The headline—that line appearing first in all marketing material—is the most important line you write. It draws the reader's attention to the rest of what you want to tell them. On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the rest of the marketing document.
No matter whether it's a newspaper or magazine ad, brochure, newsletter, special report, or even a business card, 90 percent of the cost of that particular advertising piece is wasted unless the reader's attention is caught by the headline.
Therefore, your headline must draw attention and deliver a complete, immediately understandable message that screams: ``Hey buddy, I'm talking to you. I have something important for you—something that will solve your problems.''
Consider the following when writing customer-centered headlines:
1) Make a list of what is most important to readers of the headline. What are their biggest problems in the area you are dealing with?;
2) List all the problems your product or service will solve for them;
3) Write down what can happen to them if they fail to solve those problems; and,
4) State the most important emotional reasons why they should buy what you're selling. You want to determine what moves the prospect emotionally, not logically—such as how they will feel about loss of safety and security, economic loss etc., if they don't buy your product and services.
Customer-centered headlines answer the question: ``What's in it for me?'' Those that are packed with customer benefits will successfully pull the prospect into your advertising document.
Always lead with benefits and follow with features. Example: ``Open tonight to 9 p.m.'' is informative. But ``Open until 9 tonight for your shopping convenience'' is both informative and customer-centered.
Eight kinds of headlines, such as the following, can be used to motivate prospects to read on into your marketing document:
1) Direct headline, where you put your proposition squarely to the prospect in blunt customer-centered language. There's nothing subtle about this kind of headline. It's an ideal format for announcing limited-time-only specials where the duration of the offer is as important as the price. Example: ``Save 20 percent on light truck tires through Friday only'';
2) Indirect headline, used to arouse curiosity, encouraging the prospect to read on and find out what's in it for him. Example: ``Shopping Tim's Tire Shop at night saves you money.'' Your prospect asks, ``Why do I save money at night?''
3) Command headline, telling prospects what to do, leaving nothing to the imagination. Example: ``Have your car safety checked today for greater peace of mind tomorrow.''
4) Question headline, which involves the prospect by asking a question that interests him sufficiently to read on and find the answer. Example: ``Do your shock absorbers give you the comfortable ride you want?''
Beware of self-centered questions. Remember, the headline must be about the prospect—not about you. One example not to use is, ``Do you know what we are up to?'' The prospect can answer, ``Who cares?''
5) Reason-why headline, packed with facts and specific numbers. It tells the prospect there are specific reasons why he or she would be better off by acting now to acquire what you are selling. Example: ``Three reasons to buy your new custom wheels before Dec. 15th.''
6) Testimonial headline, which gets customers to promote and tell about the benefits they've received by listening to and buying from you. Example: ``I never thought I could afford good furniture. But I'm comfortable now. I'm glad I shopped at Ace Furniture.''
7) News headline, which presents the prospect with something new. Do not focus on the new item, always focus on the benefits received from obtaining the item.
Recently I saw this news headline: ``Introducing Maytag's new front load washer,'' to which I said, ``So what. What's in it for me?'' A much better way to state the headline would have been: ``Save water and detergent with Maytag's new front load washer.''
8) How-to headlines, engage the prospect's interest by promising to reveal important information useful in achieving his objectives or solving problems. How-to headlines are very targeted.
If the prospect wants to achieve the results the headline promises, he or she will continue to read on. If he does not want to achieve these results, he won't bother to read it. Example: ``Replace those worn-out treads without increasing your monthly credit card payments.''
Capture the prospect's interest and move him into your marketing document by choosing the type of headline that best fits the product or service you are selling.
To test the effectiveness of your headline, make it answer the prospect's question: ``What's in it for me?''
Mr. Janet is president of Marketing Consulting & Retail Advising in Matthews, N.C.