Creative: Strategies for a Great Headline
As a copywriter, I'm often asked which headline techniques work best for getting an envelope opened or a landing page read. Because the importance of the headline can't be overstated, it's not surprising this subject has been explored endlessly.
John Caples uncovered 29 formulas for writing headlines in his classic "Tested Advertising Methods," Gene Schwartz presented 38 ways to make headlines great in "Breakthrough Advertising" and Victor Schwab analyzed 100 headline constructions in "How to Write a Good Advertisement."
While the matter of envelope headlines won't be settled here (or anywhere else for that matter), we can nevertheless examine six classic techniques that continue to work today.
1. Use a News Element
The promise of timeliness or news targets the key concerns of your prospect and draws her in. News-oriented headlines sound less promotional and thus more credible in your prospect's mind.
Example: Bank Accounting & Finance, a B-to-B publication covering regulations and standards in its niche, used this outer envelope (OE) teaser:
How you can stay on top of new regulations … new reporting issues … new strategies … in less time … with better results
Try it FREE … inside.
Using the word "free" removes the risk. The teaser combines being up-to-date with the added benefits of saving time and enhanced performance. This kind of umbrella headline doesn't restrict you to a single benefit.
2. Use a Provocative Question or Outrageous Statement
Some marketers hesitate to use this technique because they fear the wrong question could turn away prospects. While this is a concern, it need not stop you from finding an appropriate question or concern that stirs up strongly held beliefs and convictions in your prospect.
Example: Copywriter Lea Pierce used this envelope teaser for The Nation, the left-leaning political magazine:
Hell has frozen over
Rush Limbaugh is right.
(Find out INSIDE why The Nation agrees with him …)
No one on either side of the political spectrum could resist ripping into the envelope and finding the reason for this outrageous statement. They all would be thinking, "The Nation is agreeing with Rush Limbaugh? It doesn't make sense. Something must be going on. I better find out."
3. Arouse Emotions
A headline that offers a practical benefit or solution is a staple of direct-response advertising. To hit your prospects on a deeper level, however, look for an underlying emotion in your target prospect and pay it off.
Example: Team Management Briefings is a B-to-B publication that helps business managers build better teams and lead more effectively. Its OE teaser:
TEAM PRIDE! How to build stronger teams on your own and gain extra respect from your company.
Besides the obvious benefit of team-building, the teaser also stimulates the prospect's pride, independence and self-respect. It promises a way for him to look good in the eyes of his company—very important when you're dealing with a B-to-B audience.
4. Present a Problem/Solution
This technique poses a specific problem right on the envelope and then leads the prospect into the letter where the solution will be revealed.
Example: Here's how Safety Compliance Alert, a B-to-B publication which publishes news for safety compliance officers, handled it on the OE:
"Getting workers to change their bad safety habits was one of the hardest parts of my job until … "
You can do this with any product. Simply find the biggest problem or challenge affecting your audience, turn it into your headline and then position your product as the place to go for the solution. It's simple, easy, practical and involving. It's also dramatic and personal because a real person speaks.
Also, there's no sales copy. No talk of a free issue or anything promotional —only genuinely valuable information that's relevant to your target audience. Just be sure to pay it off and provide the answer in your letter.
5. Leverage specifics
Specifics breathe life into sales copy and also give it the added weight of proof.
Example: An online promotion for The Cabot Benjamin Graham Value Letter, a B-to-C investment publication, carried this headline on its new subscriber acquisition landing page:
This Ultra-Safe Advantage Insulates Your Wealth and Puts More Than $51,000 in Your Pocket Starting 7 Minutes From Now
This headline provides a specific benefit (insulating your wealth), makes a specific promise (putting money in your hand), claims a specific amount ($51,000) and pushes a specific timeliness and urgency (starting 7 minutes from now).
Separately, they're dramatic. Taken together in a seamless copy block, their intensity is magnified.
Also note the "s" in the words "puts" and "insulates." Copywriter Shell Alpert said that when you add an "s" to a word, it implies that the product is doing the work, instead of the consumer doing it himself—a subtle, but powerful device.
The headline also says "this advantage." Using the word "this" arouses the reader's curiosity and self-interest, because you're not talking about some abstract advantage; you're talking about a specific advantage you will reveal in the promotion, making it more powerful and immediate. One reason for the long-running success of copywriter Max Sackheim's headline, "Do You Make These Mistakes in English?" is attributed to the use of this one word.
6. Share a Big Idea
One way to think of a big idea is as a theme or message running throughout your promotion—a clear, simple concept that is easy to grasp by the prospect.
In a related vein, the late, great copywriter Bill Jayme remarked that the prospect doesn't buy something for any number of benefits or reasons; he buys it for one overriding advantage.
Example: INCOME is an investment service that recommends dividend- paying companies. For one of its landing pages, the headline read:
Grow Rich The "Lazy" Investor's Way
A big idea builds in intensity like a chain reaction. In this case, the big idea was that no one wants to work hard, especially for his money. Once the main theme of shamelessly easy wealth building was established, it was a simple matter to reinforce it throughout the promotion, which led to a long-running control.
Robert Lerose is a direct response marketing copywriter with 16 years of experience working with B-to-B and B-to-C companies. For more marketing solutions, go to www.robertlerose.com or call (516) 486-0472.