Using Headlines Well in Your Content Marketing

How you construct your content marketing headlines will impact your ability to reach and engage your target audience. Different approaches are appropriate for different goals.

Last time out, we talked about ways to make your content marketing work harder for you. We can continue that conversation by turning our attention to how headlines impact your ability to attract your target audience.

Headlines Can be Clever or Conceptual

First, there are two very broad approaches to writing headlines: clever and conceptual.

Clever headlines are interestingly written and meant to be attention-getting. They pique curiosity. So, for example, I could have titled the post I mentioned above something like, “Build It and They Won’t Come.” A dyed-in-the-wool SEO would take issue with that — and with this approach, in general — as it simply isn’t geared for SEO performance. More on that in a moment.

The other approach, broadly, is to highlight the concepts or topics you’re discussing, as in the case of that article’s actual title, “3 Ways to Make Your Content Marketing Work Harder for You.”

Clearly, if strong SEO performance is your goal, then the conceptual approach is the way to go. There are going to be far more searches done each month along the lines of, “How can I make my content marketing work harder” than there are for, “If I build my website will they come?”

On the other hand, if your goal with a particular piece of content is to engage more deeply with an audience who already knows you well, then the clever approach can be a better choice. Remember that as much as we want to be informed when we’re consuming marketing content, we also want to be entertained. You’re probably never going to rise to the level of enjoyment that the latest bingeworthy streaming show will have, but that doesn’t mean you need to be the content consumption equivalent of a root canal. Have some fun and your audience likely will, too.

Keyword Considerations

Implied above are considerations about keyword usage. If you can include them, do. That’s generally going to be harder to do with clever headlines; though you may be willing to make that sacrifice, depending on your goals. For more topical headlines, be sure you’re using the best keyword phrases you can. (In my example, we would want to know for sure that “making content marketing work harder” is likely to get more search attention than “making content marketing more effective.”)

How Long Should Your Headlines Be?

Once you decide on your approach, there are more technical matters to address. For example, headline length. According to research done by Backlinko, “headlines that are 14-17 words in length generate 76.7% more social shares than short headlines.”

If your goal is generating something other than social sharing, you might need to look at different metrics. (Which is one reason to take all metrics like these with a grain of salt. Even if they were generated using rigorous protocols, they might simply not be appropriate for your situation. Use them as a guide and gather your own data.)

Should Your Headlines Be Questions?

Backlinko data also tells us that headlines in the form of a question “get 23.3% more social shares than headlines that don’t end with a question mark.”

Again, that’s a very specific metric, aimed at achieving a very specific goal. So don’t twist yourself or your ideas into knots just to tick off a particular box.

The point of these examples isn’t for you to view any of these data points as the gospel truth for your own content marketing work. It’s to encourage you to recognize that paying attention to the details can yield great benefits in your content marketing.

Tapping the Psychology of Fun for Sales and ROI

Tapping the psychology of fun for sales and ROI takes work, because sometimes we marketers are so close to the trees, we can’t see the forest. Such is often the case with building customer experiences and journeys. It’s easy to download the latest template for mapping out each response to potential questions or needs along the customers pathway to “yes” and lifetime loyalty. And while that is critical for maintaining consistent touchpoints with a brand, it’s not where customer experience stops — or starts, for that matter.

Tapping the psychology of fun for sales and ROI takes work, because sometimes we marketers are so close to the trees, we can’t see the forest. Such is often the case with building customer experiences and journeys. It’s easy to download the latest template for mapping out each response to potential questions or needs along the customers pathway to “yes” and lifetime loyalty. And while that is critical for maintaining consistent touchpoints with a brand, it’s not where customer experience stops — or starts, for that matter.

Consumers are drawn to brands that make them smile, giggle or feel something beyond the routine by surprising them with creative experiences beyond any expectations. It’s not just experiences — like Apple’s Genius Bar and concierge style of selling — it’s little things that truly are delightful, fun and memorable. And its these little things that have a big impact.

Consider something as simple as this:

Every year, the charming town of Frisco, Colo., holds it annual BBQ challenge — featuring dozens of chefs, all competing for the People’s Choice award for best BBQ dish served. Most restauranteurs roll their retail trailers onto Main Street and set up their mobile kitchens in hopes of luring the crowd and getting votes for best brisket, ribs, pork and more. And to all the thousands of visitors roaming the streets for tasting and fun, they all look and smell the same. Except for one: The Golden Toad.

psychology of fun: golden toad
Credit: Jeanette McMurtry

Rather than just set up a food station and hope a colorful trailer and fun logo draw the crowds, the Golden Toad cooks up a crowd by making its food station about fun — not just food. Throughout the event, employees play fun, energizing music from their cook station, which is set up like a stage so people can see their chefs at work. And throughout each day, those same chefs take to the streets, playing air band with guitar-size spatulas, rallying attention — which quickly results in the longest line of all. They engage the crowd in their fun, too. They hand out those supersized grill spatulas to young kids and invite them to join their jam, sharing the fun and delighting parents who get to see their kids doing something beyond the routine, too. Its fun. Its contagious and it drives sales volume and People’s Choice votes, earning them this coveted honor many times over.

psychology of fun: Golden Toad's long lines
Credit: Jeanette McMurtry

Golden Toad doesn’t stop there, either. Once its attention-grabbing dance band draws a crowd for the performance and the food line, the commitment to making the customer experience positive and entertaining continues at a place most marketers neglect: the line for products or services. It’s no new news that we consumers are impatient and tend to abandon a purchasing mission if we get bored or antsy waiting in a long line. Golden Toad owners, “Toad” and Sara Jilbert counter this very real issue by installing a TV camera in their trailer, next to the cashiers, tuned strategically to whatever local sports are in play at the time. As a result, Golden Toad minimizes line abandonment from the consumers it drew with its fun, entertaining experience.

The psychology of fun and entertainment is real and needs to be front-and-center in all customer experiences for all brands. Wikipedia’s definition of “fun” includes the following insights:

“Fun is an experience often unexpected, informal or purposeless. It is an enjoyable distraction, diverting the mind and body from any serious task or contributing an extra dimension to it.”

We consumers live stressful lives. We need diversions from the stress of daily routines and the stress of shopping; especially when there are many choices to make, such as a huge BBQ challenge that lines several blocks on Main Street, USA. Little things that entertain and free our minds of routine energy and help ease our choices through fun diversions work. They work for all brands and in all industries. And they can work for you. All it takes is some imagination. Volkswagen, a few years ago, created a series of experiments and corresponding videos, called The Fun Theory. showing how behavior is changed for the better by adding fun to routine activities, such as choosing stairs over an escalator and using a bottle recycling station over a landfill-bound trash can. For example, by turning stairs into a musical keyboard, there was a 60% increase in usage.

Imagine if you could make your online or retail store shopping experience more fun and increase shopping transactions by 60%!

So change your routine. Go for a walk instead of sitting at your desk and let your mind have fun observing people around you — what draws them, what makes them stop their routine to engage and just have fun!

How to Engage When Customers Don’t Give a Damn (or Dime) About What You Say

Talk is cheap. And that’s not just me being trite. It’s cheaper than ever today, as you can talk for free on numerous social media channels. And it’s cheap because it’s meaningless to customers.

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 1.30.56 PMTalk is cheap. And that’s not just me being trite. It’s cheaper than ever today, as you can talk for free on numerous social media channels. And it’s cheap because it’s meaningless to customers.

Customers don’t care what you say. They care what you do. For generations, customers have listened to brands talk about their product and quality advantages, promises to deliver on expectations, and a whole lot more. Today, nobody listens and, more importantly, nobody cares. Consumers care about actions and many of their choices are based upon the old adage of “actions are louder than words.”

According to Neilsen’s research on corporate social responsibility, the majority of consumers surveyed in 60 countries are willing to spend more to purchase from brands that can show a positive social and environmental impact. For North America, it’s 42 percent.

“We have moved from an era of marketing goods and differentiating products to a new era focused on conscientious behavior. Branding is no longer about exclusively promoting your brand’s competitive advantages, but rather how your brand’s actions positively impact our world and how your business is an acting force for good.” This from Richard Rosen, a leading branding strategist and author of “Convergence Marketing – Combining Brand and Direct Marketing for Unprecedented Profits (Wiley 2009).

After years of building sales and profitability for global brands through marketing programs and campaigns, Rosen now incorporates the holistic approach of helping brands focus on gaining a sustainable advantage by defining what they stand for while achieving profits through service, product, price, place and so on. The most important pillar of all he says is, “Doing Good.”

Today, doing good goes beyond showing that you recycle and cut down on pollution, or that you donate 1 percent to charity. Doing good is about truly impacting our environment and society with actions that do not put your brand absolutely first, and by doing good to your employees and people, in general. Research shows that consumers are fine with companies making profits, as long as they are conscientious members of the global community. And per Rosen, “That holistic approach is a far more successful strategy for today’s times.”

One of the best examples of doing good is Patagonia, which started in the 1970s as a creator of mountaineering equipment and clothing. Today, it’s a $700 million-plus business, growing substantially year-over-year — despite shifting its brand positioning from marketing goods to doing good. In 2012, sales grew almost one-third to $543 million, when it changed its marketing pitch from “buy our products” to “don’t buy our products.” In fact, this reverse psychology appeal with an actual campaign that said “Don’t Buy This Jacket,” increased sales by nearly $160 million.

Building upon the environmentally friendly pillars of Reduce, Repair, Reuse and Recycle, Patagonia encouraged customers to stop buying replacement items and instead cut down on resources and their personal imprint on our environment by repairing and reusing what they have. To execute on this strategy, Patagonia has a repair shop of 45 employees who repair products, extending the lifecycle of the products — while diminishing their impact on the world their products are made to help us enjoy.

For brands to become more in-line with consumers’ values, especially those of the economical powerhouse generations, GenY and GenX, brands must define their environmental and social values. One way many brands are defining and communicating their values is to go through the process of becoming a Benefit Corporation, or a B Corp. That’s an organization achieving high scores for social and environmental responsibility, per an assessment test offered by B Lab, a non-profit organization dedicated to using the power of business as a force for good. This process helps businesses of all sizes measure what matters and see precisely how well they are doing. And it gives them and their customers something worth talking about for a change.

This new era of consumers demanding corporations do good does not just extend to environmental responsibility, as exemplified by Patagonia. It embraces how you treat people, a long overdue demand, in my own opinion.

The Death of Direct Mail and Effective Copywriting

Direct mail is far from dead. Some say there’s even a resurgence of direct mail as we witness online marketers embrace it. This confirms what direct marketers have known for generations: Effective direct mail copywriting …

Broken MailboxDirect mail is far from dead. Some say there’s even a resurgence of direct mail as we witness online marketers embrace it. This confirms what direct marketers have known for generations: Effective direct mail copywriting generates response.

Looking back through my 2015 columns, there are a few topics that have particularly resonated with readers. Here’s a recap, along with more commentary about the importance of these topics.

“Why Direct Mail Won’t Die.” The reason direct mail continues to be alive and well is because it’s the one channel that offers the highest opportunity for strong reading comprehension, which leads to long-term memory. Most online channels are “glance and forget” impressions. Direct mail endures when strong copywriting is combined with precise targeting to a specific persona. Unfortunately, there is a lot of weak direct mail being produced due to weak copy. When it’s weak, it’s a waste of the marketer’s money and annoys consumers. Direct mail copy must stimulate emotion, create a unique selling proposition, in many instances should tell a story, and persuade the reader to give themselves permission to act. You can do all of this using these 12 direct mail mandates.

“3 Charges for Direct Marketing in 2015.” The year may be nearly over, but the charges I shared earlier this year are still essential today. The three charges included:

  1. Cultivate Your Platform. It’s essential you create raving fans. They’re money in the bank.
  2. How Do You Make Them Feel? Connect at an emotional level. Your prospects will remember how you made them feel before they remember what you sell and what you said about your product or organization.
  3. Strategically Monetize. You need to look at the cost per customer differently because of the mixture of channels and approaches, such as content marketing, where ROI can’t always be directly attributed.

“8 Seconds to Pounce Using the 3 E’s of Copywriting.” Eight seconds. That’s the average attention span of today’s reader, with those precious seconds representing about the time to read only 30 to 40 words of copy. Or about HERE in this paragraph (at 35 words). Those 35 to 40 words should:

  1. Entertain
  2. Educate
  3. Engage

As for what’s in store in 2016, in a couple of weeks I’ll share emerging brain research that in my experience reshapes how we approach direct mail copywriting and messaging to reach people more deeply and generate response. Watch for it on Jan. 6.

Happy holidays!