The editorial copywriter that I work with responded to me today (after I provided her with feedback on the headline that she submitted for this month’s article), “I guess I don’t understand what you mean by ‘benefit.’ In marketing yes, in editorial no—this sounds like [insert topic here] for Dummies—help me understand why this is important.”
Here is my response:
The reality is that the purpose of editorial is to tell a story. The purpose for marketing is getting your audience’s attention so that they read your story.
One rule of thumb for Marketers, that is very popular in the user experience world, is “don’t make me think”. So, yes, when it comes to marketing, we are writing “for dummies”. It is important to make your offer, or your content, accessible to your audience–so that they don’t feel stupid, and are encouraged to stay engaged.
The reason for this is that there are so many messages out there that people are asked to pay attention to that we only have less than one second to grab their attention. So, your headline’s job is to connect with your reader quickly.
Three qualities that tend to increase the likelihood that your headline will connect with your reader are: clarity, relevance and credibility. That’s why I ask questions like, “will they know what this means?” “does this matter to our audience?” and “what’s in it for them?” It’s our job to make the reader feel like, “if I don’t read this, I lose.”
Here are some examples of headlines and the response they may evoke:
[Your topic] — this may connect with those who currently have [your topic] on their mind, or are currently working on it. It does not provide value for our entire audience to read this article right now.
Simplify [insert topic here] in five easy steps — this will also connect with those who know what [your topic] is, yet aren’t really thinking of it now; although, learning how to do it easily in five steps might be worth the read, or “I lose”.
How to [Insert topic here] and make your job easier — this will connect with those who know what [your topic] is AND those who don’t but now understand what the benefit of that topic is. For those who know, this is a reminder of what [your topic] is about and how it benefits your reader. It does not come across as, “hey dummy . . . here is the definition of [your topic]”. People don’t always make connections themselves, and it is our job to make the connection for them, without having to make the reader work for it, or think.
So, generally speaking, it is best to use a headline that connects with your audience on the most common denominator—those in the know will be reminded; and those not in the know will be included.