Seven Fails in Headlines and Value Propositions

Seven Fails in Headlines and Value Propositions

As a marketer, I love compelling value propositions. When they line up, the offer is clear, the call to action is timely and the offer is compelling enough to make me take action right now! But like writing any good headline, they are really hard to do and will take time and iterations.

The media format doesn’t matter: a blog title, email subject line, tweet or PPC advertising headline. It takes a lot of work to get it right. Your opinion matters, but not as much as testing or data.

Here are some common errors to avoid:

  1. Don’t “bury your lead.” In the book “Made to Stick,” the authors talk about leading with your headline and first paragraph to get the main point of your story or offer. Don’t make us wait until the fourth paragraph. Do this and your audience will just be lost.
  2. Clever is the enemy of clear. I know that witty headline references your favorite movie, history lesson, story, etc. but don’t do it – people won’t understand and you’ll blow your opportunity to get your audience’s attention. How do you know if you’re being too clever? Ask a couple of friends who know you to review your headline. If you laugh at it every time and they don’t get it, it’s too clever.
  3. Don’t be too generic. Simply putting “Thoughts” as a subject line doesn’t mean it will get opened. It also makes it difficult to search for at a later date. Provide some sort of hook or anchor that will make it easy for people to search for later. Fake Grimlock writes about minimum viable personality – don’t be white bread, be bacon.
  4. Spam doesn’t work. Maybe it’s just me, but if you are sending emails to LinkedIn contacts where it is clear you haven’t looked at the company you are soliciting, that’s called spam. The fact that these spammers get more aggressive over a three to four email string doesn’t make the offer more compelling. Just mark them as spam and move on.
  5. You left off the call to action. Every marketing piece needs an “ask” or call to action. Do you want a meeting, a phone call, a survey? What action do you want your audience to take?
  6. You forgot to track the results. How do you know that the marketing effort worked? Well, you track it. The simplest version is to A/B test the material. But that means only A/B testing one thing at a time. You can test Subject lines, test offers, test body copy, but only one thing at a time.
  7. Don’t “bait and switch.”  Your offer, body copy and landing pages need to be in sync. Read the material for continuity or deal with frustrated customers.

We live in a distracted world. Getting someone’s attention will require you to re-read the value proposition if you want to get it correct. Take the Alaska Airlines offer above.

  • Mystery is good – you have to click to find out what you’ve “won” in the offer. So it requires a call to action.
  • But what did you win? The offer implies “More Miles,” but it’s not clear on the email or the landing page, and it’s not clear that you are getting more of anything. The landing page is just selling miles, presumably at a 35%+ discount. But the ad itself would have you believe you’re getting 35% more regular miles if you take advantage of this offer.

What do you think the result of this Alaska campaign will be? I think a lot of people will click-through – but it will fail to convert. It will also leave their customers frustrated and not able to explain why. The reason is that the “deal” no longer feels like a deal, it feels like a bait and switch. Don’t do that. It will lower your future click-through rates.

By the way, my original headline for this post was “Why are Value Propositions so Hard?” which I changed to “Five Fails in Headlines & Value Propositions.” The final version is ticked up to seven fails. Yes, the updated headline is click bait. Is it a great headline… “Meh” (the sound you make when you shrug your shoulders and you’re ambivalent), but at least I’m less frustrated with Alaska Airlines now! So I wrote this one for me.

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