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What’s direct response?
May 17, 2022

Dear FAM,

What is direct response marketing?


Slightly Insecure

Dear Slightly Insecure,

First off, thank you for asking this question. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve mentioned that term on calls with clients (or even fellow marketers) and seen eyes glaze over.

Direct response simply means that you’re trying to get your audience to become a customer instantly.

Have you ever gotten mail from a life insurance company and it turns out to be a well-written two- to three-page long letter? Or if you’re of a certain age, you may remember ads in TIME Magazine that had cut-out coupons. These are both classic examples of direct response marketing. Modern-day examples include email broadcasts, paid ads, and landing pages.

The antithesis of direct response marketing is branding. In a branding campaign, you’re trying to build awareness of your company, but there are no clear calls to action. Apple is a good example of this—when you see a billboard with a picture of the new iPhone, you’ll see no call to action, no website, and no phone number. It’s just the picture. The billboard did its job because you’re thinking of the iPhone. Mission accomplished.

If Apple were to launch a direct response campaign (which they don’t do) there would be some kind of “next step” outlined on the billboard, or an offer with a deadline. But Apple doesn’t run promotions or special offers, which means all they need to do is get people to think about their brand more—and the customers will know what to do next. Granted, it helps to be the most recognizable brand on the planet, so that’s a bit of an extreme example, but you get it.

Most of the time, direct response marketing is the best place to invest your marketing budget. It’s the most trackable form of marketing and can be placed in all kinds of channels, from ads to podcast episodes. The trick is finding which channels convert at the highest rate and highest ROI.

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