Are you looking at me?

Effective online communication with members and prospects is a key component of a successful club. When it comes to getting your message to the masses, the power of an attention-grabbing headline should not be under-estimated, says Donna Hutchinson.

What do the Wizard of Oz, Zeus and climbing Mount Everest have in common? Before I reveal the answer, here’s a question I want you to answer; Why did you open this article? What compelled you to read further? Did you feel you needed to know the answer? The brain is a powerful and complex tool and you’ve just experienced one of its greatest mysteries.

When the brain is faced with a question it works overtime to find an answer. It’s an involuntary, spontaneous reaction. It instantly goes to work in search of an answer. You will have experienced this effect when you couldn’t remember the name of a movie and then suddenly, hours or even days later, you remembered it. What you were experiencing is the profound effect questions have on the subconscious mind. It will just keep working away at the question until it comes up with an answer. Whether the answer is right or wrong is irrelevant. The brain won’t rest until it finds a resolution.

Is the question still burning in your head about what the Wizard of Oz, Zeus and climbing Mount Everest have in common? Your brain will have to stew a little longer before I tell you.

If you or your staff members blog, email or create and send out e-newsletters, a title is always included. The more effective those titles are, the greater the likelihood that people will read the contents. We spend a lot of time creating communications, so getting people to read them is important. Attention-grabbing headlines are even more significant to your readers than the body of your emails, blog entries or newsletters. Asking a question in your headline will cause the readers’ brains to start the thinking process; it’s like getting a brain itch that can’t be scratched until the question has been answered. This will cause people to click on your email. They can’t help themselves. They have to scratch the itch.

Here’s an exercise I want you to do right now to see if we can get your brain to itch. You will, undoubtedly, receive a tonne of email every day, and you probably sort through it like this:

  1. You open email from people you know first
  2. Then you open email from potential customers
  3. Finally you open email that catches your interest or attention.

Now, go to your inbox and look at all the subject headings, particularly the ones that ask a question. Notice which ones cause your brain to itch and which don’t. Which ones can’t you wait to open, to find out the answers to?

Notice when the question gets answered in the body of the message, too. If it’s in the first paragraph and the brain is satisfied you might not read the whole thing. This is a good clue to where you should and should not place the answer to your questions. Avoid putting it at the beginning of your communication.

According to David Ogilvy, founder of Ogilvy & Mather advertising agency and author of Confessions of an Advertising Man (rev. ed., Atheneum, 1988) and Ogilvy on Advertising (Wiley, 1983), ‘On average five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy. Unless your headline sells your services in a meaningful way 90 per cent of your time will be wasted because people won’t even bother to read your email or newsletter.’ Isn’t that incredible? All that time and effort wasted because people don’t find your headlines interesting enough to click and read further.

Here’s a plan for you to follow when writing headlines.

Step 1. Write a lot of headlines. Write thirty to fifty and then decide which one you are going to use.

Step 2. Leave the project for a day or two and then come back to it and look at your headlines with fresh eyes. Ask others to take a look at your headlines and give you feedback – which ones grab their attention? Send the headlines to yourself in an email and notice which ones you would have clicked on if someone else had sent them to you.

Step 3. Never be satisfied. Always look for ways to improve a headline. Tweak it constantly, keeping your objective and your target audience in mind. Be especially sensitive to how the headline helps to sell your service.

TIP: Create a separate folder in your inbox for great headline ideas. When you receive a good headline in your inbox, put the email there and keep those headlines handy. You can always make them your own by changing some of the wording as long as they are relevant to your target audience.

Now back to the headline that started this article. What do you think the Wizard of Oz, Zeus and climbing Mount Everest have in common? If you guessed that it was a question that caused your brain to itch, you’d be right! Keep in mind that the headline of your article should relate to the content, otherwise people will feel duped. If you go for shock value without substance you will lose your audience.

And just to clarify, the Wizard of Oz, Zeus and climbing Mount Everest don’t really have anything in common. I just used it as an example of how to catch people’s attention, so your brain can rest easy now. I hope I’ve made my point about how powerful an attention-grabbing, brain-itching headline can be.

Donna Hutchinson
Donna is owner of On The Edge Fitness, a business and marketing coach for fitness industry professionals and author of the How to Guide: Starting a Personal Training Business. For a F.R.E.E report on 25 words to avoid on your website, send a blank email to and write in the subject line ‘send me your F.R.E.E. report on the 25 words to avoid when writing web copy’ – and be sure to include those full stops between the letters!

Club Network • Spring/Summer 2010