On Bears, Bootcamps, and Headlines

As you read this, I'll be working my way from my mountain "cave" to this year's FastTrack to Success Bootcamp.

I call home my cave, because when I'm there, I'm a bear, snuggled down and not wanting to wander too far from its coziness.

I don't like to travel far from my bear cave.

Except to Bootcamp.

Bootcamp never fails to provide me with new ideas, new strategies, and new approaches to copywriting. And, as the editor of The Golden Thread, Bootcamp gives me dozens of new ideas for our e-letter.

For the past three years, I've brought readers highlights from Bootcamp. This year will be no different. Except I'm so eager to get started, I'm going to give you a sneak peek today at part of my presentation: "Mastering the Headline Maze."

What Your Headline Must Do

"What is the purpose of your headline?" Most novice copywriters – and many journeymen copywriters – give the same answer.

"The headline has to grab the prospect's attention," they'll say. And this is true, of course. That is the first and most obvious job of your headline. But it is only one of four requirements.

If you simply wanted to grab attention, a headline as sensational as "Meteor Will Crash Into Pacific Ocean" would be enough.

But is that enough to make your prospect decide to read your letter?

Which brings us to the next most commonly cited purpose of a headline: It must compel your prospect to read the first few sentences of your letter.

How do you go from a sensational headline like the one announcing the imminent meteor crash to one that pushes the prospect to read?

The hurdle you have to get over is believability. If your prospect has never heard about this pending disaster, he's likely to approach that headline with extreme skepticism. He's inundated with sensationalism daily, so your headline has to tell him, "This is worth your time. I won't trick you into reading something you won't believe."

How to do this? One way is attribute the idea to someone of recognized authority. "Columbia University Astronomer Warns of Pending Disaster …"

You don't have to do this in the main headline. You can stick this slice of credibility into a kicker – a "pre-headline" that runs before the main headline, usually in a smaller font.

Sensationalism and credibility might have been enough in the old days of direct marketing. But no more.

Your prospect also has to feel that what he is reading in the headline is part of something bigger than those words. He needs to understand that there is even more beneath the surface, that you are offering him ideas that he has not heard before and that will benefit him in ways he has not yet conceived.

Your headline has to convey a sense that there is more here than simply "news." That your prospect will come away with information and strategies that will positively impact his life.

One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is with deck copy – the slightly longer headline copy that follows the main headline.

We'll get to how deck copy relates to careening meteors in a moment. But first, let's talk about the last thing your headline must do.

It must establish your first personal connection with your prospect. When your prospect reads your headline, he should begin to feel that you are speaking respectfully to him as an equal.

Now, you aren't going to completely convince him of that in the headline. Your lead takes up where the headline leaves off in establishing this personal relationship.

But your headline is where you first plant the thought. How do you nurture it?

Speak to your prospect as a person, an individual, not as a member of a group. Respect him before you even begin writing to him … and let your words convey that respect. Don't be afraid to state the seriousness of the problem you will be addressing … but avoid hype.

Let's see how this might work with our meteor headline:

Columbia University Astronomer Warns of Pending Disaster …

Meteor to Crash Into Pacific Ocean

Experts predict largest eco-disaster since the dinosaur die-off. But you can protect your family from ecological, social, and financial catastrophe by taking these 7 steps … starting NOW.

So if a self-proclaimed copywriting "expert" tells you your headline just has to capture the prospect's attention, tell him he's wrong. Because now you know that a powerful headline …

  1. Grabs the prospect's attention
  2. Compels the prospect to read on
  3. Begins to establish a connection with the Big Idea of the promotion or your Big Promise
  4. Begins to establish a lasting and respectful relationship between you and your prospect
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Published: October 8, 2007

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