2: Nurture Action with Phased Campaigns
One reason tracking customer behavior is so important in direct response marketing is because it may take a few actions before the customer is ready to buy.
That’s why GMass recommends you try to warm up leads with Linkedin engagement and ads before you email them a specific direct-response offer:
While direct response is about driving a specific action with a single CTA, that action can change from one phase of a campaign to the next.
It can start with “read my post” and progress to “sign up for our newsletter” or “schedule a demo” before moving to “buy our products.”
Take a look at how BOOM! By Cindy Joseph used multi-stage direct response marketing to improve abandoned cart recovery. First, they sent out a simple “complete your purchase” direct-response email:
And it converted well, driving about $20,000 in sales over the course of a month. With a 9.4% conversion rate, you might be tempted to call it a day.
But not BOOM! They saw that 90.6% of customers still needed to be nurtured. After one more direct-sales email, they sent out an informational piece. It was still direct-response, but instead of trying to close the customer on a sale, it was driving a different action: watch our video.
This worked to persuade unconvinced buyers (and actually generated some residual sales). But the real magic happened when they offered customers a 10% off coupon two days later:
After a brief pause from sales emails, this email successfully leveraged urgency and brought in another $5,000 in sales.
But tracking user behavior was critical to achieving these results.
First, the email series was only targeted to customers that started the checkout process and thus indicated an interest in the product.
Second, once the customer completed their purchase, the emails stopped. This was important in protecting the brand image – imagine if you bought a product at full price and then two days later you received an email saying that new customers will get 10% off that same product. You’d be a little annoyed. Worse, you might put off buying again, expecting a discount offer to come through eventually.
If BOOM! was selling a more complex product, they could take this tracking even further by following up with content that builds on messages customers engaged with. For example, sending a pdf shopping checklist for the product showcased in the video.
#3: Use Direct Response Marketing for Recruiting
Sometimes it’s not even about sales. In the on-demand and sharing economy, many businesses are positioned as connectors between buyers and suppliers. Their success demands that they attract high-quality suppliers in addition to consumers that participate in their platform.
In the rideshare battle, it’s become so cut-throat that it’s hard to compete on price anymore.
Both Uber and Lyft have put tons of effort into attracting drivers as well as customers. Most of the driver recruitment has been done through direct response advertising.
For example, this banner ad tries to incentivize respondents with a “massive sign-on bonus for new drivers”:
But perhaps the most iconic direct response ads have been the billboards:
The offer is crystal clear: “Make up to $1,500 every week”. So is the call-to-action: just dial the number and start now.
Direct response marketing doesn’t always have to be about taking people’s money. Sometimes it’s about getting them to let you pay them (in exchange for something valuable to you, of course, like time).
#4: Grow Your Customer Base with Refer-a-Friend Programs
Men’s grooming company Harry’s took the world by storm when it grew to one million customers in just two years.
They were able to climb to such success by focusing on viral and direct response marketing instead of the traditional brand advertising that Gillette and Dollar Shave Club were doing at the time.
One of the key pieces to their successful launch was the refer-a-friend campaign that focused on creating a specific action: invite your friend to join Harry’s launch list.
They incentivized customers by offering free products if they sent their friends invites to a very specific landing page:
This refer-a-friend campaign guaranteed that the marketing was personalized, since it was being delivered by a friend.
#5: Use Direct Response Marketing to Drive Upsells
The probability of a new prospect buying is about 5-20%, but the probability of successfully selling again to an existing customer skyrockets to 70-90%, according to GrooveHQ.
Selling to your existing customers becomes even more important with a recurring revenue model like Dollar Shave Club, where only 5-30% of revenue comes from the initial sale:
Their subscription model gives them an excuse to sell to customers every month with a friendly reminder email.
The message reminds customers when their next box will ship and offers to send even more great product along with it:
This creates a sense of urgency without having to give away any discounts or freebies. Urgency can be key in a direct response campaign because it encourages action now.
#6: Go Old School with Direct Mail
A lot of marketers these days only focus on digital media—social, email, display ads.
But traditional media still works well for direct response marketing. Over 100 million US adults made a catalog purchase in 2016!
While direct sales is an obvious use case for mail campaigns, it can also be incredibly effective at driving online actions.
That’s right. You can use the good old snail mail to drive digital conversions.
JJ Marketing proved this when they were hired by RCI Financial Services to help them engage their existing offline customers.
RCI Financial offers car financing to thousands of customers in the UK, but they were having trouble getting customers to register and use their online portal.
The one advantage they had was a good amount of data about their customers, including their home addresses, and they decided to use this data to make a highly personalized campaign to bring customers online.
They mailed out a four-page brochure to just over 70,000 RCI Financial customers that explained the benefits they would receive from registering their account. Since they recognized many of those benefits were abstract and not immediate, they offered a bonus incentive to take action.
They knew that their target audience was all new car owners, so they were able to offer a specialized incentive. Every customer who registered during a limited window was automatically entered into a contest to win £250 worth of car-wash vouchers.
But they didn’t stop there with personalization.
Canon Solutions America reported that adding full color and someone’s name to a direct mail campaign raises response rates by 135%.
But if you can add more sophisticated database information (like the type of car they drive or their hometown), you can actually push that response rate by 500%! And that’s exactly what RCI Financial did, as you can see in the above image.
And just like Canon predicted, it was pretty successful. About 7,000 customers created an account with JJ Marketing, for a 9.67% conversion rate.
#7: Drive Direct Response with TV Commercials
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include TV ads in an article about direct response marketing. Infomercials are one of the most classic examples out there.
You might be expecting me to dissect the infamous ShamWow! commercial…
But the real champion of direct response television ads is Proactiv. Proactiv generates over a billion dollars in sales every year, fueled primarily by direct response TV marketing.
Let’s break down why their TV ads are so effective.
First, they work hard to include a lot of social proof.
They use statements like “thousands of new users every week” and include tons of testimonials from customers that look exactly like the target customer hopes to.
And they are constantly reminding you of the call to action by urging you to “call now” with their website and phone number on-screen at all times.
If that wasn’t enough, they push viewers over the edge by offering time-sensitive bonuses to create a fear of missing out.
Infomercials are an interesting blend of traditional brand-building marketing and direct response marketing. Sometimes you can do both!
Building a brand image takes years and tons of investment. While every company should invest in their brand image, it’s expensive and dangerous to rely on this strategy alone.
Direct response marketing is a great tool for small and large businesses alike to engage with their target customers and drive action now, rather than waiting for the customer to be motivated enough to move on their own.
It can be used anywhere, from Facebook feeds and email campaigns to direct mail and television ads. And it can drive just about any business goal: e-commerce sales, account registration, referrals, etc.
So if you’re looking for more conversions with a solid ROI, you should definitely consider giving direct-response marketing at try.