The Marketing Word | Differentiation Marketing

TAG | Copywriting

I Suck at Headlines

Best Sub Heading EverI saw one of the best headlines (actually, it’s the sub-head) EVER -->
on FaceBook the other day for an article in The Ulster Gazette about the price of a rail system (Over £100M!) The sub head is, of course, an extended pun on Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s hip, it’s funny and it works. DAMN!

It does violate one of the rules of headlines – that they be short. There’s a similar rule in comedy – the longer the joke, the stronger the punch line has to be. This sub head overcomes that rule. Each line of the subhead builds the joke. The payoff is HUGE.

Which brings home the fact that I suck at writing headlines. And email subject lines for that matter. A headline should convey what your article (or blog post or whatever) is about, intrigue the reader and draw them in. Many times you can do this by asking a question. The famous example is the Psychology Today headline that asked “Do you close the bathroom door when you are home alone?” Can’t remember the most common answer; I can remember that their subscriptions skyrocketed.

I really, really hate headlines (and subject lines for that matter) that lead you in one direction and then don’t deliver. If you want to piss off your followers, that would be a quick way to do it. I recently read an article on Huffington Post where the title had nothing to do with the article. (No, it wasn’t a Kim Kardashian side-boob article. They always deliver the goods on that one.) The comments blazed and the author of the article apologized profusely explaining that he did not write the title. Any merit the article had was negated by the misleading title.

If you can’t be intriguing, if you can’t be hilarious and you can’t think of a GREAT headline, do this:

1. Keep it short
2. Convey the main point of what the article is about
3. Convey that point in terms of how it will benefit the reader (Please Note: This post headline does not do this. Yes, I am a risk taker.)

There are “headline generating” programs that you can get. But you pretty much end up with canned headlines. “5 Easy Ways to…” or “Ninja Secrets for…” Blah, Blah, Blah. I think the general public is getting more sophisticated when it comes to sales copy and screaming headlines. Maybe I’m an optimist but then again, the National Enquirer’s circulation has been in steady decline since 2010, so there is hope. I think people are over-marketed. They are growing skeptical. The sales page headlines that worked so well in 2006, with promises of the secret to quick wealth have been seen too many times. People still respond to hype -- you can trick people into buying your stuff. But if you need to trick people into buying your stuff, maybe you should re-think what you are doing with your life.

Honor your client base by treating them as intelligent human beings. It’s a radical concept, I know. But for businesses whose target market is NOT the lowest common denominator, respect for your client base is a pretty good place to start and maintain the relationship.

Yes, you want a strong headline. Yes, it’s important. But you can try too hard. Many times keeping it simple, original and honest will work better than an over-the-top headline that immediately turns the reader off. Try it. Less hype. More honesty. Because this is real life, not a fantasy.


Aluminum Foil Phrases

Man Wearing Tin Foil Hat -- NOT Steve!

Man Wearing Tin Foil Hat -- NOT Steve!

There are some phrases that are the literary equivalent of biting into aluminum foil. Most writers have their pet peeves when it comes to certain aspects of the language. (Yes, it’s nitpicky and elitist, but that’s why we’re writers.) Misplaced and misused apostrophes spring to mind. I recently revoked a client’s right to use a semi-colon again. EVER. (“You are not allowed to use semi-colons. Eventually, yes, you might randomly place one where it actually belongs, but with global warming, I don't think we will live to see the day.”)

I started thinking about this because of a comment my friend, master juggler and uber-funny man Steve Russell posted on Facebook the other day. (Find Steve and his equally talented wife Kobi at SteveRussellJuggles) Here’s what Steve posted:

I was writing some copy for a website of an illusionist, recently. I was encouraged to "think outside the box." Two thoughts on that: 1. If, in 2013, you are still using that phrase, YOU ARE STILL INSIDE THE BOX! and 2. Do you realize the irony, given what an illusionist does for a living?

After I stopped laughing (hard to do when you’re around Steve), I thought how much the phrase “outside the box” irritated me. As does “paradigm shift.”

The phrases, once “cutting edge” (another phrase on its way out if not already gone) are “old school” (a phrase that needs to go) now. They scream 1980s (no apostrophe, thank you) management seminar.

Yet they are instantly recognizable. They carry more meaning than just the mere words. When someone says “outside the box” we know instantly that they want something creative, striking, inspired and innovative. A paradigm shift infers such a major change that things will never be the same or looked at in the same way again.

Words and phrases can be charged – filled with meaning that conjures up emotion and experiences. When I give talks on copywriting, I go through various words copywriters use to elicit responses from men and women. And yes, I can always count on big laughs when I flash the phrase “private members forum” on the screen.

But there comes a time when words lose their oomph. (Oomph is a word that will never lose its oomph, by the way.) Over-use and incorrect use wear a phrase out. It loses its meaning and therefore its power. While clients may still ask that you create something that is “out of the box” if you use the phrase (or any of the other tired phrases) in your copy, you are doing them a disservice.

It’s lazy.

I can write long page sales copy all day long (usually while watching NCIS re-runs) that incorporates all the phrases and facets that marketers want to see on their sites. I could charge big money for it. But I don’t. (Proof that I am a complete IDIOT.)

If you are writing copy for yourself or others, maybe you should use all those phrases. People still respond to them. They are known to work. But it gives me a bad feeling in my stomach.

Words are precious to me. I like the way they sound. I like their rhythm. (A very cool word, rhythm. Look! No vowel in that second syllable!) I like that they can mean more than one thing. I think they should be honored and respected.

I also think they should be played with. Come up with new combinations. Create new meanings. Words are meant to communicate, to convey information and emotion and to connect humans with each other.

So the next time a client asks you to think “outside the box,” slam him with it. Rupture the atmosphere, bamboozle reality, cupcake the deal. Most will, of course, come back and ask you for something that looks like everything else that is already out there, i.e., inside the box. But every so often, you will find someone who goes with it, who gets it. And at that point, you will be able to stand and point and say, “That day, I used words well.”

· · · · ·

On Selling False Hope

A while back I wrote a manual for a client.   He asked me what I would charge to create a sales page for him.  Copywriters charge a lot of money for sales pages.  Some of those copywriters are worth the money and some aren’t. But the truth is, unless you can drive traffic to the sales page, it doesn’t matter how good the copy is.

I told him I didn’t do sales copy for anyone other than myself. I won’t make promises that my magic words are going to bring in thousands of sales and millions of dollars. There’s a science to writing sales page copy. Good copywriters spend time researching the target market’s buying process, taking pains to ensure that the copy covers all the touch points for various buying types, crafting the right hooks to intrigue the buyer into pressing that “Add to Cart” button.

Sometimes, in spite of the copywriter’s best efforts, the product doesn’t go. The page doesn’t convert.  Or, more often, the page doesn’t get enough traffic to determine whether or not the copy is doing its job. You can SEO a page from here to eternity but if the niche is crowded or has big players, the page may not crack the first page of Google without strong marketing support from other quarters.

I am more honest with clients than I should be sometimes. Many copywriters would have charged an arm and a leg (including a backend cut of product sales) and have written copy that was … shall we say… less than fresh. I can write that kind of copy. All day long with my eyes closed.  I don’t.  So my client went off to find a copywriter for his sales page.

That was over six months ago.  He popped back up (as my favorite clients do) about two weeks ago. He said that the person writing his sales page had dropped the ball and wanted to know if I had any recommendations. I know he is on a budget. I know he needs to get this thing off the ground. I know he’s probably been ripped off. I offered to do it at a cut-rate price.

After a little bit of back and forth, we finally got down to the real nub.  He asked me, “Do you think this product is viable? I want to know if I will make my money back.”

Again, I was more honest with him than a good businessperson should be. I told him that the sales page alone won’t sell his manual. That it would take marketing efforts such as talking to groups, email marketing, social media, etc. etc. etc.

Yes, he is looking for reassurance. Yes, he has a pretty good product that has an easily targeted market. And yes, my sales page copy will convert prospects to buyers. But at the end of the day, there are no guarantees. There are no magic words. There’s just probability and rolling the dice to see how that all plays out.

I would love to tell him that YES! He will definitely make his money back.  But as I said to him, anyone who flat out declares that you definitely will have the sales numbers you need is selling soap.  And that’s where the toughest part for any entrepreneur comes in. At some point, you have to roll the dice, take the chance, close your eyes and jump. Sometimes you win. Sometimes, in spite of your best efforts, you lose. But you’ll never know until you put yourself out there. Something I recommend wholeheartedly.

And, shameless plug:  I'm re-playing my webinar "Marketing in 4 Hours a Week" this Tuesday night.  If you want some ideas on how to market your business in a time-efficient and effective  manner, tune in.  Register here:   Marketing in 4

Barbara Grassey

· · · ·

Stand Out Marketing


Women use different language, have different expectations and are attracted by different color schemes than men.


Your brand is the experience your clients and prospects have every time they deal with your company.


You need to stand out from your competition and stand above all the marketing messages that people are assaulted by every day. 


Americans have been hit hard with job losses, housing losses and retirement losses. There is a shift occurring in the way your customers, male and female, buy. 

  • Have you anticipated the new needs of your clients?
  • Can you differentiate yourself to stand above your competition?
  • Are your marketing efforts doomed to fail?


 I'll be bringing you low-cost to no-cost marketing strategies, copywriting tips and techniques and innovative methods to get your message through the clutter, online and offline.

· · · · · · ·

February 2018
« Apr    

Theme Design by