Two Proven Approaches That Supercharge Headlines

The headline and lead are considered the most important pieces of copy that make or break direct marketing campaigns. So why do some headlines come out so feeble? I think it’s a combination of reasons. Today I share six culprits and two ways to review copy and strengthen weak headlines.

If your headline doesn’t grab the reader, all the effort to write the rest of a promo will probably be a waste. Some copywriters suggest that 80 percent of time should be allocated to writing the headline and lead.

Personally, I think it’s less about time and more about ideas.

There are hundreds of winning direct mail control packages available for review (and to wisely steal from) at Who’s Mailing What. And there are plenty of books and copywriting programs available with proven formulas, created by successful copywriters that are a lot less costly to purchase and apply than producing a losing promo.

Before I share two approaches to supercharge your headlines, there are, I believe, several culprits behind weak headlines that should be overcome first:

1. Lack of Information: The lack of information about the product, market and benefits usually results in the copywriter lobbing a powder puff headline that’s cute and doesn’t sell a thing. If you’re the product or marketing manager, it’s your responsibility to deliver a list of all features and benefits to the copywriter.

2. No Research: This is a shared responsibility of everyone, marketing managers and copywriters alike. Look for research studies that support the need for your product to build credibility in your message.

3. No Competitive Intel: The marketing team should have samples of competitive products and promotional materials. It can be tough to get samples of direct mail, but in this day and age, a website surely exists for competitors.

4. Lack of Copywriting Experience: We all start our careers somewhere, so it’s tough to suggest that you bypass an eager, up-and-comer copywriter. But if you are working with someone a little green behind the ears, point them in directions where they can hone their skill about how to write headlines by reading books, going to seminars, or other training (in a moment I’ll share another resource I recommend).

5. Lack of Identifying the USP: The marketing team should work with the creative team to identify the unique selling proposition to set your product or service apart from competitors.

6. Approval by Committee: A great headline isn’t likely to come via a committee of well-meaning critiques. Let the copywriter do his or her job. Better yet, read on for a better solution for producing the strongest headline possible with a team approach.

Two Recommendations
If you want to supercharge your headline and lead, I can think of no more powerful and effective tool than engaging in a peer review between the copywriter and a handful of marketing staff. More than a decade ago I was introduced to a peer review system that helped me write a headline, and carry the theme through an entire direct mail package, that resulted in a 60 percent lift over a long-time control package. Millions were mailed. That copy review process introduction came from American Writers and Artists (AWAI).

You can read about the AWAI peer review system by clicking this link, but in short, you gather a small group of people together to evaluate a headline and rate it on a scale of 1 (low) to 4 (high). If the average is under 3.2, brainstorm ways to improve it. If the rating is really low (perhaps 2.5 or lower), then it’s probably best to start all over. In all cases, let the copywriter do the job of rewriting and editing.

Another copy strengthening system that I like and teach for AWAI students is called the C.U.B.A. review. It’s simple, but effective. While reviewing copy, you ask peers in a group if any copy in the headline or lead is:

  • Confusing
  • Unbelievable
  • Boring
  • Awkward

Both the peer review and C.U.B.A. are fully explained in Copy Logic, a book by Michael Masterson and Mike Palmer.

If you’re having trouble with writing strong headlines, try these two peer review systems. They work, and I speak from first-hand experience.

And if you use another proven system that strengthens headlines and copy, please share your process in the comments below.

Author: Gary Hennerberg

Reinventing Direct is for the direct marketer seeking guidance in the evolving world of online marketing. Gary Hennerberg is a mind code marketing strategist, based on the template from his new book, "Crack the Customer Mind Code." He is recognized as a leading direct marketing consultant and copywriter. He weaves in how to identify a unique selling proposition to position, or reposition, products and services using online and offline marketing approaches, and copywriting sales techniques. He is sought-after for his integration of direct mail, catalogs, email marketing, websites, content marketing, search marketing, retargeting and more. His identification of USPs and copywriting for clients has resulted in sales increases of 15 percent, 35 percent, and even as high as 60 percent. Today he integrates both online and offline media strategies, and proven copywriting techniques, to get clients results. Email him or follow Gary on LinkedIn. Co-authoring this blog is Perry Alexander of ACM Initiatives. Follow Perry on LinkedIn.

One thought on “Two Proven Approaches That Supercharge Headlines”

  1. Thanks for the article, Gary. One other important thing to remember is the “power of 1” principle. Don’t try to pack multiple benefits and promises into the headline. Focus on one strong idea, articulate it succinctly and powerfully. If you can interject real urgency, that helps.

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