Issue 1: How to Create Powerful Headlines In Just 10 Minutes

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Create Powerful Headlines in Just 10 Minutes

Ask any direct marketing expert and they would agree that  the headline is the most important component of every marketing message.

Legendary marketers like David Ogilvy and Claude Hopkins advised that a great headline could boost your response by as much as 400%.

Top copywriters will spend hours sweating over getting their headline just right. They maintain swipe files brimming with hundreds of examples they’ve culled from successful ads, sales letters, and web marketing pieces. There are even entire books made up of nothing but headlines that you can use as inspiration for crafting your own.

Now, while it is agreed that a riveting headline is critical to the success of any marketing piece, I strongly disagree that you should have to be nervous to create your headline. In fact, I usually spend no more than 5 to 10 minutes coming up with a blockbuster headline — and many of the marketing pieces I’ve created have been multi-million-dollar controls, due in part, to their riveting headlines.

In this issue, I’m going to show you how easy it can be to create compelling headlines that stop people in their tracks and convince them to take time out of their overloaded day to read your marketing piece.

It really couldn’t be much easier, once you understand the fundamental concept of…

Letting it all ride on your reptilian brain

Four or five-thousand years ago, life was much simpler. And a whole lot more dangerous. We spent our days dealing with things like, “Cripes, there are sabre-toothed tiger tracks on the ground here. How can I keep the beast from leaping out of a tree and pouncing down on me?”

Or “The cave is getting pretty small for me, my wife Mook and our extended families. Where will we possibly find a more spacious cave?”

That’s your reptilian brain doing what it does best — making judgement calls necessary for your survival. Fight or flight. Feast or famish. Do or die.

Now, let’s see how this plays out in our modern-day, technologically advanced world. Let’s say you’re strolling through the mall on your lunch break. You’ve just finished polishing off your low-carb, high-protein, glycemically balanced meal and you still have 20 minutes to kill before you have to return to your job. So, you walk through the mall window shopping, basically doing nothing but daydreaming.

Take a minute and think about what goes through your mind at times like this.

If you really examine most of the thoughts, you have when you’re alone, you’ll find that we haven’t strayed far from our reptilian brains. “What the heck are we going to serve for dinner on Sunday when the Wilsons come over? Did I send in the mortgage payment yet? I’d better check when I get home tonight. Susie is going to be entering college in less than three years. How are we possibly going to pay four years tuition?”

And on and on it goes. Your mind runs through a nearly endless procession of…


Quite simply, that’s how our brains are wired to operate. Root out those problems. Search and destroy. Keep everything under control.

Brain-driven headlines

The fact is, we all think like this on a consistent basis. And once you realize this, you can use it to tremendous advantage whenever you need to create a headline. There are two simple steps you can use to harness the power of how our brains think to create a riveting headline:

  1. Spend a few minutes thinking about precisely which problems trouble your prospects the most.
  2. Put your prospects’ most nagging problem in a format the brain can’t resist reading and following up on.

Let’s take a look at each step-in detail.

Step 1: Spend a few minutes thinking about precisely
which problems trouble your prospects the most

Your prospects are no different than you or me. Catch them alone – strolling through the mall, driving in their car, or sitting in front of the TV — and their thoughts naturally turn to their problems. Your job is to determine which problems trouble your prospects the most.

Let’s say you have a hot new diet product, loaded with all kinds of health benefits. You’ve determined that your target market is the vast, aging “boomer” market. First, ask yourself, “What are the diet and health related issues these folks are vitally interested in?”

Some potential answers would include:

Slowing or reversing the aging process
Looking younger than their actual age
Avoiding crippling diseases such as heart attack, stroke, cancer, and Alzheimer’s
Feeling good enough to enjoy their retirement
Being able to participate in the activities they enjoy without painful side effects

I’m sure there are more problems than these, but this is a decent starter list. Now, ask yourself, “From this list, which is the worst problem my prospects face? What would cause my prospects to wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat?”

If you look at the list of potential problems, one of them is far more jarring than all the others. Can you guess which one I’m referring to?

The answer is — “Avoiding crippling diseases such as heart attack, stroke, cancer and Alzheimer’s.” The other problems pale in comparison.

Now you have the raw material necessary for developing a riveting headline.

Step 2: Put your prospects’ most nagging problem in a format
the brain can’t resist reading and following up on

`There are two components to this step: (A) Stating the problem as a problem; and (B) Using a format the brain simply can’t resist reading.

Stating the problem as a problem may seem obvious, but I assure you that most people go wrong by trying to focus on the solution to the problem in their headline, rather than sticking with the problem.

Here’s an example of what I mean. Let’s assume that further research about your target market has determined that their highest priority problem is the fear of a premature heart attack. After all, 99% of all people who we see die of natural causes on television shows clutch their heart, gasp for breath, and crumple to the ground. And the actual deaths of famous athletes and entertainers due to heart attacks are extremely common on the evening news. So, it’s easy for your prospects to imagine being stricken by this same fate.

Unfortunately, many marketers shy away from using the problem in their headlines and prefer to focus on the solution instead. But let’s take a look at what you sacrifice by focusing on the solution rather than the problem. Here are two examples of headlines you might create around the fear of premature heart attack:

Solution Headline

How to have a healthy heart well into your 80s
…and get more enjoyment out of every day of your life

Problem Headline

WARNING: Doctors report that the first symptom
82% of heart attack victims feel is death

OK, now let’s put these headlines to the ultimate test. Assuming that you are acutely aware that you’re growing older and heart attack is the number one source of death for your age group, which of these headlines is going to compel you to drop whatever you’re doing and read further? Without a doubt, it’s the second, problem-based headline.

Now in case you’re reluctant to use fear or illuminate your prospect’s most nagging problem in your headline, let me remind you that you didn’t create this problem. Their reptilian brain has done a perfectly good job of focusing on that problem for you. Your prospect lives with this fear day-in and day-out. You didn’t create the problem; you’re simply reminding your prospect of the problem they are already well aware of.

So far, we’ve come up with a pretty strong problem-based headline, wouldn’t you agree? But your work is not done yet. There’s still another step to make sure your headline is so compelling; it draws in as many people as possible.

Brain science revisited

There’s another aspect of how the brain operates that you can put to extremely beneficial use once you understand it. You see, there is a simple way of structuring information that your brain simply can’t resist.

Think about the examples I showed you earlier of the problems that drifted through your mind while strolling through the mall. Your brain naturally employs a specific structure for identifying incoming problems. Let’s take another look at these problems again:

What are we going to serve for dinner on Sunday when the Wilsons come over?
Did I send in the mortgage payment yet? I’d better check when I get home tonight.
Susie is going to be entering college in less than three years. How are we possibly going to pay four years tuition?

What is the common structure that all these examples share?

Each is structured primarily as a question. That’s the format that your worries usually take when they drift into your mind. Because not only does your brain focus on problems, but it also does an expert job of solving those problems. And the natural format your brain employs for searching out a solution is to pose your problem in the form of a question.

In fact, our brains are so conditioned to respond to questions, that they can hardly avoid it. Want to evaluate this out? Think of a riddle, then pose that riddle to someone you know and immediately walk away.

Nine times out of ten, the person you have posed the riddle to will follow you trying to guess the answer or demand that you reveal the answer. Our brains simply can’t stand to let a question go unanswered.

So, if you want to make certain your prospects read your headline, focus on their most critical problem. And to make equally certain that they follow up and read beyond your headline into the body of your sales piece, use a question format for all or part of your headline.

Structuring your headline for maximum readership

Let’s take the headline we came up with earlier and add a question structure to it. This can be done two different ways. First, you can create a headline that is a direct question. Or you can create a two-part headline that’s a combination of a statement followed by a question. For this example, I’ve chosen to use a two-part headline:

WARNING: Doctors report that the first symptom
82% of heart attack victims feel is death

…what 3 simple steps can you take
to guarantee this doesn’t happen to you?

The reason I’ve used a two-part headline in this case is that the first portion of the headline is so strong, I don’t want to dilute it. Also, remembering that our reptilian brains are always scanning for problems, the use of the word “Warning” alerts the brain to the fact that a serious problem is about to rear its ugly head.

Take a good look at this updated version of the original headline with the question component added. If you are an aging boomer who dreads the potential problem of a devastating heart attack, can you imagine not feeling the need to find out how you can avoid this horrendous fate? Few prospects could pass this up without reading further. They just must know what the “3 simple steps” are.

Putting the 10-minute process to work

Now that you’ve seen the steps that make up my process, here’s how you use it to create powerful headlines in 10 minutes or less.

When you first start using the process, the easiest way to get the best results is to run through each step on paper. Start by listing all the problems your prospects face that your product or service can solve. This should take no more than five minutes.

Next, identify the single most critical problem on the list. This should only take about 30 seconds, because as you’ve seen, one problem will almost always stand out as being far more dangerous than the others.

Finally, take that statement of what the worst problem is and convert it to a question format. This can easily be done in two to three minutes. Total time to go from zero to a blockbuster headline: under 10 minutes.

Plus, the more you use this formula, the easier it gets. I’ve been using the formula for so long now, that I run the first couple of steps in my head, usually in less than a minute. The only step I do on paper is writing out the actual question-structured headline.

I conceived and wrote the two-part headline for this example in less than two minutes. The concept came right away, then I wrote out the first draft of the headline. I then tinkered with it, eliminated a couple words here, improved a word or two there, and came up with the final version.

Now that you understand how to run the process and why it works so well, there’s no need to slave for hours creating a powerful headline. Just plug in my process any time you need to, and within minutes, you can have a riveting headline that produces exceptional results.

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