The Second Unbreakable Law of “Breakthrough” Copywriting
We all know how vital headlines are.
As Brian Clark puts it, “On average, 8 out of 10 people will read your headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.” That means your headline isn’t just your audience’s first impression … it’s more than likely their only impression.
So here’s the question:
Where do “breakthrough” headlines come from?
You know what I’m talking about. The kind of headlines that pop up, stop your market in their tracks, and compel them to read every word after it.
Now sure, there’re a ton of great cheat sheets out there to get the creative ball rolling. Jon Morrow’s “52 Headline Hacks” is among the best.
The problem is most of us start out wrong because we start with us: our idea, our product, our service, our copy.
What if there was a way to systematically craft breakthrough headlines based entirely on your market?
What if there was a proven formula to pull your prospects into your copy because it actually started with your prospects themselves?
And what if that formula worked because instead of coming from you, it came from inside your market’s mind?
I opened this series — The 3 Unbreakable Laws of Breakthrough Copywriting — with Eugene Schwartz who in 1976 charged Boardroom Inc.’s founder Martin Edelston 70% of his existing capital for a single ad.
Even more legendary than the staggering success of Schwartz’s ad was the formula behind it: “5 to 10 words.” As Schwartz explained:
Five to ten words will make up about 90% of the value of your ad. If you are right, they may start a new industry. If you are wrong, nothing you write after them will save your ad.
In last week’s post, we uncovered where these all-powerful “5 to 10 words” come from: again, not your product, not your service, not your copy, and not even you.
Where they really come from is your market’s mass desire.
However, harnessing these desires in your copy (especially in your headline) requires not only understanding what drives your market but understanding its “state of awareness.”
That’s what today’s post is all about: crafting headlines from inside your market’s mind.
So, what is a market’s “state of awareness”?
A market’s state of awareness is its consciousness — its emotional and intellectual grasp — of two things: (1) its desire and (2) your product.
Every market falls into 1 of 5 states.
Here’s a quick overview of each, compliments of CopyBlogger’s “The 5 Types of Prospects You Meet Online, and How to Sell to Each of Them”:
1. The Most Aware: Your prospect knows your product, and only needs to know “the deal.”
2. Product-Aware: Your prospect knows what you sell, but isn’t sure it’s right for him.
3. Solution-Aware: Your prospect knows the result he wants, but not that your product provides it.
4. Problem-Aware: Your prospect senses he has a problem, but doesn’t know there’s a solution.
5. Completely Unaware: No knowledge of anything except, perhaps, his own identity or opinion.
You can think about these states as your market’s “time of day” (and I’m not talking about when you post, publish, or click “Send”).
For example, the first state — “Most Aware” — is noon. In this state, there are no mysteries and nothing’s hidden. Everything’s out in the open: broad daylight. In the first state, your market is fully aware of both their desire and your product.
Each of the states falls into its own unique “time of day,” and determining your market’s exact time is the key to systematically crafting breakthrough headlines.
State of Awareness 1: “Aware of Their Desire, Aware of Your Product.”
This is the most straightforward of all the states:
The customer knows of your product — knows what it does — and knows he wants it. At this point, he just hasn’t gotten around to buying it yet (16).
If your market falls into State 1, then the content of your headline ought to be screamingly simple. In Schwartz’s words:
Your headline — in fact, your entire ad — need state little more except the name of your product and a bargain price.
In other words, forget being clever: an aware audience is a captive audience. They already want you; they just haven’t gotten around to buying you yet. So don’t obscure things by trying to be cute or creative.
Get to the point … and stick to it.
To sell to prospects in State 1, you need do little more than remind them that you exist.
Next to crafting a straightforward headline, the most effective online tactic to accomplish this is what the geniuses over at I Love Marketing call the “Magic 9-Word Email.” Here’s the basic format:
Subject Line: Hi [Name]
Are you still interested in [Niche Product]?
I ran this simple campaign for a curriculum developer and the response was amazing. The open rate was in the high 60% range.
Even better … people actually wrote back. A ton of people. Within hours of the emails going out, I got a follow up from the client who said, “This is crazy! There’s no way I can keep up with this. What are we gonna do?”
Talk about a good problem.
Stick to the basics: Present the product. Present the price. Close.
State of Awareness 2: “Aware of Their Desire, Somewhat Aware of Your Product.”
Going back to our time of day metaphor, you can think about State 2 as early evening:
The customer knows of the product, but doesn’t yet want it.
In State 2, your prospect is fully aware of the desire or need behind your product, but they’re only slightly aware of your product itself; most notably, how well it meets their desire.
So what’s the basic strategy? Here’s Schwartz:
You display the name of the product — either in the headline or in an equally large logo — and use the remainder of the headline to point out its superiority.
The big idea here is “superiority.”
An easy way to demonstrate superiority is to use one of the traditional 5 Ws:
1. Why is your product superior?
Focus on benefits, what the product does, gives, or provides for its user.
2. How is your product superior?
Focus on the actual use of the product, the product in action.
3. What makes your product superior?
Here, your headline should major on one feature (especially the newest or most novel feature).
4. Where is your product superior?
In what settings, contexts, or environments does your product perform? At work? At home? In the car? At the gym? In the rain? At the beach? (As always, be specific.)
5. When is your product superior?
Is there a specific time of life, time of year, or time of day in which your product outshines the competition?
So remember, start with the product, select one area of superiority (in subjection to your “mass desire”), and then use one of the 5 Ws to bring its superiority to life.
State of Awareness 3: “Aware of Their Desire, Unaware of Your Product.”
This is the state all new products find themselves: nightfall. Dusk has passed and darkness has arrived:
The prospect either knows, or recognizes immediately, that he wants what the product does; but he doesn’t yet know’ that there is a product — your product — that will do it for him (19).
There are three steps to crafting a breakthrough State 3 ad:
1. In the headline … identify and present the mass desire. In other words, do not mention the product.
2. In the subheadline … intensify and/or “prove” that this mass desire can be satisfied.
3. In the body … focus on the specific feature or “mechanism” in your product that satisfies that mass desire. This is where features can be a powerful tool for selling.
Naturally, when you’re dealing with a market “unaware” of your product, the temptation is to present the product.
At least, not in the headline.
Only after you’ve clearly illustrated the mass desire your product meets and then proven through your product’s concrete features that it can actually meet this desire should you present the product itself.
One last note: New products demand simple copy.
The goal of the headline is to “crystalize” the market’s mass desire.
The goal of the subheadline is to prove this mass desire can be satisfied.
The goal of the body is to demonstrate the specific features of your product that make that satisfaction not only possible, but guaranteed.
State of Awareness 4: “Unaware of Their Desire, Unaware of Your Product.”
Midnight has arrived. In State 4 …
The prospect has — not a desire — but a need. He recognizes the need immediately. But he doesn’t yet realize the connection between the fulfillment of that need and your product (21).
Alright, so first, what’s the difference between a “desire” and a “need”?
A “desire” is a clearly felt emotion centered upon a clearly defined goal that already exists in your market. That goal may be to avert something (as in the case of pain) or to acquire something (as in the case of pleasure). Either way, the market knows the goal exists and it has a strong desire to achieve it or avoid it.
A “need” on the other hand is simply a problem.
In State 4, your market is experiencing pain. That’s all.
And even this pain is fairly ambiguous.
You might say all they’ve got is a suspicion. They think something’s wrong, but they can’t quite put their finger on it. All they know is: “This doesn’t feel good.”
As a result, State 4 is ripe for what’s known as the “fear-agitation-solution” formula.
1. In the headline … state the fear.
Keep it short and to the point. To state the fear, you only need to say enough to show that (1) the fear is real and (2) you understand it.
2. In the subheadline and body … enlarge the fear.
This is the step at which most marketers fail.
In “agitation,” the fear from your headline has to get real … realer than real. It’s gotta get huge, hairy, and hellish. The basic message is: “You thought that fear was bad? That’s nothing. You have no idea how bad it really is. The reality is worse — so much worse — than you ever imagined.”
Shocking statistics and horrifying personal narratives are outstanding at agitation.
3. In the conclusion … present the solution (i.e., your product).
If agitation has done it’s job, than by the time you finally get around to the solution, the heavy lifting’s over. Just like the initial fear, present your product in as clear and simple terms as possible.
In other words, prove that your product solves the problem. Make an offer. Close.
State of Awareness 5: “Unaware of Everything.”
In State 5, ignorance reigns.
Don’t just think midnight. Think 3am, startled awake, disoriented … and alone.
As Schwartz’s described it:
The prospect is either not aware of his desire or his need — or he won’t honestly admit it to himself without being lead into it by your ad — or the need is so general and amorphous that it resists being summed up in a single headline — or it’s a secret that just can’t be verbalized (25).
This total lack of awareness creates a “psychological wall” that bars all previous strategies.
Let’s be clear: For State 5 markets, you cannot focus on the…
Because your market simply has no attachment to these elements. They mean nothing to them. And (because of that) they generate nothing.
So what’s left?
A State 5 headline is all about “identification.” In Schwartz’s words:
What you are doing … is calling your market together in the headline of your ad.
You are selling nothing, promising nothing, satisfying nothing.
You are telling them what they are. You are defining them for themselves (25-26).
This means your headline should function as a sort of roll call: a personal invitation gathering together only those narrowly targeted individuals who will make up your as-yet-unassembled market.
You are (for lack of a better word) creating a club, an exclusive club … and only those most qualified need apply.
Never be afraid to “limit” your audience.
Because the job of your headline in State 5 is to single out your audience and say (as directly as possible), “You, yeah you, this right here is for you. Everybody else, keep moving. Nothing to see here.”
So how do you do this?
Here are a few examples …
- For first-time fathers who are worn down by their brand-new “bundle of joy.”
- For tax professionals who are sick and tired of hounding clients for paperwork.
- For homebuyers who are terrified of not getting the “whole” story on their next house.
- For young couples who are struggling to keep the fire alive.
- For fledgling copywriters who are dying to quit their day jobs … but unsure about what comes next.
Notice a pattern? The formula’s pretty simple …
- For [target customers] who are [mass desire] to/with/by/of [current conditions].
Just remember, for State 5 markets …
Your prospect must identify with your headline before they can buy from it.
It must be his headline, his problem, his state of mind at that particular moment.
It must pick out the product’s logical prospects — and reject as many people as it attracts (26).
Start today …
So, what’s the key to crafting breakthrough headlines?
Simply put: your market.
Start today by asking yourself — or even better, by asking your actual audience — two questions:
1. Is my market aware of their desire — the driving emotional force behind my product?
2. Is my market aware of my product?
Once you’ve got a clear answer to those two questions, go back to the state that matches and systematically apply its insights directly to your headline.
In fact, apply them to your entire ad.