Imagine you’re taking a journalism class.
It’s day one.
And no sooner than taking a seat, the teacher announces your first assignment…
You are to write the lead for a story.
In journalism, the lead (or lede) is the opening paragraph, where you not only summarize the big points of the story but, most importantly, capture your reader’s attention, so they’ll read more.
Okay, ready for your assignment?
Here are the facts:
“Kenneth L. Peters, the principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the entire faculty of the high school will travel to Sacramento on Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Among the speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead, college president Dr. Robert Maynard Hutchins, and California governor Edmund ‘Pat’ Brown.”
Bit of a mouthful, right?
So take a moment to think it over…
What’s the lead?How do you make this story captivating and informative?
Not easy, is it?
Well, this is actually a true story.
As told in the 2007 bestseller, Made to Stick…
The late Nora Ephron—a three-time Academy Award nominee for her work as a writer, director, and even producer on such films as When Harry Met Sally…, Sleepless in Seattle, and You’ve Got Mail—took her first journalism class in high school (before beginning her writing career at the New York Post).
Her teacher, Charlie Simms, assigned above challenge verbatim to his new students.
Ephron and her classmates each did their best, turning in summaries looking something like this…
“Anthropologist Margaret Mead and University of Chicago President Robert Maynard Hutchins will address the faculty Thursday in Sacramento at a colloquium on new teaching methods, the principal of the high school Kenneth L. Peters announced today”
You can imagine the look on their faces when Simms quickly scanned their work, then…
Tore their work into shreds and threw them in the trash!
Then he said to the class…
The lead to this story is:
“There will be no school Thursday!“
In that moment, Ephron had an epiphany.
In her words…
“It’s not about regurgitating the facts, but about figuring out the point.”BIG difference between the two, right?
Here’s the thing…
A series of facts do not a story make.
The trick to is make your reader CARE enough about the story to invest the time needed to understand the facts.
And that’s what’s supremely difficult about effective writing.
You only have a few sentences (at best!) to capture your audience’s attention and make your story relevant to their needs.
Case in point…
The legendary copywriter Eugene Schwarz would spend 1 week writing the first 50 words of a sales letter.
That might seem obsessive, but here’s the long and short of it…
No one’s going to read past a flabby openingSo behind your headline…
Your lead is the most important part of any piece of persuasive copy—
Whether you’re writing a blog post, sales letter, email, video script, or anything else.
By now, you might be asking…
Is there a way to create effective, catchy openings that suck folks into reading every word—without having to become a master copywriter?
Is there a way to write scintillating leads—consistently and quickly?
The answer is yes and yes!
Folks like you and me can’t afford to spend weeks or even days writing a great lead, right?
Which is why I’ve come up with a “cheat sheet” that helps me write effective leads every time.
So read on and you’ll learn how to always hit the bullseye with irresistible hooks that persuade and impress.
Oh, and by the way…
In the copywriting world, the lead or opening is also referred to as the “hook.”
So keep in mind that the lead (also spelled lede), opening, intro, or hook are all interchangeable terms.
Now let’s get started!
What’s the big advantage of blogging?
And why is it our most profitable form of content marketing?
Well, it comes down to this…
People buy from folks they like and trustAnd blogging helps you earn that trust.
Both Forbes and Nielsen report that we prefer to buy from people we know.
Now, you can’t meet all your clients personally…
But with a blog, you can build the same kind of familiarity and trust.
And, perhaps paradoxically…
One of the best ways to kick-start a relationship with your readers is by expressing strong opinions and being polarizing.
Like it or not…
People naturally tend to divide into tribesWhether it’s sports, politics, or if you should eat your bread butter-side up or butter-side down…
There are often sharp distinctions between groups.
So one great way to connect with your audience is through challenging their enemies.
And the easiest way to do this is with a controversial opening.
Now, for the record, everyone has an enemy.
It could be a person, an organization, or even an abstract idea (like Common Core).
Doesn’t matter as far as writing hooks go.
What matters is, when you attack an enemy, whatever it happens to be, you’re creating an instant connection with your reader in two ways:
- By showing that you understand and share their point of view
- By showing leadership through standing up and challenging that enemy
Importantly, this doesn’t mean being rude or aggressive.
You don’t want to turn people off by being a “negative Nancy.”
But if you can identify a potentially controversial topic, and match it to your readers’ enemy (or enemies), you can easily use this information to “bait” your hook.
You can persuade effectively without having to stoop down to negativityKeep that in mind—there’s no need to be mean or nasty.
Keep it civil, but don’t shy away from ruffling a few feathers with your point of view.
Here are some controversial topics that work readers up…
- Political ideologies
(“xyz’s failed policies are the end of America”)
- Gender/generational relations
(an argument for/against “traditional” values)
(who’s *really* to blame for the economic mess—big banks or Millennials?)
- Old practices becoming outdated
(SEO is dead!)
- Opportunities being lost
(Content marketing is the future of advertising)
How about an example?
Here’s a controversial opening in a piece by the Harvard Business Review…
Traditional marketing — including advertising, public relations, branding and corporate communications — is dead. Many people in traditional marketing roles and organizations may not realize they’re operating within a dead paradigm. But they are. The evidence is clear.
The author claims that traditional marketing is “dead.”
While clearly false—4 years after the post, traditional marketing is alive and well—the intro is compelling and controversial enough that you can’t help but want to read the rest of the article to learn more, right?
Asking a question is a powerful way to instantly grab your reader’s attention…
Bringing their needs and wants to the forefront of their mind, which primes your eventual call to action.
First, let’s discuss two types of questions to avoid.
They’re both “closed questions,” because the answer is either “yes” or “no”:
- The Condescending Question
e.g., “Are you still making this stupid SEO mistake?” Queries like these imply the reader is foolishly doing something wrong, which is a big turn off.
- The Negative Question
e.g., “Tired of striking out with hot singles in your area?” This question leaves no positive replies on the table, because it’s insulting whether the answer is affirmative or negative.
Okay, so steer clear of those types of questions.
On the other hand…
Here are the BEST kinds of questions you can use regularly…
- “Yes ladders”
e.g., “Do you love fresh, warm doughnuts? Do you love flaky, buttery croissants? How would you like to try a Cronut—a creme-filled, doughnut-croissant hybrid?” Questions in series, where the obvious answer is “yes,” quickly builds momentum and also gets folks in the habit of agreeing with you.
- How-to questions
e.g., “Wanna see how I turned $10 into $11,950 in one month?” Questions like this one are clear, succinct, and give your reader a big, tantalizing promise.
- Insight questions
e.g., “30% of all online traffic comes from social networks—how will this affect your business?” Questions like this make your reader think, which makes them want to learn more about your perspective. Hard data or simply curiosity can be used effectively here.
So if you’re opening with a question…
Avoid closed ones and stick to these 3 proven winners wherever possible.
Here’s a “how-to” example from Neil Patel:
So you want to write an article that ranks on the first page of Google for a long-tail keyword?
Fine. So does everyone else.
Ranking on the first page of Google for well-selected long-tail keywords remains one of the fastest ways to get your content in front of thousands of people.
But how do you do this?
And here’s a curiosity-heavy “insight” example from Copyblogger:
You’ve heard the whispers, haven’t you?
“The internet has too much content already. You can’t get anyone’s attention with content marketing anymore.”
I beg to differ.
You want to keep reading, right?
That’s the beauty of a question open.
If you can shock a reader with a statistic that reveals completely new information, you instantly gain authority in their eyes.
Furthermore, the “shock” effect opens people up to suggestion.
Heightened emotions are the key to persuasive action.
Think about it…
No one was ever bored into buying.
That means your message resonates more effectively if it follows hard-hitting statistics.
The best part?
The statistics don’t even have to be factually correct!You can cite a number or study that’s false in your estimation…
Calling it out and using the post to explain how you disagree.
You can also bring recently debunked data and explore their implications for your audience.
Here’s an example of the latter…
In which Business Insider cites a study “debunking” the popular idea that you need 10,000 hours to master a skill:
The 10,000 Hour Rule — closely associated with pop psych writer Malcolm Gladwell — may not be much of a rule at all.
The principle holds that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” are needed to become world-class in any field. […]
In “Outliers,” Gladwell contends that early access to getting 10,000 hours of practice allowed the Beatles to become the greatest band in history (thanks to playing all-night shows in Hamburg) and Bill Gates to become one of the richest dudes around (thanks to using a computer since his teen years).
But a new Princeton study tears that theory down. In a meta-analysis of 88 studies on deliberate practice, the researchers found that practice accounted for just a 12% difference in performance in various domains.
What’s really surprising is how much it depends on the domain […]
Don’t you want to keep reading?
This example works on many levels—it’s controversial, cites data, and also employs a strong element of curiosity to keep the reader engaged.
Now let’s change gears…
The most successful sales letter in history—the so-called “Wall Street Journal letter”—is a story.
You’ll read an excerpt in a second…
But first let’s explore why stories make such great hooks.
First, we all like to be entertained.
It’s why people read books; go to the cinema; watch silly reality shows.
And by spinning a clever yarn, you become the entertainer…
It’s your “show.”
Which gives you the power to direct the narrative.
That’s the persuasive element—stories subtly put you in control.
Much like a magician influencing where your eyes are paying attention, a storyteller guides you down a clear path towards a pre-determined conclusion.
The example below will help illustrate this point.
Stories help you paint pictures and tug at your readers’ heartstringsThis leads to better trust and rapport.
Like statistics, stories don’t have to be factual.
In contrast, they have to be emotive.
This doesn’t mean you should deliberately mislead anyone, but your opening can be fictional.
As an example…
Here’s The Wall Street Journal’s famous direct mail letter:
On a beautiful late spring afternoon, twenty-five years ago, two young men graduated from the same college. They were very much alike, these two young men. Both had been better than average students, both were personable and both – as young college graduates are – were filled with ambitious dreams for the future.
Recently, these men returned to their college for their 25th reunion.
They were very much alike. Both were happily married. Both had three children. And both, it turned out, had gone to work for the same Midwestern manufacturing company, and were still there.
But there was a difference. One of the men was manager of a small department of that company. The other was its president.
What Made The Difference
Have you ever wondered, as I have, what makes this kind of difference in people’s lives? It isn’t always a native intelligence or talent or dedication. It isn’t that one person wants success and the other doesn’t.
The difference lies in what each person knows and how he or she makes use of that knowledge.
And that is why I am writing to you and to people like you about The Wall Street Journal. For that is the whole purpose of the Journal: To give its readers knowledge – knowledge that they can use in business.
Okay, and here’s a little context to help you appreciate what you just read…
That’s the most successful direct mail letter in history, continuously mailed for 28 years (and likely responsible for well over a billion dollars in revenue).
Impressive what a simple story can achieve, right?
Now, for bonus points, read it again and notice that it’s never explicitly stated that the successful classmate subscribed to The Wall Street Journal, even though that notion is implied.
Metaphor openings are a lot like story openings, in the sense that you’re painting pictures and evoking emotions.
Metaphors, however, are specifically when you create a parallel comparison between two unrelated things.
You do this by presenting a common concept and then introduce a similar, but new idea or situation.
Here’s an example…
Lions are known as the “king of the jungle.” They symbolize courage, strength, and virility.
But did you know that the average lion sleeps 18+ hours a day—while the lionesses do all the hunting?
That’s “part A” of this metaphor.
It’s a curious, fact-based story that paints a picture and sets up the comparison that follows…
Like lionesses, many women today know what it’s like to do all the hard work while men get all the glory.
Now, that’s an intentionally controversial statement, which could go in many directions, depending on the story you’re trying to tell—whether it’s the wage gap, biased coverage of male vs. female athletes, etc.
You see how this works, right?
Use metaphors to give readers a fresh take on a familiar subjectThis creates less resistance when shifting perspectives and making elusive ideas obvious.
Here’s an example of a well-written metaphor opening:
Does finding the sweet spot for your blog sometimes feel like tuning an old radio?
You’re trying to get that perfect connection with your readers, but you can’t seem to cut through the noise.
It’s frustrating. You know you’re close. You know some of the signal is getting through. But it’s not loud and clear.
And no matter which direction you turn the dial, you can’t find the perfect position.
Sure, a few people share your posts. You get the occasional comment. And a handful of people have joined your email list for updates.
But it’s taken weeks, months or even years to get this far. How much longer must you wait to break through?
Luckily for you, a small adjustment is often all you need – a subtle shift in direction that allows your blog to finally resonate strongly with your readers.
Notice all the pictures this paints using radio-related words like dial, signal, adjustment, position, resonate, and noise?
That’s a powerful way to communicate a new concept using a relatable, sensory experience (provided you’re over 30, of course).
Okay, that’s a wrap!
Now you know my 5 go-to lead formulas.
Let’s recap, shall we?Here they are again:
- Controversial Opening
- Question Opening
- Statistic Opening
- Story Opening
- Metaphor Opening
Additionally, for best results, remember these fundamentals of writing a good intro:
- Short sentences. You want your writing to be easy to read. The best way to do that is through using many short, to-the-point sentences.
- 1-3 lines per paragraph. Keep your writing “scannable” with short paragraphs. And note that a portion of your traffic will be coming from smart phones too (which means even shorter paragraphs)!
- Use a conversational tone. Try to write like you speak. And don’t get too fancy. Don’t try to impress with your vocabulary unless you’re selling flash cards for a spelling bee.
With these formulas and guidelines, you’ll consistently write hooks that make people read your content all the way to the end.
This is super important!
Because the end, of course, is where you put your call to action—the instructions that tell your readers what to do next.
Usually, that’s to sign up to your mailing list.
That way you can build a relationship with them and “warm them up” to the idea of buying whatever you’re selling.
This is why they say…
“The money’s in the list”
And what’s the best way to compel your readers to hop on your list?
By offering a “lead magnet,” of course.
What’s a lead magnet?
It’s the “free product” that everyone offers in exchange for visitors subscribing to their newsletter.
You’ve probably seen dozens of ’em, usually in the form of an eBook.
And for good reason too…
It’s simply not enough to have an “awesome” newsletter anymore.
People expect to get something in return for signing up.
And until you have a compelling lead magnet…
People will question your authority and have no clear incentive to subscribe.
Now, with so much contradictory and confusing advice out there, we know making your own lead magnet can be a bit overwhelming.
Especially if you don’t feel like you’re qualified.
But don’t sweat.
It’s MUCH easier than you think.
And it honestly doesn’t have to be harder than writing a grocery list!
If you know how, that is.
So to walk you through the process, start-to-finish…
Tim Erway, CEO and co-founder of Elite Marketing Pro, put together an exhaustive free report that reveals how to quickly create lead magnets that effortlessly converts your readers into ready-to-buy subscribers.
Tim’s profitably generated 1,420,134 leads (and counting), so he knows a thing or two about generating a responsive list of eager prospects!
So what’re you waiting for?
Until next time,
Director of Content
Elite Marketing Pro
Discover How To Quickly Crank Out “Lead Magnets” that Turn Your Website Traffic Into Ready-to-Buy Leads
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Latest posts by Andrew T Draughon (see all)
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