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How to Double Your Sales with "Punch Line" Headlines

By Charles Hopkins Published 04/20/2006 | Marketing
The headline of your sales messages, whether on-line or in the local newspaper, is responsible for 70% to 80% of the response from your sales message. The success or failure of any marketing effort rests, to a large degree, on the power of your headline.

David Ogilvy is one of the most respected modern day marketing authorities. He revealed that, with the average headline, only 200 people out of 1000 will go on to read your ad. And that is where your profit is sitting. Capture another 200 customers with a punch line headline and you will double your sales. Lose 100 readers with a poor headline and you lose half your sales.

Headlines are just that important. Even poorly written ads have been very successful because of the overwhelming power of punch line headlines.

Your prospects will decide whether to read your sales message in only two or three seconds. That is all the time they will give you to scan your headline. Really, you and I are no different. We do not READ a newspaper, we SCAN the headlines - article headlines and ad headlines. We are looking for only what interests us at the moment.

A headline comprises the first words at the top of a newspaper ad. It is the title of your article, the subject line of an email, or the top of your web page.

Here are four critical tips for writing those "double your sales" punch line headlines.

1. MAKE SURE YOUR HEADLINE IS THE FIRST WORD GROUP YOUR PROSPECT SEES. I know this may seem a "no-brainer" but I see this mistake time and again, particularly in local newspaper advertising. And, even more amazing, the ads the newspaper "experts" use to promote themselves seldom follow this rule. Take a look through your newspaper. Notice how many businesses start out their ad with their store name and location right at the top. This is such a terrible waste of their prime "real estate". It is an ego thing really, and can easily cost them 25% to 50% of their potential sales. Always keep in mind - the public does not give a hoot about you. If they are shopping for you, they will look in the yellow pages. They are only interested in themselves and fulfilling their current desires. Put your store name at the bottom. If the headline draws them in to read your ad, and you convince them to want it, they will find your business name, no matter how small.

2. MAKE SURE YOUR HEADLINE DELIVERS THE PUNCH LINE. The "punch line" is the unique and powerful part of your sales message. You aren't telling a joke here. Do not save the best part of your offer until last. Determine the most compelling part of your offer and put it right at the top of your ad in big, bold print. Virtually shout it out. And make the wording active, not passive. For example, "Save 50% on Recliners" is passive. "Take Home A Recliner for 50 Cents on the Dollar" is an active headline.

3. USE WORDS YOUR PROSPECT IS SEARCHING FOR. Here is another costly mistake you will see every day. Do not try to get everybody to read your ad by being vague or cute. "Everybody" is not your potential customer. Your prospects are only those who want today what you have for sale today. By trying to capture everybody, you will actually lose many of your most important prospects - the ones that want to give you money. Your headline should sort out the buyers. Be specific. If you are selling recliners, then say "recliners", not "furniture". Do not say "Storewide Furniture Sale". Say "Dining Rooms, Living Rooms, Bedrooms - As Little As 50 Cents On The Dollar". The more focused your headline, and your sales message, the better the response.

4. LIKE ANY PUNCH LINE, YOUR HEADLINE SHOULD BE SHORT AND SWEET. The headline should be as few words as possible, yet long enough to tell them what you are selling and why they should read your sales message. Usually ten words or less is a good target. The consumer will read longer headlines if the first four words grab their attention. If you need more words, start with a large, short headline leading to a smaller type, longer worded sub-headline.

Here are some very easy and fun ways to find profitable headline ideas.

1. Look through your newspaper every day. Watch for headlines on articles and ads that really grab your interest. Think about why those headlines worked on you.

2. While waiting to check out at the supermarket, read the headlines on the gossip tabloids. Those headlines are the main reason, if not the only reason, millions of people buy them every week. Supermarket tabloids have the high paid experts on staff who do nothing but write compelling and extremely profitable headlines. And these headlines are always good for a "laugh out loud" event.

3. Your junk mail is a virtual goldmine of great headlines and sub-headlines. Save the ones you like for future use. Mix, match and adapt these headlines to suit your business. If you see a headline used over and over again, it's because it is making a lot of money for that company. You do not have to re-invent the wheel. Somebody paid 1000's to write that headline, and 1000's more to test it - and you get to use it free.

4. Practice writing good headlines in the subject line of your emails. It is fun practice and your recipients will enjoy it too. "RE: This Weekend" is passive and boring. "RE: Let's Do It This Weekend" is active and compelling.

5. Buy a good book on marketing. One excellent book, if still available, is "Tested Advertising Methods" by the legendary expert John Caples (with a foreword by David Ogilvy). John devoted four full chapters just to the subject of headlines because he learned early on how important they are.

If you follow these tips, you will become an expert in no time - smarter than 90% of your competitors and 80% of newspaper advertising consultants. And when you experience the flood of sales that your headlines will create, others will want to know your secret to writing profitable punch line headlines.