Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Irresistible Appeal

A headline is a powerful piece of writing. Done well, it irresistibly draws the reader into whatever follows – a story, an article. Headlines have always been important in newspapers and magazines, and now they are equally important for online communication.

Writing a good headline takes knowledge, skill and practice. Using only a few words, the writer must entice the reader without being misleading or sensational. And online, headlines also must appeal to search engines. Despite the importance, most headlines are mediocre. Rather than motivating, the headline fails to draw the reader’s attention.

We think you’ll find this month’s posts useful to help you avoid those traps. We hope you’ll put these tips to work right away. Your readers will thank you by paying more attention to the rest of what you’ve written. And if you need help with headlines and copywriting, remember we’re just a phone call or email away.

Q&A: Do Grammar Rules Apply to Headlines?

Yes – an effective headline is grammatically correct and concisely written. Misspellings and bad grammar detract from headlines exactly as they do in body copy. Here are some guidelines for writing headlines:

  1. Use active voice. In grammar, voice is the relationship between the verb and the nouns associated with it (called the subject or the object of the verb). There are two voices in English – active and passive. Active voice, in which the subject of the sentence performs the action, is preferred for headlines because it is clearer and more succinct than passive voice.
  2. Use present tense. Tense is the indication of the time at which the event described by the sentence occurred (past, present, or future). Use present tense for immediate past events; past tense for more distant events, and future tense for coming events.
  3. Use numerals. Unlike text, numbers are allowed at the beginning of a headline and do not have to be spelled out if below 10. An exception is the number one.
  4. Use a comma in place of the word “and”. In addition to its normal use, a comma may be used in place of and in a headline. Example: GM, Chrysler Open Talks
  5. Use short, action verbs. Action verbs describe something a person, animal or object can do.
  6. Avoid words that can be read as either a verb or a noun. Some examples are drink, bowl, exit, fly, park, ship.
  7. Use short words. Find a short synonym for a lengthy word, as long as it doesn’t change the meaning. For example, panel or group is better in a headline than committee. And remember that adjectives are usually not needed.

Teaser Copy

Another application for headline writing is direct mail. Writing teaser copy on the outside of a mail piece is much like writing a headline.

According to direct mail marketing expert “Rocket” Ray Jutkins, author of Power Direct Marketing, here are seven tips for writing effective teaser copy:

  • Make sure the teaser relates to the offer. Don’t mislead the customer just to get them to look inside.
  • Use benefits in teaser copy. No benefit, no reason for the audience to look inside.
  • Urge action. A call to action should always be in a teaser – something like Limited Offer. 
  • Tie the teaser copy on the outside to what’s on the inside. If you do, the audience will better understand what you are offering.
  • Graphics and copy must work well together. Make sure they complement the issue, not confuse it.
  • Give teaser copy  a “YOU” attitude. Explain what the customer will gain in words he understands. Speak with the customer rather than at or to them.

From the Top: How Headlines Engage Readers

David Ogilvy Confessions of an Advertising ManWhen you are writing a marketing communication piece – ad, sales letter, direct mail, brochure, blog post, press release – where do you start? You may be surprised to learn that experts advise starting at the top by writing the headline. The headline is your promise to readers, a statement of what they can expect if they continue reading. Promises are fulfilled in the content.

The importance of headlines is not new. In his book Confessions of an Advertising Man, advertising legend David Ogilvy wrote “On average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents of your dollar.” Today, busy people decide what to read on web pages, e-mail or blogs based on the strength of the headline.


How a good headline works

The objective of a headline is to engage the reader’s curiosity by answering three questions for the reader:
  1. Does this article pertain to me?
  2. Is it something I care about?
  3. If I read it, will I get a benefit?
If the answer is yes to all three questions, the reader’s curiosity is aroused and it becomes almost impossible not to continue reading. Essentially, the headline dares the reader to read the article, doesn’t over promise or deceive, and delivers on the promise.

A good headline has four jobs: to attract reader attention, to select the best prospects, to deliver a complete message and to pull readers into the body copy. The size and placement of the headline as well as the words will attract attention. This is necessary but not sufficient because the headline also has to attract the right people for the right reason. Do this by using key words and phrases that will catch the eye of the audience you are seeking (i.e. Wanted: 30 New College Graduates).

Delivering a complete message means being clear and focused. Don’t tease the reader with misleading words. Avoid being cute or clever since that may confuse or deceive the reader. A reader will be drawn into the body copy if the headline arouses curiosity, makes a provocative statement, asks a question, promises a reward, provides useful information or gives news.

Headlines that attract readers

The web presence management company Conductor tested different headlines to determine which were most influential with readers. By analyzing a large sample set of headlines from online publications and social networks, Conductor determined there are five types of headlines: normal, question, how-to, number, and address-the-reader. Here are some examples from Conductor:
  • Normal: Ways to Make Drinking Tea More Delightful 
  • Question: What are Ways to Make Drinking Tea More Delightful? 
  • How-to: How to Make Drinking Tea More Delightful 
  • Number: 30 Ways to Make Drinking Tea More Delightful 
  • Address-the-reader: Ways You Need to Make Drinking Tea More Delightful
Conductor found that readers preferred number headlines by a wide margin (36%) followed by address-the-reader (21%). How-to (17%), normal (15%) and question (11%). The preference for number headlines was even more pronounced among women – 39% versus 32% for males. In addition, the Content Marketing Institute found that odd numbers have a 20% higher click-through rate than headlines with even numbers.

Characteristics of good headlines

Depending on the content of its article, the headline could provide news or helpful information, appeal to the reader’s self-interest, arouse curiosity or connect to the reader in a quick, easy way.
  • Provide news or information. Headlines that teach, explain, or help people begin with the key words how to, how, who else, wanted, this, because, if and advice. News headlines begin with introducing, announcing or words that have an announcement quality (finally, presenting, just released, new, now, at last) or have a date in the headline. Readers are always looking for new products, a new way to use an old product, or new improvements in a product.Appeal to the reader’s self-interest.
  • Appeal to the reader's self-interest. These headlines promise a benefit to the reader i.e. How Women Over 35 Can Look Younger.
  • Arouse curiosity. Headlines that arouse curiosity lure the reader into reading. Words that arouse curiosity include suddenly, now, announcing, introducing, it’s here, just arrived, offer, quick, easy, wanted, challenge, the truth about, compare, hurry and last chance.
  • Connect to the reader. Attract the reader’s interest by using the words introducing, announcing, finally, why, you, your want, easy, simple, money and free.

To be effective, a headline must be factually correct, easy to understand, attract attention and set the expectation for the article content. Blogger Jeff Goins demonstrates these principles in his formula for writing headlines: 

Number or trigger word + adjective + keyword + promise

The number is just that – a number. The trigger word is what, why, how or when. The adjective modifies the following key word. Jeff’s list of interesting adjectives includes effortless, painstaking, essential, absolute, and strange. The keyword is a concrete noun such as reasons, principles, facts, lessons, ideas, ways, secrets or tricks. The promise is a valuable reward such as learning a new skill, doing something for the first time, or solving a mystery. Applying the formula yields:

    7 Fun Ways You Can Lose Weight
    How You Can Effortlessly Sell Your Home in 24 Hours

Here is an alternate formula:

Target key phrase + colon + number or trigger word + promise

Using this formula, the headlines would read:
    Weight loss: 7 Fun Ways to Make It Happen
    Selling Your Home in 24 Hours: 7 Steps to Success

The TACT test for headlines

According to journalism professor Dr. Merlin Mann, all headlines must pass the TACT test:
  • Taste  Is the headline in good taste? Is any part of it offensive or able to be taken the wrong way? Do any words have double meanings?
  • Attractive  Does the headline attract the reader’s attention? Can it be improved without sacrificing accuracy? Does it contain any unnecessary words?
  • Clear  Does the headline communicate clearly? Does it create any confusion or contain any odd words? Is it easy to read? Is it complete?
  • Truth  Is the headline true and grammatically accurate? Does it mislead the reader? Does it contain exaggeration?

After the headline: what’s next

If the headline is successful, the right people will continue reading for the right reasons. Now the emphasis shifts to the copy itself: a great introduction, well-written body copy, a persuasive ending and a clear call to action, including a sense of urgency. This is the promise fulfilled by a successful headline.

Monday, March 16, 2015

When Your Clients Create Content For You

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One of our weekly marketing tips this month focused on User Generated Content – content (text, images, videos, reviews, podcasts, etc.) created and posted by your fans or customers.  This type of content works well to help create a steady stream of fresh and unique content for your website or social stream.

User generated content (UGC) statistics from Crowdtap, also show that Millennials consider UGC 20% more influential and 35% more memorable than branded messages. Millennials are also 50% more likely to find UGC trustworthy as opposed to branded advertising. 

So, how can you harness the power of UGC?

One easy way to obtain user generated content is to just ask for it. Try organizing a contest that requires a piece of user generated content as a submission for entry. Submissions could be made via direct entry on your website, Facebook page or by using a brand specific hashtag on Twitter or Instagram. Aggregate the entries into a blog post or newsletter and share on all your social media channels.

There have been some great examples of UGC in the past year. Check out some of our favorite ones below.
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1.    Target – Acceptance Letter Campaign
Target’s UGC Acceptance Letter Campaign played right into people’s emotions by asking for videos of high school seniors opening and reading letters from colleges they had applied to. Target took those videos and created one of the most heartwarming piece of marketing we’ve seen in a long time.  Watch the video here.

2.    Burberry – The Art of the Trench
Burberry, a high end clothing and lifestyle brand, helped pave the way for leveraging UGC as a powerful marketing tool with their “Art of the Trench” campaign. Burberry fans were asked to upload photos of themselves wearing the brand's signature vintage (yet trendy) piece -- the trench coat. Once uploaded, website visitors could comment on and share the photos. Users were also able to browse trenches according to weather, color, style, gender or popularity. Within the first six months, the Art of the Trench site generated 7 million views and is still active today. Check it out here.
3.    Coke – This is Ahh Commercial
Coca Cola asked their fans to tell them “what does it feel like when you take a sip of Coke?” And thus, the “ahh effect” ad was born. Using only user generated content, Coke created a TV commercial that is fast, fun and pretty real. Since this initial video, Coke has released a number of UGC videos.

Big brands are using UGC on a regular basis and small companies can too. Though you may not have the budget to put the content on a TV commercial, you can use the content on your website, blog and all social media channels. If you decide to run a UGC campaign, make sure you follow some basic rules.
  • Offer something in exchange. When it comes to procuring UGC, sometimes all it takes is a little incentive. Whether it is a discount on their next project, or even just a chance to appear on your homepage or Facebook page, a little gratitude for their UGC can go a long way.
  • Make it easy. If you’re having a hard time getting your customers to create content, it might just be because they simply don’t know where to share it.  Make sure it is obvious what you want the user to do.
  • State the rules clearly. The first thing you need to do is be extremely clear about whether it's a sweepstakes (random drawing) or a contest (some criteria involved). Then, you ought to have very clear official rules — say where and how the winning material will be used, for example — and then make sure you stick to the rules you posted.
  • Keep it simple! The simpler you make it, the easier it will be for your users to generate content. Choosing a theme that’s common (such as the Coca Cola campaign above) for everyone is easier for people than more specific requests.
  • Make it FUN! We tend to do business with people we like and trust. If you have UGC that shows your brand in a fun and positive light, you’ll immediately have a leg up on the competition.
User generated content can be a great tool in your marketing arsenal. We want to hear what you think! Tell us in the comments below how you plan on using UGC for your brand.

Your Most Important Asset

The reasons that anyone decides to venture down the path of business ownership vary. But for most, there’s one inarguable reason: the chance to live out your dream. Though you may think you are your company’s most important asset, nothing you do could happen without your customers. Your customers are, and always will be, the most important asset your business will ever have. With our experience in printing for small businesses, we’ve developed some pretty creative customer retention pieces for our clients. Some of our favorites are below:
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  1. The Disloyalty Program   A marketing program originally created by 6 independent coffee shops in the DC area has caught on in other regions too. The “disloyalty card” encourages patrons to break their daily routine and branch out to try other locally owned coffee shops.

    The participating shops give the Disloyalty Cards to their customers upon purchase of a drink. When customers visit the other five locally-owned coffee shops for a drink and they collect a signature on the card (one from every shop), they receive a complimentary coffee from any of the participating shops. 
    This unconventional marketing idea has proven to be a great way to network with other business owners, tap into new customers and bring some fun into their businesses.
  2. Company Branded Thank You Cards   The hand written thank you card is one of the oldest and smartest forms of marketing out there. Thank you cards:

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    • Break through the digital clutter.  A thank you card is a pleasant physical interruption to our increasingly digital lives.
    • Show you care. The recipient appreciates that you took the time to write it. They know you had other things to do, so this shows that they were at the top of your priority list.
    • Strengthens the relationship. Marketing is “getting people to know, like and trust you." Thank you cards help make this happen in a big way.
    • Does not require a computer. Many people have lost the art of hand written communication. A hand written note forces you not to rely on auto-correct or spell check; it forces you to think and feel.

    As the late American author and poet, Maya Angelou so eloquently put it: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” A hand written thank you card definitely puts a check in the warm and fuzzy column; so send Thank You cards and send them often. You never know what kind of an impact it could have on the recipient’s day. 
  3. Status Programs   We’ve all seen reward programs that are based on points or number of dollars spent each year. Airline mileage programs are a great example. The more you fly, the more perks you get with that particular airline. Small businesses can engage in this kind of program as well. Creating a program that rewards your best customers
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    and continues to encourage them to make it to the next level creates buzz and exclusivity.  When a customer does jump to a higher level because of a purchase, be sure to acknowledge it! A special printed card, letter, sticker or magnet can go a long way in making your customer feel like they’re in the inner circle and are highly appreciated.

Having a customer-loyalty program could help you increase repeat customers, which, in turn could boost your business’s revenue. According to a 2014 Manta study, Achieving Big Customer Loyalty in a Small Business World, a repeat customer spends 67 percent more on a given purchase than a new customer does. And they should be rewarded for this action, as retaining customers is less costly than acquiring new ones. By providing loyalty programs for current customers, small-business owners are not only saying thank you but are also motivating them to continue to be their brand ambassadors. Loyal customers will spread the word about a business to their professional, personal and social networks, helping small-business owners increase their customer base even more.

Do you offer a customer loyalty program? Tell us about it below.