If your print ad, direct mail piece, press release or home page isn’t getting the results you want a weak headline may be to blame.
Research shows that readers respond more to headlines than any other element of a print ad. So no matter how eye-catching the images and design, or compelling the body copy, without a strong headline an ad will most likely be ignored.
And headlines aren’t confined to print ads. You’ll also need strong headlines for brochures, signage, point of sale material, direct mail, PowerPoint presentations, web pages and email.
Attention or apathy?
These days competition for attention is fierce. This year, the average consumer will see or hear one million marketing messages – almost 3,000 per day. No one can pay attention to 3,000 messages every day, so we filter out most of them.
A headline attracts attention or apathy. People will make the decision to read or filter out your marketing materials based on the headline. You have only seconds to make a favourable first impression.
In Ogilvy on Advertising pioneering ad man David Ogilvy states: “On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. It follows that unless your headline sells your product, you have wasted 90 per cent of your money.”
Your headline must convince prospects of the value of reading your ad, brochure or home page. It must answer the readers’ question, “So what’s in it for me?”
Headlines boost response rates
Headlines can dramatically affect response rates to marketing offers. A headline can make the difference between success and failure. Take these headlines for example:
Headline 1: How to turn your non-smoking into money
Headline 2: Non-smokers save a bundle on health insurance
The second headline generated 20 times more calls than first one.
Top 7 headline formulas that work
If you need to put your puny headline on steroids try one of these tried and tested formulas:
1. Agitate the problem
Are you struggling to find good accounting personnel?
If a reader has the problem they will be compelled to read on to find out the solution.
NB: This is also a question headline – see below.
2. Ask a question
What is the secret to getting rich today?
A question incites curiosity. It engages the mind. A question headline must be open-ended; you have to keep reading to find out the answer.
3. Promise the reader a benefit
Enjoy younger looking skin in just 7 days
Focus on the primary benefit of your product or service and connect it with the target audience.
4. Give them the news
Announcing the smallest MP3 player ever built
If you have genuine news, announce it. Using the word “announcing” attracts more attention.
5. State the offer
FREE seminar shows you how to make $100,000 a year on eBay
If you have an attractive offer shout it out in your headline.
6. Use the words “How to”
How to win friends and influence people
“How to…” promises readers useful information and advice. If you’re ever stuck for a headline write “How to” – whatever follows will be a hardworking headline
7. Use a customer testimonial
“I lost 7 kilograms in 10 days with TrimSpeed”
Putting the testimonial in quotation marks increases readership.
Should a headline be cute or clever?
Some copywriters try to make their headlines cute or clever by using a play on words or an intriguing teaser. But clever headlines are often more a celebration of a copywriter’s wit than an exercise in effective marketing.
A clever headline is a risky ploy; essentially you’re betting on your target audience “getting it”. But why take a chance when you can appeal directly to the target audience’s self interest? Product benefits almost always beat clever. The exception is when a play on words adds an additional, valuable layer of meaning to the headline.
Sharpen your axe
Abraham Lincoln is reputed to have once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” And so it is with headlines. Many copywriting experts recommend you spend 80% of your time writing the headline.
This may sound like overkill. But producing marketing materials is expensive and time consuming. If your headline is a dud you’ve wasted your money and effort.
Things to do
- Audit your existing headlines and see if they could use some improvement
- Test different headlines to see which ones get the best response.