Updated: Sep 12, 2020
What the most legendary newspaper headline can teach us about writing more compelling headlines across sales proposals, executive summaries and lead generation emails.
In June 2015, the writer of the sensational headline, ‘Headless Body in Topless Bar’, Vincent A. Musetto, passed away. His headline once again took centre stage.
The headline strongly hinted at a gruesome crime, which it was. But what has this to do with writing B2B content?
Well, a strong headline or heading gets attention. And with so much content and information available in the marketplace, you want to make sure that what you write gets noticed, is remembered and has the power to influence.
Great Headlines Grab Readers Attention In An Emotional And Visceral Way
In B2B, the audience comprises business leaders and subject matter experts. When crafting content for this audience you may think the main heading should be factual. You would be wrong.
Major headings work best if they emotionally connect with the reader. This is what the headline, “Headless Body” did extremely well.
Yet in B2B communications we tend to forget we’re talking to real human beings. No matter how clever, analytical, rational or technical your audience is they are strongly influenced by their emotions. Even when it comes to multi-million dollar purchases.
Emotional triggers in B2B range from fear, frustration, trust, pride, value, to a need to control, a desire for security or stability, a need for approval, the desire to be a leader or a trendsetter and so on.
However, what typically happens when someone starts writing an executive summary for a sales proposal, the first big heading will be the word “Introduction”. What a wasted opportunity to wow the decision-maker with an emotional pull to the heart or a power-punch to the gut.
Instead of using the word 'Introduction' as your main heading, write a benefit statement like: 'Transforming xx Company Today to Dominate the Marketplace Tomorrow'.
Examples of Headings That Are Emotionally Charged And Compelling
Let’s imagine we’re marketing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software. Here are some bland headings versus more emotional ones:
Instead of increase Profits and Market Share with xx ERP System put more emphasis on the customer's ambitions: Be a Leader or a Follower? With xx ERP, You Get Ahead.
Instead of corporate-speak headings like, Enhance Customer Service, replace with emotive, Turn Customers into Devoted Fans.
Rather than the generic Increase Revenue, Competitive Strength and Business Viability, replace with Get a Bigger Slice of the Profits. Improve Competitive Prowess. Thrive Tomorrow.
So, if you want to be noticed in a hyper-competitive marketplace, your main headings better tap into your reader’s most deep-seated fears and/or aspirations.
Great Headings Require Imagination, Courage And Confidence
Unfortunately, most B2B organisations especially technology companies write in a similar way, which means bland or standard headings can come across as meaningless to the reader.
This provides an opportunity to stand out by crafting more personal and emotive headings. However, it’s rare to see B2B headings that make an emotional connection. Why is this so?
Well, crafting emotionally compelling headings takes time, imagination and strong confidence in your company’s offerings. They can also be risky so you need to know your audience to ensure you don’t offend.
For example, the heading: Be a Leader or a Follower? With xx ERP, You Get Ahead – might be construed negatively – as in, we could be implying the client is currently behind the eight ball.
Know Your Audience
Let’s say, you know your client well. You’ve had many conversations with them and the CEO has communicated a burning desire to become a leader in their industry. Thus the heading, Be a Leader or a Follower? With xx ERP, You Get Ahead – will resonate with this organisation’s ambitions.
Yes, emotionally charged and controversial headings can be risky but they can also pull your audience in and keep them close.
Even the Post, not known for its conservative approach to headlines baulked at using, “Headless Body”, with the first version of the story running a more subdued headline. However, the following day Musetto had the famous headline run on page 1 and “Headless Body” became part of newspaper lore.
A Boring Heading Is Better Than No Heading
On the other hand, a boring or plain heading is better than none at all. Why is this? Well, headings, even simple ones can do some amazing things like:
Draw the reader into your story and keep them reading
Provide a high level view of the main theme you will cover
Introduce new topics – a signpost that says, ‘look what’s coming next’
Shine a spotlight on the benefits of your products and services
Allow readers to quickly scan material
When it comes to completing large proposal responses, headings and sub-headings are a godsend as they break up huge chunks of text for more easily digestible reading. Sub-headings in proposal responses can influence whether your response actually gets read. So use them with abandon!
An emotionally charged heading will help you better connect with your B2B reader. B2B decision-makers are emotional beings just like regular consumers. So create headings that tap into their fears and aspirations.
No one has any time today and everyone has to do everything quickly.
Which is why inserting headings and sub-heading makes for an interesting, easy and fast read. Your reader will appreciate it and love you for it.
You’ve written more than three or four paragraphs? Go on write a heading. It can be boring or brilliant, it doesn’t matter, just write it. As you can see my final sub-heading isn’t exciting. It’s plain, it’s obvious, but it lets the reader know there is a summary of the article here – as they scan the article and scroll down – because maybe the ‘Conclusion’ section is all they have time to read today.