5 part headline  template to write killer headlines that always attract attention.

5 part headline  template to write killer headlines that always attract attention.

The ability of a headline to attract attention, then lead the reader deeper into the content is the make or break skill of copywriting, and even in this world of video, the ability to write a headline remains the single most important skill in effective communication.

No matter how good the body-copy, without a great headline, it will not get read.

Pretty much all my clients are small and medium businesses, and run pretty lean. As a result they often write their own copy then wonder why it does not work. Like many skills, the individual differences between a professional and an OK amateur can seem small and hardly worth the money, but they usually add up in the end to a huge difference in the outcome.

So here is a headline template that always works.

Use combinations of these elements:

  • Number
  • Trigger word
  • Adjective
  • Keyword
  • Promise

Let’s say the subject is a training seminar about managing cash flow.

Pretty dry stuff but of vital importance to any business,  and make or break for small business.

The easy and obvious headlines may be:

‘How to manage your cash flow’ or

‘Cash flow basics for beginners’

However, if you apply the headline template you might come up with something like:

‘7 simple techniques to apply cash flow to your business to make more profit’

Let’s break it down.

Number: 7. For reasons I do  not fully understand, but rooted in psychology, odd numbers  work best, and lists in headlines work as they promise to deliver instant gratification.

Trigger words: Simple. Words like Free, Secret, Undiscovered, Expert, all offer incentive to open

Adjective: Manage. Adjectives are ‘action ‘ words, they reflect and prompt activity.

Keyword: Cash Flow. Cash flow is the guts of the post, and is the word that will deliver the search engine enquiries that are relevant to the post.

Promise: ‘Make more profit’ well, who in business does not want more profit?

Alternatively, your  headline might be:

‘Join us to learn the 7 secrets to greater profits through managing cash flow’

I do not know which would be the better headline, I am not a professional copywriter, but I am pretty sure both would work well.

An option if you were about to make an investment, such as in a public seminar series, and generating a lot of interest rather than just capturing eyeballs on a blog post was financially critical, you could set about testing them by applying an  A/B test which is pretty easy on social media platforms. Then you could use the better one, or perhaps do some more ‘wordsmithing’ to improve one or both for further testing.

As evidence of how the template works, the headline that caught you in the first place is the third iteration of the first one I scratched down, which was :’Killer headline template that always works’. Having written the post to articulate for you a template that really works, I realised I had better take my own advice.

You tell me if it worked.


9 steps to making cold calling work for you

9 steps to making cold calling work for you

I find cold calling really difficult, while recognising the potential effectiveness when the inertia is overcome.

For me,  it takes time and emotional energy far greater than the return I have ever got from cold calling, except when I have run  out of options, then it seems to work. When the instinctive fear of failure is overcome by the necessity to take a step, when the fear of failure, or rejection is beaten by the fear of not being able to feed the kids or pay the bill on the fridge, the fear of rejection by a stranger seems trivial.

What does it really matter if you are rejected by a complete stranger anyway?

A friend of mine treats cold calling as a game, she does it for a living, and is very good at it.

Recently I sat down with her to try and extract from her routine a scalable cold calling template, and realised two things:

  1. The fear of failure was crippling
  2. Cold calling is pretty much the same as sending a cold email , which I am OK at.

Her advice was to get over the fear, and she referred me to this terrific TED talk, and to treat cold calling with just the same set of disciplines I used for cold emailing.

I have a process for developing email success that I use as a coaching outline for those I work with, and it almost always gets great results when applied sensibly. However, adding Jia jiang’s Ted talk will add greatly to the effectiveness of the following pretty standard management process to increase your effectiveness.

Segment your list.  The better you know the prospect who answers the phone, the more likely you will have a successful call. The more defined your call list, with unique messaging and value propositions developed for each segment, the better. This is as different from the completely random call you get as you are sitting down to dinner in the evening, from someone in a call centre flogging home insulation, insurance or a holiday, as it can be.

Headline. The first sentence in a phone call, or headline in an email carry the same responsibility: to pique the interest of the receiver. Fail in the first glance of a headline, or 5 seconds of a call, and it is a long hard road back. There are plenty of headline generating tools around, but the best lesson in my experience is to go to the local newsagent, and just think about the headlines on the cover of the magazines you see. They are aimed to grab attention, and direct the reader to the following sub  head, which leads into the magazine article.

Them not you. Make the message about them, and the things that interest them, not about you, as generally they will not be interested, and you will have lost them. You need to  be able to spell out exactly how you can help them.

Be a peer. Speak and write like a peer, not a supplicant sales person. There are few worse sales turn-offs than a “needy” caller. Much better to be a busy peer, making a little time in a crazy schedule because you have discovered something that you think will be of value to them.

Credibility. Be credible by providing social proof, or better yet, a referral from someone the receiver knows and respects.

Personalise. Ensure everything is personalised, anything less than a highly personalised call will almost always fail. It is necessary for you to have done the research, to know a fair bit about the receiver, the problems they face in their role, and the value of a solution you may be able to provide. Making a call to the switch of a target company and asking to be transferred to the “person responsible for XXX” is a waste of everybody’s time.

Respect. Time is our most valuable resource, so respect the receivers time by keeping it short, but to the point, ending with some sort of call to action by you or them. However, the CTA needs to be consistent with the context of the conversation. Early stages may lead to a further conversation, or the inclusion of someone else, but rarely to a sale on first contact. Generally the objective is to get some sort of positive response, a step towards a sale, but not a sale, yet.

Differentiate yourself. If you are just the same as everybody else, why should the person you are trying to engage bother with you? While the call has to be about them, and not you, it is also about articulating the way that you can help  them in ways others cannot. The necessity here is that you have done some homework, at least enough to have a shot at articulating the solution you may have to a problem they face, or opportunity they may be unaware of. Differentiation early in the conversation offers a reason why they should continue to give you their time, and builds the status you have in the conversation, you are not just another cold caller.

Follow up. And follow up again, and again, politely and with respect. Generally sales people give up at about 3, whereas all the research indicates that 5-7 follow  ups are the point at which the ability to convert increases significantly. It reflects the old advice about advertising frequency, at about the time you are getting sick of the ad, if it is worth anything, the target audience is just building awareness of your proposition.


So, what is stopping you, pick up the bloody phone!


Photo courtesy Nancy Rose via Flikr.


How to make the hardest sale there is…..Yourself.

How to make the hardest sale there is…..Yourself.

There are too many older people, men and women, but mostly men, who find themselves on the scrapheap somewhere north of 45.

20 years of working life left, and they struggle to find jobs that use their knowledge and experience, and end up mowing lawns or delivering packages.

What a waste of a deep resource, as well as being a social blight on us all.

The jobs these people are looking for no longer exist, they have gone, and are unlikely to come back. Not only do we as a community not value the lessons of experience, we positively discriminate against those with the experience by exclusion.
Subtle, on paper illegal but evident everywhere, exclusion.

We will have to get used to it, as the changes wrought by the industrial revolution and the social disruption colloquialised as ‘Luddites” is coming back at us very, very, fast.

AI, VR,  Augmented VR, and a host of technologies to automate every repetitive task, almost no matter how challenging it may be, is coming at us like a train.  In the coming few years accountants, lawyers, architects, doctors, and many others insulated so far, will all feel the heat of change.

So what should the people displaced by these technologies do?

Learn to sell.

Sales is not just about a product, it is about selling themselves, but the rules are identical.

When someone seeks to buy a product with a significant price tag, they generally have some outcome in mind that they require. The art of selling is to identify that outcome and develop the path that makes you the only option.

Let’s look at it from another angle: how do you sell yourself into a job, which is entirely different to how do you get a job.

Sales is all about the process. Selling yourself is similarly all about the process, from identifying targets, making the introduction, warming up the prospect, to closing the deal. Absolutely no different, except that we are personally involved, failure to get a job means that the kids do not get fed, so the pressure is on, and most buckle and revert to the supplicant mode. Understandable, but absolutely the wrong thing to do. Nobody will hire a supplicant to sell their products, therefore when selling yourself, never be the supplicant.

Know your prospect as well as possible. This is sales 101, why would it be any different selling yourself? Knowing a lot about the businesses you might like to work for is about the most basic piece of information you could have. As a senior manager, I hired a lot of people, and never once did I hire anyone who had not taken the trouble to learn a bit about the business I worked for at  the time. Now, with the net it is even easier to have detailed information about all sorts of things on which to base a few intelligent and engaging questions.

Ask questions. That way you get answers, and can ask the next question, and that is the best way to engage with anyone, ask them about the things they are interested in. Most successful bloke I ever saw with girls was a pretty ordinary looking bloke, smart, but nondescript. He never talked about himself, in fact, did not seem to speak much at all beyond a few questions, as he was flooded by girls who thought he was the bees knees. I only understood this when it was too late for me.

Hustle, at least a bit. Nobody ever failed to be hired for not following up enough. While I dislike the term ‘follow up’ in a generic sense as it is a red sales flag, finding another way to say the same thing, such as ‘just thought I would seek some feedback on our meeting last week’. People want to hire others who will not give up, who will persist, get back up after being knocked over, so why would it be any different when selling yourself.

Know when to walk. As in any sale, there is a point beyond which you will not go. Determine in your own mind what that point is, and be prepared to walk away.  This clearly signals you are other than a supplicant, and does the self-image a lot of good.

Sales collateral. You need sales collateral, even if it is just for credibility. Selling for a business it is the website, product information, deals, and so on. Selling yourself it is your LinkedIn profile, presence on industry platforms and forums, lack of party photos on Facebook, and finally a resume that is short, clearly identifies how the skills you have will solve their problems and be without the usual spelling and grammatical failures. Core to this is the visual elements. We are visual animals,  good photos are  essential.

So, polish up the pitch, do the research, and get out there.


How will grocery retailers leverage algorithmic pricing? 

How will grocery retailers leverage algorithmic pricing? 

Economics 101 tells us that price is the point at which supply matches demand, a simple but infinitely variable graph. Throughout history, that equation has reflected the reality of a face to face negotiation, apart from the recent glitch created in the name of efficiency by mass retailing which fixes prices. We all know somewhere in our psyche that price is what someone is prepared to pay at a given point in time for an item.

Look at any housing auction in Sydney at the moment, all sorts of factors are at play that make an auction the best way to determine the ‘right price’ at which to strike a deal. The notion of a fixed price is almost dead in the face of this level of uncertainty about what people are prepared to pay. Uber has disrupted the taxi industry with the same idea. Couple of weeks ago, caught in the rain in mid-afternoon, Taxi’s were an extinct species, so I called up Uber, and needed a second mortgage to pay the Uber-Price, driven up by the time of day, and immediate demand generated by the fact that it was raining cats and dogs.

Price is far more than just  simple intersection on an economists graph.

Chain retailers have semi fixed prices. They have a shelf price, and a set of promotional and deal prices as wide as the imagination and pocket depth of their suppliers who fund the discounts. However, while they are variable, over the shorter time frames they are fixed at some level. This process of centralised control and a physical selling face enables the efficiency of mass merchandising to be leveraged, but loses the flexibility of being able to respond to individual demand at a particular moment in time. .

Imagine the chaos if each store manager could set his/her own prices, then negotiate at the checkout!

Category management evolved as a means to maximise the revenues and margins from a fixed retail space. It is a numbers driven game of great sophistication requiring deep pockets, analytical resources and scale to play effectively. It nevertheless relies on fixed prices, varied over a week or so, and across varieties, brands and shelf placement, but nevertheless, fixed.

On line retailers by contrast are able to vary prices not just day to day, but minute to minute, and increasingly person to person.  It is the digital equivalent to haggling, each party setting out to maximise the return they get from the transaction, by using the whole gamut of trading and negotiation tools.

Amazon is the master, their algorithmically driven pricing is hugely sensitive to hundreds, probably thousands of factors from the weather to your browsing and purchase history, and the time of day.

How would a bricks and mortar retailer combine the margin maximisation flexibility of algorithm driven pricing with the physical constraints of a retail space?

It is a logical question, one that has prompted a lot of thought by a lot of smart people, and mostly the answer is that you can’t.

However, do not tell Amazon who are always prepared, indeed, live by disruption. Their experiment in Seattle with Amazon Go may not succeed in the short term, but the logic of managing price by algorithm to maximise returns will not go away, and Amazon is a long view retailer, unencumbered by demanding quarterly driven stock markets. I do not think  this will be the end of the Australian retail duopoly any time soon, there is still plenty of areas for  them to continue to squeeze the lemon to make profits, but it is certainly a portent of things to come.





Will great marketing always powered by humans?

Will great marketing always powered by humans?

Great marketing has a strong visual component, even the great long form ads from the days before TV. Always has been, always will be.

Sometimes that ‘visual’ are the pictures that you form in your mind as a result of hearing something, which is why radio was, and still should be, a great communication medium, sometimes it is a great photo, video, or piece of printed material that speaks to just you.

Creativity and design are a huge part of this mix.


All  the tools around are convincing us that we can design stuff ourselves, just as we all seem to believe that we are photographers, just because we have a great little camera in our pockets all the time, or writers, because we can easily publish our scribblings on a multitude of channels.

Owning a saw does not make you a carpenter.

Part of the problem is that most so-called marketers know so very little about marketing any more. They do know about the tools, the algorithms, and sometimes bits of the martech stack, but little about the human reactions, relationships and intimacies that make for effective communication, the sort that does not bludgeon you into doing something, but those that deliver a message that resonates as if it was a personally addressed letter.

Remember those?

As an aside, I bought a book of stamps for  the first time in a long while last week.. a buck a stamp. I was shocked, and my first reaction was  ‘no wonder we are all going digital’  but my second was, ‘what an opportunity to be different, and get an almost 100% open rate, for just a dollar!’

The tech bunnies, headed by top bunny Facebook are doubling down on video, recognising the power. They are right to be doing this for commercial reasons, they are the advertising platforms of the 21st century, although the demise of TV particularly is grossly overstated, as old mate Bob Hoffman loves to point out. However, the users of the platform are being grossly manipulated in order to be a more marketable commodity that the platforms can sell to advertisers. Most of the users are largely blissfully unaware of their algorithmically manipulated experience, and I am increasingly uncomfortable about the ‘brand morality’ of this sad fact.

They are just eyeballs being wholesaled by the platforms for profit. At least with a TV you can grab the remote and change the channel, or go make a cup of tea.

I wonder if in the long term they will not look back as see that  they have broken the moral component of the foundations of a brand.

Facebook particularly is aggressively using their huge base to be continually testing, adding features, and renovating older ones in order to maximise ad revenue. It is pretty easy to be taken in by the often published numbers,  but sometimes a dose of reality would be useful, as highlighted in February’s MUmBRELLA article.

Bob Hoffman was right again.


This Social Media Examiner podcast has Mari Smith outlining what Facebook is doing,  and is worth the 40 minutes, and a scan of the show notes and links .

Back to where I started.

As marketers, we have a responsibility to both those who pay us, and those who listen to and act on what we suggest to them. We need to consider the foundation skills of our craft,  to react in a human way, to reflect the wisdom and experience coming from the humanity around us, rather than taking that feedback and running it through a bunch of algorithms to get the most clinical outcome.

As AI augmented AI, and machine learning continue to make inroads, they will consume the repetitive tasks in every job, but are a very long way from replacing the emotion and humanity that turns a slab of copy into a compelling call to action.

In answer to the question posed in the headline, Yes!

In time, mediocre, mass marketing may be executed by algorithms, but in a highly personalised world, that will not be good enough.

Image credit: Once again, Hugh McLeod at the Gaping void.


In defence of United Airlines employees

In defence of United Airlines employees

United is the butt of everyone’s jokes and derision, including mine, but it maybe useful to consider how  they got there.

Carlos Munoz was awarded the communicator of the year  in March, a few weeks before the unfortunate Dr Dao booked a seat to go and see a patient in Louisville. This now seems to be the ultimate irony, and I suspect the communicator of the year award now has its own PR problem.

However, in hindsight, a real brain-fart seems almost inevitable , with several recent similar events, and even further back, Dave Carroll‘s guitar signalling a truly broken culture.

When you think about it, the actions on flight 3411 were driven by the rigid, unthinking application of a set of rules.  The culture of an airline is one based on checklists, inviolable rules, and strict adherence to those rules. When you are flying, and want the plane to stay up, it seems that it may be a good idea to have whole sets of rules that ensure that it does so.

Perhaps the challenge at United may not have been about the stupidity and arrogance of staff, after all they are people, who have the same concerns and pressures, loves and joys that the rest of us have, but about the culture of rules that drive behaviour, and do not allow any room for doubt. Mix that with a few insensitive individuals and you have the toxic mix demonstrated so visibly on flight 3411

When there is a rule, follow it, without question, creativity or deviation.

That explains away the actions, sort of.

So the challenge is how to have a rule based culture that ensures that the job gets done the right way, every time, co-existing with one that  enables individual initiative and sensitivity to the situation.

This is not a unique challenge.

Almost every business  I work with is a medium sized manufacturer, they require rules to operate safely and efficiently, and the less explicit, transparent and flexible the rules are, the greater the CUS (cock up score) that exists.

One of the tenets of the TPS is ‘respect for people’ and never has the value of this as a foundation of culture been more on display that at United, over a long period.

Respect for People is a double sided coin. On one side there is the necessity for stable, repeatable and optimised processes, and the other on personal initiative and situational sensitivity, challenging to reflect in a set of detailed rules.  At the intersection is respect for people, their intelligence, initiative, desire to do the job as best they can, and go home safely.

At the time of posting, United CEO and chief PR guru Munoz has come out with a couple of further statements. The first outlines changes to improve customer experience as a result of the ‘incident’. This,  in contrast to the blame shifting and destructive crap put out after the incident is not a bad effort, but it reflects no more than a reasonable expectation of someone paying for a seat on a plane. At least it is clear, and Munoz at last took responsibility for the treatment of Dr Dao. The second simply announces that Dr Dao and United have reached an ‘amicable resolution’ of the incident, without any details. My guess is that the next time Dr Dao needs to fly anywhere, he can just call up his private plane, no need to  bother with those uncomfortable commercial flights any more.

As a final thought, the only one in an organisation who can really change a prevailing culture is the person at the top. I guess United needs a new one, as both a symbol that they are committed to change, and to get the process going in deeds rather than just a bunch of belated words following the crappola sandwich first served up.