Direct Response Copywriter Blog

I’m a direct response copywriter who uses science-based strategies to get results. So here are my musings on the subject…

How to Dope Up Your Reader. Legally.

Jamie Cassata, direct response copywriter here.

The brain hates uncertainty. The brain craves certainty.

That thesis is at the heart of David DiSalvo’s book What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite, in which he makes the case that the brain is a predictive mechanism that tries to avoid dangers and simplify its world.

When the brain perceives uncertainty or ambiguity, amygdalae activity increases and ventral striatum activity decreases. In short, amygdalae deal with threats, and the ventrial striatum deals with rewards…

So… Uncertainty = Higher Threat, Lower Reward.

What does this have to do with your copy?

You cannot present your solution or product as just one among many.

Did Jesus of Nazareth say, “I am a way, a truth, and a life”? 

Of course not. He said, “I am THE way, THE truth, and THE life.”

Not making any claim here about the truth or falsity of that statement (incidentally, I have a master’s degree in theology)… but do you think Christianity–or any religion–would’ve made it that far if it had presented itself as just one possible solution to an existential problem?

People’s brains crave a simple, singular answer to a problem…

…THE solution to weight loss. THE solution to finding love. THE solution to getting rich. And on and on.

For just about anything, people are looking for the one right way to do it. They want certainty. No ambiguity at all.

So you can’t hedge. You have to present your way as THE way.

You have to figure out how to position your product or service as the only answer to a problem. That means using some creativity. 

Here’s an example: my alma mater SUNY Geneseo markets itself (or at least it used to) as “New York’s Public Honors College.” 

Look, Geneseo isn’t New York’s only affordable, public, upper-level college.

…But it really doesn’t matter. 

That attitude and positioning is what you need to have. You need to be “The [BLANK] that does [BLANK]” … not “A [BLANK] that does [BLANK].”

Here’s how I pull this off as much as it’s possible to do, as a copywriter:

I’m the copywriter who uses science-based strategies to get results.

Just remember, make it simple–and make it ONE. The absolute truth. The one right way to salvation.

What is one way you can make your offering the ONE right way?

How to Rock Facebook Ads

Average advertising results on Facebook are abysmal. And as a direct response copywriter, I’m struggling to understand why. 

The average click through rate (CTR) is 0.90%, according to WordStream. And the average cost per click (CPC) is $1.72.

The average cost per action (CPA) is $18.68. $18.68?! This is insanity

(Ads in other pay-per-click venues don’t fare much better and in some instances perform significantly worse).

So how is it that in a recent Facebook ad campaign to cold traffic, I hit over 18% CTR at only 8 cents a click with a $2.50-something CPA?

Bear in mind, I considered the CPA completely unacceptable and stopped the campaign, as I’d gotten conversions for considerably less than that before in a similar space.

While I’ve had some major clunkers with FB ads, by and large I find it relatively easy to make the campaigns perform considerably better than averages.

I don’t say this to brag, but simply to point out that to settle for the “average”–or even above average–would be ridiculous … and unnecessary.

Here are some easy ways to make your ads perform better, even if FB advertising has never worked for you before:

1) Try advertorials. Make the ad look like an article. Making it look like a news item alone can skyrocket your CTR.

A problem arises if your landing page isn’t crafted to be in harmony with this fact. Make the landing page look like an article, too, rather than an orchestrated attempt to sell. Put your opt-in at the end or as links throughout the article.

Not to say this is the be-all, end-all way to do it. But test it. People are on FB to look at pics and read stuff. Capitalize on that fact.

2) Make it titillating. Forget the subtle branding. Use power words that inject some passion into your ad.

3) Instead of making an offer to cold traffic, try retargeting (if your budget is big enough). Drive a bunch of traffic to a content piece. Then retarget to a specific offer. This warms ’em up. But keep in mind that retargeting requires a hefty budget, because you need a lot of traffic to successfully retarget to your custom audience. And watch your economics carefully here.

4) Use images with strange facial expressions. I tend to have the best results with images of people with emotional looks on their faces. I think it’s because people have to look at a strange, emotional expression. It sucks people in.

5) Make it a human interest story, if possible. This goes back to the advertorial angle in #1. People love reading strange stories about people overcoming the odds or even failing miserably. 

Whatever you do, always test, and always have multiple ad sets and ads you’re testing based on variables such as image, headline, and text description.

Good luck!

4 Steps to Absolute Mental Clarity

Hey there. Jamie Cassata, direct response copywriter here.

These are confusing times.

With the plethora of information, tasks, tools, and techniques before us, we live in an age of pathological complexity. 

The brain isn’t designed to process so many things at once.

In fact, research from Stanford University, the University of London, and the University of Sussex, among others, have found that the processes of the brain involved in multitasking actually inhibit performance and even lower IQ.

Many of us are like the zombies in Night of the Living Dead, in a haze of confusion and unawareness.

Before writing … or accomplishing anything, really … it’s essential to get our mind clear and focused.

Here are 4 steps to absolute mental clarity:

1) Get away from your ordinary surroundings and into a place of solitude–in nature, if possible. You could go camping by yourself … a park for the day … even a hotel … whatever. As long as you’re getting away from the places you ordinarily inhabit. This offers a new, fresh perspective and stimulates creative thinking.

2) Get super clear on what you really want. We can’t have a goal until we’re clear on what we want in the first place. One great way to do this I learned from author Michael Losier: write down a list of 50 things you don’t want on the left side of a page … then translate them into what you do want on the right side. This “contrast” principle can offer an immense amount of clarity.

3) Write a GOSPA analysis. GOSPA stands for Goals, Objectives, Strategy, Priorities, Actions. This really focuses the mind.

  • Goals are your ultimate destination–what you want to achieve based on what you want. They should be stated in the first person, present tense–“I do X by such and such a date.”
  • Objectives are the sub-goals that have to be achieved to attain the goals
  • Strategy is the way to achieve your sub-goals and goals
  • Priorities are the most effective and efficient actions to implement your strategy
  • Actions are all those daily tasks you have to do to implement your strategy

4) Take action. Start right away on your priorities and check them off a list.

This process is an astonishingly focusing and clarifying exercise for the brain. Try it out sometime if you like. You’ll see what I mean.

The Right Way to Ask Questions in Your Copy

Are you asking the right kinds of questions in your direct response copywriting? The kinds that glue your prospects’ attention to your message … and pump them full of endorphins and excited energy (as opposed to putting them to sleep)?

Let’s find out, real quick…

Researchers Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor founded the social penetration theory, which reveals that people tend to disclose information in layers, like an onion.

Don’t forget…your sales message is a real conversation between you and your prospect. You want to guide that conversation by using expertly formulated questions that chart the course of that conversation.

When you ask a question, you want them thinking about their answer, as though they’re revealing their answer to you (and most likely to themselves as well).

So how do we do that? How do we ask the right questions in the conversation to steer them where we want them to go?

Simple. 

We use the classic copywriting formula PAS … Problem, Agitate, Solution to guide the nature of our questioning…

Problem: The first “layer” of questions should get them thinking about their problem. 

Example from a classic headline: “Are you ever tongue-tied at a party?”

Agitate: The second “layer” of questions should agitate the problem and show it starkly.

Example (in keeping with the problem question above): “Doesn’t this make your social life an anxious experience as opposed to the calm and relaxing treat it is for many others?” 

Solution: The third layer of questions should build anticipation in their imagination for the possibility of the relief of their problem.

Example: “Can you imagine what it would be like if you were totally relaxed and in control in social settings?”

See that rhythm? 

These questions shouldn’t be piled on top of each other in a question dump … but they’re the basic road-map for the overall structure of your sales message.

There’s a definite order here. This pattern can be either repeated throughout the copy … or structured to correspond sequentially, first, second, and third. Whichever scheme seems appropriate given the nature of the message.

See if you can get into that rhythm in your questioning:

1) Questions identifying their problem …

2) Questions agitating their problem …

3) And questions raising the possibility of the solution to their problem.

You’re gonna make your prospects EXCITED about that conversation with you.

Have an awesome day!