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Using Headlines to Increase – and Limit – Response

Using Headlines to Increase – and Limit – Response

by Jeffrey Dobkin

Fact 1. Everyone likes to get new business. Everyone likes prospects to call, and everyone likes calls that turn into sales. I like that for my clients as well.

Fact 2. Most small business owners I work with worry about costs. The mere thought of the costs of sending out thousands of pieces of literature – both the expense of the piece itself and the postage – makes some small business owners cringe. Me too. I empathize very well with my clients, thank you. They cringe, I cringe.

Fact 3. Most businesses that serve industrial markets rely on trade magazine advertising for new leads and prospects as a lower-cost way to market.

Fact 4. Reader Service Cards – the post cards with all the numbers on them (bingo cards) – are the primary way magazine leads come in. Just circle the number on the card corresponding to the number at the bottom of an ad, send it in and presto – you’re a prospect. No muss – no fuss, you don’t have to write a letter, or talk to any salesman on the phone. So, you’re an instant prospect. What could be easier – or better – for the magazine reader?

Fact 5. Reader service cards are the worst possible way to discern qualified leads from the rest of the 90% of the people who circle these numbers simply because they have a pencil handy and they liked the cute model you used in your ad. Therefore:

Fact 6. Readers service card leads make my small business owner clients cringe. I cringe in empathy. Wow, all this cringing is making me hungry.

While becoming an instant prospect is great for the reader, advertisers can waste a lot of money on reader service card respondents. I think my previous figure is actually pretty low – it’s more like 95% of people responding to RSC numbers are not actually viable prospects with an order on their mind or cash in their hand. They’re the equivalent of tire kickers looking at your car.

So, who are these people, these… these fake prospects? And what do they want from us? The answer: literature. They want our expensive literature. They don’t want to order, they simply want us to send them stuff – at our expense. The literature connoisseurs – they like to see everything.

I guess if you’re a collector of literature and you live in rural Nebraska, that 3 P.M. mail stop at your house is a big event. If you live in Vermont, you probably collect free literature because you need fuel for your wood (and paper) burning stove. If you live in Wyoming, and I’m talking about the both of you who live in Wyoming, why would you want to live there? I mean a whole state with one zip code, really. If you live in Tennessee – you should also consider moving. And if you live in Alabama – get some teeth, at least in the front. Don’t even talk to me about West Virginia: 4.5 million people, 15 last names. Ever been to Utah? Set your watch back… 15 years. Anyhow… (and don’t write to me complaining if you live in those states – it was a joke – I was joking… and besides, you’re the one whose living there!)

Most people who circle the numbers on a reader service card just prove only one thing to me: they have a pencil and a few moments of spare time. And their qualifications? Yes, most are qualified to hold a pencil and a magazine at the same time. Some aren’t, of course… but that’s another article.

To send them our big, expensive mailing package is ridiculous. Yet to not send these mostly unqualified people anything would be a waste of advertising money since the primary objective of our ads is to generate qualified leads. And remember, 5% of those respondents are viable prospects. We just can’t figure out which ones. Now what?

OK, here’s where this article comes in. For the real answer, send $14.95 for my new book… Forget Theory, Here’s What Really Works! It’s filled with answers to your most profound questions about… OK, OK, just kidding. Here’s the answer.

Suppose you could qualify – I mean really qualify – the response you get from your ads and press releases? You can. Here’s how. Here’s the trick. Cough. Cough. Ahem. And the Trick is… cough, cough… I’m building suspense… the trick is…

It’s all in the headline. There, I said it. You know, it just doesn’t seem right – all that suspense, the whole first part of this article building up to say these 5 words: “It’s all in the headline.” But it’s true. Here’s why.

The headline determines two things: who will read the rest of the ad, and as importantly, who won’t read the rest of the ad. So you have to create your headline with the idea of getting as many interested people to read the ad and respond as possible, yet also qualifying the respondents, and limiting your readers to only real and viable prospects; then get all the readers (of your ad) to respond.

It’s a tough assignment. Limit your audience too much and no one reads your ad. Not enough limiting and too many unqualified people respond. While I usually recommend throwing a loose qualification net – “invite everyone to respond and we’ll figure it out later” – this isn’t always the most practical solution. So I qualify the response with the headline by limiting the people who read the rest of the ad and subsequently respond.

Here’s an example: you own a moving company. Besides the hundreds of new friends you’ll have asking you to help them move for free, you need to place an advertisement or generate a story in the press to get qualified prospects who are about to move to call you.

Now’s the time to bring out one of my best tricks: offer something to readers for free, just to make your phone ring.

Offering something for free is the best way to get a response – any arguments? So should we offer a free brochure about our moving company? Nah, who wants a free brochure? You can get brochures anywhere – the only people who want brochures are people with a wood burning stove with the winter coming up. So to get a qualified response to our ad we’ll offer a “FREE Informational Booklet!”

FREE Informational Booklets are great – they sound much more valuable than brochures. Now here’s the real trick: qualify the prospect with the title. For a moving company, offer a moving guide: “How to Pack Valuables for Moving!” So the headline of our ad reads “FREE BOOKLET: How to Pack Valuables for Moving!”

While this headline doesn’t sound so exciting in this article, I assure you if you were moving it would sound pretty attractive, and you’d be looking all over your house for a pencil faster than a dung beetle onto, well… you know.


Jeffrey Dobkin

Jeffrey Dobkin

Jeff Dobkin is a speaker (blah blah blah, yip yip yip) and a marketing consultant (marketing plans, pr, market strategy, plan analysis: audits and review, media review) who happens to be an amazing writer (corporate literature, articles, brochures, ads, collateral, annual reports, technical material), specializing in direct-selling print and web (DR Ads, catalogs, TV scripts, web copy) and direct marketing material (letters, direct mail, mailing packages brochures, catalogs, web copy and did I mention post cards?) He’s also pretty darn good at analyzing catalogs, ads and campaigns and direct mail packages. He has written over 250 articles and 5 books on direct marketing. He can be reached at 610-642-1000. Thanks for visiting this site and reading our explicit how-to articles on marketing, direct marketing, PR and copywriting. How can we help you?

Email Jeffrey Here! Or write to: Jeff at Dobkin dot com.