What makes a successful headline? After all, if you don't attract your readers' attention with your headline, the rest of your sales letter is a waste of words.
There are 5 important qualities that a winning headline may possess:
So what's the golden rule? Well, only one of these qualities is absolutely vital in your headline. That is: ALWAYS appeal to your readers' self-interest.
This is always the single most important quality in sales letter headlines. That's because the only person your reader cares about is themselves. They don't care about your company. They don't care about your product or service. They only care about what it can do for them, how it can benefit their life or solve their problem.
That's the only reason they are reading your words. And that's why you must always draw on this natural self-absorption.
All the while they are reading your letter, in their minds is the burning question "What's in it for me?" And that's a question you have to answer – and fast. If you don't, your reader will be off checking out your competition.
Your headlines must offer your readers something they want or need. This golden rule is obvious, but it's surprising how many writers ignore it and rely solely on the other qualities instead.
So how do you focus on your readers' self-interest? You need to try to work out what would make YOU buy the product or service. Look at your own self-interest. If you find that hard because the product or service is not aimed at your particular demographic, then find someone who is closer to the audience you are selling to.
Ask them what would make them buy the product/service – it might be different to what you think. If you have no one to ask, check out online forums and take note of the comments. You have to put yourself in your prospect's shoes – for marketers this is an essential skill. You need to learn all you can about what makes them tick – their desires, fears and other emotional triggers, and how these relate to your product/service. That way you'll pinpoint their self-interest.
And once you do that, you're on your way to using the golden rule to writing a winning headline – and gaining more readers and more sales, which no doubt appeals to your self-interest.
Recently, a LinkedIn contact sent me this message:
When I read the message, I was at first a bit worried, but I don't think this person was dropping a not-so-subtle hint about my vocabulary (they know I like articles about language tips). At least, I hope not :-).
Heavy hints or not, the article I was sent is a timely reminder we often put unnecessary words into our communications to the detriment of our message and professional image.
The number one word to be eliminated is, you guessed it, "that". To find out the other 14 words, check out the article here.
Two nations, one language? Well, kind of. While Britain and the USA share English as their main language, there are also lingual differences that separate them and cause all manner of cultural confusion. And then on top of that you have regional accents…
Most people know that there are several spelling differences between British and American English, as well as totally different words, but might not be au fait with them. I have spent many years as a proofreader and editor working on "American" texts and soon got to learn the variations – which were more than I first realized. (I'm from England and know from experience "American English" is more straightforward than the British English I had to learn in school.)
So, let's look at those differences. In order to make them clearer, I'll list them into categories, starting with the two most common differences, “-ise” and “-ize” and “-our” and “-or” spellings.
-ise and -ize
British people write “realise”, “visualise” and “stigmatise” and American write “realize”, “visualize” and “stigmatize”. It should be noted, however, that British English is increasingly using the “ize” spelling. You'll find many "-ize" suffixes in The Oxford Dictionary. I tend to refer to The Oxford Dictionary when proofreading and editing "British English" texts.
-our and -or
This is a common difference between British and American spellings. Britons write “colour”, “favour”, “honour” and “neighbour”, whereas Americans write “color”, “favor”, “honor” and “neighbour”. The words are, however, pronounced the same regardless of the spellings.
There are also some lesser-known differences:
-re and –er
In London you would visit a theatre in the centre of town only a few metres from your flat. In New York you would visit a theater in the center of town only a few meters from your apartment.
-ce and -se
In American English the “se” spelling is used for these words: defense, offense, pretense. However, in British English the spellings are: defence, offence and pretence.
-yse and -yze
In addition to that, there are also differences between words ending in “yse” and “yze”. In British English the “yse” ending prevails – analyse, paralyse, and in America, the “yze” endings are used – analyze and paralyze.
Oe and ae
There are further differences in the use or “oe” and “ae”. In British English, for example, we say “oestrogen” and “aesthetic” whereas in the United States the spellings are “estrogen” and “esthetic”. Notice that both words begin with “e”.
The dropped “e”
American English tends to drop the “e” in many of its spellings, preferring “aging” to British English’s “ageing” and “likable” instead of “likeable”.
-ogue and -og
In British English we refer to a dialogue or a catalogue, but in America it is a dialog or a catalog. Notice that the “ue” is skipped entirely in American English.
In Britain there are travellers who like travelling because it fulfils them, whereas in America there are travelers who like traveling because it fulfills them. Note how double consonants appear and disappear in each example.
Men in England have moustaches, whereas men in America have mustaches. In Britain people like to watch TV programmes, but in America they watch TV programs. A person in Britain will pay their bills by cheque, but an American will write a check. British people have autumn, whereas Americans have fall.
One language, many differences!
Studies show that as much as 85% of purchases are influenced by emotional motives. Not rational buying decisions, as we might first believe, but emotional ones. In fact, what we think of as rational choices are actually influenced by our emotions.
A little understanding of psychology is a great asset for any sales person or marketer, especially with regards to the differences between rational and emotional motives and decision-making.
Rational buying motives can include: profit (stocks and shares), safeguarding health (health insurance), security (burglar and car alarms), utility (batteries etc.) and caution (buying insurance). Very little emotion is involved in these purchases and there would very little emotional attachment when buying insurance or batteries. There would be no emotional bond to an insurance company or a car alarm - these goods serve utilitarian purposes. Very few people “like” these purchases.
So what are some examples of emotional buying? Here are a few of the main ones:
Envy – this is a very powerful motive and is based on wanting what other people have, whether that is the latest gadgets or designer clothes.
Love – people purchase houses, cars or clothes because they "love" them, but other triggers for this emotion can be St Valentine’s Day gifts, for example. In this sense, displays of love can be highly commercial.
Vanity – we are all prone to this buying motive as it’s related to self-esteem.
Pride – we can feel validated if we buy sought-after goods as it makes us feel important and worthy.
Amusement – we might not need the product we buy, but we buy it anyway because we want it and it entertains us (the latest technology is a prime example).
Fear – we might be fearful of “losing out” or seeming inferior if we don’t buy a particular product. This is closely linked to envy.
There are, of course, many other emotional triggers and a good sales person needs to recognize people’s emotional buying motives and sell to them. I mentioned earlier that rational decisions to buy are actually influenced by the emotions – let me show you this with an example.
Suppose you need to buy a new washing machine. You walk around a few stores looking at different models, all of which look very similar and do exactly the same job. You narrow your choice down to two models – both are white, roughly the same price, size and specification. One of the washing machines has a nice green trim to its handles and buttons and you decide to buy that machine there and then. Your decision was not based on rationality – after all, a washing machine is a utilitarian purchase – but on emotional factors. You liked the green trim. Therefore, your final decision was an emotional one.
This can apply to other seemingly utilitarian products like furniture or cars. When we buy furniture, we are buying an image or style that we want to reflect our taste and image of ourselves. When we buy a car, we are purchasing status. We don’t simply buy clothes to conceal our nakedness, but to express our personality and self-image.
So, whatever you sell, you need to ensure that you take in account the close links between emotions and the psychology of buying. Pinpointing which emotions your product is likely to trigger in your potential clients and then selling to them will undoubtedly increase your sales.
1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
Clichés can kill your copy stone dead. Your copy will read as dull as ditchwater. Instead, you want your words to be as light as a feather…
I’ll stop there as you can clearly see Orwell’s point. Clichés suck the life out of your copy. And that includes overuse of the exclamation mark, and the words “exciting” and “fantastic”. Don’t try and stir up a frenzy of fake excitement. Think of them as hot chilies – use them sparingly.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
Yes, in copy size does matter. Short words create better writing, they’re easier to read and they pack more of a punch. It’s all about simplicity. The simpler your language is, the easier and faster it is to read. Sales copy is not the place to amaze your readers with your extensive vocabulary or Scrabble-winning words.
So, write “free” instead of “complimentary”. Use “buy” instead of “purchase”. Use Anglo-Saxon English and ditch the more flowery Latin equivalent. Shorter words affect us more emotionally – and when it comes to buying, people tend to be more in tune with their hearts than their heads.
3. If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out.
Edit your copy like a surgeon and cut out any superfluous words. It might take a few ruthless revisions, but it’s worth the effort.
After all, do you need so many “very” and “really”? Do you need to use “that” so often? Give them the chop if you can. Why write “At this moment in time” when “now” is even better? Discard unnecessary words and as a result your writing is more likely to hit the mark.
4. Never use a passive where you can use an active.
Orwell believed active sentences are more lively and personal. They have more oomph and energy.
Compare the active sentence “Millions of men use SupaVit” with its passive alternative “SupaVit is used by millions of men”. The passive sentence is lethargic, tired. It’s not up and about getting noticed and read.
Active sentences also tend to be shorter (remember size matters). Long sentences are just as counterproductive in sales copy as long words. So make sure your verbs are all active and working hard, not lounging around like teenagers with a hangover.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
I’m stating the obvious here: Your writing must be clear to your readers. Otherwise, they won’t read it. No one likes to read something they don’t understand. It’s not good for the ego.
Jargon is as bad as a cliché. It can make your reader feel like an outsider, stupid or not your intended audience.
Your sales copy will be much better and more accessible if you use simpler language. Show your reader some respect and consideration. You’re writing sales copy, not a PhD thesis. (I’ve proofread many theses in my time and they often break all the rules Orwell listed. See rule 6.)
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Well, rules are meant to be broken (excuse the cliché).
Bear in mind the six rules, but also be aware that your biggest challenge is to write in a friendly, down-to-earth way. You should write as you speak, like you are talking to a friend.
Your copy should be like well-organized but natural speech, with a faultless flow. This is much easier with shorter words and sentences.
Remember, you are trying to build a relationship with your reader. You want them to like you. Impress them with how you can help them, not your elaborate language.
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Think about the start, not the end
Note down when you need to complete the project and estimate how much time you need to complete it. Be honest with yourself and perhaps err on the side of caution and give yourself an extra day here and there. Try to not think about the end result, but focus instead on what you have time to do right here and now.
It's best to review your project each day to assess your progress and also to deal with any problems or queries. If your work is for a client, don't hesitate to contact them with any questions. Unanswered queries or any areas of uncertainty will only raise your stress levels and slow down your productivity, so make sure you have all the details you need in order to do the job well.
Break it all down
It's a good idea to break your project down into bite-sized steps. This stops you feeling overwhelmed by the thought of writing a twenty-page report or ten thousand words of copy. Taking manageable steps will soon add up and you will be surprised at how much you can accomplish.
Set a daily deadline
This leads on from breaking your project down into bite-sized steps. When you do this, make sure you set yourself a "mini-deadline" whereby you ensure that you complete certain areas of the project by specific times. This gives you a set structure to your work and will help to minimize your stress.
Work out your priorities
It goes without saying that you want to produce high quality work but if this goes hand-in-hand with missed deadlines, you not only risk losing clients but you also place unnecessary stress on yourself. Are you fussing over small, rather insignificant details to the detriment of the project as a whole? Perfectionism is something that we all strive for, yet it is elusive – we all feel that our work could be better if only we had more time.
So give yourself a break and strive instead to produce the best work you can in the time given but realize that perfectionism is usually the best friend of procrastination and therefore has no place in your work life! Focus instead on the most important areas of the project and give these the greater slice of your time. Then, if there is time left before the deadline is complete (and if you follow these guidelines, there should be) you can return to the more minor matters and tweak them until you are happy that they are completed.
People can be quite predictable. That’s because we all have the same basic desires, regardless of who we are. If that doesn’t make you feel so unique and special, blame Mother Nature.
What it should make you feel, as a marketer, is excited. These basic desires shared by everyone, 8 fundamental life forces, are a godsend for your marketing communications. You can hook your would-be customers by using their innate desire for:
We all want these 8 things. It’s inescapable because we are all hard-wired to want them. That is something we can never change. If you create a marketing communication based on one or several of these desires, you’ll be tapping into the essence of humanity. Each desire is what makes us human.
So it makes sense to appeal to these desires when advertising your products and services to your customers.
Got a great diet plan that doesn’t take the pleasure out of eating but leaves you lean and fit? Then tap into the fact we all:
See how powerful the 8 desires can be for your marketing campaigns? Using these 8 life forces in your advertising will always work well, because we are programmed to respond so strongly to them. It’s a knee-jerk reaction: we don’t even question why we want them, so strong is their power.
So make sure you use these gifts from Mother Nature when you create your next campaign. If you use as many of the 8 desires as possible, your customers will be powerless to resist.
The Key Blog
Hello and welcome to The Key Blog! This is where you'll find information and tips on writing, proofreading, and the English language in general. Feel free to use the articles in your own e-zines, blogs or websites etc., as long as you include the resource box. Thank you!