Little Known Marketing Secret for Consultants

I am a firm believer that every consultant needs to learn the basics of direct response advertising.

The key differentiator of a direct response ad is that you can track and measure the exact number of responses (actions taken) that your ad has generated.

This is especially important when you’re just getting started in the business of consulting. When you’re the only one in the office and your cash flow is minimal.

Large established companies have the runway and dollars to push their brand messaging to the market through general advertising and plaster their slogans where ever they choose.

As a consultant at the early stages of your business that’s a luxury you don’t have. (Even if you had it, it often isn’t the most effective marketing strategy from a ROI perspective anyways. That is a whole other conversation however, and one we won’t get into here.)

What Is Direct Response Advertising?

Let’s start off by looking at what direct response advertising really is and how it differs from conventional advertising.

We’ll then dive into the most important elements you need to include in every advertisement or direct mail letter you produce. Plus, we’ll explore how you can use direct response advertising to build your business.

There is always a need to build credibility and trust. You can accomplish this with testimonials, media references, and awards and so on.

The premise of direct response advertising is that upon reading your ad or letter, the reader takes a specific action you have requested of them.

For example, they pick up the phone and call you. Or they fill in a form requesting a free report or whitepaper. Or what everyone wants….they make a purchase of your product or service.

The key differentiator of a direct response ad is that you can track and measure the exact number of responses (actions taken) that your ad has generated.

While the general advertiser pays for a print advertisement with his company’s slogan and logo on it and hopes his business will benefit from it…he most often has no knowledge of how effective his advertisement is. He hopes it will work and is oblivious to the availability of a better option.

The direct response advertiser on the other hand knows exactly how his ad has performed. He can tell you the number of people that responded. What his cost per lead is and what his ROI is.

With that knowledge, the astute direct response advertiser (which in this case is the consultant armed with the know-how of direct response principles) is prepared to test new approaches to his ad and is constantly trying to find an even more effective and profitable variation.

Here is a general ad:

And here is a direct response ad:

David Ogilvy on Direct Response

Watch this short video to learn what one of the masters of direct response has to say about the 2 very different worlds of direct response and general advertising.

It’s All In The Words

The other aspect where direct response differs is in its structure.

While the general ad usually consists of a company’s slogan, some text talking about the company, the firm’s logo and website address…

…the direct response ad is a whole different beast.

It generally includes an attention grabbing headline. Text that talks more about the reader than the company. It describes a problem and a solution. It focuses on benefits and provides proof. And it has a very distinct call to action.

One of the fastest ways to tell whether an ad is a direct response ad or a general ad is to look at the amount of copy it uses. While this is by no means a scientific and fool proof method…generally a direct response ad will have a much greater amount of copy than the general ad.

The sooner you can establish your authority the quicker your prospect will believe everything else you tell them.

Elements of Successful Ads and Letters

There are several elements that every marketing communication should contain. Whether it’s a website, advertisement or letter to prospective clients, here are several of the most important elements to include:

Headline – Your headline is your work horse. Period. If your headline grabs the attention and interest of the reader, they will continue reading the page. If it doesn’t, if they dismiss your headline as irrelevant, boring or ‘not for them’ then you lose and they will not read the rest of your page.

According to Brian Clark over at Copyblogger, “On average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest. This is the secret to the power of your title, and why it so highly determines the effectiveness of the entire piece.”

Here are a few tips when it comes to headlines:

Make it newsworthy. Words like “Announcing…” “Just In…” etc.
Make it new. “New…” and “Introducing…” always seem to get people’s attention.
“How to…” This is a classic approach. Think of all the how-to books.
Avoid exclamation points. No need to trump your own horn and shout at people.
Interest and attention grabbing words like “The Secret of …” and “Little Known Ways…” are usually effective as well.

Once you’ve figured out what the real challenges and pain points are for your prospect you can then move to the next element…

And don’t forget the headline focused on benefits. If something is ‘faster’ or ‘easier’ tell them in the headline.

Sub Headline – While the sub-headline may be viewed as the poor cousin, it really should be given more respect. The sub-headline is placed just below the headline (as the name refers to) and provides the reader with more details as to what you are about to share with them.

Think about your sub-headline as a sentence or two that tells the story of the whole page. It should still be focused on getting the reader’s attention so that you pull them into reading the rest of your copy.

Here’s an example…

[Headline] How to Reduce Employee Turnover
[Sub-Headline] Exposed. New survey reveals the real reasons employees quit…

Where the headline stops you in your tracks (if you’re the target audience), the sub-head pulls you deeper into the issue that is relevant to the reader and that you will address.

Pain Points – While not every successful ad deals with pain points, it is always recommended to think about the challenges your prospective clients face. Don’t think in terms of generalities: “more money” “save time” etc…that’s how you think. Get into their heads and show them that you understand what’s really on their mind.

Once you’ve figured out what the real challenges and pain points are for your prospect you can then move to the next element…

Solution/Benefits – Now that you have identified your prospects pain, you can go forward and provide them with the solutions and benefits you can offer them.

How and why is your product or service relevant? Tell them all about the benefits they will receive.

Proof – The smart marketer knows the power of proof. Why should the reader believe what you’re saying? You may think you’re great…but why should they?

There is always a need to build credibility and trust. You can accomplish this with testimonials, media references, and awards and so on.

The sooner you can establish your authority the quicker your prospect will believe everything else you tell them.

Value Proposition – Your value proposition is a statement that tells the marketplace what it is that you do and how you are different (better) than the alternatives. It is your competitive advantage and it needs to be included in every marketing material you have.

Call to Action – Without a strong call to action your marketing will flop. At the end of every communication you need to clearly tell the reader what it is you want them to do next. Do you want them to visit your website? Tell them how to access it. Should they call you? Give them your number and ask them to call.

Regardless of what action you want them to take…make sure you spell it out loud and clear. The easier you make it for them to take the action, the more often they will.

The AIDA Formula

To help you in writing your marketing materials more effectively, here is a classic direct response and advertising formula created by Elmo Lewis.

AIDA stands for…

Attention – your job at the outset is to grab the reader’s attention. Do this in your headline and sub-head.

Interest – As soon as you’ve grabbed the reader’s attention now your job is to get them interested. Talk about how your product or service will provide benefits and solutions to their problems and challenges.

Desire – You want your reader to picture how much better their situation will be when they have you working with them.

Action – Tell them what action you want them to take.

Putting Direct Response To Work

By now I hope you’re starting to see the benefits of creating your marketing materials using a direct response approach, and that you’re becoming familiar with the critical elements to include in your materials…and how to structure your copy.

There are many areas where you can put these principles to work for you. Here are just a few:

  • Website
  • Blog
  • Landing pages
  • Direct mail letters
  • Postcards
  • Newsletters
  • PPC Ads
  • Banner and Display ads
  • Trade show booths
  • Brochures
  • The list goes on…

Regardless of what type of consultant you are the impact of making a few changes to your marketing materials can be well worth your time. I hope you put some of these concepts to work for you and welcome your comments and questions below.

Please Share This Article If You Enjoyed It:

  • Great article and so agree with this. Direct response is so measurable across most channels these days that it is no longer accurate to say you don’t know which half of your advertising budget works. Add a call tracking service to your armoury and you can quickly optimise what’s working and what’s not.

    • Thanks Paul and glad you enjoyed the article. Do you use a specific call tracking service?

  • Duke

    Great reminder about what needs to be done and quite a timely reminder for me indeed.

  • Robert J.

    Really great article thank you for so much details.

    • Robert – appreciated. The more I here from all of you the more I want to share 🙂

  • As a veteran direct marketing consultant, you pulled together a a good synopsis of the field. Human wants and needs will never change. This guarantees that the principles you mention continue to thrive in the digital age.

    • Hi Ted – always happy to have other DM folks as part of the community here 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

  • Ayesha Sajid

    Great article. Really helped to put some thoughts together.