I recently came across an article in a marketing trade publication (not this one) praising some top B-to-B ad agencies for supposedly creating great print ads. I was blown away—but not in a good way. Just look at a random sampling of their awful headlines and you'll see why:
- Wake Up
- Make What Matters
- The Legend Continues
- Bring It
- It's Tougher Than the Leading Competition
- The Hear Yourself Think Space
- Work Will Never Be the Same
- Nobody Said You Couldn't Have It All
- Outta Here.
- Connect With Investors on a Different Scale.
If I handed in copy with these headlines, my clients would summarily reject it. Yet, these headlines are from ad agencies handling big-name accounts including American Express, WebMD, Teledyne Controls, Honeywell, Corning and dozens more. A few things that make most of the ads I saw ineffective:
- Weak headlines that state no specific benefit and no unique selling proposition (USP).
- Ads with no headlines.
- Single-word headlines not related to the product—or a made-up word; which, therefore, said next to nothing.
- Impossible-to-read body copy in tiny type, wide paragraphs and printed against a color background instead of white.
- Weak offers or no offers.
- The prospect has no incentive to act now.
You'd think any good copywriter would be a godsend to these agencies. But I fear not: I believe they are incapable of either writing or recognizing good copy. It's a crying shame. David Ogilvy, John Caples, Claude Hopkins, and Scotty Sawyer are turning over in their graves.
Let me share with you eight proven headline formulas that can help you write stronger B-to-B copy:
1. How To
The phrase "how to" may be shopworn. But it's still tremendously effective, because prospects want to know how to solve their problems and improve their business results.
One of the most effective ads I ever wrote, for a pollution control device, had the simple headline "How to Solve Your Emissions Problems at Half the Energy Cost of Conventional Venturi Scrubbers."
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter who has written copy for more than 100 clients including IBM, AT&T, Praxair, Intuit, Forbes, and Ingersoll-Rand. McGraw-Hill calls Bob “America’s top copywriter” and he is the author of 90 books, including “The Copywriter's Handbook.” Find him online at www.bly.com or call (973) 263-0562.