8 Hardworking Headlines that Keep on Working

by Dean Rieck

Along with direct mail, print is one of the mainstays of direct marketing. And today it's more powerful than ever. A proliferation of highly targeted publications makes it easy to find receptive prospects for your wares.

And because ads are relatively easy to produce, print is an ideal medium for testing. Better still, once you find publications in which your offer works, you then have subscriber mailing lists available for testing.

Since the headline is responsible for about 80% of your response, it is vital to write one that works. So here are eight headline flavors that have been proven over and over in millions of print ads:

Say it simply and directly. No cleverness. No jokes. No wordplay. Just get right to the point and say what you have to say. This works particularly well with strong offers, solutions to clear problems, recognized brand names, and product or service types that the reader is familiar with.

State the big benefit. This helps select your ideal audience and relays your main selling point. If you're offering a discount, say it. If you're offering something free, scream it.

Announce exciting news. Casting your headline in a way that suggests news, rather than just advertising, can have the same powerful appeal of a feature story in the morning paper. Key "news" words: New, Discover, Introducing, Announcing, Now, At last, Finally.

Appeal to the how-to instinct. We all have an impulse to improve ourselves and our lives. The secret here is to focus on a need or want of the reader and promise to fulfill that need or want quickly and easily.

Pose a provocative question. Asking a question directly involves your reader. However, your question cannot be random or clever. It must relate directly and clearly to the major benefit of the product. It must also prod the reader to answer "yes," or at least "I'm not sure, but I want to know more."

Bark a command. Many ads fall flat because they fail to tell the reader what to do. Commands allow you to simultaneously be direct, relay a benefit, and take a commanding posture. It's not conversational. It's dictatorial, but in an acceptable way that readers have come to expect in clear writing.

Offer useful information. People swim in a sea of facts, but data is not what they're really looking for. They want order and predictability in their lives, to feel a sense of power over the world. Therefore, people seek out the secrets, tips, hints, laws, rules, and systems that promise to help them gain control and make sense of things.

Relay an honest, enthusiastic testimonial. A testimonial headline can do two things for you. First, it presents your readers with a third party endorsement of your product or service. Second, it capitalizes on the fact that people like to know what other people say, so your readers pay more attention to anything inside quotation marks.

Copyright © 2003 Dean Rieck. All Rights Reserved.
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