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Marketing 101: What is a point-first headline?

May 28th, 2021
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Marketing has a language all its own. This is our latest in a series of posts aimed at helping new marketers learn that language. What term do you find yourself explaining most often to new hires during onboarding? Let us know.

 

Marketing 101: What is a point-first headline?

This article was originally published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.

 

A point-first headline is a headline that begins with the main point you are trying to make to the reader.

There are three types of sentences: point first, point middle, and point last.

 

Creative Sample #1: Illustration of point-sequenced grammar

Essentially, when you write a point-first headline, you are leading with the information that is most appealing and relevant to the reader. So placing the main point of value for the customer in the front of the sentence increases the probability it will be read and understood by potential customers. For this reason, the best-performing headlines are typically point first.

Writing a point-first headline is the equivalent of the inverted pyramid in journalism. Writing a story this way encourages the reporter to put the most newsworthy info first.

Another journalistic saying that is very applicable to a point-first headline is “Don’t bury the lede.” In other words, make sure the most newsworthy part of the story is front and center. For marketing, “most newsworthy” translates to “main point of value to the customer.”

 

A headline experiment

MECLABS Institute worked with a survey company to research which headlines would be most effective to recruit panelists to take surveys (MECLABS is the parent organization of MarketingSherpa).

The experiment tested a series of point-first and point-last headlines. Below you can see each headline along with its conversion rate. We’ve also underlined the main point in each headline.

Point-first headlines

  • Get Paid to Take FREE Surveys: 28.76% conversion rate
  • Here’s Your First Survey, and an Invitation to Join Our Research Community: 28.35%
  • Get Paid to Fill Out Online Surveys: 27.98%
  • Get Rewarded for Your Opinion: 27.92%
  • Surveys – Quick, Easy and FREE: 27.52%
  • Win Cash & Prizes for Online Surveys: 27.27%

Point-last headlines

  • Set Up Your FREE Account Today and Start Earning Money!: 27.35%
  • You’re Invited to Join the [Company Name] Community and to Earn Rewards For Your Opinions: 27.14%
  • Join the [Company Name] Community and Have Your Opinions Count: 26.92%
  • Take Online Surveys From Home and Win Cash & Prizes: 26.81%

As you can see, point-first headlines tended to outperform point-last headlines.

While no point-middle headlines were included in this experiment since they tend to underperform both point-first and point-last headlines, here are a few examples of what point-middle headlines for this landing page might look like.

Point-middle headlines

  • Sign up today and get paid to take free surveys
  • Take free surveys and get rewarded for your opinion
  • Share your opinions and win cash with online surveys

As these examples show, the main value to the customer is easier to overlook in a point-middle headline.

 

Page Templates That Work

The tendency for point-first headlines to outperform point-last and especially point-middle headlines (all else being equal) led MECLABS to recommend to marketers that you should test point-first headlines on your landing pages.

In the free resource Page Templates That Work: Improve conversions with these scientifically proven webpage templates, the templates advise marketers to use a “Point-first headline that clearly communicates the value of the page objective.”

 

Creative Sample #2: Excerpt from Page Templates That Work

Creative Sample #2: Excerpt from Page Templates That Work

You can follow Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute, on Twitter @DanielBurstein.

 

If you are interested in point-first headlines, you might also like…

Copywriting: See immediate lifts by applying these 5 principles to your headlines

Headline Optimization: How testing 10 headlines revealed a 3-letter word that improved conversion more than major changes

Email Marketing: 3 letters to drive subject line success

 

If you are interested in entry-level marketing content, you might also like…

Marketing 101: What is funnel creation?

Marketing 101: What is PPC in marketing?

The Beginner’s Guide to Digital Marketing: 53 articles (and 1 video) to help with onboarding

Ask MarketingSherpa: Homepage value proposition

February 10th, 2021
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Ask MarketingSherpa: Homepage value proposition

We frequently receive questions from our email newsletter subscribers asking marketing advice. Instead of hiding those answers in a one-to-one communication, we occasionally publish edited excerpts of some of these conversations here on the MarketingSherpa blog so they can help other readers as well. If you have any questions, let us know.

Dear MarketingSherpa: Hi Daniel. Hope you’re having a good week.

About 10 days ago I commented about a three-part study you posted on homepage redesigns on your Linkedin post.

I asked you for some extra resources, and you sent a few links that I reviewed.

If you don’t mind me asking a direct question, could you offer your two cents of feedback on this please?

Here’s the thing. My client is a SaaS Case Management platform, that wants a redesigned website. So we’ve started working, and at the outset, the deal is to make the homepage less techy and more business-oriented.

I’m working on the homepage value prop, and we discussed two options, both suggested by me:

Option 1: Manage Cases With Ease

Option 2: Manage More Cases With Less Stress.

The internal team is heavily leaning to Option 1 because it looks cleaner, and I’m pulling the other way because Option 2 identifies the wants and pains of the target audience better, and with more emotional impact.

I’d love to hear your two cents on the matter. When the homepage is competing with $50 million per year businesses, and the audience is the public sector and companies serving the public sector, how smart is the idea to use these more “emotions-oriented” taglines?

Igor Mateski
Founder/CEO
WebMaxFormance

Dear Reader: Hey Igor,

I can’t say which is the best value prop for the company. That takes a lot of work. If you haven’t already, I suggest conducting a value prop workshop with them. Here’s an example – B2B Value Proposition: How a tech startup used a value prop workshop to help prepare for a public offering (4 takeaways for your brand)

As to your question between the two options, your best bet is to test.

Personally, my off-the-cuff response (hope it doesn’t sound too harsh), they will both underperform because they have no credibility. I know you wouldn’t tell me “Manage Less Cases with More Stress” so why should I believe you if you told me “Manage More Cases with Less Stress?”

As for “emotions-oriented” – it can work. Remember, you’re not selling to companies or government agencies, you’re selling to people. If you’ve hit on the right emotion from them (and I don’t know them and can’t say if you have) it can be very effective, but again, it needs to be credible.

Hope that helps.

Dear MarketingSherpa: Hmm…interesting point, about credibility. I didn’t turn over that rock. Obviously.

We haven’t had any interviews/planning with the client. They just asked that we redesign the site, and the deadline is New Year’s. So we’re cutting corners in plenty of places in order to make the deadline.

That being said, what do you suggest as a quick and easy way to add credibility to the value prop?

By the way, thank you for your comment. It’s quite helpful!

Dear Reader: Glad I could help, Igor. Quick and easy? That’s tough. I’d suggest get them on the phone, discuss the claim they like, and then you really have to challenge them. “OK, I believe you. But why should anyone else believe this? They’ll have three other tabs open with websites for your competitors. Why would they believe this line?”

Here are some specific elements that can help build credibility on the page – Credibility: 9 elements that help make your marketing claims more believable.

Dear MarketingSherpa: Thank you for the resources. I really appreciate this.

If there’s anything I can do for you, let me know.

You can follow Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute, on Twitter @DanielBurstein.

You might also like…

MECLABS Institute Value Proposition Development on-demand certification course – Learn how to clearly communicate an effective value proposition based on a review of 1,100 academic articles and more than two decades of real-world experimentation

MarketingSherpa Quick Guide to Website Optimization PDF

Powerful Value Propositions: How to Optimize this Critical Marketing Element – and Lift Your Results (Value Proposition Archives)

Does Your Marketing Copy Have Earfeel?

September 19th, 2019
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Each line of copy on your websites and in your advertising should have a job. That job may be to help communicate the value proposition. Or it may be to reduce anxiety.

But don’t let the necessity of function blind you to the importance of form in the headline.

At the end of the day, it is communication. And so your copy needs a certain earfeel.

After all, great advertising and branding doesn’t just get a point across. It gets the earfeel just right. Whether it’s a headline (“At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in the new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock”), a tagline (The Ultimate Driving Machine), a credo (Truth Well Told) or an organization name (Wounded Warrior Project).

This article was originally published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.

What is earfeel, and why is it important?

If you’ve never heard the word earfeel before, don’t feel bad. Admittedly, I just made it up. But I think it is the perfect way to express the need for marketing copy to not just be words that literally summarize a thought, but also communicate them in a way that customers will comprehend and viscerally feel them.

I got the idea from mouthfeel, which Wikipedia defines as “the physical sensations in the mouth caused by food or drink, as distinct from taste.”

As an example, the Wikipedia page has a girl enjoying a peach. Something can look like a peach, taste like a peach, and smell like a peach, but if you don’t feel the fuzzy skin when you grab it and the tender flesh when you bite in … well, it’s just not a peach.

We know that intuitively.

Yet, we sometimes build headlines by simply checking off a checklist — trying to communicate four elements of our value prop and stuff them together. But if it doesn’t have earfeel, even though all the words are there, the message is just not getting through to anyone.

Here are some examples when that happens …

The headline isn’t really a headline

Just because there are words at the top of the page doesn’t mean you have a headline. A headline with earfeel should be welcoming and begin a conversation.

Take a look at this “headline”:  Business Dedicated Services Australia (from Copywriting: 5 proven discoveries that strengthen copy).

That lacks earfeel. You would never say that to another human being in a sentence. It reminds me of the old Coneheads sketch on Saturday Night Live, where a family of aliens could speak and understand English, but while everything they said was technically correct, it lacked earfeel …

Prymaat Conehead: I am engaged in preparing your favorite meal, small starch tubes combined with lactate extract of hooved mammals.

Beldar Conehead: Ah. You mean macaroni and cheese. I’m sure we will enjoy it.

Read more…

Ask MarketingSherpa: Finding and hiring content marketing writers

August 29th, 2019
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We frequently receive questions from our email subscribers asking marketing advice. Instead of hiding those answers in a one-to-one email communication, we occasionally publish edited excerpts of some of these conversations here on the MarketingSherpa blog so they can help other readers as well. If you have any questions, let us know.

 

Dear MarketingSherpa: What factors should I consider when hiring a content marketing writer? Do you have any recommendations for content writing services or other ways of finding content marketing writers? We produce a lot of content internally but are aiming to scale by outsourcing. We’ve used a few providers in the past (freelance writers and an online writers’ marketplace, for example) and currently use a content writing agency, though I’d welcome any other suggestions.

 

Dear Reader: From our limited experience, there is no content writing service that is head and shoulders above the rest for every industry and topic area that we could recommend without reservations. It doesn’t mean they’re not out there, it just means we haven’t encountered them yet.

The best you can do is try them out and experiment to see what is the best fit for your unique company and industry. For example, you might commission ten articles from ten writers from three different services, and then narrow it down based on their ability and dependability. Obviously, it will be highly variable based on their pay rate.

Here are a few questions you might want to get aligned on internally when outsourcing content marketing writing:

What is your brand voice?

What type of content should your brand be producing and how should it sound?

Can the writer do interviews? Storytelling? Human interest stories? Profiles? Case studies? Entertaining writing? Humor? Technical writing? Work with busy executives? Are they fluent in your industry? Or do they focus just on basic factual information?

Some writers are more flexible than others and can do many things effectively. Others focus on a specific niche and can do an amazing technical white paper but couldn’t do a personality-driven piece well. You’re not just looking for general skills and dependability, you also need the right fit for your brand and value proposition.

How important is the human connection when customers consider purchasing from us?

Consider the importance of the human element when looking at the type of writing the writer does. The human element to content writing can be especially important if you have a services-based business. You need a writer who can interview your subject matter experts and clients well and tell that compelling human interest story, even when talking about basic industry information. With a services-based business, customers aren’t only looking for expertise but also are going to make a human connection with your consultants if they hire your business.

What level of expertise do customers expect from our brand?

One word of caution, for a website or product that requires a certain level of expertise, you may want to be careful about hiring the lower-cost SEO type of writers. I call their style of writing “book report writing” because it’s like a basic regurgitation about a topic, no real insights.

This may not be a good fit if people are buying your expertise, even when it’s just software and not an actual human interaction. The cheaper writers can be better for simple consumer goods products that rely less on an expertise sale, like headphones or mattresses.

You could even see which freelance writers are engaged in true journalism and take a brand journalism type of approach. You can learn more about brand journalism in this blog post (while this post discusses a direct hire, you could do the same with freelance).

Read more…

How to Structure a Story in a Presentation

September 12th, 2018
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A MECLABS Institute Research Partner was putting together a major presentation and recently reached out for thoughts on how to structure it. As with conversion and many other areas of marketing, MECLABS (the parent research organization of MarketingSherpa) has a specific framework for crafting engaging presentations.

Using a trusted framework can help, because public speaking — whether on webinars, in-person at conferences, to prospects on a sales call, or in an internal meeting — does not come naturally to many people. In fact, public speaking is often ranked as a more common fear than death in national surveys, prompting Jerry Seinfeld to remark, “In other words, at a funeral, the average person would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.”

How morose. But it points out the need to support whoever in your company is speaking on behalf of your brand — sales reps, subject matter experts, C-level execs, even yourself — with a well-crafted presentation that helps them engage and convert the audience. You want to leverage the power of story and not rely on their speaking abilities alone.

The fundamental marketing challenge behind every presentation

Since presentations are communication and a representation of the brand, they are inherently a marketing challenge.

And like any marketing challenge, the goal is to make sure the value delivered outweighs the cost to the potential customer.

This is true for any call-to-action you have in the presentation, for example, moving to the next step in the sales process for a sales presentation or visiting a website for a presentation at a conference.

However, it’s even true for just getting your audience to pay attention to you. Let’s be real, it is very difficult to pay attention to anything for an extended time in 2018. If the value isn’t higher than the cost of avoiding email or putting down their phone or leaving the webinar or simply zoning out, you will lose them.

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Marketing 101: Copywriting vs. copy editing vs. content writing

June 8th, 2018
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Marketing has a language all its own. This is our latest in a series of posts aimed at helping new marketers learn that language. What term do you find yourself explaining most often to new hires during onboarding? Let us know.

I recently received the following request about one of our MECLABS Institute Research Partners  (MECLABS is the parent research organization of MarketingSherpa.) …

“One of the pages we are building is a Bio page/section. The Research Partner is having their people write their own bios.

I know you’re already working closely on the other pages, but wanted to see if you would be able to take those and do some minor copy editing …”

Now, we have an excellent copy editor (the blog post you’re reading right now is likely far better than my original draft, thanks to Linda Johnson). And while I’m quite confident of my copywriting skills, I readily admit I am a very poor copy editor … but I’m often mistaken for one since the different words sound so similar.

I bring up this example for the latest in our series of marketing terms posts because I’ve often seen the two terms confused by marketing managers, project managers and the like. Throw in content writing as well, and it gets even more confusing.

So to help you differentiate between similar roles and find the person with the skill sets you need for your websites, blogs, print ads, direct mail letters, brochures, product spec sheets, catalogs, and on and on, here’s a quick guide. Even if you’re on the marketing technology side and don’t consider yourself a “creative,” it helps to know the people you should call when you need help.

Copywriting — Helping the customer come to the best decision about a brand, product or conversion goal

The copywriter writes TV commercials, radio spots, print ads, marketing emails, direct mail, brochures, out-of-home advertising and other types of advertising or marketing. The goal is usually to get an action from a customer, whether that’s making a purchase, becoming a lead, giving a donation or coming to a conclusion about a brand (branding).

Harry McCann famously coined the phrase “The truth well told” for advertising.

Copywriters are the ones who tell it well.

Read more…

Ask MarketingSherpa: Making a career shift (to B2B copywriting)

June 6th, 2018
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We frequently receive questions from our email subscribers asking marketing advice. Instead of hiding those answers in a one-to-one email communication, we occasionally publish some of them here on the MarketingSherpa blog so they can help other readers as well. If you have any questions, let us know.

 

Dear MarketingSherpa: I came across your organization because I was searching for data showing which/what kinds of companies and industries care most about well-written marketing copy, in all forms.

I am taking on a career shift from many years of Software Engineering and Project Management, and I am targeting B2B copywriting, with a niche somewhere in the high-tech sector. I know that is too general, as just about every company today is facing high-tech challenges whether or not they know it, and I need to go much narrower.

Admittedly I am in the early stages of this transition, but I am trying to focus my efforts as much as possible. My thoughts are to eventually produce materials such as white papers, case studies, explainer video scripts, but those require more expertise and track record than blogs, short articles, etc., which is where I feel I could start. At this point I’m very open to any start.  I’m planning to get a website up and start posting some blogs on it, but I’m researching how I want to do that, too.

But back to Marketing Sherpa — As I make a wide scan of potential clients it occurs to me there will be many people who just don’t care and don’t need clean, coherent, well-organized copy. I don’t need to expend my efforts there. At the other end of the spectrum there should be people in industries where the slightest misstatement or grammatical error can sabotage one’s attempts. That’s where I want to work.

I would welcome any suggestions you might have on this point, and since I am still such a green twig in this new field, any other counsel would be great. Do the ideas I have laid out above sound sound?

Thanks in advance!

Rob Tompkins, PMP, CSM, LSSGB
Allen, Texas

Dear Rob: Thanks for your question. If you’re looking to break into B2B copywriting, the number one skill set you must prove is that you can write effective copy. And the clearest way I know to do that is to write effective copy. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Start blogging

You’re on the right track with your idea to start a website and begin blogging on it. You’d be amazed how many aspiring writers I interview who don’t do this.

When I was just starting out, you had to work hard to build your book (portfolio). Try to find an internship or nonprofit or anyone who would let you write for them. Sure, you could do spec work. But that wasn’t nearly as valuable as having real published work for an actual client.

Today, you can publish to the entire world with the push of a button. Yes, in some ways it’s still spec work. But unlike a dot matrix printout hidden in my giant black portfolio, your blog gets exposure to the world. You can share it on social media. You can look at the analytics to see who’s reading it. You can solicit comments. You can attempt to interview people on your blog.

So, by all means, do it. Start that website. Start that blog. Get yourself out there.

Read more…

Copywriting: Listen to customers so you can speak their language

December 1st, 2017
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Words matter. Both for their denotation (to ensure prospective customers understand your advertising) as well as for their connotation.

(Words are subtle indicators to tell a potential customer “we understand you specifically” and “this offer is meant for people like you.”)

To truly speak our customers’ language, we must listen to them because our customers may be very different from us.

No easy task. As Don Peppers and Martha Rogers say in Managing Customer Experience and Relationships, “‘Listening’ has never been part of most mass marketers’ primary skill set.” (I’m reading the book as a student of the University of Florida/MECLABS Institute Communicating Value and Web Conversion graduate certificate program.)

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Marketing 101: What is big rock content?

November 10th, 2017
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I had three hours to kill before my next flight to Dallas departed. While sitting in an airport café warming my hands around a mocha, I overheard snippets of an intense conversation in the booth behind me.

“It’s all about your big rocks. They are the most important. What are your big rocks?” 

At the time, I hadn’t heard of Stephen Covey’s analogy, so I had no idea what these two young marketers were discussing. Later, I was enlightened.

In brief, effective people prioritize their goals beginning with the most important (the rocks) and moving on to those of lesser importance (sand). Because when you think about it, if you try to fill a jar with sand before filling it with rocks, you will have troubles fitting the rocks in. Begin with the rocks and fill in the spaces with sand. It’s good advice and can be applied not only to marketing but our personal lives as well.

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Ask MarketingSherpa: Copywriting for non-native English speakers

September 8th, 2017
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We frequently receive questions about marketing advice from our email subscribers. Instead of hiding those answers in a one-to-one email communication, we’re going to start publishing some of them here on the MarketingSherpa blog since they may be able to help many other readers. And if you have any questions, let us know.

Dear MarketingSherpa: I wanted to ask you what would be the biggest advice you would give to a non-native English speaker who wants to develop outstanding copy writing.

Dear Reader: We’re all non-native in some way, right? When I started working as a contracted consultant to IBM, I didn’t speak their language either. It was my first tech job, and that industry (like every industry) has a language all its own.

So the best advice I can give you is to immerse yourself in English, especially its use in whatever industries you want to write for. Subscribe to respectable English-language newspapers and consumer and industry magazines and read them daily. Read not just the content but the advertising. Do the same with English-language blogs, websites, forums, social media, etc.

Also, run tests on your writing whenever you can to help understand what language most resonates with the ideal prospect.

Here’s an example — Test Your Marketing Intuition: Which PPC Ad Produced More Conversions?

When we ran that test, we didn’t know if the term “AccuraScope” would resonate with the ideal prospect. So we tested to discover the best words to use.

Best of luck with your copywriting career.

You can follow Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content, MarketingSherpa, on Twitter @DanielBurstein.

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