business development, craft

Grab ‘Em By The Eyeballs; A Case Study of Good and Bad Headlines

Just my luck – sometimes a thing just falls right into your lap.

Like on LinkedIn the other day, I saw this:

poor_vs_good_headlines

Wow, a great side-by-side case study on good and bad headlines, and a cautionary tale of poor click through execution.

Grab ‘Em By The Eyeballs

Your headlines are supposed to get attention. They’re the thing that makes someone stand up and take notice. It’s the waaaah! of a foghorn sounding after a hockey goal, telling you to check the JumboTron for the replay. It’s the bright burst of fireworks against the pitch-black sky signaling that you’d better look that way. It’s the thing that pulls you out of your regularly-scheduled post-lunch stupor and kicks your butt into gear.

In order to make this kind of effect, your headline has to be dramatic. It has to command attention. It has to be succinct, yet also powerful. Which one of these two meets that criteria – “Helping Franchise Owners” or “WE’RE SO DISAPPOINTED”.

Duh. It’s WE’RE SO DISAPPOINTED.

In fact, this was so intriguing to me that I read the subhead. I did exactly what this ad wanted me to.

Helping Franchise Owners may be factual, it may be short, it may be on-target.

But it’s not attracting my eye. So in that sense, it failed.

It’s not just the ALL-CAPS that do it for me, either. What this headline did was create some kind of mystery or question in my own mind.

Why would they be disappointed? That’s exactly the opposite of the traditional marketing message. “Hey, we’re so good, we can’t wait to tell you about it.”

Not this time. “Uh oh, something bad happened!”

Oooh, It. Just. Got. Interesting. What might the rest of the content be?

As for those who are helping franchise owners, I don’t really care. I’m not a franchise owner, I don’t have any intentions of being one, I don’t know those who might be, and so I’m not really attracted to their message. I’m not going to pay attention at all.

At the outset, most of those statements could also be said of BHG, as well. I likely don’t know their business model, their target audience, or even their industry. It’s more likely that I’m not a prospect than that I am. So, again, why did I pay attention to this headline, and not the other?

Because of that mystery factor. That shake-up to the traditional marketing message of “Have you heard how wonderful we are? No? Let me shove some sales collateral down your throat then!”

You know what we (in the audience) feel like when that happens?

seagull_hotdog

Yeah, that doesn’t sit well with us.

So, how do you help your audience move from nauseated to interested?

Various ways. Here, it’s the the mystery factor. “WE’RE SO DISAPPOINTED” is much less ramming something right down my throat and more welcoming me with a gentle aroma, teasing me, inviting me to come investigate the unknown on my own.

Other ways to create great headlines may include a major promise or claim, or really digging in the audience’s pain point with a targeted message, like a precision deep-tissue massage.

Generic “Helping Franchise Owners” doesn’t speak to any kind of mystery, big promise, or pain. It’s blah. It’s bland. It’s forgettable.

And it’s only survived this long because of the side-by-side comparison to something good.

That good headline, WE’RE SO DISAPPOINTED, drew me in. It grabbed me by my eyeballs (a Clayton Makepeace original) and intrigued me enough to read on.

So I did! And I found the subhead: We really want to show you why so many health care professionals choose BHG.

That’s a good line, right there.

Subheads Are For Closers

This sub-headline (subhead) continues to build the mystery. “We really want to show you…” implies, again, that there may be some nefarious force holding them back.

Might it be a regulator, who might not let this new product hit the market, because of the disruption it will bring? Bad for oversight power, but good for customers! I’d want to know about that.

Might it be company management, who are afraid of the news of a special discount getting out, leading to more orders than they can handle and tanking their profits? Again, good for customers, bad for shareholders. I’d want to hear about that too!

Might it be the industry giants, who are so protective of their own market share that they’ll go to great lengths to suppress this information? Once more, bad for greedy fat-cats, but good for customers. Gimme gimme gimme!!!

The point is, the subhead continued the theme of a mystery, drawing me in further and convincing me to click through.

BHG – 2;

Mental Barriers to Sale – 0.

Folks, this means BHG is winning. They’ve converted a previously unaware random person on the internet (me) into someone at least remotely interested in what they have to say. Good on them!

[As an aside, does anybody know what the other subhead said? The one about helping franchise owners? I don’t. Because there was absolutely no reason to care.]

At this point, I still don’t know who BHG is, what they do, or who they do it for. But I’m doing what they wanted. They’ve got an eager prospect dangling on the hook, just waiting to be reeled in.

Now it’s time to close.

Don’t Bonk The Landing Page

Unfortunately for BHG, this is where things went wonky. They had me by my eyeballs –  interested! Curious! And ready to do something!

They had me taking action. I clicked to “Learn More”, just as they said. What special mystery was I going to uncover?

Unfortunately, none.

Instead of a compelling landing page with a big headline further developing the promise from the advertisement, I saw this:

snip_BHG_poor follow-up

Oof.

As my daughter would say, big oof.

Total let-down after the intrigue promised, and curiosity built up in my mind. And, because I’m not that special, I know that others also felt the same way finding that page. More potential clients did the same thing as I did – they clicked on a link, then immediately hit a wall. BONK.

BHG missed out on keeping my attention, by failing to match my curiosity sparked by the ad with the landing page.

Where’s the mystery? What was it that you couldn’t say to us? Did it somehow get buried behind that loan calculator? If I just randomly click through a few times, will I get there?

Nope.

Believe me, I tried.

It’s all about loan payment calculation.

As if that was any kind of mystery at all.

I think BHG lost like 10 points with that exchange. And I raised my barriers to sale by a comparable amount.

BHG: -2

Mental Barrier to Sale: +10

Now, I’m winning. And I have a bad feeling about BHG because of it.

It felt like a bait-and-switch experience.

I was promised a mystery. I got a formula.

Who gives a flip about a formula? I don’t need BHG to do that. I can call up my current banker and get a projection of a loan payoff, if that’s what I want. Or need.

I wanted to know that secret that they promised. I wanted to know the unique, special, insider tip that I, and only I, as a visitor to their website, was going to profit from. I wanted that special feeling that I would have had if I’d been given the handshake to get me in to the secret club.

I didn’t get it.

So they don’t get my business.

All they get is derision and scorn here, for being so close, and yet, so far.

Could They Have Done Better?

You bet your sweet bippy they could. Here are some headlines and subheads that would have 1) grabbed the audience by the eyeballs, and 2) stayed consistent with the theme of the landing page.

You NEED to Expand Your Healthcare Business

Don’t waste a minute with overpriced bank loans.

Get Money, Make Healthy

Your healthcare business can do so much more. Let us help you finance it.

Do More, Heal More, Pay Less

Join the growing number of healthcare professionals transforming their communities and saving money at the same time.

Any one of these would have been both eyeball-grabbing and true to the resultant landing page. It might not have gotten quite a many clicks from potentially disinterested people like me, but those who did would be much more likely to continue their buyer’s journey in an appropriate state of mind.

Alternatively, they could have written a true landing page to capitalize on the mystery they generated with the ad. That landing page would have expanded the headline, established credibility, promised value, etc. All of those steps would have drawn me, as a reader / user, through the process of learning to trust the business on the other side (BHG) as a lending partner, giving me access to something I didn’t have before, or maybe an advantage over my competitors.

At the end, then, when you’ve gotten me sufficiently hooked, I’ll give you my credit score, address, and phone number, because you’ve actually given me a reason to.

Without it, you’re just wasting time for both of us. You didn’t get a quality lead, and I didn’t get to improve my position, solve my problem, or advance my own career.

That’s what I wanted. I wanted to fulfill my naked self-interest.

Instead, I got sold something completely unrelated.

You know how I feel about that?

 

Better luck next time, BHG.

In Case You Missed It: Good Headlines Work

Headlines which suggest mystery, solve a problem, or eliminate pain are great for grabbing attention.

A word of caution, though: They are a necessary condition, not sufficient in and of themselves.

Appropriate follow-through is essential. Don’t miss out and let a potential prospect get away because you bonk the landing page. Your business can’t afford it.

 


 

Hey! If you don’t want to leave your audience disgusted at the way you follow-through on your headlines, give me a call. I’ll help you make sure your headlines have intriguing, attractive promises, and that you follow-through effectively. It’s the smart thing to do.

better language, craft

How to Use the 3 Essential Ps of a Good Story in Nonfiction or Business Writing

As promised in a previous post, this article  describes how to use the essential elements of a good story to make effective nonfiction or business writing.

nong-vang-9pw4TKvT3po-unsplash.jpg
Photo by Nong Vang on Unsplash

Granted, these won’t be useful every single time. I mean, you’re not going to tell a story when you’re working on the annual birthday list and you’re sending out an e-mail to remind everyone to check the information in the Google Doc.

But if you’re trying to convince your boss to let you go to the annual professional conference, or trying to encourage someone you’re mentoring to take on a new challenge, or attempting to get the Procurement Department to make a change to their methodology because it’s going to make everyone’s lives better, consider using the 3 Ps of Good Storytelling to get your point across more effectively.

Quick Reminder: A Person in a Place With a Problem

A good story has 3 critical elements: a Person (i.e. a character or characters) in a Place (a setting, location, or world in which the events unfold) with a Problem (some conflict that must be overcome or not).

Not having one of those 3 elements will likely lead to poor audience engagement, leaving them asking Why should I bother reading (or watching) any more of this?

To avoid the abandonment that comes after that question, good stories ensure that all 3 parts are included and are given with the right level of detail.

So – what does this have to do with nonfiction or business writing?

Everything.

How to Use the 3 Ps of Good Storytelling in Nonfiction or Business Writing

Having all 3 Ps means that you’re likely to deliver a message is more powerful – more engaging – ultimately, more effective. And while the 3 Ps may be a necessary condition, they are by no means sufficient. That, too, is a question for another time.

Let’s do this via example, and Show, Don’t Tell exactly how powerful these 3 Ps can be when used properly.

Step 1: Choose A Compelling Combination of Person, Place, and Problem

Our example is going to be a young engineer who is interested in attending a business conference a few states away. Let’s call him Erik, and he’s in his early thirties, a few years into his tenure with a mechanical engineering firm in a mid-size city.

Unfortunately, he’s already maxed out his own continuing education budget from the company for the year. If he’s going to attend, he’s got to try to convince the decision-maker that it will be worthwhile to go over budget now and send him to this conference, rather than, say, waiting another year and attending then.

So we have a Person in the form of our engineer. And he’s in a Place, the setting being the mechanical engineering company he works for. And here’s the Problem: He wants to go to the conference, but the budget is used up.

We might use the 3 Ps like this:

Hi Brandi,

We’ve talked a lot about my need to increase my understanding of some developments in nanomaterials and their applications to our products. [the person]. It’s the future of the industry and our company [the place] and we agreed at my last review that I’m behind. [this is still the person] There’s a conference in a couple of months that targets this exact issue, and if I go I’m sure I would get a lot of benefit. However, I went to that other one earlier this year and used up my allocation already.

I think it’ll be really good and I really don’t want to wait until next year to go. [now we get the real problem]. Can you bend the rules a little for me and pay for my trip to that conference? [calling the boss (the “hero” of the story) to action]

This might be a compelling enough setup that we can create a payoff that would make Brandi (his boss) agree to the request.

But, what if we can find a more compelling Person, Place, and Problem that will make it more likely that the boss will agree to let Erik go?

There are literally dozens of options for each, and with creative combining, we might make thousands of options. But here’s the way I would write it:

Hi Brandi,

The company has been talking a lot recently about new developments in nanomaterials. I’ve been hearing everyone from marketing to testing and the guys on the floor talk about it all the time. [“the company” is the person or character here]. According to the everything on the internet, nanomaterials are the future of the industry, [the place, the industry is moving forward with or without the company]. There’s a conference in a couple of months that targets this exact issue, and if I go I’m sure I would be able to bring back loads of insights that would help us to stay up to date with all our competitors, and perhaps even take the lead in a couple of areas.

If we don’t have representation there this year, we’ll be at least a year behind. [now we get the real problem]. What can we do so that someone attends and keeps up in the loop? [calling the boss (the “hero” of the story) to action]

Can you see how this is exactly the same request, but it has a totally different feel to it?

Here, the person, place, and problem were different, but what also was different was the Call To Action. This is the request at the end, and there’s a pretty subtle shift that you might not have missed. It’s all about who benefits from the Call.

Step 2: Give Your Audience A Call to Action That Makes THEM the Hero, Not YOU

In the first example (Can you bend the rules a little for me and pay for my trip to that conference?), Erik is the hero. He’s the focus: “bend the rules for me and pay for my trip…). And it makes sense, in his mind. He wants to go to the conference. He thinks it’s about him.

But, in this situation, it’s not.

It’s not about him.

He wants to be the hero. But Brandi doesn’t really care about Erik as the hero.

Instead, who does the boss want to be the hero?

That’s right – herself.

boy child clouds kid
Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com

If we can re-write this story with a compelling combination of 3 Ps and put the boss as the hero, the boss is more likely to agree to the request.

We All Want To Be The Hero; Give Your Audience the Chance To Do Just That

This desire is an artifact of our storytelling species’ evolution. Better stories are those that have good heroes. Because we identify with them and want to be them.

So if Erik makes Brandi the hero, what is she going to do? Fail? Hell, no! Not if she can help it. When we re-write the Call to Action in a way that identifies your audience as the one with the power to save the universe, what are they going to do? Everything  they can to achieve victory.

“What can we do so that someone attends and keeps up in the loop?” isn’t presumptive. It doesn’t assume that Erik is the one to go. [We expect that Brandi will nominate him as a reward for his foresight, but there’s no guarantee.] However, putting her in the position of being the hero (the one to devise the solution that they can bust the budget this time to send Erik to the conference) is much more likely to result in the outcome that he wants.

When she comes up with the plan to send him, everyone gets what they need – Erik goes to the conference, the company stays connected, and she gets to take credit for maximum return (knowledge) for minimal cost (slight budget overrun).

It may feel like manipulation, and on the surface, it is, a bit. But it’s honest work. Everyone is better off, because of a better story.

Learn To Apply the 3 Ps of Good Storytelling and Get Superior Results

It’s not rocket science. But when you have a compelling Person, in a relatable Place, with an interesting Problem, you’ll get much better reaction out of your audience. In the end it just might make the difference between launching rockets in your backyard and launching rockets to the moon.

rocket nasa liftoff royalty free
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Good luck.

better language, business development, craft, Writing improvement

What “Show, Don’t Tell” Means, and How To Use It To Your Advantage

What “Show, Don’t Tell” Really Means

There’s an adage in fiction writing that goes “Show, don’t tell”. The basic point is that if you want the reader to believe that it’s cold outside, you’ll be much more effective at getting that point across when you include specific, memorable details about what it means to be cold, rather than bland, unemotional facts about the weather.

snowy pathway surrounded by bare tree
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

For example, you could say “It was -10 degrees outside. Jack thought it was colder than he’d ever seen. He decided to hurry.” That’s probably only going to matter and be relevant to people who’ve actually been outside in weather that’s close to -10 degrees. That’s not a lot of us. So you’ve told us that it’s cold, but we can’t really feel it. Plus, you’ve done all the imagination for us when you told us exactly what Jack decided. We become impartial observers in the scene, and we really don’t care about Jack and what’s happening. We’re disengaged, and we don’t really have a lot of incentive to continue reading.

As an alternative, consider this: “Jack stepped out of the door and immediately everything froze. Even his eyelashes turned brittle in the wind. He spit, and the residue crackled on his lips. His fingers were lead pipes at the end of thicker lead pipes that used to be his arms. Holy shit, he thought. I better make this quick.

Do you see how much more effective that second option is? Here we’ve shown what it means to be cold. The reader can imagine what it would feel like to be in such brutal conditions. They can put themselves in Jack’s place, and that makes a much more engaging narrative.

This writer is going to get people reading the rest of this scene and the next, because those readers are invested in the story. They’ve been given something to do, some reason to read the story, and that’s why they’re going to continue to engage and enjoy the experience.

So – what does that have to do with writing for your business? Whether it’s external-facing materials (case studies, website content, even books and blogs) or internal content (memos, quarterly reports, or task prioritization, for example) consider the principle of Show, don’t tell when you’re drafting for more engagement and greater effectiveness.

How to Use “Show, Don’t Tell” in Business Writing

Let’s say you’re writing up the quarterly earnings report for an insurance company, and you want to highlight the negative effect of the most recent poor experience in claims. You could say “Claims were 3% higher than anticipated last month and 5% higher for the year. We forecast this will lead to lower earnings of $697,000 for the year.”

Yes, it’s factual. Yes, it’s true. But does it show the impact of what’s happened? Or does it require the audience to try and come up the effects on their own? Don’t force them to do that. You’re the expert, you’ve got all the information at your fingertips, use it to tell a good story that drives future action.

Here are three tips for including more “showing” in your business writing, for greater impact than simply “telling”.

“Showing” Tip #1: Get Specific

Instead of saying “claims were 5% higher for the year,” consider adding specific, relevant details that will help the audience to relate this to their past experience or current situation.

“Claims were 5% higher at the end of this month compared to plan, and it’s across the board. The Binkenberger line was 7% higher, the Bergerbinken line was 4% higher, and the Gerberkinben line was 3% higher. Something’s going on. We’ve got to do some investigation immediately.”

That’s a very different situation from the following:

“Claims were 5% higher this month than a year ago, and it’s due to one anomaly. The Zoomfelder account had a million-dollar hit that was in the 95th percentile of unlikelihood. Everything else was right on target. Overall, this is going to affect earnings by $697,000 after reserve release, but we can handle that and explain it easily to stakeholders.”

If you don’t do the appropriate showing for your audience, they won’t know which message to take away. So by adding specific, relevant details, you’ve significantly changed the output message. And you’ve given the audience something easier to connect with than bland facts.

“Showing” Tip #2: Consider Using A Symbolic Representation

Symbolic representations are literary devices like a simile or a metaphor. Use them to create greater impact with the audience by relating what you’re talking about to what they know. “A loss of $697,000 for the year is really going to impact our shareholders. Average shareholders are expecting a $20,000 distribution of profits at the end of the year. This is going to reduce that to $15,000, which is like taking a vacation out of each of their pockets. Be prepared for some blowback.”

When you add symbols, either metaphors (“blowback” is just bad shareholder reactions, they’re not literally going to burn up the home office) or similes (“like taking a vacation…”, you don’t really know what those shareholders are going to do with their dividends) you help make it much more tangible and relevant to the audience.

“Showing ” Tip #3: Add A Little Action

Being more dynamic allows the reader to feel like there’s something happening, something that is on the move, and, as a consequence, something that can be changed, if necessary. If everything’s already done, then there’s nothing for the reader to do. They want to take action. They want to feel like it’s important that they read the report. Give them something to do!

man holding clapper board
Photo by Martin Lopez on Pexels.com

“A loss of $697,000 for the year is expected. However, there are 2 potential responses. First, we could accelerate the claims management restructuring program that was slated for next year into this year, potentially offsetting about $150k of that loss a bit sooner. And second, we could cash in some option contracts that we’ve been accumulating slowly and hadn’t planned to monetize for a while. This would add an additional $180k after-tax profit, thus softening the blow a little.”

Now that’s something for the audience to do, and a reason for them to have read the report!

Summary – Three “Showing” Tips

There you go: three tips for more showing, less telling in your writing: Add specific, relevant details; use some symbolic language; and add action for something to do.

 

The Before-And-After

So, what’s the verdict? Consider these two different ways of communicating essentially the same facts, and decide which is more valuable:

Version 1: Claims were 3% higher than anticipated last month and 5% higher for the year. We forecast this will lead to lower earnings of $697,000 for the year.

Or would you rather have the following?

Version 2: Claims were 5% higher at the end of this month compared to plan, and it’s across the board. The Binkenberger line was 7% higher, the Bergerbinken line was 4% higher, and the Gerberkinben line was 3% higher. Something’s going on. We’ve got to do some investigation immediately. In the meantime, we need to deal with the fallout. A loss of $697,000 for the year is really going to impact our shareholders. Average shareholders are expecting a $20,000 distribution of profits at the end of the year. This is going to reduce that to $15,000, which is like taking a vacation out of each of their pockets. Be prepared for some blowback. However, there are 2 potential responses. First, we could accelerate the claims management restructuring program that was slated for next year into this year, potentially offsetting about $150k of that loss a bit sooner. And second, we could cash in some option contracts that we’ve been accumulating slowly and hadn’t planned to monetize for a while. This would add an additional $180k after-tax profit, thus softening the blow a little more. How would you like to proceed?

It should be clear that adding “Show, Don’t Tell” elements to your business communications will make them more powerful, and you more effective as a storyteller.