If you’re running or starting your own business chances are pretty good that you don’t have a huge amount of money to spend on marketing and advertising.

Therefore you should make absolutely sure that your marketing money is being spent well and is leading to actual sales.

One of the absolute best forms of marketing if you’re in this situation is direct marketing.

Even if you don’t have a direct marketing business where you directly solicit orders for their products and services you should still use direct marketing.

Most companies advertise in the same way as most giant corporations do, spending their money on brand awareness, market presence and their image.

Your business doesn’t have nearly enough money to spend trying to copy the marketing strategies of these giant corporations.

Plus this kind of marketing isn’t necessarily effective.

Remember the people in the marketing departments at these giant companies are trying to look good to their bosses and shareholders. They’re trying to use up their marketing budgets and they’re not necessarily concerned with making actual sales.

As a small business owner your job is to make sales and make them now. This is where direct marketing can definitely help you.

In one of my absolute favourite marketing books of all time No B.S. Direct Marketing author Dan S. Kennedy makes a strong case for the power of direct marketing and provides what he calls his 10 Rules of Direct Marketing.

If you’re going to be doing any kind of marketing you should absolutely follow these rules. They’ll save you money and actually make you sales.


Rule #1: There Will Always be an Offer or Offers

In every piece of marketing or advertising you put out there absolutely must be some kind of offer. There are two major kinds of offers:

1) The Direct Purchase Offer

This is a direct offer to purchase your product or service. Examples of this sort of offer include things like:

  • Buy one get on free
  • Get 25% off
  • Buy now and get a free gift

This can be highly effective if the person viewing your advertising is ready to buy.

There are some disadvantages with this kind of offer though.

For one if you use them too much they can train your customers to wait and only make a purchase when there’s some kind of great deal.

They only work if the person is ready to buy right at that moment and it’s also very easy, especially with the Internet, to comparison shop and see if you have the best deal.

That being said though, pretty much all business revolves around direct purchase offers.

2) The Lead Generation Offer

This is an offer to opt in to receiving something. This is more common online and an example of a lead generating offer would be signing up for an email list to receive a free ebook.

This kind of offer helps build trust and a relationship between you and your customers.

This ties into what another one of my favourite marketing authors Seth Godin calls Permission Marketing where your customers give you permission to contact them and market to them.

Typically with a Lead Generation Offer you collect the customer’s contact information, provide them something of value such as a free ebook or a webinar and once you’ve built up trust you hit them with a Direct Purchase Offer.

This is an incredibly powerful strategy which is why you’ll see so many websites trying to get you to submit your contact information for some kind of free gift.

Threshold Resistance

When it comes to offers you also have to be aware of Threshold Resistance. All offers fall on a scale between low threshold and high threshold.

An example of a low threshold offer would be to enter your email address and receive a free ebook. This is very easy for a customer to do without thinking too much.

An example of a high threshold offer would be to offer the customer a free private appointment. This is much more intimidating and complicated.

Higher threshold offers are more likely to result in sales but less people are likely to respond to them while lower threshold offers will have more responses but less sales.

You can always feel free to use both high and low threshold offers in your advertising to capture a range of responses just remember to keep your advertising simple and not too complicated.

This first rule is very important without some sort of offer there’s no reason for anyone to respond to your marketing which brings us to rule #2.

Watch on table with leaves

Rule #2: There Will be a Reason to Respond Right Now

People tend to forget things. They might want to respond to your awesome advertisement but if they put the ad down chances are incredibly good that they’ll get distracted by something else and forget.

This is why businesses always have some sort of time limit or deadline on their sales.

This works especially well for physical products or services especially if there’s actual scarcity.

You can apply this rule to digital products or services as well however I would urge you to use a bit of caution in this area.

The online marketing industry/community does this kind of thing all the time. For example you’ll often see things like:

  • Buy my ebook today only and then it goes back into the vault and no one can buy it!
  • Attend this webinar now because it won’t be recorded and if you miss is you miss it for good!

These kind of offers drive me crazy and come across as super spammy or sleazy.

Your ebook is a digital product, there’s no reason to make it suddenly unavailable if people want to buy it later.

There’s no reason to not record a webinar and offer it later either, maybe even at a slightly reduced price since it’s no longer live and people can’t ask questions.

If you are selling a digital product you do still need to add some kind of urgency because everyone does procrastinate just to your best to not come across as spammy or sleazy.

Discounts or free gifts if the customer responds right now are excellent offers.

Another excellent way to create urgency without coming off as sleazy is to make an emotional appeal. Tell your customers that they only have a finite amount of time and they should take advantage of your offer before they run out of time to create their ideal life.


Rule #3: You Will Give Clear Instructions

No matter how awesome your offer is unless you give clear instructions on how to respond your advertising is going to be useless.

If there’s any sort of confusion about how to respond to your offer people won’t do it.

Not because people are necessarily stupid but anything that causes them to hesitate makes it much more likely that they won’t respond to your offer.

You have to be careful here because while you might completely understand your company and its products or services and everything might be obvious to you it’s probably not obvious to the people seeing your marketing.

It’s always best to make things as absolutely simple as possible. “Call this number now to make an order” is far superior to saying something like “Call this number between these hours and select option 1 from the menu”.

ruler sitting on wooden desk

Rule #4: There Will Be Tracking, Measurement and Accountability

If you don’t have any sort of way to track the performance of your marketing then there’s no point spending money on it.

There are lots of marketing companies who try to sell you their special marketing services but often there’s no way to track how well the marketing performed.

This is especially common with social media. There are a lot of social media gurus out there who would love to do social media marketing for you but they have no way of tracking how well what they’re doing is actually working.

This is why I really love online advertising especially search engine advertising or advertising on social media sites such as Facebook.

Not only can you show your marketing to exactly the types of customers you’re trying to attract but you can track and measure everything about your campaigns.

You can see exactly how many people clicked on your ads, which ads are performing the best, what keywords are getting you the most clicks and you can usually add a tracking code to your website to see which ads are actually getting leads.

From there it’s very easy to figure out how many of those leads led to sales and how well the advertising campaigns work.

With traditional advertising like a newspaper or radio ad it’s much more difficult because you have no idea if anyone even saw your ad or what they did afterwards.

If you are doing traditional advertising there are still some tricks you can use such as putting special tracking phone numbers in your advertising or saying something like “Mention the code ‘whatever’ and receive 10% off your order”.

Then you can use different codes or phone numbers in different ads and see what kinds of responses you’re getting.

You can also use a technique called Split Testing where you run two different advertisements and see which one performs the best.

If people aren’t responding to the offers in your advertising then you’re just wasting your money.


Rule #5: Only No-Cost Brand Building

If you look at giant companies like Coca Cola you’ll see that they spend a huge amount of their marketing budgets on brand building.

You most likely don’t have nearly as much money to spend on this so you shouldn’t be wasting money trying to build your brand.

Your brand is still incredibly important but you should only focus on no-cost brand building ideally that occurs as a result of your direct marketing.

It’s never worth paying for brand building and then hoping for some kind of response.

You also have no guarantee of the future success of your brand. Hopefully nothing goes wrong but there are tons of examples of brands that today are just a shadow of their former selves.

You definitely don’t want to sink a ton of money into brand building only to have something go horribly wrong and destroy your brand.

You also don’t want to have your brand get in the way of your advertising.

Lots of incredibly powerful advertisements don’t have any branding in them. People are conditioned to ignore advertising and inserting your brand into an ad can be an instant turn off.

For example an advertisement that says you urgently need to call a number to get some information that could save you thousands of dollars loses almost all its impact if you insert branding into it.

Native advertising where you run a story on a news website or blog that’s actually advertising your product or service doesn’t work at all if you add your branding.

The best native advertisements are when the person seeing them don’t even realize they’re looking at advertising.

The biggest take away from this rule though is that you don’t have enough money to compete with the big brands and you should spend it on direct marketing which leads to sales, not brand building which leads to who knows.

Agenda notebook sitting on coffee table

Rule #6: There Will Be Follow-Up

You’d think this rule would be common sense, after all if you’re not following up with your customers the you’re not going to get a sale.

Unfortunately so many companies seem to struggle with this and make mistakes like:

  • Not following up with referrals
  • Not following up with phone or email leads
  • Not following up with new customers
  • Not capturing contact information so there can actually be follow up
  • Not rescuing lost customers

There are many strategies and tools to help with customer follow-up but in general you want to contact them again to re-state or resell the offer.

Then if there’s still not a response you might contact them again and tell them they’re running out of time.

If you’re still not getting a response then you might want to change up the offer either giving a bigger discount or a completely new offer.

If you have a sales team they should have some kind of process in place for following up with customers.

If you’re on your own and you’re just working off your own email list it’s very easy to set up a few automated emails to go out after a couple of days and then you don’t have to worry about doing the follow-up yourself.


Rule #7: There Will Be Strong Copy

When it comes to media and marketing there’s such a massive amount of noise that it’s quite difficult to get people’s attention.

Most companies just try to yell louder than anyone else by buying bigger ads or running ads more often.

Unfortunately yelling louder isn’t going to work, especially when that’s exactly what all your competition is doing.

The way you stand out and grab people’s attention is with incredibly strong copy.

Copy is a marketing term which means the actual text in your advertisement.

The four major mistakes most marketers make with their copy are:

1) Not writing to and or for the psyche of the customer

You can’t make everything about yourself, it has to be about your customer first.

2) Writing factually or professionally instead of emotionally and with enthusiasm

People don’t usually respond logically to facts and reason. Instead they respond to emotion and your advertising needs to create strong emotions to get a response.

3) Being timid or bland with your claims

Always be confident with your advertising, there’s pretty much no level of confidence that’s too much.

Saying something like “Our product is great” is nowhere near as effective as saying “We have the best product in the whole world!”.

There’s not really any way to determine if that’s true or not but bold claims like these resonate the most.

4) Having too much copy, your message should be short and sweet.

This ties back into rule 3 a bit. You should have the absolute minimum amount of words as possible.

Keep everything as simple and clear as possible. If your ad is too complicated people will just tune it out.


Rule #8: It Will Look Like Mail-Order Advertising

Dan S. Kennedy really loves mail-order advertising and he makes a strong case that all your advertising should mimic mail-order advertising.

By gathering up as many examples of mail order advertising and studying them you can learn what makes them effective and emulate these traits in your own advertising.

Basically if you’re going to copy other people’s ads which we all know you’re going to do (everyone does it), copy the ones that work.

Marketing results on a laptop

Rule #9: Results Rule, Period

This is another rule that you’d sort of think is common sense but again, people don’t usually react with logic and reason.

It’s very easy to get attached to a certain strategy that you’ve come up with because you like it or it’s your idea.

Maybe you’ve already spent a bunch of money following a certain strategy and you want to continue since you’ve already invested so much (the Sunk Cost Fallacy).

When it comes to marketing if you’re spending money you need to be absolutely sure it’s bringing you results.

If you’re not getting results, and you’ll know if you’re getting results because of rule #4, stop spending the money.


Rule #10: You will Put Your Business on a Strict Direct Marketing Diet

If you’re going to be running a business and spending your money on direct marketing then you’re going to have to be tough about it.

There’s no shortage of marketing companies that would love to sell you branding services, social media services and whatever else. Ignore all these.

Also purge your business of everything that’s not direct marketing related. Get rid of old brochures or staff members who don’t agree with you just like you’d purge your home of junk food when starting a diet.

Then put together a direct marketing plan, get all the tools you need together and figure out how you’re going to measure and track everything.

Finally read as much as you can about direct marketing and be on the alert for those who would try to distract you from your new direct marketing diet.


Direct Marketing Examples

Acura ad

This ad from Acura is a poor example of direct marketing.

Right away it’s violating rule #1 and rule #2 with no offer and no reason to respond.

There’s no clear instructions (rule #3) saying what to do and there’s a lot of text which might be too much to bother reading.

There’s also no way to track the performance of this ad (rule #4)

This is violating rule #5 because the ad is all about brand building and there’s no way for any follow-up (rule #6).

It does have strong copy and it’s very visually compelling so this ad does follow rule #7.

This is exactly the sort of ad that most companies would try to emulate which would be a huge mistake.

Let’s compare this to a much better example from Netflix.

Netflix ad

Right away you have an offer “Join Free for a Month” (rule #1). There isn’t any sort of urgency so it’s not exactly following rule #2 though…

The instructions are incredibly clear (rule #3) click the red button. Pretty much everyone can figure that out.

I guarantee you Netflix has some sort of tracking code set up and they know exactly how many people click that button and sign up (rule #4).

The focus of the ad is on signing people up for Netflix. Their brand is there but the focus of the ad isn’t on brand building (rule #5).

When you sign up they’ll capture your email address and they most certainly have an automated follow-up system in place (rule #6)

Finally the ad has very strong, short and sweet copy “Watch anywhere. Cancel anytime.” tells you pretty much everything you need to know in just 4 words (rule #7).

The only complaint I have about this ad is that there’s no urgency (rule #2) but other than that it’s an excellent example of direct marketing.

Here’s another excellent example of Direct Marketing in video form.

The offer is the product itself plus some extra ones for $19.95 (rule #1). There’s also urgency because if you call now you’ll also get that free mop (rule #2).

The instructions are very clear, call that number to make an order (rule #3).

The ad uses a 1-800 number and most 1-800 numbers are trackable. They most likely have different 1-800 numbers for different commercials and different regions as well so they can track everything (rule#4).

The focus of the ad is on the product itself and how amazing it apparently is, not on brand building (rule #5).

When you place an order they most likely will get your information and have a way to follow up in the event that you don’t make an order (rule #6).

The copy in the ad in this case is the guy taking about how awesome the product is. He makes a very strong case in a short amount of time that this is an amazing product and there’s nothing to be confused about (rule #7).

This video excellently demonstrates the principles of direct marketing and shows that you can use direct marketing in pretty much any medium, video, print, radio, the Internet, where ever.



Hopefully this post has made a strong enough case to get you to use direct marketing for your business.

If you want to go into much more detail and learn a lot more about direct marketing then I highly recommend you check out the book No B.S. Direct Marketing.

Like I said before it’s one of my all time favourite marketing books.

Do you have any questions about direct marketing or want to share any success stories you might have with it? Post them in the comments!