7 Sneaky Ways to Write Irresistible Headlines
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In the advertising world, it’s commonly agreed that the headline is responsible for about 90% of an ad’s effectiveness. Same thing in the book world. The title does nearly all the heavy lifting. And, it’s no different in newspapers and social media, especially places like twitter where all you’ve to sell the click is the […]
Sometime around the middle of last year, I hired someone to do an SEO audit on my blog. SEO, by the way, stands for search engine optimization, or…how sexy google thinks you are. The verdict…ACK!!! That was literally what the final report said. My keywords were all over the place, posts went in a million […]
I’ve been doing my own advertising creative and design work for close to 15 years. For my own businesses and for clients. And, one of the things I consistently say is:
Don’t use humor in headlines or make images the focus.
And, I give the same advice for blogs. The reason isn’t that they don’t work, it’s that humor is often (a) hugely subjective or (b) used as a crutch when you’ve got nothing else to offer. And, when it comes to images, all too often, they may be pretty or funny or edgy, but they add nothing to the emotion or “social triggers” beyond a dash of color.
But, every once in a while, you find a way to work humor and images into your ads that creates magic.
I just rediscovered the above advertisement. It was a full-page newspaper ad I created for my personal fitness facility back in 1999. The kid in the picture was my nephew and the headline popped into my head the moment I saw the shot. We ran it for a single week. It cost about $1,600 (hey, it wasn’t the NY Times) and it generated more than $50,000 in annualized revenue…not including 3 moms who called to find out how much the kid in the picture cost.
That’s $3,125 in revenue for every $100 spent on advertising. Not a bad return on investment.
So, what’s the moral?
Know the rules. But, even better…know when to break ’em.
And, now, a question…
Why’d it work so well?
There’s a fundamental rule in storytelling…
If you want to make a point, don’t just tell it, show it!
Sometimes that’s done with demonstrations, action scenes or dialogue. Other times, it’s done in pictures. And, this last week saw an amazing example of the power of show over the power of tell.
You may not have heard, but last week, a little company called Apple released a device known as the iPad. It’s got a lot of cool features, but it became pretty clear that one major missing feature was the ability to display something called “flash.” For those not in the know, flash is a technology developed by Adobe that lets you display motion on a website without having monster files that take forever to download. Millions of websites use it, though most people on the browsing side have no idea they’re seeing it.
Nearly every browser now supports it…except Apple’s mobile browser. And, that’s been a bone of contention. Because, when a website uses flash and someone’s browser doesn’t read it, instead of seeing a movie or movement that person just sees a blank box with a little blue lego inside. This can seriously degrade the browsing experience for a lot of people on a lot of websites.
So, when Apple announced the iPad and it became clear this revolutionary new device did not support flash, the flash brigade was not happy.
Now, they could’ve explained the problem by explaining to people what a pain it would be.
But, there’s not a whole of drama in that. Because, it’s telling, now showing.
So, instead, this genius post appeared on Lee Brimelow’s The Flash Blog:
It’s a beautiful example of how much more powerful it often is to make your point, tell your story or sell your solution not by explaining the who, what, where, when and why, but by stepping back and showing it in vivid color.
So, next time you really want to do some heavy duty convincing, step back and ask,
Am I showing or am I telling?
And, if the answer is the latter, see if you can figure out a way to convey the same information in a far more visual, immersive, conversational “showing” approach.
You’ll be blown away at the difference.
P.S. – 541 comments & counting = proof of concept.
P.P.S. – The deleted screenshot was a porn website, in case you were wondering
I read through it. Twice. Actually three times. I marveled at how the post managed to squeeze the words “disintermediation, cadre and myriad” into a single 67 word sentence complete with snarky parenthetical. There are some interesting points, and I get that the post was largely linkbait, designed to ruffle feathers and get attention (which, by the way, would make the author of said post not a writer, too).
But it made me wonder…(FYI, real writers never go dot dot dot)
- Where do you get the card that gives you the right to annoint anyone else, blogger or not, a writer?
- Is it really smart to label someone a writer based not the talent they wield, but on the medium they leverage? And;
- Is writing for an audience a sure sign someone’s not a real writer?
Okay, so let’s get this out of the way first.
Yes, there are plenty of blogs out there with bad writing.
But, to say that’s a product of the medium and not a lack of commitment to the craft doesn’t sit right with me.
Blogs are just another outlet for the written word. As are books, ebooks, magazines, scripts and screenplays. And, guess what, most of those suck, too. Not because they’re books, magazines, scripts and screenplays, but because they are the creative output of folks who aren’t all that concerned with studying and practicing the art and the craft of writing. The only difference with blogs is they’re far more easily discovered.
Bad writing exists in every medium. Always has. Always will. That’s not a function of the blogosphere.
So, what of the charge of rampant pandering as proof that blogging isn’t for real writers?
Does it exist? Yup! All over the place.
But, again, blogging didn’t create the situation. Artists have been doing that dance between giving people what they want and creating soulful output for millennia. And, I’ve got to wonder…what’s so wrong with finding the sweet spot between what you love to share and what your audience loves to read?
Hell, even James Patterson, who’s got more than 50 New York Times bestsellers to his name and, according to Forbes, generated nearly $500 million for Little, Brown over the last two years, has been labeled a populist, throwing down formulaic thrillers and mysteries that pander to the base enterntainment jones of the mass market.
So, what, now he’s not a writer because he deliberately creates the very content his audience wants?
Knowing it’ll be ten times easier to market and the pass-along value will go through the roof? You may not like his style. You may say he’s sold out, gone commercial.
But, not a writer?
When tens of millions pant to read his every word?
Are we really supposed to believe only those who madly pursue literary excellence under the tutelage of masters, guided by j-school degrees or countless nights chasing stories about lost dogs without regard to the marketability of their work are worthy of the title “writer?”
I blog AND I care deeply about language.
I break every rule Strunk ever conjured and White ever dared. I turn phrases with an awl, split infinitives with an axe and chum the waters with bloody metaphors. All in the name of engaging my readers, titillating the senses and inciting conversation.
That, and it’s just plain fun!
And, I do the very same thing, whether in books, magazines or blogs.
To say that I or anyone else is not a writer because of either the medium we’ve chosen or the fact that we write not just for our own edification, but for an audience…is just plain silly.
And, to proclaim the right to stand in judgment is equally absurd. Especially when that proclamation comes in the form of a juicy straight-up link-bait post on a blog (with lots of fancy words).
Who is anyone to say when and why any other purveyor of prose crosses the line between slinger of linguistic hash and wordsmith? Especially when so many, who by the above criteria would not be writers, regularly sell the hell out of so many others who profess lifelong devotion to the craft (and, yes, like it or not, sales IS one benchmark of literary impact).
Sorry, I don’t do the holier than thou thing. Yes, even though I live in New York City.
It clashes with black.
I’ve been moved to tears by tweets and bored to sleep by classics.
A change in vehicle wouldn’t have changed the impact of either.
Oh, and by the way, I still think some of Picasso’s paintings suck…
And he was a REAL painter!
So, what do YOU think (doh, there’s me pandering again)?
I recently stumbled upon an article that featured a line up of best book covers over last 10 years.
Many were cool, very stylized. But, none made me actually want to buy the books. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of any of the books, so I looked them up on amazon. Of the 20 books listed (10 winners and 10 notables), the vast majority had terrible sales ranks. And, of the few that had made it to paperback, a number had cover redesigns, signifying the book didn’t sell nearly as well as was hoped..and the cover was a major culprit.
I see this tension all over the place. Design aesthetic/branding versus sales tool.
So, I’m about to take some heat on this, but…
How can you heap praise on a book cover that fails at it’s essential task?
Not at being pretty or swishy or eclectic and visually provocative. But, at it’s fundamental job. Stopping potential readers in their tracks and compelling them to pick up and then buy the book. Ask any publisher and they’ll tell you somewhere between 70 and 90% of a book’s commercial success comes from the one-two marketing punch delivered by the cover and the title (and subtitle).
I’d love to say that, as consumers, we’re less dog-like, less reactionary than that.
Especially since I’m an author. But I can’t. It’s not enough for a cover to be beautiful or hyper-stylized. That’s not it’s essential role. It’s not enough to make the author, publisher and designer feel gooylicious inside. It’s got to sell books, plain and simple. That’s it’s fundamental job.
Truth is, though, this conversation isn’t about books and covers.
It’s about mood versus money. Big picture branding. Soul. Communications. Vision. Copywriting. Pain. Headlines. Pride. Logos. Sex and Cars. These things are all part of the sales and marketing funnel. Sure, they play a pivotal role in helping to define our brand…
But, who gives a damn WHAT your brand is if nobody wants to buy what you’re selling?
We don’t build brands just to be able to point to them and say, “Hey nice brand, dude.” That’s called branding by ego. And brands built on ego-satisfaction have a name…crapshoots.
We build brands, identities, covers, packaging and messages because they are tools that help define, differentiate and overcome objections. They do all this in anticipation of something else, though. In service of something else…
Make no mistake, branding is sales’ love-slave!
It has no benefit or purpose beyond setting up the sale. Whether we’re talking about pretty book covers, fancy logos, gushingly gorgeous slogans or sizzling hot storefronts…in the end, they all suck if they don’t lead, directly or indirectly, to sales.
Play with that next time you want to go pretty on your postcards, sassy on your book cover or understated on your ads.
Will this branding/design element make little Tommy run screaming and throwing elbows to be the first in line to buy what you’re selling?
As always, thinking out loud, here. I’m sure you guys’ll have something to add.
Let ‘er rip in the comments…
The other day, Liz Strauss wrote a great post about building vibrant communities. In it she recounted how a speaker who was a VP at a big corporate brand offered the following to the audience:
I want to build a community in which peers are talking to peers openly.
Liz was bothered because SHE was one of the people who was being sought as part of that community and didn’t particularly love being labeled just another “peer.” You should read the rest of Liz’ post, its powerful.
Her post reminded me of the risk of labeling the people we want to buy from us.
About a dozen years ago, I was deep into the personal training world. I had gained some notoriety for seemingly coming out of nowhere and launching a 5,000 square foot high-end training facility was selling more sessions per month than our 25,000 gym competitors sold in a year. I did this by essentially looking at everything the big players in the industry were doing and doing the exact opposite.
In the fitness industry, there are a few communities that are considered Holy Grail markets. One are the folks who make up the Boomer generation. The other is what the industry called for years “the deconditioned” market. Somehow, I’d managed to easily attract both, so when I had the opportunity to share a bit of wisdom in one of the industry trades, I started with a simple point.
If you want to attract the deconditioned market…STOP CALLING THEM DECONDITIONED!
For crying out loud, with more than 75% of U.S. adults being woefully out of shape, we’re talking about your mother, your father, your sister, your colleagues, your boss, your preacher, your teacher, your lover, your brother and the vast majority of people you hang out with every day!
We’re very likely talking about YOU!
How many RSVPs do think you’d get to your Annual Deconditioned Market Picnic? Or, your Festival of Fun-loving Fatties?!
The label you choose for a market subconsciously informs the way you view the people who make up that market.
It impacts the way you treat them, the way you solve their problems and the way you communicate with them.
Terms like “deconditioned” depersonalize and dehumanize the very people you want desperately to understand and connect with. It throws a wall up between you and them. Rather than empathize, you remove yourself from their experience, and, in marketing, that is a really, really bad thing. Because everything begins, every assumption, every solution, every action and communication, with a deep understanding of who the people who make up your market are, what they’re suffering, how they want that suffering relieved and how they’d like to be not only spoken with but endeared and respected.
It’s the same for every business in every industry. There are no exceptions.
In fact, the more I think about it, even using the word “market” beyond the research stages does a disservice to your ability to understand the underlying psychology of a group of people with shared needs, experiences, problems and motivations for a solution.
Yes, it’s easy shorthand. It’s efficient. But, as James Autry wrote in The Servant Leader, efficient does not mean effective.
Shorthand often ends up the losing hand.
So, use the term market when researching the size of a group of people and commonalities in hunger, need, emotion and motivation. But, the moment you begin to communicate with the “individuals” in that market, do what I was taught to do as a copywriter.
Speak to a single person, not a label.
Create an avatar that represents, in great detail, the qualities of the people you’d like to serve, then speak to that avatar as if they were one person. Not a peer, not a market, but a person. And, if you want to label that individual, name him or her. Call them Madge or Bill or Carol. But, not Mr. or Ms. Deconditioned.
So, I’m wondering who is that group of individuals you’d like to buy from you? How have you labeled them?
And, is that label facilitating or limiting your ability to understand, then blow these kind folks away?
As always, just thinking out loud.
What do YOU think?
Long sales copy is the #1 cause of death in the U.S…
Or, so a vocal few would have you believe. Attributed often as the vile creation of online scamsters, long format sales copy has been simultaneously reviled and exalted. Yet, still, it endures. So, let’s clear a few things up.
First, it’s not the invention of internet marketers…
It may have been co-opted and pushed to the level of backlit garishness by many, but it’s been the centerpiece of direct-response marketing for the better part of a century and sold billions of dollars of everything from Blue Blocker sunglasses to the Wall Street Journal. It’s even been used to raise hundreds of millions for a wide variety of charitable causes. And, certain mega direct response guys have taken it to an insane level by creating what they call magalogs, those 40-60 page often health or investment related pseudo catalogs that inform and sell at the same time. Rodale has used it, the Wall Street Journal, Agora, Boardroom, Wiley and tons of others still use it.
But, why? Why is long format still around?
Surely, with our ADD lifestyles, nobody reads it anymore, right?
Wrong. It’s still here because a big enough chunk of the RIGHT people still not only read it, but act on it. Direct response marketers, both on and offline, are fanatical testers. They split test and even mulitvariate test every option. And, time after time, even today in the online world, these marketers continue to use long format for one and only one reason…
It outsells everything else.
They don’t really care about how many people rage against the format, they do really care about the bottom line. And, until other formats start consistently outselling long format they’ll keep using it. Interesting enough, video and video mixed with copy are now starting to mount a serious challenge, but they’re still not working consistently well enough to dump the long format (or, at least very few people are doing video well enough yet to make the jump).
But, what about us folk in social media who actually care about our personal brands and community bonds?
The challenge comes when certain people (like me) infiltrate social media, which has long been a culture driven by the “sanctity” of conversation. What happens when someone who’s a wacky hybrid of (1) social community leader with distinct brand and (2) marketer, tries to earn a living by maximizing revenue while maintaining personal integrity and honoring the community (something that’s not a huge driver for many other direct-response and internet marketers).
That’s one hell of a tap dance.
So, what people like Chris Guillebeau, Naomi Dunford, Brian Clark, Pam Slim, Sonia Simone and I do when we roll out info-products, membership sites or events is try our best to bridge the gap. To integrate the copy format we know sells better than anything else, while simultaneously working to prove our integrity by toning some of the more aggressive techniques and design elements down a bit and couching the sales content within the greater consistently authentic, value-driven content of our brands.
No doubt, some people, including some of our readers may not like that. But, most who’ve been with us long enough will also forgive our desire to earn the best living possible while giving a tremendous amount of value over time. Especially if we structure the long format so that it’s highly informative, engaging and even entertaining.
Interesting example – back when I owned my yoga center in NYC, as I learned to write copy, I rewrote our teacher training page as a long format sales page. It was massive, but it was also selling a $2,500 service, sight unseen. Within weeks, the response rate shot up nearly 200% and that one page now generates a substantial 6-figure revenue.
You’d figure the touchy-feely, energy-sensitive, non-commercial yoga community that I know and love would’ve been the first ones to be repelled by a long format sales page. But, in fact, it was just the opposite. Many people loved the page.
Because it was done in a way that delivered so much information and answered so many questions and objections, we were consistently told it was like we were “reading the reader’s mind and answering everything they needed to know to make a decision” as they read. And, because of that, people plunked down thousands of dollars and got on planes from all over the world based almost entirely on what was on the page (and the brand we’d created to back it up).
And, that, done well, is what long format copy is all about. Mimic the live sales process and answer every conceivable objection, while informing and entertaining and leading to action. If you’re selling a $1-$5 product, long format is total overkill. For a $19 ebook, that shouldn’t take too long and the copy can be relatively short. But, the more expensive the product, the more work your copy needs to do, the more objections you need to overcome and desires you need to connect with.
So, if you feel the need to rage whenever you bump up against a long format sales page, you’ve got to wonder…
Is it the format that’s pissing you off, or the fact that the copy/design, long as it is, just plain sucks?
In almost every occasion, it’s the quality of the copy or the overuse of certain design “mechanisms” that play the role of agitator. When that happens, go ahead…feel free to shoot the messenger along with the message.
That said, as a copywriter, if there’s a way to shorten up my copy and convert better, I’m all for it. I’ll be experimenting a lot with this and video over the next year.
Curious what you think…
Sage words by one legendary ad-man (guess who it was in the comments). He was talking about clients who hire ad-firms and then micro-manage the process to the point where the client is essentially doing the work it hired the ad-firm to do. Not because the ad-firm wasn’t good at it or didn’t want to […]
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