If you work in marketing, you will be familiar with a variety of different tools of the trade.

From email to webinars; content marketing to video; direct mail and many other things besides.

It seems like there has never been a wider variety of ways to communicate with your market.

However, in this post, I’m going to highlight some elements from direct marketing, an area in which I do much work.

A definition

Direct marketing is concerned with achieving an immediate or “direct” response from the promotional tools employed.

As a way of promoting or generating sales, it has been around for a very long time.

The best term to describe direct response advertising was coined by  John E. Kennedy back in the very early 20th century when he used the phrase “salesmanship in print” to describe this form of marketing.

Back then, he and his advertising agency were producing advertisements and inserts to appear in newspapers and magazines plus sales letters for direct mail.

Sales, by the way, is the critical part of this description.

Whatever Mr Kennedy produced for his clients, was designed with one purpose in mind; to achieve sales. 

It’s an excellent definition and one to keep in mind when thinking about increasing sales or increasing response.

Start with the Proposition

The foundation for a successful direct marketing campaign lies in a strong proposition.

Here, I’m talking about the proposition that you frame about the product or service you want to promote.

The most robust version of this exercise will produce the central sales proposition for the client.

The proposition is the foundation for the sales story and the response mechanics.

The importance of the List

Unlike Mr Kennedy’s era, today, most direct marketing messages will be sent by email.

Recipients of these emails will then be encouraged to visit a website page more usually called a landing page.

What’s still true is that response to the message will depend significantly on the quality of the list.

If your mailing list has holes in the email address section, your response rate will suffer.

High bounce rates which are often caused by old data, will also lower your response.

One of the fastest ways to improve response rates is to enhance the quality of data and on-going data management, and list development is an integral part of direct marketing. 

The Copy

The copy you use is important. That’s because it’s the "salesmanship in print" element of direct response.

The thing to keep in mind is for whom are you writing?

You might be surprised when I say that usually, it isn't the whole of your list.

Instead, you are aiming to convince people in the market who are ready to buy what you offer right now.

You are also writing for those people who could buy from your business soon.

These are the people that you want to convince.

For those ready to buy now, you need to make it easy for them to do so.

For those who could be convinced soon, you need to show them the next step to be taken.

Call to Action

A call to action (CTA) in an email or sales letter is the equivalent of a salesperson being sat opposite a prospective client and asking them for the order.

When a salesperson has answered all of a client’s questions and concerns, and if the client is ready to buy, an order will usually be confirmed.

If the client needs further clarification, then your copy needs to guide them to the next step to help them get that clarification.

So this is where content pieces like white papers and reports can be instrumental in moving a sale forward.

Alternatively, the CTA might direct a prospective client to a telephone call with a member of your sales or technical staff.


The creative treatment of marketing emails, landing pages and sales letters is nowhere as important as the quality of the message and how it promotes the benefit to the buyer.

Persuasive copy, coupled with clear directions about what to do next are the essential elements.

In an ideal world, you will have all three as reliable components working for you, but keep in mind that the lack of access to a creative agency or the budget for hiring one should be no bar to success. 

A strong message with minimal creative input can still produce excellent results.

However, excellent creative, coupled with a strong message, will usually be a winning combination if the promotion reaches the right audience.

Consistency of message

Consistency of message is a significant factor in sales success.

In the B2B sector, we have a pretty good idea of who our target clients are or should be and why they will benefit from the product or service that we supply.

For this reason, consistently reminding your audience of that benefit is so important.

In a world where your prospects are bombarded with many promotional messages each day, your business needs to resonate with them for the one significant benefit that you provide.

When you send email or direct mail promotions, the message caters for the small percentage of the list that is ready to buy now.

These are the people that you convert from a prospect into a client.

However, you are also writing to lay the foundations for future sales.

Some of those future sales might need one further prod to get them over the sales line. For others, it could be a timing or budget issue that stops them from buying immediately.

In my next post, I’ll highlight some of the things that you can do or use to move a business from a prospective client to a live lead.

Meanwhile, if you’d like any help with creating direct response campaigns for your business, get in touch via the contact details shown below.


David O’Beirne
The Exhibition Agency Ltd
63 Vera Avenue, London N21 1RJ  
T. 0203 633 4665
M. 07858 374 051


The views and opinions expressed in these blogs are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ESSA, its members, board or staff. Our members represent a broad range of views within the event industry, and we have provided this section of the website for their opinions to be openly heard and discussed.

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