Strengthen Your Lead Using "AWAI's Rule of Thumb"
"Send in a headline and a lead."
Marketing directors frequently ask you to do this now rather than asking for a completed first draft. It saves a great deal of time and effort on everybody's part.
It allows your client to review where you're heading before you go too far off in the wrong direction. It helps you get quick feedback – and often generates ideas that help you produce a stronger promotion.
But two questions I frequently get from my coaching students are "What is a lead?" and "How do I know when I have one?"
I wish there were an easy answer to that first question, but it comes more from experience than from a particular rule.
In general, your lead is as much of your copy – after your headline – as is necessary to get the prospect committed to reading your letter.
I advise my coaching students to use AWAI's Promise-Picture-Proof structure in writing their letters. With this very powerful, proven structure, the lead is often the Promise and the Picture sections.
You could argue that a strong promise should be enough to keep the prospect reading. But the picture part of your copy is where you really begin tapping into your prospect's emotions. This is where you get her to imagine how much better her life will be because of your product.
So when you've been asked to send in a headline and lead, do this:
Open with a strong, bold, personalized promise. Base this promise on the real, three-dimensional image you've developed of your prospect.
Then write a compelling word picture that clearly illustrates how much your prospect's life will improve once she reads your letter and buys your product. But, if at all possible, avoid overt references to your product at this time. (This is the principle of "transparency," which we'll discuss in a future issue of The Golden Thread.)
And that's your lead … almost.
Almost. We writers are notorious for doing two things that get in the way of strong writing.
First, we "warm up." It's difficult to sit down and start writing great copy right from the get-go. It takes most writers two, three, or more paragraphs before we get to what we really want to say.
Second, we feel the need to explain, set the stage, introduce. WE may feel the need, but the reader does not need to read it.
This is where AWAI's Rule of Thumb comes in.
Put your thumb (or a piece of paper) over the first paragraph in your copy. Read from the second paragraph on. Is your copy stronger without that first paragraph? If so, get rid of it. (But don't delete it. I'll tell you why in a moment.)
Repeat this process with the next paragraph – and keep doing it until you reach the point where you cannot eliminate the paragraph.
That paragraph is the opening of your lead.
Now … what do you do with all the paragraphs you eliminated in this process? As I said, don't delete them. Instead, copy them to the end of your file or into another file. They may come in handy someplace else in the promotion.
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