Direct Response Copywriting – Expert Interview with Eric Finnigan (Part 2 of 3)

FunnelProfit’s Founder and CEO Lawrence Klamecki interviews expert Direct Response Copywriter Eric Finnigan.  In Part 2 Eric discusses how he uses direct response copywriting in a multi-step marketing funnel to optimize conversions, and how to decide what KPIs to use to measure results.

Using Direct Response Copywriting in a Marketing Funnel

Lawrence: So let’s dig a little bit into that example. What were the steps in that funnel? Where did you work on it? And what incremental improvements did you achieve within each step that resulted in this five times faster time to money?

Step 1: Optimizing Direct Response Ad Copy

Eric: So it really started with the targeting and who we were getting to sign up to the email list. He was targeting very broadly… a very large audience that had interest in travel. And then I said, “Okay, let’s narrow it down. Let’s get only people on the list that we know have paid for travel in the last six months or year.” Facebook allows you to actually target these people. So we started with the targeting.

And then, I wrote a few different versions of Facebook ads using different images, but mostly it was based on copy. So I wrote four pieces of copy and we sent out different images, so we ended up with quite a few versions of Facebook ads.

The incremental improvement in the targeting was that we had proven buyers. So we weren’t just targeting anybody that said they had an interest in travel, or had posted vacation pictures at some point in the last 10 years. We actually had proven buyers.

With the Facebook ads, the goal there was to bring down his cost per lead. We did that pretty significantly, I think by half. These were Facebook lead ads so people would just sign up with their email address inside Facebook. I don’t think they went to a separate landing page. So I think that cut one step out of the funnel and actually made things more effective. So we found a winning Facebook ad that cut the lead cost in half.

Step 2: Optimizing Direct Response Email Copy

Then, I took a look at the emails that people would get after signing up to his list in the past. This was the baseline, and it made total sense to me why they didn’t really work. They were kind of vague, not really specific, not really talking to the lead, it was more talking about his product.

And so I just took a pretty simple approach and did something I call an “onboarding sequence” which is not rocket science but it works. And there’s a flow to it, you know. You say “hi” to the person, you introduce yourself and you say, here’s how to get the most out of what you just signed up for.

And then, you start applying direct response copywriting strategies appropriate for that stage in the buying cycle. You start telling them stories and you start proving to them that the product works using visuals and stories.  This was specific to his market where people needed a lot of visuals because there’s people looking at, you know, exotic destinations and whatnot. This can be translated to any other kind of business, you just have to find out what the hot buttons are for each market.

So a series of emails that went out over the course of I think 10 days or maybe a week. And we looked at the performance there, they got higher open rates than his other emails, they got higher click through rates than his other emails. And ultimately, the important metric there is really click throughs because you can have people open your emails but it’s not the most reliable metric and people opening emails doesn’t move your business forward. What we want to look at is clicks from the email to a sales page for instance.  

Lawrence: That’s a measurable thing. I understand that email open rates are pretty unreliable when it comes to accuracy.

Eric: Totally yes.  I think now in 2019, open rates are even less reliable than they were say five years ago. It is not because people are not opening emails, you know, they might be, it’s because Gmail and the other email providers have gotten really good at tracking when people have tracking devices inside their emails and they don’t work as well. So that’s a whole technical thing.

Lawrence: Yeah, that’s a whole different subject.  

Eric: Totally.  

Step 3: Optimizing Direct Response Landing Page Copy

Lawrence: OK back to direct response copywriting…

Eric: Back to copywriting. So we tracked clicks to his sales page and I did a couple of things on his sales page.  For example, I just made a better headline that was clearer. His headline on the sales page in the previous version was kind of vague and I think he was trying to be really clever. And in every single test ever run, clarity trumps cleverness every single time. So I just made something really clear — here’s what you’re going to get when you sign up to this paid list in terms of the outcome, the benefit that this subscriber will get, or get your money back with a 30-day guarantee. People went to that sales page and more of them turned into leads from this piece of content and hit the buy button.

So it was, I’d say four steps in the funnel with Facebook ad targeting, the Facebook ads, the emails, and the sales page. And in every step along the way, we incrementally improved and when you compound that together, it ends up with a pretty big impact.  

Lawrence: Yeah, it’s sort of exponential, isn’t it?  

Eric: Exactly, yeah.   

Lawrence: If you improve one step by 20% and then the next step by 20%, it keeps compounding, it’s not additive, right? 

Eric: Right.

Step 4: Measuring Direct Response Copywriting Results

Lawrence: So what KPIs or metrics in direct response copywriting do you typically look at to measure the results? And is there a mechanism for actually measuring them?  

Eric: I think that’s a great question and it’s difficult to answer really well because there’s a lot of metrics in direct response copywriting that people point to that are kind of meaningless. So it’s one of those things where there’s a lot of noise out there. If you read, you know, blogs and books of people that are talking about their skills with marketing now, they’re using a lot of meaningless statistics.

What it comes down to I think is just tracking what you want out of this particular campaign and finding measures to see if that’s happening or not. So for instance, for this funnel, the relevant metric was number of new subscribers, paid subscribers, and dollars in ad spent. Those were the important things because that’s the way we could find out if it was profitable or not.

He knew once people signed up to his paid list that they would stay subscribers for an average of one and a half years. So we knew the lifetime value of the customers once they signed up to the list, and it’s like the gain is then… what’s the word here? Can we buy new customers for a lower cost than what they generate on the back end?  

Lawrence: I think it’s called “selling money at a discount.”   

Eric: Yes, right. So we want to buy money at a discount.  

Lawrence: Right.

Eric: And, you know, in that realm, things like likes on his ads or shares on his ads are pretty meaningless. Open rates on his emails are kind of meaningless, they don’t mean a whole lot. They can be like more tangential measures of something in particular that may or may not be working, you know.  But at the end of day it’s how much money are we expecting to come in over the next year from this customer, how much do we spend to get that? So we sort of reverse engineer. This is essential in direct response copywriting.

Lawrence: Each step in the stage, is the prospect taking the next step in the process towards the desired goal?  

Eric: Yeah.  

Lawrence:  You measure whatever the response rate is on the Facebook ad, which in this case is Facebook lead ads, so it’s how many signups you get on a percentage basis versus the ad spend? And then, each time they take the next step, whatever step that may be, you want to measure that and compare, right?

Eric: That’s right.  And in the perfect world, you would be measuring different versions of each thing. So ideally you would be testing two different Facebook ad sets, or two different sets of emails, or two different sales pages because these numbers… when you get them at the end of the test, it’s like I have a 3.5% conversion on my sales pages. Is that good? I don’t know, I can’t tell. So you want to always test it against something. So if one is getting 3.5% conversion, it sounds kind of low if you’re not testing it against something. But if you have another one that’s testing at 1.5%, 3.5% then sounds pretty good.    

Lawrence: I’ve done a lot of A/B testing on things and I found sometimes the most mundane changes can have a radical effect.   

Eric: Totally.  

Lawrence: It can be the color of the headline or it can be a minor variation. For example, we did a test recently of an email campaign and I tested six versions of the first email subject line. This particular client sells a service to reduce your IT vendor costs. Companies have a bunch of contracts for IT services, telecom, cloud hosting, things like that. So we tested “cut your IT cost” versus “cut your IT vendor cost”.  “IT vendor cost” had twice the response rate. 

Eric: Yeah. So as a copywriter that makes sense to me.  

Focusing on Specific Buyer Pain Points

Eric: One of the things I always try to do with direct response copywriting is to get really specific on pain points. If I can solve a particular pain point, I want to be able to describe it in a way that’s very specific and actually starts to resonate because, maybe this is just true for me but I think it’s true for a lot of other people, if someone describes a problem that I’m having as good or better than I can, or at the very least, better than anyone else, then I start to trust that person, I start to believe that person. I’m starting to feel drawn to that person because they kind of know me. It seems like they know me better.

So “IT cost” in your example seemed a little vague. There’s probably a lot of areas within IT you could cut cost. Is it about equipment? Is it about personnel? Or is it about the whole IT department?  So yeah “IT vendor costs”… that makes sense, I want to do that. It is less confusing on my end, more specific and more drawn in. 

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