The mighty headline

Now we are talking bait. The cherry on the cake, the puller, the fly on the fish hook in fact the headline is the most important part of any marketing message, written, spoken or visual.

The people or potential clients you wish to attract are bombarded by over a thousand marketing messages per day. They see them on bill boards when they drive to work, hear them on the radio when they drive, see it in newspapers and magazines they read when they are supposed to work, and when they eventually settle down after work, T.V. continues the bombardment every 15 minutes (and they have no choice – so naturally the brain gets ‘blunt’. Your message must also make an impression amongst all of these messages.

But let me justify with a example:
If you were in the market for a new fridge you certainly will take note of any material coming your way about fridge’s. Your headline is what will filter the garbage out and draw your prospects attention to your message.

The headline makes up 90% of your marketing budget.
Stuff up the headline and you stuff up your marketing budget.
It is .90c of every rand or dollar you will spend on marketing.

A bad start will kill the rest of your message, no matter how good it is.

The first thing you must get rid of is your “personal feelings on headlines” or how you think it should be done. If you know better then stop reading now and suffer the consequences. The principles in this book has been tested and tried by the marketers of marketers – it is scientific fact and apart from my own expensive tests in newspapers and magazines my research included works by:
Jay Abraham, David Ogilvy, Joe Vitale, Joe Sugarman, Garry Halbert, Sean D’Souza, Dan Kennedy, Al Ries, Jack Trout, Conrad Levinson, and the list goes on forever.

To emphasise my point I quote some of the old masters:

“On the average, 5 times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy. It follows that unless your headline sells your product, you have wasted 90% of your money.”
David Ogilvy

“Some of the most tremendous flops among advertisements contain body matter filled with convincing copy. But it just wasn’t captured into a good headline. And so the excellent copy didn’t even get a reading.”
Victor Schwab

“Based on hundreds of tests conducted, a good headline can be as much as 17 times more effective than a so-so headline. And this is with exactly the same body copy!”
Ted Nicholas

The headline is the opening sentence or paragraph in your sales letter or marketing message no matter who will read it. It’s the first words you or your sales people (including telephone marketers and floor sales people) should utter when they speak to anyone inquiring about a sale. In fact use it when someone asks you for directions to go to the toilet.

It is also the first paragraph you speak when recording a commercial or when meeting people at a trade show in your booth. Your company should answer the phone with the headline (see also U.S.P)

The purpose of a headline is to grab your prospect’s ATTENTION. Your headline should grab the attention of those who wishes to buy your product (your target market) If you want to reach cell-phone owners, put the word “cell phone” in the headline.

The human mind loves to satisfy it’s curiosity. (Curiosity killed the cat, that is why a lot of people will still open and trigger a virus file they receive via email ) Get the prospect curious, then they will continue to read.

A good headline will compel the reader to continue to read further.
It should tell the reader instantly and in precise words what you’re going to expand further in body copy of your marketing message. The headline should give the reader a Big Benefit or Big Promise or relieve from a BIG problem. So, create a headline that tells the right people precisely the benefit or answer to the problem you are offering them.

Every headline or opening statement should appeal to the reader’s or listener’s self-interest. It should promise him or her a desirable, powerful and appealing benefit or solution.

People are looking to gain more advantage, result, benefit, pleasure, or value, from their lives … from their actions … from their jobs or their businesses and definitely from their relationships. And they want to avoid or cure pain, dissatisfaction, frustration, mediocrity, and unpleasantness from their lives. People want you to solve their problems.

The concept of YOU! is the key to further attention. Nothing is so important to any human being than himself/herself. Everything a person achieves is the direct result of the opinion such person has of himself/herself.

Avoid headlines which mean nothing unless you read the entire copy: because if you don’t gain your prospect’s attention and desire immediately with your headline, that prospect won’t read the rest of what you wrote.

The headline needs to be so specific so the reader will magnetically be drawn into the body of an advertisement. It must tell the person that it will really be worthwhile to continue reading.

This “attraction of the specific” is worth your special attention not only as relating to words and phrases, but also concerning headline ideas themselves. For example, compare the appeal of “We will Help You to Sell More” with “We will Help You Pay the Staff, Rent and for your next holiday” — The 2nd phrase is a lot more precise and it creates a mental picture.

Good Headlines always promise a reward, solution or emphasize the problem and explains how the reader, save, gain, or accomplish something beneficial through the use of your product or service
How it will increase this: his or her mental, physical, financial, social, emotional or spiritual needs, satisfaction, well being, or security.

In short, good headlines spotlight the greatest “benefit” you are offering a sales prospect.

Be specific when you count or use numbers in your headline.
Instead of making it general it is good practice to use exact numbers.
(We have over a 1000 installations) say “On 31 May 2013 at 11.15pm we sold 300 nanokiss PCI systems”.

If you deliberately tackle the negative, then point out how the reader can avoid “reduce,” or “eliminate” risks, worries, losses, mistakes, embarrassments or some other pain in the ass condition when they use of your product or service.

Headlines can also promise to decrease your prospect or customer’s fear of poverty, illness, or accident, discomfort, boredom, and/or loss of business or social prestige or advantage, success, prosperity, richness or wealth.

A headline can be longer than what you think. So don’t be scared if it appears too long. If you must trim it, make sure it does not loose impact.

Here are some words that have been tested and work well in headlines.
The two most valuable words you can ever use in the headline are “free” and “new.” You cannot always use “free,” but you can always use “new” If you try hard enough. The word YOU yields immense power.

Other words that work wonders are: “how to,” “now,” “announcing,” “introducing,” “its here,” “just arrived,” “an important announcement,” “improvement,” “amazing,” “sensation,” “remarkable”, “revolutionary,” “startling,” “miracle or miraculous,” “magic,” “offer,” “quick,” “easy,” “simple,” “powerful,” “wanted,” “challenge,” “advise to,” “the truth about,” “compare,” “bargain,” “hurry,” and… “last chance.” “secret”,”Breakthrough,” “Sale”.

Don’t scoff at these clichés they really work and bring results.

Use quotation marks. Research suggests that quotation marks in a headline seem to improve readership as it brings credibility to the statement. It is in our human nature to believe more what a person says than what your company says.

Always incorporate your selling promise into your headline (See U.S.P). And make that promise as specific, desirable and advantageous to the prospect as you possibly can.

Negative headlines
Research shows that most negative headlines don’t work-unless you use negativity to underscore any undesirable results the prospect can expect to eliminate or avoid. But we also need to look at research done in these areas:

Why is bad news 90% of the news bulletin.
Negative news has a stronger impact on our minds than positive news because nastiness makes a bigger impact on your brain.

And that, says Ohio State University psychologist John T. Cacioppo, Ph.D., is due to the brain’s “negativity bias”: your brain is simply built with a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news. The bias is so automatic that it can be detected at the earliest stage of the brain’s information processing.

In studies he has done, Cacioppo showed people pictures known to arouse positive feelings (such as a Ferrari or a pizza), those certain to stir up negative feelings (like a mutilated face or dead cat) and those known to produce neutral feelings (a plate, a hair dryer). Meanwhile, he recorded electrical activity of the brain’s cerebral cortex that reflects the magnitude of information processing taking place.

The brain, Cacioppo demonstrated, reacts more strongly to stimuli it deems negative. That is, there is a greater surge in electrical activity. Thus, our attitudes are more heavily influenced by downbeat news than good news.

Our capacity to weigh negative input so heavily evolved for a good reason— to keep us out of harm’s way. From the dawn of human history our very survival depended on our skill at dodging danger. The brain developed systems that would make it unavoidable for us not to notice danger and thus, hopefully, respond to it.

and on the other side of the coin….
It seems that people love optimists. Optimists tend to make other people feel hopeful and positive.
This uncommonly startling statistic comes from the book ‘Learned Optimism’ by Martin Seligman.

People buy for these reasons:
Most people want to either avoid pain or gain pleasure. They want to fulfill their needs — from survival needs to self- actualization needs. But “pain” and “pleasure” mean different things to different people.

Try to translate the avoiding’s or gains in words people understand and appreciate. So developing and describing mere product benefits is never enough. You must look at the specific buying motives to which those benefits cater. It can be a very frustrating task for some people to translate “features” into benefits, as you must stay out of the picture.

Here is some guidance to help you in developing compelling benefits.
Abraham Maslow, the famous psychologist who developed the hierarchy of human motives, said that the foundation of all human needs is our need to survive. Once satisfied, the next one is our need for safety. Our need to be with other people is next, followed by our need to feel appreciated. Finally, our need to be challenged is at the top.

The “pain-pleasure principle” states that people either fear pain (and try to avoid it) or crave pleasure (and try to gain it). When given a choice between the two, avoidance of pain is a superior motive. Our need to survive and feel safe, which are at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid, rule over all other needs.

So, 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 isolates the “serious” from the “curious.”

Whenever you write your headline or opening statement, remember this:
Your customer is not buying a product or a service. They are buying a result, benefit, advantage, protection or increased pleasure or solution. Always, always focus your headlines on the benefit or specific result your target market will be receiving. As Jay Abaraham would say, they are buying the hole not the drill.

The power of making the headline “personal”
The most common mistake most people make when writing or creating headlines is they forget to adopt the “YOU” attitude. To create a powerful headline, your message must try to make the benefits as personal as possible for the prospect. Your headline or message never should talk about “we or “our” product, service, or company. Each and every possible benefit or result must be written or expressed with the individual reader or prospect’s selfish, direct interests in mind. Speak to one person, not to a crowd.

Even when writing in first person singular (for example, “How I learned to sing in 4 days”), the reward promised is so described that it is, in effect, really saying, “You can do it too!”

Formulas to create headlines:
Address the people who can’t buy your product:
If You’ve Already bought a new car, Don’t Read This. It’ll Break Your Heart

“2nd hand car dealers Are Ripping You Off! Here’s Why …”
“… In Less Than 60 Days, Guaranteed!”
Which Twin Has the Toni? And Which was at the hair salon?
“Duracell batteries lasts six times longer …”
“How to Increase Your Chances With …”
Closely Guarded Secrets For …
The Difference in Shell Petrol is In the Additives
To the Man Who Will Settle for Nothing Less Than a Mercedes
“How Fellow Marketer Pummels Competitors By …”
Over 98.4% of People End up Broke When …
“Boost Your Income By More Than 302% When …”
“Reverse The Aging Process With …”
“They All Laughed When …”
Limiting beliefs:
You Are Twice as Smart as You Think
Love and Lust:
“Make Her Fall in Love With You With …”
Melts Away Ugly Fat!
Is It Immoral to Make Money This Easily?
The Five Biggest Mistakes to Avoid By …
New! Cook without heat or electricity…
Suffering From Sinus Pain? Then ..
Don’t buy a second hand car until you read this guide!
Pride, Power or Ego:
“Make Fellow Workers green with envy …”
Size of the claim:
I lost 10kg in 2 weeks by Using (anti-fat product)
“Finally Exposed! Get The Dirty Truth On …”
“Slash Your Learning Curve By 57% When …”
Only 80 Pink Ferrari’s Are Produced Annually.
Speed and effectiveness:
In Two Seconds, Bayer Aspirin Begins Relieving Rain!
Story quotation:
Would You Believe It-I Have a Cold!
Who Else Wants Whiter Teeth even if you smoke?

Problem solving as a marketing technique.
Here you actually use the problem as a headline. For instance…
“Lost all your data through a virus or hard drive crash?” – we can get it back!
The headline above will definitely draw more attention than the normal method “We restore lost data”.

If you decide on the problem approach headline then you must remember that the primary objective of a headline is to strike as directly as possible right at a situation confronting the reader.  Sometimes you can do this with greater accuracy if you use a negative headline which pinpoints the reader’s ailment, rather than the alleviation of it. An example would be “Do you have embarrassing pimples?”

So when you face that kind of situation, you can “emphasise the negative”

Remember, Rule Number One for high impact headlines is “State the Benefit or address the problem”

How to test your headlines.
Testing of a headline is crucial, but as a small business your budget might not allow for fast or regular testing so…
My advice is just to adapt and copy the classic and already tested headlines to suite your own needs as you as a small business owner do not have unlimited funds to test. But do test if you can afford it.

How to Test if you can afford it:
Tell the prospects to specify a department number when they call or write-(there doesn’t have to be an actual department).
Have the caller ask for a specific person – (the name can be fictitious).

You must be able to attribute each response to one of the approaches you are testing.

Remember Prospects are fine, but sales are what you are after….

Before you mail to 10,000 untested people do a small mail test with just 500 or 1000.

Test the same mailing pieces or advertisements with two different headlines. Repeat the headline on the outside of the carrier envelope. Try different body copy with the same headlines. Try different orders.
Test as many things as possible in the smallest possible arena before you risk a big part of your advertising budget on one expensive marketing approach to a large audience.

On a persistent scale of marketing you will soon find out what works, and what doesn’t. Once you have the answer stick to it. Even if you and everyone else gets bored of it.

And Finally…
Please remember that great copywriters and legendary masters of marketing sometimes takes weeks to write the ideal headline. They do this because they know how they will trigger huge amounts of sales with the right headline.

Don’t limit yourself to creating just one single headline.

The great masters I’ve studied would write no less than 100 different approaches before they kicked out the three to five best, most powerful selections they would test out.

You should not settle for anything less.

The more headlines and opening propositions you write, the more this mind-set will become your own.

Try this simple exercise if you get stuck: Ask yourself to fill in the blank describing the most powerful result or benefit your product produces. If you were talking to a prospect about this result you’d be telling them how to what? Once you fill in that blank with the answer to the result your product or service produces, you’ve written your first really good headline-so keep going!

After you’ve written quite a number of good headlines pick out the best five that make the advantage or result apparent to the customer.

I guarantee you this: If you create 50 to 100 trial headlines and choose the best five. One of those five will out produce your current headline or sales opening by at least 35%.

Some copywriters will even write the same headline in a hundred different ways and then afterwards, read and reread what they wrote until they are only left with a short list which goes through the same process of elimination again.

You can and should beg steal and borrow.  You must build up a swipe file..

Study and model successful copy writing as much as you can.  Buy magazines and newspapers and study which advertisements are often repeated… Ad space in magazines are very expensive. If an ad is repeated in more than two issues, preferably copy-intense ads or full-page advertorials, common sense tells you that the ad is profitable.
Rip out the ad and put it into your swipe file. If you cannot buy all the magazines, write down the headlines of those you see at news stands, cafes and even when visiting the doctor.

Then, copy the headlines into a document. They can be easily converted into “fill in the blanks” formulas. And believe me, they will work well with almost all markets. High end as well as low priced articles.

All “great” copywriters do this. They steal. They recycle. They copy. They model. They swipe.

And they adapt.

Of course, don’t copy the headlines literally. Do not plagiarize just remodel. Your swipe file samples can easily be adapted to fit the market, the offer and the message.  Turn your swipe file advertisements into templates so that you can almost fill in the blanks.

In the sample headline section I have supplied a lot of samples of the best headlines ever written to get you started on your swipe file.

The cosmetics of a headline is equally important. The type must be bold, large and prominently placed, even written in a different font or type style. It must “scream” at your readers. Don’t worry if it’s too harsh or too long. Experience and research has shown that the longer headlines pull the most. Don’t “reverse” print anything where the background is black and the letters are in white. It always diminishes the effect you want.

In conclusion

  • Does the opening statement beg for attention?
  • Does it arouse enough curiosity?
  • And does it genuinely cater to the needs, motives and emotions of my target market?
  • Is the language easy to understand?
  • Is your add personal? Is it getting through to the person with the need?