Guest post by Ashley Preston
You only have six seconds to capture someone’s attention.
It is a busy world out there and you’re competing against all of it. Information is constant in today’s day and age, and it is always coming at us. So how do you get people to look up and listen through all the noise? How do you get them to click on the link? How do you get them to care about what it is you’re saying?
I spent a lot of time in newsrooms writing the promos and teases that kept viewers tuning in and clicking articles, and I can tell you there are a lot of ways to do it – with some ways proving to be more effective than others.
These are the best techniques newsroom writers use to get you to look up, click the link, and see what they have to say.
First Thing First
The single most important thing you can do is create content that has value. None of these tips matter if you’re pumping out bullshit that has little to no value to your audience. If you don’t understand or care about what you’re writing about, there is a good chance your clients won’t either.
Make sure what you’re writing about is worth the paper (digital or otherwise) it’s written on. Make sure you clearly understand what the objective of your information is, and how it helps your customers. Knowing the value you're providing makes it easier to show others why they should take time out of their busy days to consume your content.
Sure, you can write bad content with interesting teases that get people to click or listen, but you can only do that so often before you lose credibility.
Now that we’ve gotten that important disclaimer out of the way, here’s how you capture the attention of your readers or viewers with gusto.
Imagine This Scenario
Imagine a scenario where a family’s house burned down right before Christmas.
The family got out safely after a daring escape through a second-floor window, but now they don’t have a home or any presents to give to their children for the holiday. The Red Cross is helping, and a local charity is collecting Christmas donations.
The reporter covers the story – talking to the family about the fire, their escape, and the overwhelming sadness they feel when they think about Christmas morning. The reporter then talks to the organizations helping the family get back on their feet and have a good holiday.
The goal of the reporter’s story is to let the community know that the family is devastated by their loss, feels lucky to be alive, and that the public can still help make the holiday a little brighter for them.
There are several ways you could write headlines and teases for this type of story.
1. Call to Action
People react when there is a way to positively respond to information that upsets them.
In this instance, you would let the community know that they can do something to make this situation better. Oftentimes people feel helpless, especially in the face of bad news, so when people realize they can help, they will. A tease like this would focus on letting people know there are steps they can take to make things better for the family.
Example: “A local family barely escapes a fire that destroys everything they own days before Christmas; how you can help make sure that their holiday is still a festive one.”
2. Important / Interesting Facts
People love a good story, and we are drawn to shocking information.
While it is always important to lead with the most relevant information, it is also a wonderful way to turn someone’s head. These are the facts that people will remember and make people care; use that to your advantage. A tease like this would likely focus on the family’s escape and the community outpouring that quickly came in.
Example: “They barely escaped with their lives; a local family jumps from their second-story window to save themselves from a fire days before Christmas – what the community is now doing to help.”
3. Emotional Story
This is, without question, the most powerful tease element you can include. Most people are caring and can relate to the pain of others. It’s why I can’t hear Sarah Machlachlan’s 1999 hit “Angel” without thinking about dogs in cages. It is why music stirs us like it does. We are moved by raw emotion.
Emotional statements from people directly impacted by the situation stay with you. They help us empathize better with people. They encourage us to act. They help us better connect with ourselves and with others. If you can use an emotional tease, the general rule is do so, because you will usually see results.
In this scenario, a professional writer would lead with a statement from the family, something talking about how both grateful they are to be alive, but sad that their children will have nothing, along with information that the community can still help.
Example: “We are so grateful we made it out safely, but I still don’t know how we are going to tell the kids that Santa won’t be coming this year – what the community is doing to help a family who barely escaped a devastating house fire right before Christmas.”
Ponder This When Writing Headlines and Teases
All these techniques can be used together – a fact and the emotional toll it took on you, a fact with an action you can take, a brutal emotional plea and action you can take, etc. but make sure you factor in at least one of these elements.
When writing out your headlines and teases, ask yourself:
If you’re looking for more help getting your content strategy in the right place, or improving your internal communication, let us know. We are a group of business coaches (with a background in media and journalism) who are here to help you clarify your ideas, articulate your message, and execute your mission. We would love to help you show the world that what you’re doing matters.
When I use the customer journey mapping process to aid clients in their sales and marketing efforts (i.e. a framework like StoryBrand), we place their ideal client in the center of the story.
They are the hero and protagonist who has embarked on a quest to solve their problems (internal, external or philosophical). We identify a villain — someone or something that stands in their way and thwarts their progress at every turn. And, we are their guide (Yoda, Gandalf, The Scarecrow or Glinda the Good Witch).
When they finally overcome this villain to claim ultimate victory and the gift of achievement, we have helped them up the mountaintop and filled them with the power and confidence to stand with one foot on the belly of the dragon and hold their sword to the sky.
To move our potential customers from the safety and warmth of their hearth and up this treacherous mountainside, we may feel the need to shy away from such polarizing language when addressing them. We might think they need to be gently coaxed into a place of safety — lured into a cave and given the plan or solution in secret.
In reality, our hero has been waiting for years for someone (a guide) to come along that has the courage to speak to her in such polarizing language — a language that draws a stark relief between what she’s afraid of and what’s truly at stake and what she stands to win.
Identifying the villain — and what success will look like — allows us to plug simple, yet mythic and powerful words into formulas like the ones below that speak directly to the heart of our ideal client.
The formulas are quite simple.
Formula 1: Kill / Claim - This one uses the “k” sound to create an alliteration. The inputs should be short and use rhyming and/or rhythm to create a brief, memorable statement.
Formula 2: Slay / Step Into - This one relies on the “s” sound and uses the mythic term “slay” in place of “kill.”
Here are a few case studies, based on some of my past sessions:
A corporate innovation company that helps other businesses think ten steps ahead. They have identified as their villain the “Prime Movers” — those who are first to market. Their success looks like a prominent place in their chosen market segment.
For them: Slay the competition. Step into your position.
A sales-based insurance company whose villain is the gray, shadowy, “big bad wolf” that threatens the safety of the community. Success looks like them being perceived as the trusted advisor, providing safety and shelter through the mitigation of risk.
For them: Kill your monsters. Claim peace of mind.
A coaching program that encourages therapists to leave behind the clinical 1:1 practice model, become entrepreneurs and launch a group coaching business. The villain that terrorizes their (primarily female) protagonist is self-doubt and the fear of the unknown. Success looks like the fulfillment of a career they knew they were destined for.
For them: Slay the unknown. Step into the light.
Or, more boldly, and my favorite: Kill your fears. Claim your future.
Copy like this is perfect for headlines in blog or social posts, webinar or workshop titles, or display ads. It serves to address their needs/pains and immediately begins to position you as the guide who is empathetic and demonstrates the authority to lead them on their quest.
You can start today by using more bold, direct language with your potential customers. Watch how they react and respond. Measure how much faster they move up the mountain. And let me know the results.
If you’re interested in what a StoryBrand or business coaching session can do for you, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a discovery call.
ABOUT THE Author
Joran Slane Oppelt is an international speaker, author and consultant with certifications in coaching, storytelling, design thinking and virtual facilitation.