Ruin your promotions with weak headlines

by. Joe Swatek

I guess my headline above tells you how I feel about this topic. Weak headlines are one of the easiest aspects of a promotion to correct, yet one of the most common ways to devastate an advertising effort.

In the five years I’ve written for Financial Marketing Insights, the headline is one topic i’ve covered over and over. Not because I’ve run out of topics. Rather, the headline is a key to the success of every type of marketing promotion, including electronic. Yet the headline is where a majority of promotions fail.

A good headline is like a door you open to invite people into your home. So what should you find in a good headline? All or most of these key ingredients…

  • A benefit for the reader
  • A tease that makes the reader want to know more
  • Action words that generate excitement and response
  • A message for a specific audience

I was disappointed a few days ago when a client sent back the creative for a mail piece because I saw someone rewrote all the headlines. Let me show you a typical example. This is the only teaser copy on the address panel of the mailer:

Start planning for your financial future today

If you read this headline in a newspaper ad, mail piece, online, or somewhere else, would you know this is a savings account promotion? Does it offer a benefit? Are there action words that promote a call to action? Do you care to find out more?

If you answered “no” to each of these questions, then you recognize a bad headline when you see one.

There’s nothing in this yawner to tease you to read more or to excite you with an advantage you’re offered. It uses a passive ing word, “planning,” instead of active, action words. (Most ing words are passive and should be replaced.) Even “Start” loses its incentive when combined with passive “planning.”

There’s nothing that calls out to the intended audience, a person who needs to put aside savings. That’s an entirely different group than business owners who need business checking accounts or individuals who want to refinance their car loans. Identify your audience. Call out to them and let those you’re not targeting drift away. You can’t be everything to everyone, as this headline writer believes.

When this promotion fails because few people were interested enough to read more and choose a savings account, the marketer will no doubt blame the work of the creative team or the list work, even though it’s the marketer’s own fault.

Focus, focus, focus on your headlines. Make them an invitation to readers so they’re interested or excited to learn more. Don’t write a headline that a first-day marketer would put on a campaign.

Marketing success is the combined effect of every element of your promotion. The headlines you use are crucial to the success.

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