What differentiates the content marketing writing style from direct response sales copy? We hear a lot about content marketing these days, and, at first glance, it seems to be a distinctly different approach than direct response sales copy. But, is it really all that different? Shouldn’t there be a plan to move the reader to action with the ultimate result of monetizing the marketing effort? As direct marketers, most of us would agree that getting the reader to buy should be the ultimate objective of any kind of marketing. But each of these skills—content marketing and direct response sales copywriting—can lead from one to the other.
Today we share five recommendations to strengthen both. Before we do that, let’s define each:
- Direct response copywriting is all about leading the reader to action. It might be a sale on the spot, but it could also be lead generation, or perhaps an action as simple as getting someone to opt-in to a series of emails. Likely media used: direct mail, email, landing pages, video sales letters, print ads and direct response broadcast.
- Content marketing, on the other hand, is about writing and freely delivering content of value to the reader. It builds trust, confidence and leads into selling from a softer angle. It may not get a sale on the spot, but it should have the reader predisposed to buy when the opportunity is presented. Likely media used: blogs, articles, online press releases, social media, white papers and video.
Content marketing should inform, build trust and credibility with the prospective buyer, so that when harder-hitting, persuasive direct response sales copy with a call-to-action is presented, the response rate is higher. In other words, when both approaches are used in tandem, the sum can be greater than the parts.
Copywriter Chris Marlow suggests, “the term ‘content’ should be reserved for writing that does not have the express purpose of getting a lead or sale.” But she adds that, “sometimes you need ‘content’ to get the lead or make the sale.”
Whether you’re using content marketing or direct response copywriting, here are five recommendations to make both approaches stronger and logically flow from one to the other. Inspiration for this list comes from American Writers and Artists (where I teach a copywriting course), copywriting clients and personal experience:
- It all starts with the headline and lead. Use proven direct mail formulas like the four-Legged Stool (Big Idea, Promise, Credibility, Proven Track Record), or the four U’s (Useful, Unique, Urgency, Ultra-Specific), or any one of many other direct response copywriting formulas. The headline formula often works better when you fit your main idea within eight words or fewer. Using a proven direct response letter writing formula can make all the difference in your success.
- What’s the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt)? Get the attention of the reader and quickly demonstrate you understand their pain. Most everyone has on their minds fear, uncertainty, and doubt in their personal lives, relationships, finances, career, retirement or health.
- Is the message confusing, unbelievable, boring or awkward? Review the copy with a small inner circle of people. Reading copy aloud with someone listening and evaluating it is a must. If it’s confusing, unbelievable, boring or awkward, you’ll hear it when voiced. I was again reminded of the importance of this step after logging several hours by phone when reading a long-form letter aloud with a client so we could both hear it. The extra investment of time strengthened the story, benefits, false close and call-to-action items for the right flow to build the sales message.
- Gather a small group to review copy and the lead. Ask each person to assign a numerical ranking (1-10 scale) on whether they’d keep reading or not. If less than 80 percent of the responders wouldn’t read beyond the headline and lead, then the writer needs to fix the headline and lead, or start over.
- Is it clear? When your customer or prospect reads your copy (whether using content marketing writing style or direct response copywriting), has the issue been laid out clearly? Was a complex message simplified? Did the message build rapport and trust? Does the copy naturally flow so that the prospect concludes that your product solves the issue? And check the call-to-action. Is there one? Keep in mind that if you’re using introductory content writing, the CTA may be only to opt-in, subscribe or click a link to request or read more in a series.
Bottom line: what are you asking the prospect to do? Is it advancing the prospect along in a planned spaced-repetition contact strategy that leads to your ultimate desired action: a sale?
Whether your copy style is content marketing that is conditioning the reader to make a future purchase, or direct response selling asking for an action on the spot, what you write ultimately needs to justify its existence with a strategy that leads to monetization.