Subheads: Now the Rest of the Story

Last week we discussed why subheads are important. Today, a quick lesson in how to make them as strong as possible.

There’s not a lot to this – as long as you understand what makes strong, compelling headlines.

First, a “cheat” for writing strong subheads …

One of the core secrets of writing powerful headlines – in fact, possibly the most important one – is to write many headlines before you make your final choice. If you follow this simple strategy, you’ll have a head start or “cheat” on writing your subheads.

All those dozens of headlines that aren’t quite good enough? Use them for subheads, if they fit properly. Many of them might not be appropriate. But, if they’re based on your big promise and major benefits, many of them will be appropriate.

You’ll have to tweak them, of course. But you’re a good copywriter, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

What your subheads should do …

As we learned last week, your subheads should carry the Golden Thread through your promotion. (More about the Golden Thread next week.) This means all your subheads should relate to your Big Idea, big promise, or major benefits. I don’t mean they have to overtly restate those ideas, but they must connect with them.

For this reason, your subheads should not act simply as transitions between paragraphs. It’s okay to use them for that purpose if, in doing so, you tie them into the Big Idea, big promise, or major benefits.

Here’s an important consideration if you use subheads for transition: Some of your prospects will scan through the promotion by reading only the subheads. They’ll then go back and read the rest of the copy without reading the subheads. So, if you use a transitional subhead, make sure you use a similar (but different) transition in the first sentence of the next paragraph. That way, your reader won’t miss anything.

4 “simple” qualities to make your subheads sing …

Your headlines and all other “special” copy – text box headlines, callouts, and the like – must adhere to the Four U’s. This is especially true for subheads.

I could talk about the Four U’s at length. But they’ve been discussed elsewhere a great deal. (Let me know if you want me to do so here, in a future issue.) So I’m just going to go over them briefly.

When you write this special type of copy, make sure it is:

1. Unique:

Your prospect is bombarded by hundreds of advertising messages every day. He’s “seen it all.” So, make sure you state your subheads differently than he’s used to. Or focus on a benefit or aspect of your big promise he hasn’t heard yet.

2. Urgent:

Your subhead should have a sense of urgency that pushes your prospect into reading the next paragraph. This is one reason not to use them solely as transitions. (Boring!) Instead, make them exciting. You can do this by invoking the next “U.”

3. Ultra-specific:

Use real numbers, real names, and real ideas. This helps your prospect see what you’re saying in pictures, at an emotional, rather than a strictly intellectual, level.

4. Useful:

Your subheads (and all other special copy) should provide your prospect with a glimmer that he’ll gain something useful in his life if he keeps reading. What this is depends on your big promise and your prospect’s core complex (his beliefs, hopes, dreams, needs, and desires).

Should you make all your subheads adhere to the Four U’s? Wouldn’t three be enough? Push yourself. If you’re able to get three out of four, force that fourth one into place. Your subheads will be stronger, more compelling … and more successful! And so will you.

I’ve spoken a lot about the Golden Thread in the past two weeks. Next week we’ll look at it in much greater detail.

Until then, keep writing … and keep reading.

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Published: February 3, 2014

1 Response to “Subheads: Now the Rest of the Story”

  1. Hello Will, This article has been most helpful as I am in the process of re-writing a sales letter for a distance-learning organization. It might turn out to be something I add to my samples and an exercise... or hopefully I'll hear back from the Marketing Director about my suggestion for a test against their current control letter. I've paid particular attention to the sub-headings portion of this article, to strengthen my own; make them "sing", as it were.
    Many thanks for our tips.

    Guest (Shelly Moreau)February 8, 2014 at 5:28 pm

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