One morning, you go into your mailbox and discover that you received a new piece of mail. You tear open the envelope, pull out its contents, put on your glasses (if any), unfold the letter and begin to read.
After completing all of these steps, you decide if the letter is worth reading. If not, you simply throw it in the bin.
If the envelope looks like a form letter, with a printed address label with “dear occupant” as the addressee, chances of getting the letter opened in the first place are slim.
However, let’s say curiosity takes over and the letter does get opened. Once unfolded, if it looks like some kind of sales letter or pitch, not even a single word will likely be read.
So, in offline direct marketing, the message is not the first element. There are several extra steps one must go through to finally reach, react to and ultimately read the sales message.
That’s why, in order to captivate people’s attention, one of the most important elements of copy – the headline — is the last in a series of attempts to grab the reader’s attention.
Of course, headlines are crucial. But the envelope, the label, the picture and any “grabbers” (such as inserts, lift-notes, gifts, etc), even the overall appearance of the package, are all elements that often precede that all-important headline.
Online, however, it’s different. The headline is often one of the first elements (if not THE first) to be read. When people click on a link, enter a URL into their browsers or receive an email, they immediately see the sales message. No mailboxes to go through, no envelopes to tear open and no paper to unfold before reading. The message is right there, staring at them – right into their faces.
Look at websites and emails as newspapers. You don’t normally get a newspaper for free. You actually seek the newspaper. You make the effort to buy it. You voluntarily acquire the “sales message.” And you hold it in your hands, eager to read it.
You’re in a different state when reading the newspaper than when reading a direct mail piece, which is often unsolicited. (Even when it is, the many steps one must go through to reach the sales message is the same.) But a newspaper, however, is already open, filled with headlines. The web is the same.
Whether it’s receiving an opt-in email or visiting a website, you’re intentionally asking for the sales message and viewing it almost instantly, with the full anticipation of reading it.
Like the newspaper’s “above the fold” section, if the headline and uppermost section of a website’s front page or of an email doesn’t pull you in (or cause you to scroll, in this case), you will click away. And you would do so faster than you’d throw a direct mail piece out (unless you never opened it, of course).
Just like with newspapers, you don’t read entire websites. Instead, you scan. You look for stories that interest you. You quickly browse the many headlines, pictures and headers that are laced throughout the copy. You rifle through and, if anything grabs your attention, only then do you stop and read it.
You can manipulate a print publication in order to fit your reading style – such as making it comfortable on the eyes by spreading it out on a tabletop, where headlines that grab you and stories that interest you are easily seen and accessible.
But whether you hold the printed piece (or newspaper) in your hands or lay it out on a table, you can also scan an entire piece at a glance and immediately jump from story to story.
On the web or in email, you can only do one thing: scroll.
So, the desire to scan, jump and react to a message is greater. Therefore, in order to capture the reader’s attention, there are several things we can do to drastically boost readership.
1. Headline (Attention).
The first part of the AIDA formula, “Attention,” is probably the most important on the Internet. Crafting a headline that immediately captures the prospect’s attention is critical.
Again, for the reasons expressed earlier, our attention span on the Internet is enormously short. You only have a fraction of a second to capture a reader’s attention. Unlike a direct mail piece, your headline is the first thing they see.
If the prospect hits your front page and does not immediately feel a need to read further, she’ll leave at the single click of a mouse. If so, the rest of the AIDA formula goes straight down the tubes. Readers are click-happy. And unlike direct mail, the decision to read or leave is a split-second one.
2. Grabbers (Interest).
Several elements can increase your copy’s attention factor, particularly with your headline. One is to use “qualifiers,” such as subheadlines (also called “preheads” and “subheads”) to emphasise the core benefits expressed in the headline.
Like the postscripts (i.e., “P.S.’s”) at the end of a sales letter that often restate, emphasise or summarise all the core benefits, using sur- and sub-headlines can qualify the copy by announcing a summary or synopsis of what’s to come, too.
In direct mail, some grabbers help to pull a better response. Some copywriters have used currency notes (£20, 50€, $100), pens, coins, inserts, liftnotes, pictures, lift copy on the envelope, handwritten notes, official-looking rubber-stamped messages, etc.
But online, we’re limited in terms of how we can use ‘grabbers’. Too many bells-and-whistles can annoy and deter people. As an example, grabbers include pictures, pop-ups and dynamic HTML.
But when used judiciously, subheadlines, pop-ups and liftnotes (on the web, a liftnote can be in a pop-up or in an HTML table at the top of the sales copy that’s different in colour, style and appearance than the rest of the copy) can pull attention.
3. Openers (Desire creators).
There are three groups of “three’s,” here. Called “goals,” “desires” and “teasers,” they are specific human qualities to which you can cater in order to increase the attention factor in your opening copy, be it with the headline, subheadlines, grabbers or introduction portion of the body copy.
a) The Three Greatest Human GOALS
From the headline to the opening copy of the letter, one very effective way to capture attention is to focus on three core goals: to either save or make: 1) time, 2) money or 3) energy.
If your copy opens with something that can help your reader to make more money, save more time, spend less energy and so on, your chances of having your copy read will be far greater.
b) The Three Greatest Human DESIRES
This should be the most important one of the three, but I made it second, here, since it may not appeal to everyone. However, this particular set of “three’s” is extremely potent – and that’s not an understatement at all. Here’s an example:
If you buy some of the supermarket “rags,” you’ll notice their ads cater to any of the following three. Admittedly, they’re not considered respectable papers for most. But keep in mind that ad space in them is VERY pricey. If an ad appears in more than one issue, it tells you that the ad is profitable.
Ads in these types of newspapers are often long copy ads or advertorials, which, more often than not, cater to the three human desires. They are 1) greed, 2) lust and 3) comfort. If you incorporate any of the three (or a combination thereof), you will boost your attention-factor. Here are some examples:
1) Greed (such as “How to make £1,679 with my system!” or “How to save thousands usually wasted on utilities!”).
2) Lust (like “How to shed unwanted pounds!” or “How to make him/her fall in love with you all over again!”).
3) And comfort (“How to build a web business in only 14 days!” or “How to write breathtaking copy in minutes!”).
(By the way, comfort is the opposite of fear. Your goal is to instill fear in the minds of your readers in order to offer them a solution that will comfort them and allay those fears, such as the fear of loss, the fear of death and so on.)
Of course, the above are somewhat categorical examples. But if your opening copy contains a hint or a slant of any of these three, you’re much better off. And also, I used “how to” as the angle in those examples. But you, on the other hand, can cater to any of these three in a number of different ways.
c) The Three Greatest Human TEASERS
But in addition to the six elements above, try to cater to any of the three “provokers.” In other words, the following three elements stir. They arouse. They mesmerise. They hypnotise. Why? Because they cater to fundamental human characteristics.
They are: 1) curiosity, 2) controversy and 3) scarcity. Try to add an element of any of these three and your chances that the reader will be sucked into your copy will be heightened.
For example, don’t mention everything to your readers — give them ample information but not too much so that it pulls them into the copy. Leave some interesting tidbit out or keep them on the edge of their seats, eager to read and absorb more.
For instance, if I say, “Learn one of the most closely guarded secrets for tripling website sales!” People will then wonder, “Gosh, what are the secrets? I want to know what they are!”
Controversy is something not often used but does work very well. If your copy addresses something that stirs people’s emotions or causes “lights to go off” in their heads, your chances of pulling them into the copy are far greater.
The American Howard Stern, a well-known, New York radio “shock jock,” was one of the first to break many of the FCC rules while on the air. In his movie, “Private Parts,” the story goes that people who loved him listened to his show for about an hour. But the people who hated him listened up to three hours or even more.
Maybe it’s because they wanted to see what he would say next. Maybe it’s because they wanted more ammunition to bring the guy down. But whatever the reason is, Stern’s controversial approach undoubtedly made him extraordinarily rich and famous.
This methodology has crossed the pond and here in Britain we have many presenters that emulate the Howard Stern approach. Why? Because it is proven to work – it captures people.
While you may want to stay away from such a drastic position, you can use “lighter” controversy – such as current events, a newsworthy issue, or an emerging or popular trend — to build your case and create an almost instant desire to read further. A shocking news item or an outrageous claim are some examples.
Often, brilliant copywriters write copy that is somehow tied to a recent event or some controversial subject. Sometimes, they have nothing to do with the overall topic. But used in the opening of the copy, this approach can be very effective.
For example, not long after 9-11 many adverts and commercials surfaced in the media that capitalised on the recent events to sell security equipment, self-defense products, home alarms and the like. Even different types of public transportation, other than air travel, benefited from the windfall.
This may seem somewhat gutless and capitalistic to you. But look at all the charities who regularly profit from dramatic events like these. Like my sales manager told me in my early career as a struggling salesperson: “If you want to sell to me, talk ‘good’ about me. Talk ‘bad’ about me. But either way, please TALK about me!” make the message personal – people buy things not companies or organisations. Appeal, entice, interest, fascinate a person and they will read on.
Controversy can also be something significant, slight or even funny or different, such as with the use of a story, a unique angle or a new twist. “I beat my wife” may cause someone to read on – and find that the message is that this man learned to be a better cook than his wife because he bought into a cookery class – but they did read on..
Sometimes, it’s not what you think. But will it / did it capture your attention?
Here’s another. Think of the times you’ve seen a story about someone starting an online business. While that may sound a little trivial, it isn’t as if that person is a local politician, suffers from some disability or is raising 10 children.
There’s the story of the man who was an amputee — and an inventor. His product was a backpack with special straps that made carrying the pack a little more comfortable.Someone told him to use his lack of one leg as being the inspiration behind his creation. “One-legged man lightens people’s loads!” was the headline he chose.
Finally, adding an element of scarcity is to somehow limit the offer by making it time-sensitive or quantity-bound. Adding a deadline or a cap on the number of new clients, or even making the offer something that’s secretive, exclusive or unavailable to the general public, can arouse stronger motives in readers.
But in order to give your sense of urgency some credibility, never just leave it as plain limitation — or else, it will be instantly discredited. Always backup your limitation with some kind of logical, commonsensical and believable justification.
For example, “We were overshipped on these water coolers and have an extra 50 in stock,” or, “my marketing online class has only two openings left to be filled this week, so if you need copy done before the weekend, I urge you to act now.”
(Martin Button is the Managing Director of UK Vending (Britain’s longest serving vending business)