Sean D'Souza: Better headlines mean better bottom line

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Are you avoiding learning about headlines because you're not a copywriter? Better not, because no matter whether you make a PowerPoint presentation, sales call or write an email, you're going to need this information.

The last thing you need is a headline that will go "glug glug" and take your marketing strategy down with it.

OK, now that I've got your attention, belt up as we rollercoaster our way into the science of how to recognise the power behind the headline.

First, I'll give you three sets of headlines that really work. I'll identify the trigger in the headline. Then I'll tell you the psychological reasons WHY they work.

Right after that you take over and implement these headlines in your marketing strategy.

* Psychological trigger No 1 - question-based vs statement-based headlines.

"Do you know where you fail in your marketing strategy?"

"Is internet marketing driving you crazy?"

Ladies and gentlemen - presenting the question-based headline. A headline that beats the living daylights out of a straightforward statement-based headline. When tested, a question like "Do you know where you fail in your marketing strategy?" gets far more attention than "This is where you're failing in your marketing strategy". Questions irritate the brain, forcing it to want to know more.

* Psychological trigger No 2 - problem-based vs solution-based headlines.

"Struggling to get ahead in your small business?"

"Is your marketing strategy missing a vital link?"

Now that you know the power of questions, these are double whammy headlines. They not only get your brain whizzing but they also bring to the fore a pain in your brain.

You identify with these problems and are keen to solve them. The brain is fixated with solving problems.

Yet look at most of the advertising around you. It's all solution-based. You see it, then you don't. Recycle your solution-based headline into a nice problem-based power pack.

* Psychological trigger No 3 - curious vs non-curious headlines.

A skilful communicator knows that he or she must get the curiosity factor into a headline. It's the key to literally sucking in an audience.

Headlines with curiosity work because the brain is intensely curious. Tell a person not to look behind the door and they want to look. Tell them they cannot have something and they want to know why.

Headlines with a "how to" in them are typical curiosity-based headlines. They imply a problem that you might have and need to solve. And to prove my point, look at the next line and see how your eye goes wham, right into it.

How to construct headlines without making a complete mess of things.

Let me show you how I'd go about it. For instance, I wrote a lot of potential headlines for this article. These were the final four:

1) "Psychological reasons why these headlines work like magic."

2) "Which precise psychological reasons cause these headlines to work like magic?"

3) "Is your marketing strategy missing these precise psychological triggers?"

4) "Are your headlines missing these precise psychological triggers?"

Headline 1) had only one of the features above. It had a curiosity factor. However, it lacked a question and it certainly scored a big zero on the problem factor. Needless to say, it soon backspaced itself into oblivion.

Headline 2) was pretty powerful. It had the question. It was packed with curiosity but it kind of fell flat on the problem audit.

Headline 3) scored on all points. Curiosity, problems and question sat merrily together, expecting me to be as pleased as punch. I was until I noticed one little discrepancy. It was appealing to the wrong target audience.

This headline would attract people who were interested in marketing strategy, not headlines.

They would come in, find themselves in the wrong room, drink a glass of wine and sneak out.

I needed people to stay for the party. I needed people who were interested in headlines. People like you.

Inevitably, I had to refine it just a little bit. And here's what I came up with.

Headline 4) - "Are your headlines missing these precise psychological triggers?" I personally believe this was the most powerful of the lot. This headline not only encapsulated all the triggers above, but it was precisely positioned. It went for a niche audience and got their full attention.

You see, people are always in their own world, thinking about their own problems. If you don't snap them out of their reverie, you don't have the slightest chance of getting them to buy into whatever it is you're selling. Do you need all three psychological triggers working at once? No you don't. A headline can work perfectly well with one or two. In life, three may be a crowd but, in headlines, it's the more the merrier.

Use the power of headlines in your marketing strategy, your PowerPoint presentations, sales calls, emails, newsletters and even articles like these.

Better headlines mean better bottom lines. Simple logic, eh?

* Sean D'Souza is chief executive of Psychotactics and is an international author and trainer

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