The Headline is 80% of Your Brand Message

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According to “The Father of Advertising,” David Oglivy, five times as many people are likely to read the headline of an article or advertisement than the content it introduces.

This was true during Oglivy’s “Mad Men”-era of advertising, and is even more relevant today, with publishers and content marketers competing in digital environments where an abundance of material is always present.

The power of the headline is enough to make any marketer scurry after the latest trends and hottest buzzwords. But while overly sensationalist headlines may initiate clicks, such tactics do little to drive your broader marketing goals, and can immediately undermine any foothold of trust with consumers.

Content marketing is a way to build your brand’s reputation, so think of headlines as a means by which to make a first impression to your readers – and making that first impression a good one requires catching readers’ interests. Headlines should make consumers curious about topics or introduce them to new ones.

So, how can you generate successful headlines while maintaining the trust and respect of your market?

It’s all about the formula: Below are a few advertising secrets that have proven successful throughout the ages.

How to…and…lists

You probably see these daily, and their prevalence is reflective of their success. They’re characteristically straight forward in addressing a problem or offering a solution.

  • How to easily switch between mobile apps without losing functionality
  • 5 tips to get the most out of your social media campaign
  • How to clean your home with items found in your pantry
  • 7 best tips to pack light for a cruise

The Pain Point

What keeps your target market up at night tossing and turning? What issue do they need a solution to? This angle shows that you recognize and relate to what readers are going through and offers an innovative solution.

  • Careful! How certain meats, eaten at lunch, contribute to that 3 o’clock slump.
  • Is your quarterly evaluation really the best time to ask for a raise?
  • Warning! What you shouldn’t do if your credit info is stolen.

The Zen

This angle guarantees your readers a simple and fuss-free approach to life. Similar to our tactic mentioned above, you’re addressing an issue, but also making a bigger promise about how someone might adjust their day-to-day lifestyle for the better.

  • Simplify your mornings with these email organization tips.
  • Get rid of dull winter skin, once and for all.
  • The key ingredient to the best sleep of your life.
  • Your commutes can be stress-free.

The Master

This tactic allows you to pair a popular celebrity or well-known group that is relevant to your content or message. A famous name grabs readers’ attention and gives your content credibility.

  • Jennifer Lawrence’s top 10 tips for bouncy hair.
  • An Ivy League alumni’s secret to making a successful first impression.
  • The one thing successful people can’t live without.

The Mistake

This tactic seems negative, but its goal is actually to help your reader. The idea is to provide people with a solution to a problem they don’t yet know they have.

  • 7 reactions to a toddler tantrum that make it worse.
  • Why these 5 phrases will lose you the argument—every time.
  • The 3 gaffes hiring managers hate to see on resumes.
  • Get Valentine’s Day Wrong? Here’s how you recover.

As great as these formulas are, they are nothing without the right copy. That is where you can hop on the marketing industry’s latest band-wagon. Companies like BuzzFeed, Upworthy and Huffington Post have the highest organic (unpaid) conversion rates out there for a reason.

In fact, Upworthy’s process includes writing 25 headlines for every piece of content, based on the realization that 24 could be horrible. The words you use are powerful, so make sure they’re true to your content and your company’s mission.

Putting your headlines through A/B testing and optimization exercises will make all the difference in the end. Not only should you try out the headlines on others before you use them, but think about how they will look on various social media channels.

Share them visually and verbally with others in your company. Get a real feel for what you are putting out there. Some publishers believe in the value of the headline so much that they require journalists to write the perfect headline before even drafting the story.

A headline is your content’s only shot to impress your readers. Make sure you put your best line forward.