Direct Response Copy or Content Marketing, Which is Better?

It’s a strange experience when a direct response marketer dives deep into the world of content marketing.

On the direct response side, there’s an approach that says, “Go for the sale. Get the click. Always be driving attention and action.”

On the content marketing side, there’s the approach that says, “When people find information that makes their lives better, the sales drive themselves.”

And both sides are right.

I spend a lot of time working with writers and marketers in the direct response and content marketing universes. 

I see ideas swirling around and strategies sometimes working together seamlessly… and sometimes not.

But the more I watch this dance play out, the more I’m coming down in yet a third camp entirely… the customer journey experience.

When Content Marketing Best Suits the Customer Journey

Content is great because it allows potential customers to discover your business “organically,” ie: under their own power. 

When a prospect gets the idea to google-search a topic, they’ll ideally find your business. And because they found you “all by themselves,” the idea is that they’re internally motivated to keep learning from you.*

*This theory hinges on studies about human behavior, and what drives motivation and habit. There’s a lot of wisdom to this approach.

Of course, the reality is the prospect didn’t find your content all by themselves. 

There’s actually a sophisticated strategy running in the background that made the content pop up at the exact right moment. 

So in that respect, I’d argue there are serious direct response principles at play under the hood of what looks like a relaxed content marketing approach.

But generally, you could say: Content marketing attracts self-motivated prospects without relying on traditional or “pushy” advertising.

But is Self-Motivation Enough to Drive Sales?

It can be. As long as the marketing strategist organizes the funnel correctly. 

Specifically, the funnel must be organized according to known patterns of human behavior so the finished experience is uncanny to the prospect.

It has to seem like your business was in just the right place at just the right time.

Like magic.

That means the downward momentum of the sales funnel still exists, but it might exclude features like paid ads or sales calls. 

Instead, the star of the show will be content (in various formats) that help people:

  • learn something new
  • solve problems
  • do better work
  • reach goals

Content helps demonstrate your expertise about things your target audience already cares about. 

This builds rapport with the prospect… they’ve heard of you, they like you, and they’re beginning to trust you.

That’s the best use of content marketing.

When to Jump In With Direct Response Copy

But it’s at this point in the customer journey that my direct response bias jumps in… 

I don’t want to leave it up to fate whether or not the prospect becomes a customer. 

I want to close the sale… or get the click… so I can help the customer get the solution they really need. After all, that was the point of all their googling!

Yes, it’s important to be top of mind when a person decides to make a purchase. 

But it’s just as important to provide the motivation for the person to take the leap. Hence, direct response copy.

The takeaway: It’s not about which is better… content marketing or direct response copy. It’s about helping the customer make the best decisions. 

You don’t have to be promotional or transactional, but you do have to strategically add value and drive motivation to move your customer towards the sale.

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