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How to improve headlines in minutes

By Sean D'Souza,

Headline writing is an art, right? No it's not. But you can't be vague. So how would you define vague headlines? Vague headlines have terms like this:

Does your office have workplace-stress?

So what's vague about that headline? Well for one, what's the meaning of stress? The word 'stress' doesn't trigger off any specifics in my brain. Intellectually, I can work out what stress means, but if you get specific, then I know 'EXACTLY' what you mean.

So let's say you deal with workplace stress

What does workplace stress mean? Does it mean that people are screaming at each other? Does it mean that everyone seems to send BCCs on every email and 'cover-their-you-know-whats?' Does it mean that the staff seem to take too many days off for no apparent reason?

Stress is like 'crime'. What is 'crime?'

Is it murder, or arson, or rape, or burglary? If you're not specific, and you said the crime rate is going up in the neighbourhood, then I understand that the crime rate is going up.

But if you said 'arson' was a problem, then I'd make sure I have sprinklers and fire extinguishers. If you said 'burglary' then I'd have a burglar alarm installed. If you said 'murder' then I'd probably leave the neighbourhood.

Of course, each of the examples is just an example, but understand what's happening

Each situation is bringing up a different response. And so it is with stress. If you say stress, you get a response that's general. And non-specific.

But if you say something specific, then it makes a world of a difference. What you really want to get across to me is the symptom. Something I can really measure.

So people in the cancer business don't say 'cancer'
They first isolate the cancer. For instance, 'skin cancer'. Then they literally talk about 'moles.' And how to inspect moles.

People can intellectually process the word 'cancer', but they can see a mole and how it changes.

I can understand a mole. I can see how it relates to cancer. And I can either act on it, or ignore it, depending on my/or the doctor's diagnosis.

But writers who don't understand this concept of being specific, continue to be vague

They use words like 'stress,' or 'cancer', or 'pain', or 'crime' or whatever. Which I can understand, but can 't act on. And the action, aha, that's what you want from the customer.

So how do you get specific?

You simply ask: "But what does it mean?"

Workplace stress: What does it mean?

And when you get the answer, ask, "What does that mean?" And then "What does that mean?"

And you can use the 'what does it mean' concept several times, till you get to the specifics.

Just because you've been writing copy for a while doesn't mean that you're getting specific enough in your headlines. It's only when you specifically drive home the 'what does it mean?' for EVERY headline, do you get headlines that get customers to react, and act.

Look at your headlines. Go and audit them. Do they have words like 'stress?' Now, now, that's not specific enough. Go right down to the symptom. And you'll find that customers respond to a headline with a clear symptom a whole lot better.

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