Book Review:

No B.S. Direct Marketing by Dan Kennedy is an introductory book on the principles of direct response marketing and advertising. Kennedy presents many good arguments on why small businesses should adopt direct marketing to get customers instead of copying what big companies do. He then goes on to outline 10 rules that businesses should follow to switch to this approach.

I really liked the concept of threshold resistance and why you should think about this when it comes to the front end of your marketing system. This could really impact your lead numbers.

If you’re having problems with your marketing, this book will help you understand where you’re getting it wrong. The 10 rules Kennedy presents should be applied by every business.

Book Summary:

The following summary of No B.S. Direct Marketing by Dan Kennedy is meant to be concise, reminding me of high-level concepts and not trying to recreate the whole book. This summary is basically a bunch of notes and lessons paraphrased or quoted directly from the book and does not contain my own thoughts.


• Just about everything you see big businesses doing is wrong for you—if you run a small business, a private practice, a service enterprise, or even a midsize, growth company. Big companies have different objectives, agendas, and constituencies to satisfy, and CEO egos to salve, as well as different resources and depth of resources than you do. If you study them at all, you must time travel to examine what they did in their journey from start to small and ultimately to big, not what they do now.

• Many people think, falsely, that by using new media they are doing a new kind of marketing. In truth, they merely move the same bad advertising and flawed marketing from one place to another.

Chapter 1. The Big Switch: Why Direct Marketing for NON-Direct Marketing Businesses?

• Big Company’s Agenda for Advertising and Marketing:

  1. Please/appease its board of directors (most of whom know zip about advertising and marketing but have lots of opinions)
  2. Please/appease its stockholders
  3. Look good and appropriate to Wall Street
  4. Look good and appropriate to the media
  5. Build brand identity
  6. Win awards for advertising
  7. Sell something

• Your Agenda:

  1. Sell something. Now.

• If you try to get a business owner to accurately tell you where his customers and sales come from, what it costs to get a customer from source A or source B, what results specifically come from this ad or that one, he can’t. He’s guessing. Consequently, he’s often grumpy and unhappy about things he shouldn’t be, but also wasting money he needn’t be.

• From now on, every ad you run, every flier you distribute, every postcard or letter you mail, every website you put up, every/anything you do to advertise or market your business must adhere to these rules. They are simplistic and dogmatic, and there are reasons to violate them in certain situations. But for now, sticking to them as a rigid diet will work:

  1. There Will Always Be an Offer or Offer(s)
  2. There Will Be a Reason to Respond Right Now
  3. You Will Give Clear Instructions
  4. There Will Be Tracking, Measurement, and Accountability
  5. Only No-Cost Brand-Building
  6. There Will Be Follow-Up
  7. There Will Be Strong Copy
  8. It Will Look Like Mail-Order Advertising
  9. Results Rule. Period.
  10. You Will Be a Tough-Minded Disciplinarian and Put Your Business on a Strict Direct Marketing Diet

• You will be told that no old rules—the time-tested, time-proven ones—apply to new media like Facebook or Snapchat or etc., etc., but be certain to take into account who makes that argument. It will come from young people on your staff or in agencies spending your money, not theirs, unable if pressed to prove profitable return on investment from their chosen media and made-up metrics.

• If a media can’t be used with these ten rules applied to it, my advice is: skip it.

Chapter 2. An Offer They Can’t Refuse

• There is a certain mindset in direct marketing folks. We are result oriented. We find it difficult to just go out for a drive for the sake of going for a drive. We want a definite destination, an estimated time of arrival, and a purpose for the trip.

Rule 1. There Will Always Be an Offer or Offers

• A key distinguishing characteristic of direct marketing and Direct-Response Advertising from all other marketing and advertising is the presentation of a very specific offer or offers. Ideally, yours is a Godfather’s Offer—an offer that the appropriate prospect or customer for you can’t refuse!

• Two overarching ideas: one, to make your every communication actually ask somebody to do something, and two, to inject new disciplines of selling and accountability into all your communication with prospects, customers, and the marketplace at large.

• If you begin paying attention to advertising and marketing, you’ll see that most of it merely shows up and talks about the marketers and advertisers, but does not directly offer something specific to be had by immediately and directly responding. A lot of print ads and TV commercials and brochures now include websites or Facebook sites where you can go like ‘em, etc., but present no Offer as a compelling reason to go there.

• For some mysterious reason, business owners are willing to let advertising and marketing off the hook but tend to hold everything else accountable for results and return on investment. If they tie up money in certain product inventory, they expect it to sell—or they refuse to restock it. If they employ a sales representative, they expect him to make sales. If they buy a delivery van, they expect it to start and run so it can make deliveries. If they pay a laborer by the hour, they expect him to clock in, be there, and work for the hour. Only direct marketing imposes discipline, by always making an offer or offers, so response to those offers can be tracked and measured, injecting factual accountability.

• There are basically two types of offers. There is an offer requesting a purchase. There is also the lead-generation offer, asking only for a person to, in effect, raise their hand, to identify and register themselves as having interest in certain subject matter and information or goods or services, and to invite further communication from you. Often, although not always, the lead-generation offer is free. There are times and places for both kinds of offers, but no communication should be devoid of some offer.

• All offers fall somewhere on a continuum between Low-Threshold Offer and High-Threshold Offer. Here are examples of offers that would fall to the right of the middle, toward High Threshold:

  • Chiropractor: Free exam
  • Financial Advisor: Free seminar
  • Remodeler: Free estimate
  • Restaurant: Out for a meal and experience that may not prove pleasurable

These score toward High Threshold because they can be scary and intimidating to the consumer. They require people to put themselves in uncomfortable positions. They require a decision nearly made, to get care, to find an advisor, to get remodeling done. A great many people with evolving interest or interest that can be stimulated will still not be prepared to take this big of a step forward.

Examples of offers that fall at the High Threshold are:

  • Chiropractor: $29 Exam
  • Financial Advisor: Free Private Appointment

• The lowest threshold offer is for free information (reports, books, DVDs, etc), to be sent by mail or FedEx, or accessed online. This is the staple item of direct-response advertising, in virtually every category of business.

• Most advertising dramatically suppresses possible response by presenting only a single reason for a response. Typically, this is a High Threshold Offer that requires somebody to be 99.9% ready to buy now. Nobody’s coming in for a $59.00 exam unless they are 99% ready to put a chiropractic physician to work on their back pain today. But a lot of people suffering from nagging or episodically reoccurring back pain, who are having evolving thoughts about doing something about it, would respond to a Low Threshold Offer of information about “True Causes and Best Ways to Relieve Nagging Back Pain—Without Surgery or Drugs.”

Rule 2. There Will Be a Reason to Respond Right Now

• Hesitation and procrastination are amongst the most common of all human behaviors. If you are a mail-order catalog shopper, you have—more than once—browsed, folded down corners of pages from which you intended to buy items, set the catalogs aside, and never placed the orders. This happens with every marketing media. People watching a TV infomercial almost buy, but put it off, to do the next time they see it or jot down the 800-number, to do it later, but later never comes. A shopper enters the mall, sees an outfit she likes, but tells herself she’ll stop and look at it and probably get it on her way out. By the time she has walked the mall, had lunch, bought other items, and is headed back to the end of the mall she entered at, she is focused on getting to her car and getting home.

• Direct marketing can often contextually provide an opportunity to create urgency of immediate response. This can be done with limited supply, limit per household or buyer, the countdown clock you see on a direct response TV commercial or a webinar. If the product itself cannot be limited in supply, some bonus or premium attached to it certainly can be.

• Imagine your prospective customer or client as a gigantic somnambulant sloth, spread out on the couch, loathe to move his sleeping bulk, the phone just out of reach. Your offer must force and compel him to move now. Your goal is an immediate response. Plain vanilla, dull, mundane offers won’t do it.

Chapter 3. Make Them Obey Orders

• Many business owners don’t think they should be able to outright control the behavior of their customers to the extent they should be able to employees, vendors, or family members. In marketing and sales, control is exactly what we need. Ultimately, all this is much about simple clarity.

Rule 3. You Will Give Clear Instructions 

• Most marketers’ failures and disappointments result from giving confusing directions or no directions at all. Confused or uncertain consumers do nothing. And people rarely buy anything of consequence without being asked.

• When you put together any marketing tool, ad, flier, sales letter, website, phone script, etc., or any physical selling environment, it should be carefully examined for presumption of knowledge on the consumer’s part, for lack of clarity about what is expected of them, or for wimpiness about asking clearly and directly for the desired action. Stop sending out anything without clear instructions.

• People’s anxiety goes up anytime they are asked to do something but are unsure of what to expect. Dan has a marketing device and copy he routinely uses with professional practices, such as chiropractic, dental, medical, financial advisors’, or lawyers’ offices titled “What to Expect at Your First Appointment.”

• Presented with “difficult” or complex products, many customers are quickly, and profoundly, unhappy.

• In your “directions copy”, you want to include the offer-specific phone number, times to call, and persons with whom they’ll be speaking, as well as an alternative route to the website.

Chapter 4. No Freeloaders

• Having everybody and everything earn their keep has to be deeply ingrained in you.

• Waste of anything—a dollar, a lead, a potential customer, a customer—is no longer affordable. You have to demand performance.

Rule 4. There Will Be Tracking, Measurement, and Accountability

• You are no longer going to permit any advertising, marketing or selling investments to be made without direct and accurate tracking, measurement, and accountability.

• You will be given all sorts of arguments against such a harsh position, by media salespeople, by online media champions talking a “new” language of “new metrics”, by staff, by peers. You will smile and politely say, “Rubbish.” Each dollar sent out to forage must come back with more and/or must meet predetermined objectives. There will be no freeloaders; there will be no slackers.

• Employees can often be an obstacle to accurate tracking, sometimes out of laziness, sometimes stubbornness, sometimes for more Machiavellian motives, such as concealing their own ineffectiveness. If there’s been little or no tracking until now, there will naturally be resistance to the added work and to the revealed facts.

Rule 5. Only No-Cost Brand-Building

• Paying for traditional brand-building may be fine, even essential, for giant companies with giant budgets in combat for store shelf space and consumers’ recognition.

• It’s also worth noting that there’s no guarantee of success or sustainability with widespread brand recognition and brand equity. Some once very famous and dominant brands are, today, badly tarnished, shadows of their former selves, or dead.

Chapter 5. No Holes in the Bucket

• It’s important to have a full and accurate understanding of the investments being made. It’s then important to have a strategy in place for fully and comprehensively converting those investments into the greatest possible gains.

Rule 6. There Will Be Follow-Up

• Often, I find business owners with more holes in their bucket than they’ve got bucket! People read your ad, get your letter, see your sign, find you online, etc.; they call or visit your website; call or visit your place of business; they ask your receptionist or staff questions; and that’s it. There’s no capture of the prospect’s name, physical address, or email address, and no offer to immediately send an information package, free report, or coupons. This is criminal waste.

• You don’t just pay for the customers you get when you invest in advertising and marketing. You pay a price for every website visit, for every call, every walk-in. Every one. Doing nothing with one is just like flushing money down the toilet.

• There is an extra million hidden inside your business. It’s in the follow-up that isn’t happening.

• Direct marketing is never just about acquiring customers—what we call “front end.” It is as much or more about retaining, repeat selling to, cross-selling to, and ascending customers on an ongoing basis—what we call “back end.” It is also the means of building a system to prevent leads or prospects, who could be converted to customers, from getting lost and coming and going unnoticed.

Chapter 6. Shouting Louder

• We are immune to noise. It’s ever harder to get and hold attention just by making a lot of noise. If that worked, the marketers with the biggest bullhorns would always win and would stay on top forever, yet with increasing frequency, little upstarts unseat longevity brands and category giants.

• There is also the matter of message, once attention is attracted. Certainly, if you bang on my door loudly enough, persistently enough, I’ll come to the door—but now, you’d damn well better have something fascinating and compelling to say.

Rule 7. There Will Strong Copy

• There is enormous, ever-growing, almost overwhelming competition for attention and interest. A daily tsunami of clutter that must be cut through or circumvented. Even a dull-wittedness and numbness toward advertising, marketing, and sales messages that block reception in the same way driving into a dark underground tunnel blocks cell phone reception. In this environment, the ordinary and normal are ignored, the cautious and calm messages unnoticed.

• The words in printed or online media can’t just shout. Loud but irrelevant isn’t much better than quiet and relevant. Loud, you can grab attention, but you can’t convert it to interest. We have to be sensational and attention-commanding, but we have to do it in a way that establishes relevance and credible authority and creates proactive interest in our information, goods, and services.

• Most great sales copy is written backwards, from the customer’s interests, desires, frustrations, fears, thoughts, feeling, and experiences, journeying to a revealing of a solution or fulfillment tied to your business. Most ineffective copy starts, instead, with the company, product, or service, and its features, benefits, comparative superiority, and price. These are common default positions that the overwhelming majority of advertisers, copywriters, and salespeople fall back to, rather than developing a more creative, customer-focused positioning.

Chapter 7. Tux, Tails, and Top Hat or Coveralls and Work Boots?

• Businesspeople like fancy advertising. They like to dress up their advertising and marketing, in professional or elegant attire, and they are easily persuaded to do so by purveyors of fancy. Business owners love hearing praise for the cleverness, cuteness, or comedy of their marketing. Their egos are not concerned with results, but with feeling good and proud. As direct marketers, we prefer work clothes. We’re not dressing up our marketing for approval by snobs at the fancy dress ball. We’re getting it dressed and ready to do a job.

Rule 8. It Will Look Like Mail-Order Advertising

• All advertising except mail-order advertising will, from here on out, be willfully ignored. You will resist any temptation whatsoever to borrow from any of it, copycat any of it, worry about differences between it and your approach. You will, in fact, live in utter defiance of its norms.

• Only mail-order ads actually persuade people to buy things and to do so immediately and directly. Presuming you would like to sell things with your ads, I suggest it’s not really strange at all to emulate only the ads that sell, rather than emulating all kinds of ads that do not sell.

Chapter 8. Money in the Bank

• A quantum leap in income occurs when an entrepreneur differentiates deliverables from business and sees himself in the marketing business. An even more profound shift in thinking takes us to being in the money business. It is possible to be in business for reasons other than money, but it’s rarely a good idea, and it’s usually more accurate to term such endeavors hobbies and tax losses.

Rule 9. Results Rule. Period.

• No opinions count—not even yours. Only results matter.

• If you can’t clearly track money in the bank from something, stop doing it. There’s likely an EXIT sign above a door in your place of business. Through that door goes anything and everything (and anyone) not definitively putting money in the bank. And if something that does put money in the bank is “weird,” so be it.

• When it comes to driving a business to exceptional heights, an income to the top 5% or 1%, a product to dominance in the marketplace, there are known requirements—almost always including violating industry norms, being judged odd and being roundly criticized, setting aside all opinions, and relentlessly focusing on what works.

• Anytime anyone or anything seeks to hide from precise accountability, there’s B.S. in the air.

Chapter 9. No Chocolate Cake for You!

• Many business owners who perennially struggle and suffer are very much aware of things that need doing but simply lack the will to do them. There’s a longtime employee or vendor or client, now a “friend” who you know is toxic and detrimental and needs to be replaced, but you can’t muster the will to fire them. There’s advertising you keep spending money on that you know is failing to produce measurable results, but you lack the will to end it or fix it. There’s that website you know isn’t producing either, but the very thought of getting it remade (yet again) is painful, so it stays as is.

Rule 10. You Will Be a Tough-Minded Disciplinarian and Put Your Business on a Strict Direct Marketing Diet

• With advertising and marketing, you have to be thick-skinned toward criticism, tough-minded about money invested, extremely disciplined in thought and action, and adherent to a winning game plan, all fueled by a resolute will to win. With every ad campaign conducted, every media used, every prospective customer attracted.

Chapter 10. The Results Triangle

• There are basically three components to marketing, for anything, anywhere, at any price, to anyone. Every individual loves to insist his business circumstances are somehow different. Not so. Every business, past or present, requires these three things to prosper: a Marketing Message, a Media to deliver it, and a Market to receive and respond to it. These three cannot be placed in any certain sequential order, because anyone is no more important than the other, and none can function without the others. It is a closed triangle. Each feeds the others.

• When you choose and use Media, it’s vital to know WHO you are trying to reach, attract, interest, and persuade, and how they prefer to be offered and receive information and offers. When you craft your Message, you need to know WHO it is for (and WHO it isn’t). The WHO you want as a customer gets to govern everything.

• If you know WHO you want to attract, you can often find media or lists that reach only them. Often, the right description of WHO already exists in your business and you just haven’t paid any attention to it or thought about how to use it.

• You can make excuses or you can make an extraordinary income, but you can’t do both. Most business owners, including most of your competitors, choose the former, and that can be good news for you. But ever increasingly, Amazon and others of its breed are encroaching on local, not just national, businesses and invading category after category after category—and I assure you, excuse making is not favored at Amazon.

• Once you pick the critter you want to attract (i.e., Market), you can then pick or create the right bait. In marketing, “bait” means two things: your Message and whatever “thing” you offer to spark direct response, whether that’s literature and information, a free service, or a gift of one kind or another.

• The media you or your staff prefer using, the ways you and they communicate and access information and entertainment, and your and their ideas about what nobody does any more or what everybody does now do not mean squat. Only what your target customer audience actually prefers, engages with, and obtains information they value from matters.

• Your mandate is to try to find ways to use as many different media as you possibly can. Most business owners become lazily dependent on only one, two, or three means of getting customers, leaving themselves vulnerable to sudden business disruption and entry of more aggressive competition.

Chapter 11. The SECRET to Infinitely Higher Response: The Dale Carnegie Secret on Steroids

• At the core of How to Win Friends and Influence People is the simplest of truths:

  1. People are more interested in themselves than in anyone or anything else;
  2. People want to be valued, respected, treated as important, and catered to;
  3. Each person believes himself, his business, his situation, his needs to be unique—and is most responsive to someone who acknowledges that and is somehow well-matched or expert in that unique scenario.

When you move this to direct marketing, you can inject it with steroids and make it unbelievably powerful. You can gain an incredible competitive advantage because few business owners are willing to customize their presentations for different audiences. I call this The Secret of Message-to-Market Match.

Chapter 12. Direct-Response DIGITAL Marketing by GKIC

• The purpose of your website is to convert a website visitor to a paying client—it is your 24/7 online salesperson. What is lacking in pretty much every website is a total lack of a sales process. Done right, your website will ensure the successful execution of many DR principles.

• Direct-response websites are set up to motivate—no, demand—that visitors take action. They are designed to generate and foster a relationship with the customer, but more important, initiate leads. Does your website do that now?

• You want to have a headline that clearly attracts the kind of customer you are looking for. It needs to be emotionally impactful, attention-getting, and at the top of your site’s home page. This will have you standing out from the crowd of others in your field, as most merely have their company name or logo at the top of their site.

• The Eight “Must-Haves” for Direct-Response Websites:

  1. Have a Unique Selling Proposition (UPS)
  2. Offer a Lead Magnet
  3. Build a functional Email Capture System
  4. Design an automated sequential follow-up email campaign
  5. Use relevant and videos to engage
  6. Include testimonials and reviews
  7. Program as mobile friendly
  8. Get people to your site using social media and offline marketing

Chapter 13. How to Create Business Equity and Competitive Advantage with Lists

• There is little real equity and no security in the assets bankers look at on balance sheets and that most business owners prize, like patents and other intellectual property, proprietary products, services, location, buildings, equipment, or inventory—because it’s all worthless without customers and customers in development. The true equity is in these lists.

• Most business owners live with utter uncertainty and insecurity day by day, only presuming or hoping people will arrive and buy, but as the financial people constantly caution: past gains are not predictive of future results. To be in control, to be in what I call The Income at Will Position, you must have well-kept, ready-to-use lists including email and physical address.

• Any business not Always List Building is failing. Failing to convert traffic, visitors, first-time buyers into an asset. Failing to exert competitive advantage over other businesses in their category and community that might also be chosen randomly, day to day.

• Leads go onto lists, to then be customers in development. Such lists contain money like cactuses contain water. The ignorant can’t see water rising out of the cactus as if it were a fountain, so they may die of dehydration right next to one.

• If all you use a funnel for is to sell, you neglect its best virtue: list building. The same thing is true of any media: people visiting your booth at a trade or consumer show; walking in and out of your brick and mortar store, “just looking around”; calling and asking a question of your receptionist. ALWAYS List Build. Let there never be contact without an attached attempt to List Build.

Chapter 14. Why and How to Build a Sales Funnel

• As a business owner, you want to acquire new prospects, i.e., leads. You must convert those leads to buyers, and then you want those buyers to purchase more and purchase more often, and finally, you want them to refer new customers to do it all over again. For this, you need sales funnels.

• A sales funnel is a well-guided path for potential buyers to follow. The funnel starts when someone’s hand goes up in acknowledgment of interest in your product, service, or business. The sales funnel takes people from their first interaction with your brand through a number of steps that are intended to result in one or more conversions. These conversions can be as simple as downloading a document or opting in to your mailing list to watching a webinar or making a purchase.

• The best funnels recognize that customers are very diverse—one size does not fit all—and they offer several different conversions (or purchase options) for the wide variety of customers along the path to purchase. These options should include upsells, downsells, limited-time offers, etc., to reach the most customers, clients, or patients and maximize the profit from each customer.

• Think of the sales funnel as a tree with many branches and different apples (products or services) on those branches. You want to make the buying options available for a wide variety of customers and easily available. If they only want to climb the tree a little and buy a small green apple, OK. If they want to climb to the highest branch and buy a whole bushel of golden apples, you’ve got that available for those customers as well.

The following notes come from a website which is no longer up called www.practicalized.com. It was written by him.

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