Inspired by an article in Target Marketing by the inimitable Denny Hatch, I thought I’d pursue the issue of bad headlines in this quickie post. To see Denny’s great article, visit http://www.targetmarketingmag.com/article/what-s-wrong-with-these-headlines
You may not be doing anything in print and think this doesn’t matter. But it does. This topic is key to people reading your posts, your online ads, your postcards, your home pages, your landing pages. All of those customer contacts must have a great headline, or the effort is going to fail, or at least under perform.
Here are a few of our recent efforts with headlines that really racked up the customer visits and sales. These ads were created with Beasley Direct Marketing, one of the leading direct and interactive marketing agencies in the Silicon Valley.
First is a B2B ad for Anritsu, which has developed a cable and antenna analyzer with a host of new features including an extremely long lasting battery (convenience – they don’t have to leave the field and recharge the thing halfway through a job.)
The next one is also B2B: it’s for Rovi and it was an award winner for customer retention. Rovi’s service/product is very likely the rolling list of TV shows you see on your TV, particularly in hotels. The ads that run on those platforms are paid advertising, and the format is irresistible to most viewers.
I’ve pared some tips from Denny Hatch’s article, and I’ve added some additional tidbits from admired and powerful writers (and yours truly). Check out this comprehensive ‘laundry list’ of what should be considered for better headlines:
1. “Avoid the “hard-to-grasp” headline—the headline that requires thought and is not clear at first glance.” —John Caples
2. “Remember that every headline has one job. It must stop your prospects with a believable promise.” —John Caples
3. “Some headlines are “blind.’ They don’t say what the product is, or what it will do for you. They are about 20 per cent below average in recall.” —David Ogilvy
4. “The headline is the ‘ticket on the meat’. Use it to flag down readers who are prospects for the kind of products you are advertising. If you are selling a remedy for bladder weakness, display the words BLADDER WEAKNESS in your headline; they catch the eye of anyone who suffers from this inconvenience. If you want mothers to read your advertisement, display MOTHERS in your headline. And so on.” —David Ogilvy
5. “Clearly state a benefit in your headline.” —Craig Huey, president, Direct Marketing Creative Group
6. “The headline selects the reader.” —Axel Andersson, founder, Axel Andersson Akademie, Hamburg, Germany, World’s second foremost expert on direct mail
7. “People are hurried. The average person worth cultivating has too much to read. They skip three-fourths of the reading matter, which they pay to get. They are not going to read your business talk unless you make it worth their while and let the headline show it.” —Claude Hopkins
8. “Specifics sell. Generalities don’t.” —Andrew J. Byrne
9. “The headlines which work best are those which promise the reader a benefit–like a whiter wash, more miles per gallon, freedom from pimples, fewer cavities. Rifle through a magazine and count the number of ads whose headlines promise a benefit of any kind.” —David Ogilvy
10. “Headlines which contain news are sure-fire. The news can be the announcement of a new product, an improvement in an old product, or a new way to use an old product–like serving Campbell’s Soup on the rocks. On the average, ads with news are recalled by 22% more people than ads without news.” —David Ogilvy
11. “If you are lucky enough to have some news to tell, don’t bury it in your body copy, which nine out of ten people will not read. State it loud and clear in your headline. And don’t scorn tried-and-true words like amazing, introducing, now, suddenly.” —David Ogilvy
12. Don’t over-use superlatives. Words like “best ever,” “amazing,” and “incredible” better be true or you will lose credibility. That’s a bad start for a client relationship. Hype will turn prospects off, not on. — Victoria Eden
13. Focus on why you’re there and stick with it. If your headline concentrates on one thing, and then you change directions during the ad, it confuses your reader, and you lose them. — Carol Worthington-Levy
14. Get to the point, refraining from cute or obtusely clever. Making obscure references may make you feel smart but it makes them feel stupid and that’s a bad place to take a potential customer. You’ll lose ‘em that very second. — Carol Worthington-Levy
15. Your customer is thinking, “What’s in it for me?” The only thing your customer cares about is, “Will this work for me?” And the fact that you think this copy is clever or funny is irrelevant: Your customer frequently doesn’t share your sensibilities. — Carol Worthington-Levy
Now, I’m sure there are folks out there who think rules like these set the stage for an old fashioned, fuddy-duddy headline and effort.
That’s just their arrogance speaking. That’s right, I’m saying that most creatives and marketers who work on advertising have never seen the direct result of their effort — and these folks ALWAYS overestimate how people respond to it. They cannot imagine the horrendous failure of their efforts!
I’ve seen the testing and it’s dismal. Most of the stuff you see in writing now, whether in print or online, is garbage-can-ready. And what’s pathetic is that these people are paid to make this stuff effective. They don’t even know how to make good on that promise. So, they continue to do the same garbage again and again, and their clients think this is the best they can get. Wish I had some swampland to sell those clients!
Truth be told, a great headline — one that matches some of the criteria in the list on this post — makes an ad (or post, or website… etc.) relevant to the reader. Imagine that — it’s not about the writer, it’s about THE CUSTOMER!
I don’t know about you but I’m pretty damned tired of copy that says ‘we are the best at what we do’. (Oh, shut up!) What’s missing is the headline that tells me – What can you do for me today? How can you make my life better? How can you make me more successful? Why will everyone love me more when I use your product or service? What can you do for me that will make me appear to be smarter or better looking?
No matter what you’re writing, or what business you’re in, you are guaranteed to get more customers, and better qualified customers, if your copy — especially your headline copy — fits these criteria! — CWL
P.S. Another article i found that I thought gave some good tips on headline writing: