By David Garfinkel
Masters of marketing know a secret that most business people don't. I'm going to share it with you now: You can go from losing money to making money - sometimes, a *lot* of money - just by changing a few words.
What words are those? The first words... in any letter, ad or Web page. The words that make up the headline.
Recently I was speaking to a business group about writing killer copy, and to make my point, I took that day's edition of USA Today and covered up all the headlines on the front page with inch-wide white correction tape. I asked them what was wrong with the newspaper.
"No headlines!" they blurted out, almost all at once.
"Then why," I asked, "do so many of your ads not have headlines?"
It's a fact: We have been conditioned to decide what to read based on the effect a few choice words have on our thoughts and our feelings. With books, it's often the title. With articles in the newspaper, it's the words in a headline. With a magazine on the newsstand, it's the headlines on the cover.
Whether you know it or not, we decide whether or not to read ads, letters and Web pages the same way.
So, if that's the case, how do you write headlines to make people want to read your copy, and get interested in doing business with you?
Make your headline create a vivid picture and/or stimulate a strong feeling.
In your business, many of your conversations are logical and factual. That's the nature of business - and to do otherwise would be considered "unbusinesslike."
However, about the worst thing you can do for your promotion is to have a strictly factual, logical headline at the top of your Web page, letter, ad, flyer or postcard. Oh yes, the headline has to be believable and make sense. And what your headline says has to be supported by logic and facts later in your promotion.
But remember that the purpose of your killer copy headline is to stir the emotions of your prospect in the direction of buying what you have to sell... and to get your prospect interested in reading what comes next in your copy.
Here's an example for a hypothetical product that helps children do better at school.
First, an ineffective headline:
Children who don't do well at school will have many problems later on in their lives
Now, a more effective headline:
"Daddy! Daddy! I got straight A's!" he said proudly. Suddenly my son's future was looking much brighter...
Notice how the first headline states a fact but does not stir emotions in a big way. The second headline, using the same number of words (17), conveys 1) excitement 2) pride 3) hope for the future, and it also creates a beautiful scene in the reader's mind of a happy parent-child situation.
Action: When you are preparing or revising a promotion, take the time you need, or get the help you need, to write a great headline that creates a vivid picture and stimulates strong feelings in the mind of your prospect.
Use headlines that make your prospect instantly understand your most important benefit.
One of my favorite pieces of advertising is a headline (and an old slogan) for a plumbing service. I'm not that big on plumbing, personally - it's the kind of thing you wish would work perfectly all the time so you never have to think about it!
Why, then, am I so fond of an old plumbing headline? Because it's a great example of making your prospect instantly aware of the benefit of your service.
The company is Roto-Rooter.
The headline is as follows:
Call Roto-Rooter - that's the name - And away go troubles, down the drain!
Wow - is that perfection in a couple of lines, or what? You get
1) a call to action 2) company identification and 3) a visual description of the benefit.
That's hard to beat! If you've ever had a stopped-up drain, you know exactly why this would be of benefit to you!
Killer Copy Point: Show your headline to people who are unfamiliar with your product and company, but who would be good prospects for what you are selling. See how slowly or quickly they understand what you are saying - especially, what would be the benefit to them. Keep rewriting your headline until these people instantly "get it!"
Make your headline pass the "Shortcut Test"
Imagine all you were allowed to do was run your headline plus a toll-free number... as a classified ad. Ask yourself this question: Would it generate inquiries for you in that form?
I'll give you an example from my own business. I'm taking the headline and subheadline from a long-copy print promotion for my product called Killer Copy Tactics:
Money-Making Secrets Every Business Owner Needs
For years, sales copywriting experts have quietly made millions with these little-known secrets. Now you can use this information yourself. Call (000) 000-0000
I used this example for purposes of illustration. Read it again, and ask yourself if these words alone, printed in the right location, wouldn't prompt qualified prospects to call for more information?
Killer Copy Point: Put your headline and subheadline through the Shortcut Test. Make sure that these words alone plus a toll-free number are likely to generate a response from qualified prospects.
The art of writing headlines is a special skill well worth the time and effort it takes to develop. There are many known statistics in direct marketing that bear repeating here:
· Five times as many people read the headline as read the ad or letter.
· Changes in headlines have produced documented increases in sales of 200%, 500% and, in one extreme case, 1,850% more sales!
· It's a good idea to write 15 or 20 headlines for your letter or ad, and use the "leftover" headlines as part of the selling copy itself.
Become a student of headlines and a connoisseur of great headlines. Collect them, think about them, practice writing them. The reward for your efforts will show up every time you get another order or inquiry that you never would have gotten if you didn't make the effort!
David Garfinkel is widely recognized by many "marketing gurus" as their secret weapon. That is, he is known as "The World's Greatest Copywriting Coach"; because, he can, like no other, teach you how to turn words into cash. David is also the author and narrator of Killer Copy Tactics, the Web's first and only totally interactive audio/visual learning system for writing killer sales copy.