Online Exclusive: How to Create a Power-Packed Headline

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Every part of your sales message is important. Your opening is crucial. Your presentation of product benefits ... of proof and credibility elements ... of the offer and premiums ... of your guarantee ... and of your closing, ask-for-the-sale copy are all critical.

But of all the things you do to produce a sale, nothing equals your headline when it comes to pushing response through the roof.

In my 33 years in this business, I've often seen great new headlines produce 25 percent, 35 percent, even 45 percent lifts in response and ROI. And, of course, I've seen them add months -- even a year or more -- to the lifespan of an aging ad or control.

Why are headlines so important? Two reasons:

First, your headline is the demurely raised eyebrow, the whisper in the ear, the tap on the shoulder or the shrieking air raid horn (remember those?) that at the moment of impact, make it impossible for your prospect to look at anyone but you -- or more precisely, anyone's ad but yours.

Second, your headline is the gateway to your sales copy. More than that, it is the copy that persuades your prospect to read your sales message.

When you study the most effective headlines ever written, you can't help but notice that each one accomplishes these twin tasks by offering the reader a bribe, that is, a compelling, practical and/or emotional benefit in exchange for reading your sales message.

Whether explicit or implicit, shouted or whispered, the best heads you'll ever read -- or write -- will be a proposed transaction: "Read this," they say, "and this very specific, very wonderful thing will happen for you."

Allow me to show you, in my opinion, three of the most powerful headline techniques ever -- approaches that have produced huge winners for the big shots - and, yes, for me, too.

Pure benefit headlines present only the primary practical benefit offered by the product. For example:

"Who else wants a whiter wash -- /with no hard work?"

"Great new discovery kills kitchen odors/quick -- makes indoor air country fresh..."

Once upon a time, pure benefit headlines were all the rage. And they worked. But today's prospects are being offered identical benefits by dozens, scores or hundreds of competing advertisers.

Unless the benefit you're offering is truly unique -- or presented in a very unique and intriguing way, you'll probably need to do more than just present or imply a benefit to win.

Here's how John Carlton turned a benefit lead into something absolutely unique and made his ad a must-read:

"Amazing Secret Discovered by One-Legged Golfer Adds 50 Yards to Your Drives, Eliminates Hooks and Slices... and Can Slash Up to 10 Strokes From Your Game Almost Overnight"

Pure emotion headlines directly address the emotional need, frustration or fear that the product's primary benefit addresses -- only hinting at the practical benefit. For example...

"Lies, Lies, Lies/We investors are FED UP/with everyone lying to us/and wasting our money!"

"Tell The "Health Police" To Take A Flying Leap/And Return To Life's GUILTIEST PLEASURES!"

Pure emotion leads have always worked very well for me. But only when they are followed immediately with a strong presentation of the benefits you're promising the prospect in return for reading your copy and (ultimately) buying your product.

Combined benefit/emotion headlines present the product's chief benefit and either imply or state the emotional pay-off for the reader. For example...

"They laughed when I sat down at the piano/but when I started to play..."

"Laugh All The Way To The Gas Pump!/How rising gas prices can make you up to 307% richer in 2005"

Regardless of whether your headline is pure benefit, pure emotion or a combination of the two, there are dozens of ways to give it greater selling power. Here are a few ...

1. Present a proposition: Great propositions make a statement that the reader already believes and tantalize him with the implications of that statement. For example...

"For every illness, there is a country/where it simply doesn't exist..."

2. Propose a transaction: Transaction leads add credibility to your headline benefit by disclosing that you're asking something from the reader in turn for the promised benefit. For example...

"Read This Now .../Or Kiss Your Money GOODBYE!"

3. Use specificity to create credibility: Include specific facts that make your headline instantly credible, or connect it to a current news event for credibility. For example...

"1,384 "ENRONS" Are Now/Racing Toward BANKRUPTCY"

4. Get the prospect's natural curiosity working for you: Intrigue and curiosity heads tease the benefit or begin the conversation by telling a fascinating story. For example...

"How I Made a Fortune With a Fool Idea"

Try this. Sit down with a headline you're working on now and ask yourself these six questions:

1. Does your headline offer the reader a reward for reading your sales copy?

2. What specifics could you add to make your headline more intriguing and believable?

3. Does your headline trigger a strong, actionable emotion the reader already has about the subject at hand?

4. Does your headline present a proposition that will instantly get your prospect nodding his or her head?

5. Could your headline benefit from the inclusion of a proposed transaction?

6. Could you add an element of intrigue to drive the prospect into your opening copy?

Spend 15 minutes on it, and I'll bet you'll come up with something great!


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