7 Tips to Create Headlines that Really Sell

by Barry Fieg

The headlines you use in your direct mail campaign can make or break its success. The first headline they see will determine whether they even open your mailing. After that you have to keep their attention, and you've got to accomplish all this within about five seconds. Here are seven tips to help you create selling headlines for your direct mail campaigns.

Fishing for customersA few weeks ago, we talked about the strengths of what many believed was a dead medium -- direct mail. Despite the importance of the Internet, direct mail is still a strong way of getting your message across, especially if you are targeting local customers, prospects or businesses. Direct mail capitalizes on the fact that you are guaranteed at least a glance from the recipient at your message.

But you want more than a glance. You want the prospect's heart to thump. But it won't thump unless you capture your prospect's heart and mind in a headline.

The heartbeat of a direct mail campaign starts with super strong headline. If you don't have it, the direct mail piece--and your money--end up in the trash can.

Think of what a headline has to get the user to do... first off, it has to make the user eliminate any thought of ignoring it. Then it has to get the user to open the darn thing, and finally, it's got to make the prospect at least consider your offer. You have about five seconds (probably less) to grab the prospect.

We're not talking about just one headline. We may be talking about as many as three.

  • One for the envelope -- call it a teaser.
  • Another one for the first sentence in the letter -- the lead. If you don't have a good one, the prospect is not going to read the rest of it.
  • One for your brochure.
  • If your mailing consists solely of a postcard, you'll need one industrial strength headline.


But let's stop the suspense. The strongest headline of all is "FREE!" It's the strongest selling word in the English language.

Money making headlines are about the reader, not you

Successful direct mail writers get their prospects' attention by focusing on the prospect's needs and making them feel that the letter was written just for them. The most effective headline, by far is "Sally Jones (or someone the prospect knows) thought you would be interested in this product." It immediately establishes a relationship and gives you credibility. If you can't get a person's name in a piece, use a club or establishment the prospect is familiar with that you can use as a referral. "Hog (Harley Owner's Group) thought you would be interested in this new chrome cleaner."

Personalize your mailing. When you personalize a mailing by using the prospect's name, the odds of getting a solid lead are five times greater than if you send your piece to a "title" in the company, or "recipient" in a household. A really good hook on an envelope is "I need your help." People love giving advice, but make sure your letter reinforces this message.

Here are some guidelines to make your headlines worth the price of postage:

1. Use odd numbers. Odd numbers have been shown to outperform even numbers. Odd numbers appear more scientific and legitimate. "93% of users say our product out works better than the competition." It's more believable than saying "everyone says our products are better."

2. Keep your headline straightforward and simple. Remember, the reader is going to keep your mailing or throw it away in five seconds. The reader should understand your message (and the benefits behind it) as soon as he or she looks at her mail.

3. Use strong words. They conjure up strong emotions. Some strong headline builders and cover letter openers are "I invite you ..." "In next few minutes you're going to discover..." "Congratulations!" (don't forget the exclamation point -- hokey but it works), "You've just won..."

4. Put the benefits in your headline and use "absolute" terms. "Seven ways to increase your income is much stronger than "How to increase your income." Highlight specific benefits, not simply product descriptions. As I mentioned, it's not about you, it's about them! To increase the motivating power of a headline, increase the reward promised by the headline. For example, instead of "7 Ways to Decrease Your Debt," you might say "7 Ways to Eliminate Your Debt." "Decrease" is vague. "Eliminate" is absolute.

5. Create a sense of urgency. Use deadlines, like, "Respond by March 31." Notice every infomercial says "order now." They do this because if the viewer doesn't take immediate action, he or she probably won't take any action at all.

6. Market from the heart. Think about your current customers and remember you're contacting people with the same worries, problems, dreams and goals as you might have. Address the problem you hope the reader has and that you can solve. If you have an accounting firm, you might lead with "Are you paying too much in taxes?"

7. Use gimmicks to beef up your headline. Studies show that an ad headline draws 28% more attention if framed in quotation marks! The ad appears much more important because it gives the impression that someone is being quoted. This makes it more riveting, and more likely to be read.

You'll almost never write the perfect headline the first time out

Headlines can make or break a direct mail piece, so don't settle for your first attempt. Try writing 30 headlines first time out. Wait a day, analyze all. Add, delete and modify the ones that best seem to deliver on consumer benefits. Wait another day and pare down to the best ones, then make them stronger. If you can, try to run tests on the best ones by using different headlines in comparison mailings.

You're on your way to the ultimate direct mail campaign.

Barry Feig is president of Barry Feig’s Center for Product Success an outsourced marketing company where he researches and creates new product opportunities, positionings, marketing strategies and names. Visit his website at www.barryfeig.com or e-mail him at feig@barryfeig.com. His newest book is Hot Button Marketing: Push the Emotional Buttons That Get People to Buy. Find out more at www.hotbuttonmarketing.net.

 
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