By Michel Fortin
In written communication, there are a few things that can maximize the reader’s response to your message. The first and most important element that can turn a white paper, website, sales letter or advertisement into an action-generating mechanism is the headline.
A headline is meant to do two vital things.
First, it needs to grab your reader’s attention. That’s the primary and most important job of the headline. It’s not meant to summarize an offer or be a paragraph in and of itself. It’s not meant to make a sale, either.
Second, it needs to pull readers into the copy and compel them to read further. It must create curiosity and be interesting enough to pull the reader in. To keep the reader’s attention, it must be sufficiently pithy (not necessarily short, but straightforward) to do its job with the fewest words.
Third, it must cater to a specific emotion or a relevant condition that speaks to the target market on a personal level. This connection, or trigger, must be accomplished immediately and with as little thinking as possible on the reader’s part. In today’s fax-microwave-email world, people want everything fast. Their attention span is smaller than a subatomic particle.
Study and model successful copywriting as much as you can.
Characteristics of Effective Headlines
The cosmetic aspect of a headline is also important. It must be bold, large and prominently placed, even written in a different font or typestyle. It must “scream” at your readers and grab them by the eyeballs. Remember, the first task is to catch their attention. Then the challenge is to get them to start reading your work.
Specificity is quite important. The more specific your headline, the better the response will be. Use odd, non-rounded numbers because they are more believable and pull more than even, rounded numbers. The bigger the numbers are, the greater the impact is. If you say “five times more,” replace it with “500%” (or better yet, “517%” or “483%”). Don’t say “one year,” say “365 days.”
Whenever possible, be quantifiable, measurable and time-bound. For example, you’re promoting some “how-to” marketing program. Don’t say, “increase your income” or “make money fast.” Words like “income” and “fast” are vague. Be specific.
• “Nine Jealously Guarded Techniques That …”
• “A Whole New Way to Lose 45 Pounds in 7 Weeks With …”
• “The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning …”
The “pain-pleasure principle” states that people either fear pain or crave pleasure. When given a choice between the two, however, pain is a superior motive. Our need to survive and feel safe rules over all other needs, which are social, esteem and self-improvement needs.
A headline that instantly communicates a problem (i.e., a painful situation or a potentially painful one that may arise without the benefits of your offering) will have more impact. People who associate with the message will feel compelled to read more, which also helps to qualify your readers. It separates the “serious” from the “curious.”
You’ve heard it before: there’s a difference between “needs” and “wants.” When I work with plastic surgeons, I often tell them to use as the headline, “Suffering from wrinkles?” That way, it pulls only qualified prospects into the ad because it appeals not only to people with wrinkles but also to those who suffer from wrinkles.
Ultimately, ask yourself: “Does my opening statement beg for attention, arouse curiosity and genuinely cater to the motives and emotions of my market?” If not, change your headline and try different ones.
About the Author: Michel Fortin is a direct response copywriter, author, speaker and consultant. Watch him consult with actual clients on video on how to improve their unproductive sales copy, and get tested conversion strategies and response-boosting tips in the process! Go now to www.TheCopyDoctor.com and watch a 2-hour video sample!