Doesn’t it drive you crazy when people tell a story that drags on and on until you want to shout, “Get to the freakin’ point already!”?
Or you wish you could just walk away?
When we write, it’s easy to be that guy people want to walk away from because we take way too long getting our copy started. And when your writing drags on, your reader can easily delete your email, leave your website, or throw away your letter. That’s bad for business.
Thankfully, you can prevent this from happening by writing an effective lead (also spelled lede).
Pull them into the conversation
The lead comes right after the headline. Once your headline (or subject line if it’s an email) gets the reader’s attention, you pull them further into the copy by making your next few sentences very engaging.
Think of the lead as the conversation at the bar that follows, “Can I buy you a drink?” and she says yes. Now you have to make conversation and keep her interested.
Start to bore her and you’ll end up with a curt, “Thanks for the drink” as she walks away.
But if you keep her smiling into your eyes and laughing along with you, you can start planning the evening.
Written correctly, the lead increases your chances of getting the desired action because it holds the reader’s attention and pulls them further into the copy. As we mentioned in a previous post, the lead can take anywhere from one sentence to a third of the overall copy.
But no matter what the length, your lead needs to do one thing: Tell the big, overriding benefit you’re promising the reader.
Your Big Promise
Before you start writing, list out all of the benefits your product or service offers the reader. Out of that list, there’s one that’s the granddaddy of them all and pushes your readers’ emotional hot buttons more than all of the others.
That’s the big promise your lead must focus on conveying.
Depending on what you’re selling, you’ll either present your promise as an Indirect Lead or a Direct Lead. Here’s how to decide which one to use…
The Indirect Lead
For some products and services, it’s difficult for your prospect to associate an exact dollar value. For example, if you’re a life coach helping people live happier lives, each person interested naturally assigns a value to feeling happier.
When your value is less tangible, your big promise is usually a feeling of:
- More power
- More admiration
- More attractiveness
- More popularity
- More control over your health
And so on. So how do you put a dollar value on a treadmill that makes you feel sexier?
What’s more, many intangible benefits can’t be stated outright because most people are embarrassed to admit what they really want. Imagine a 70-year old man at a Porsche dealership admitting he wants the car to feel younger and more virile. Not gonna happen.
That’s when you should use the indirect lead. The indirect lead tells a story to increase perceived value. As done by this lead from AAA Life Insurance:
In just a few weeks from now, this could be you…
You’ll receive a valuable document in the mail. It will be from us. You’ll review it carefully, then slip it into your brown manila envelope for safekeeping.
And feel greatly comforted.
Rightly so. Because it will be a Certificate of Coverage made out in your name, and for the amount you specify (from $25,000.00 to $200,000.00).
You’ll know that, if anything happens to you, this Certificate will quickly turn into a real benefit. This money may be a lifesaver for your family, as it helps make their future more secure. Their dreams an still come true. Thanks to you.”
The big benefit promised in this letter: peace-of-mind knowing your family is taken care of after you’re gone. And it hints at the pride you’ll feel knowing you’ve taken care of them in case something should happen to you later.
Peace-of-mind and pride. Pretty powerful emotions. What’s that worth? $100, $500, $1000? Most people can’t give you an exact number.
But when you tell it in a story that gets them emotionally engaged and makes it personal, they’ll come up with a number in the back of their mind. And if you wrote the rest of the sales letter properly, that number will be a lot higher than what you’re charging, so they’ll be glad to buy from you now.
The Direct Lead
Now what if you’re selling a product that people generally associate an approximate value? Such as an appliance, jewelry, or toner cartridges. In this case, you can state your big promise outright in a single sentence.
“Take 2 strokes off your golf game in less than a day with Swing Correct. Results guaranteed.”
Here, your lead engages the reader just by stating the facts. Direct leads are pretty straight forward.
So before you start writing, make a list of your benefits and pull out the big promise. Then decide if your big promise is tangible or intangible. Write your lead and let someone read it. You’ll know you did well if the person is so engaged, he wants to read more.
Another copywriting practice is write out your lead, then delete the first three paragraphs. or many of us, it takes that long for our brains to warm up and finally get to the good stuff. Then you can start refining from there.