Sub-headlines: The Neglected Little Sister

I got a lot of nice e-mail about my previous post, What’s the Copywriter’s Most Powerful Psychological Tool – see http://StreetGuideToCopywriting.com/blog/conversions/most-powerful-tool, thanks.

This time I want to look at an important topic that you don’t read a lot about and that I call the “neglected little sister, the sub-headline; fortunately, it builds directly upon the Most Powerful Psychological Tool!

Even the term is confusing because it is used for 2 entirely different things in a sales letter.

First, it is used for the secondary headline under the primary headline. You know…

Buy My Wonderful Product So That YOU Can Become a Trillionaire,
Live Forever and Sleep with Every Beautiful Women on the Planet”

And You Won’t Believe Why I Will Pay You For the Privilege

The second part, “And You Won’t Believe Why I Will Pay You For the Privilege”, is the sub-headline.

The other use is to break up the sales copy into sections to keep it interesting, be informative, and as a “skimmer magnet” — to stop and capture the attention of skim readers.

Both are important but this time I’ll be talking about how your can use sneaky techniques to…

make the sub-headline underneath the headline do its part.

If It’s On a Sales Letter it MUST Have a Purpose

One of the cardinal rules of writing sales copy that has spectacular conversion rates it to put in only things that advance the prospect toward a sale (or list sign up or making a telephone call or whatever).

The primary reasons for the sub-headline are:

  • Reinforce the headline
  • Expand on the major point/benefit
  • Add some new point/benefit
  • Explain the “attention getting” headline or to “complete the thought”
  • Compel the reader to read the first line of the body copy

While most sub-headlines do all of those, the last one is the most important one.

Remember each section – even every paragraph and sentence — of sales copy is meant to get the person to continue to the next section.

I’ve heard this called “reading gravity” or a “slippery slide”, because if your copy is compelling enough it is like gravity taking them down a slippery slide, they just can’t stop reading.

It’s more than that though, it’s meant to get them to continue but be in a slightly altered mental place. You don’t want them just reading you want them to take action.

With each word, sentence, and paragraph you are slowly getting your prospects to view the world as you want them to; at least in regards to purchasing your product (or whatever your call to action is).

The sub-headline is the same.

The headline caught their attention and broke them out of the trance they had in their head, allowing you to enter into that conversation.

Now the sub-headline needs to get them to the next section slightly more inclined to “buy” than they were before.

Let’s Look at Some Examples

I’m going to take you through an exercise I do periodically to for ideas and my swipe file; I particularly like to do this because I am strictly an Internet Marketer and looking outside of IM helps me get ideas outside from my boundaries.

The point here is not to do that but to look at the actual sub-headlines and “feel” them.

I’ve taken 4 random magazines from the reading pile my wife and I have and selected a number of actual ads to demonstrate the use of a sub-heading in action.

Remember that these all come with pictures that help support the ad (and sometimes clarify the headlines) but it is still important to look at the headlines on their own, particularly the sub-headline.

When you read them you need to put yourself into the mind and shoes of a prospect and be aware of what you feel changes inside you when you read them.

It will probably be a slight change so you have to pay close attention but notice the change and why you change; that change may be you want to read more or not but be aware of it and why,

Let’s look at the ads …

From Time Magazine:

For Ford:
Headline: THE MOST FUEL-EFFICIENT MIDSIZE SEDAN
Sub-headline: THE 2010 FORD FUSION + HYBRID

For ZOSTAVAX:
Headline: IMAGINE THIS BLISTERING RASH ALONG WITH STABBING PAIN AND YOU’LL HAVE AN IDEA OF WHAT IT CAN BE LIKE TO HAVE SHINGLES.
Sub-headline: IF YOU HAD CHICKENPOX AS A CHILD, YOU COULD GET SHINGLES NOW.

For Starbucks: (purchasing bags of coffee)
Headline: CAN’T BEAT HAVING A STARBUCKS THREE MINUTES FROM YOUR OFFICE.
Sub-headline: EXCEPT WHEN YOUR MEETING IS IN TWO.

For Hilton HHonors Program:
Headline: Olympics Glory lasts forever.
Sub-headline: Your chance to witness it only lasts through December 31.

For ADVAIR:
Headline: Asthma has 2 main causes.
Sub-headline: Treating both with ADVAIR helps prevent symptoms.

For SPIRIVA:
Headline: MY GOAL IS TO BREATHE BETTER EVERY DAY.
Sub-headline: Once-daily SPIRIVA helps people with COPD breathe better.

From Smithsonian:

For the United States Mint:
Headline: ROOSEVELT WANTED A COIN THAT REFLECTED THE GLORY OF A NATION.
Sub-headline: WHAT HE GOT WAS A MASTERPIECE.

For Bose:
Headline: New. Quieter than ever before.
Sub-headline: Introducing Bose QuietComfort 15 Accoustic Noise Cancelling headphones,

For Stauer:
Headline: The Curse of the Perfect Gift
Sub-headline: 20 carats of polished natural emeralds linked with 14K gold for under $200!

Headline: How Do You Spell Pearl Necklace?
Sub-headline: F-R-E-E.

For Mucinex:
Headline: Chest congested?
Sub-headline: For long lasting relief, evict mucus.

For Jitterbug:
Headline: It doesn’t play music, take pictures, or surf the Internet.
Sub-headline: Introducing the NEW Jitterbug. It’s the cell phone that offers simplicity for everyone.

For New York Life:
Headline: SMART SAFE GROWTH YEAR AFTER YEAR
Sub-headline: Guaranteed growth, in good times and bad.

From Family Circle:

For Olay Professional Pro-X Intensive Wrinkle Protocol:
Headline: As effective at wrinkle reduction as what THE DOCTOR PRESCRIBES.*
Sub-headline: At half the price.

For Martha Stewart Crafts:
Headline: Tinseltown.
Sub-headline: Martha Stewart tinsel glitters.

For Lee Jeans:
Headline: JEANS THAT INSTANTLY SLIM YOU.
Sub-headline: NEW SLENDER SECRET JEANS. DO YOU HAVE AN INSTANT?

For Symbicort:
Headline: COPD left me short of breath.
Sub-headline: Now I take SYMBICORT.

For Newbridge Silverware:
Headline: GIFTS DIRECT FROM IRELAND
Sub-headline: FOR YOU HOME AND YOUR LOVED ONES

For Lyrica:
Headline: One thing that doesn’t change with the season:
Sub-headline: Diabetic Nerve Pain.

For Genentech:
Headline: Learn to spot a leading cause of blindness before it happens
Sub-headline: You might be in for a real WAKE-UP call.

For VYTORIN:
Headline: There are 2 sources of cholesterol. Food & Family.
Sub-headline: Only VYTORIN treats both.

For Febreze vacuum bags:
Headline: Don’t just vacuum… freshen!
Sub-headline: Fill the room with freshness as you vacuum.

For Swanson Chicken Broth:
Headline: HOLIDAY SUCCESS RESTS ON SWANSON.
Sub-headline: THE ONLY CANNED CHICKEN BROTH WITHOUT ADDED MSG.

From Health:

For Dove with Nutrium Moisture:
Headline: What makes the new Dove different?
Sub-headline: Here’s the story before the clothes.

For L’Oreal Revitalift:
Headline: WANT TO STOP DEEP-SET EYE WRINKLES?
Sub-headline: Start with the first nonstop AM + PM eye repair duo.

For Vaseline Sheer Infusion:
Headline: NEW Vaseline Sheer Infusion
Sub-headline: Superior moisture across all layers of skin

For Kashi:
Headline: Do What Comes Naturally
Sub-headline: EASY TIPS FOR A STRESS FREE SEASON

For Lipitor:
Headline: I never thought it could happen to me.
Sub-headline: A heart attack at 53.

For Kellogg’s Special K Bar:
Headline: Great taste.
Sub-headline: Less waist.

For Toviaz:
Headline: If you can draw a map to every bathroom in town…
Sub-headline: Today is the day to talk to your doctor about overactive bladder and TOVIAZ – a pill that comes with a plan.

For I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter:
Headline: Butter taste.
Sub-headline: Better Health

For Plavix: (heart attack medicine)
Headline: You’ll never forget that day.
Sub-headline: PLAVIX can help you from going through it again.

Well, that was more than I planned on but each illustrates at least one point and some of them probably convert well and some of them seem pretty terrible (but you’ll only know from testing).

If you “felt” and analyzed your reactions you’ll have learned something; I got several interesting ideas just from finding them!

How to Make a Great Sub-headline

The sub-headline needs to be compelling and build curiosity so people will read the first sentence of the sales copy.

For example, I like one I have in my swipe file from Joe Sugarman, it reads:

A new consumer concept lets you buy stolen merchandise if you’re willing to take a risk.

That will get most people reading more of the sales copy, that’s for sure!

The key here is to take the headline and add to it – explain, give more info, etc. – in a way that does excite their curiosity.

Let’s look at a quick example of Mike Filsaime trying to do this with his Butterfly Marketing sales page by having this attention grabbing headline/sub-headline:

“Overdose Warning Required”

Consumer Warning: Use Of This Product May Have Such Explosive And Instant Results Of Cash Surging Into Your Merchant Account… The Result Of Which Could Lead To Getting A Phone Call From Your Merchant Account For Unusual Activity!

Now, I don’t know what traffic he’s driving to this page (what exact keywords, etc.) but I think I’d have used the sub-headline as a headline and used some of the copy he has later as a sub-headline. Maybe something like:

Many People Have Had Their Cash-Packed PayPal Accounts Temporarily Frozen for Review After They Discovered and Applied the Little Known “Butterfly” Techniques

Hmm, not bad. Could use some more thought and revision but not bad for a few seconds thought.

You can see how it reinforces the headline by using more “exact” language as well as some powerful motivating words.

Hopefully, making people want to read more about what the “butterfly” techniques are and how they were so successful that people’s accounts were frozen for review.

Of course, Mike can afford to buy the best copywriter’s in the world and test his sales copy a million different ways so that headline is likely better performing for his audience but the point he was trying to do and that I am trying to make is to let the sub-headline be the helpful supporting, behind the scenes person who actually gets things done; in this case make the prospect curious enough to read on.

That curiosity can come from anything but it must be there and usually the “sneakier” the better.

Conclusion

Curiosity, the “most powerful psychological tool” it the key to having a mind-blowing sub-headline.

Sure, most people don’t even think much about it but it is an important part of a sales letter and can give that little extra push to the prospect who was attracted by the headline to get them to read on.

Go through the examples above again and “feel”. Do it with magazines, newspapers, Web sites, etc. that you come across and your sub-headlines and the rest of your sales copy will get much better.

Just remember that the headline gets someone to climb up to the top of the slippery slide to action but the sub-headline is the thing that starts their momentum.

To learn more about creating sub-headlines (and headlines) and about having better sales copy, just sign up here

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Do you have any example of great sub-headlines?

Do you use them? You should :-)

What types of things pique your curiosity enough to compel you to read on?

Leave a comment and let me know.

Talk soon,

David

The Shameless (Ethical) Marketer
http://www.Twitter.com/DavidHusnian
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