Why copy is the least important factor in direct marketing promotions

Gary Halbert — one of the greatest marketing minds of our time — used to tell a story from his time teaching advertising to college students.

The Prince of Print would ask each of his students:

“If you and I both owned a hamburger stand and we were in a contest to see who could sell the most hamburgers, what advantages would you most like to have on your side to help you win?”

Some of the students said they would choose superior meat from which to make their burgers. Others wanted sesame seed buns. Others wanted a prime location. Someone usually wanted to be able to offer the lowest prices. And so on.

After the students finished telling him what advantages they wanted, Halbert would say:

“O.K., I’ll give you every single advantage you have asked for. I only want one advantage and, if you will give it to me, I will (when it comes to selling burgers) whip the pants off all of you!”

“What advantage do you want?” they would ask.

“The only advantage I want,” Halbert replied… “Is… “

“A Starving Crowd!”

Halbert was demonstrating that the most important success factor in direct marketing is a group of people starving for a solution.

And, it reminds me of the old direct marketing formula, 70/20/10.

The numbers aren’t exact-testing before the internet was very slow and expensive-but it goes something like this:

70% of the success of direct marketing promotions is determined by your list…

… 20% by the offer…

… and 10% by the copy.

Like the Starving Crowd story, this formula demonstrates that copy _is_ important… but it’s not the critical factor.

You see, smoking hot copy with an irresistible offer, sent to a crappy list, won’t generate sales…

… but a mediocre offer, explained with shoddy copy, sent to a super-hot list can still line produce a buck-load of sales.

So first, you need a list of responsive buyers for whatever you sell. And yes, this still applies even if you are not using a mailing list. If you use Google Ads, for example, you are still advertising to a list of people. You’re just buying the list from Google rather than a list broker. And the names are determined by search terms rather than demographics, response to previous mailings, etc.

Okay, here’s a demonstration.

Let’s say you sell a weight loss supplement and you want to use Google Ads to drive traffic to your website.

Now, you could get the worlds best copywriter to write your Google Ads, landing pages and sales pages. But if the only people to see those ads are searching for information on how to make a paper airplane, the copy will make no difference whatsoever.

On the flip side, let’s say you are doing a great job of targeting the right Google users. Let’s say you also have a hot product that really does help your customers lose weight sustainably and without any side effects.

And let’s say you have an irresistible offer. Your ads and landing pages are generating leads, and your emails and sales pages are doing a good job of generating sales. The economics work nicely.

Now is the time to leverage better copy.

NOW is the time to focus on testing different appeals, headlines, etc.

Look, I’m suggesting you write crappy copy until you’ve got a hot list, a great product, and a high performing marketing system.

No, no, no.

I’m trying to make the point that list management and irresistible offers give you much more leverage to generate leads and sales than copy does.

Which is why the best copywriters do more than put words on the page. They help with strategy, creating compelling offers, and figuring out how to sell more on the backend.

My new book, The Ultimate Guide to Nutritional Supplement Copywriting, is chock full of tips like this on how to boost your advertising response online, in direct mail and in space.

You can grab a paperback copy on Amazon for $14.97, or get a complimentary PDF copy: