Let’s take a field trip…

Indeed, I’m editing this following a field trip of my own to Delray Beach, Florida. I was there for the annual copywriting conference held by @AWAI_online.

As it’s the home of many Agora affiliates, I’ve been visiting Delray for many years to regularly catch up with some of the top writers in the direct response industry.

But that’s not why I’m suggesting we take a field trip today. The thought for this post came from a discussion I had recently about what “understanding direct response copywriting” actually means.

"Take a field trip to study your reader."
“Take a field trip to study your reader.”

You see, the chap I was speaking to suggested that direct response copywriting is about understanding how to write a long copy sales letter. And he believes that’s essentially it.

I disagree.


Of course, as a direct response copywriter it goes without saying that the ability to write a long copy sales letter is incredibly useful and it’s for that reason I share so many sales letter writing tips on AllGoodCopy.com

But when analysing sales letters, we often focus on the TECHNICAL side of things. It’s easy to do so in short articles like this. And don’t get me wrong, the technical side of things is important. Damn important.

On top of that, ‘direct response copy’ has a very close relationship with ‘long copy’. Historically, the two phrases have gone hand-in-hand. I guess the reason is that you stand more chance of getting a direct response from a reader if you take your time to persuade them with a long copy argument.

The problem is, this natural association of ‘direct response’ and ‘long’ misleads people to the same conclusion this chap has come to.

The truth is, the technical side of specifically writing a sales letter only covers a sliver of the direct response story.

When it comes to “understanding direct response copy” it is even more important that you take the time to learn about the EMOTIONAL side of things too.

You see, to become a truly great copywriter you need to know what makes people tick.

Or, in other words, you need to delve into the psychology behind what influences people…

And not just in regard to buying decisions!

You need to explore what makes people make ANY decision – be it which socks to wear on a certain day, or which route they take to work.

You must spend a hell of a lot of time studying your readers – or as they’re more commonly called: humans.

That’s why I’m suggesting you take a field trip. I’ll tell you where in a moment.

For now, the key thing is that you understand direct response copywriting is not really about writing long copy sales letters to get people to buy stuff.

It’s about PRESENTING an idea to a PERSON and PERSUADING them to take A DIRECT ACTION at the end. That is where the ‘direct response’ element comes from. It’s got nothing to do with the length of the copy or the format of a sales letter.

(Excuse the block caps, I just think they’re important words to remember. Anyway…)

A sales letter is just that: a format. Much like a PPC ad is another format. Or a squeeze page. Or a coupon you clip off the corner of a page in a magazine.

Indeed, many of the technical issues I discuss (e.g. concise language, clear sentence structure) could easily be applied to different formats of direct response copywriting.

(You can see why I’ve been recently thinking we’ve got the language wrong. Or at least, the language we use to describe copywriting these days no longer works. It needs tweaking. I need to think more about this. Perhaps you have some thoughts? Feel free to join the discussion in the comments below. But I was saying…)

On the point of worrying less about the format and more about the reader, @DaveTrott recently said much the same thing when I saw him speak at the Professional Copywriters’ Network conference in London. He was speaking about the various social media platforms, but his sentiment was the same…

Facebook, Twitter, Google+: they’re all just formats for delivering a message to a reader. Though the format may change, the reader remains the same. For this reason, Trott agrees you should focus your studies on the reader. Not the format.

Agora founder, Bill Bonner, similarly argued for more reader-focused copy in his keynote speech at the AWAI conference. He suggested that good copy should make the reader the hero. I agree.

Incidentally, when quizzed on the age-old question of whether long copy would one day become redundant, Bill explained that copy will only get longer – but the format of that copy may well evolve.

For example, though it may not seem like it, a daily email in which you don’t sell anything is really just part of a longer strategy to eventually bring home a sale.

People who like modern terms call this content marketing, but it’s not. Content marketing is just a buzz phrase to describe something that’s always existed: it’s just plain old long copy.

And whatever you call it, it all comes back to the same point: the reader.

So, the simple challenge that faces any copywriter, regardless of the industry or discipline you think you might work in is this:

How do you persuade the reader to take action?

I can’t answer that easily. No one can. But I can chip away at it. I can keep throwing spaghetti at the wall and some strands just might stick. That’s what AllGoodCopy.com is really about: offering thoughts and hoping one or two might help you in your own particular copywriting challenge.

Today though, as I suggested at the beginning, I want you to leave this post now and take a field trip.

The trip isn’t to any particular place, but wherever you might choose to take your field trip, the only stipulation is that it is a place that is inhabited by lots of other people.

I recommend your local café. Or the supermarket. Or one of those slightly larger, open-plan high street banks.

The key thing is that you’re able to observe people. Indeed, that’s all I want you to do. For five minutes, half an hour, or as long as you’re able… just watch people and see how they act when faced with a choice.

If you choose the café – look at how they analyse the menu. Or do they already know what they want without consultation? Or do they ask questions of the person serving? Perhaps they look to the person ahead in the queue? Just watch and think about it.

Same rules apply in the supermarket – why does one shopper choose brand X? Do they pause? Do they peruse? Do they pick up two different brands of cereal and compare nutritional facts. Just watch and think about it.

In the bank you can just as easily see choices being made. Watch people decide how much to pay into their savings. See how they delay over how much cash to withdraw. Notice how they choose which paying-in slip they need. Just watch and think about it.

Of course, during your field trip, try not to look too strange. And if you can avoid looking like a demented stalker, that will be a real bonus in your research. But, if all else fails, just start tapping your phone as though you’ve received an interesting text. Few people take notice of others texting.

Regardless of how you may look to others, I do hope you take my suggestion of a field trip on board.

Hanging around a supermarket may sound silly, but dedicating time to observe your reader is incredibly important. It will provide you with a solid base upon which you can build your more focused research into the emotions that influence their decision-making.

Remember, it’s your ability to understand your reader that will allow you write truly effective copy, regardless of whether that copy is direct or indirect, long or short, online or off. The format doesn’t matter; only your reader does.



Glenn Fisher is an author, copywriter, podcaster and speaker. After a number of years working in the local council, he left to become a copywriter and founded AllGoodCopy.com, a free online resource for direct response copywriters and marketers. For over a decade he worked with The Agora, a multi-million pound international financial publisher before leaving in 2018 to write freelance. His first book, The Art of the Click, has quickly become an Amazon bestseller and was shortlisted for the Business Book Awards. He is the host of the popular All Good Copy Podcast and regularly writes and consults for numerous businesses, brands and ad agencies. He lives happily with his partner Ruth and dog Pablo on the east coast of England.

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