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There’s a battle going on. It’s for your attention. And the attention of every other person in the land. Its fought on paper, on laptop screens, tablets and smartphones. And its going on 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Your message is caught up in this battle.

Whether it gets lost or found depends on, of course, how well it is targeted. If it reaches the wrong person’s smartphone there’s not much you can do to motivate that person to take notice. The matter is out of your control.

But even when the message reaches the right person the battle is far from over. This blog is on the subject of how you effectively control matters from this point on. Because, its on this battleground that, I believe, most well-targeted communication, still fails to get through.

Getting attention – How to create subject lines and headlines that get read.

Mailchimp published a study of ‘most likely to be read subject lines in emails. It was based on 40 million emails sent via the Mailchimp system. Top of the list were simple, factual subject lines announcing actual events or news of some sort. Next were subject lines offering solutions to problems. Lowest were ‘salesy’ subject lines making promises, whether far-fetched or credible.  I’d guess that the same applies to all headlines in all marketing communication.

But it’s the way that these events or solutions are communicated that counts. In the era of ‘authenticity’ we have now, but probably always, what counts is simplicity and directness. The faster you put across the ‘deal’, the faster will the recipient ‘get’ the relevance of the offer being presented to her or him.

As a simple example, we have a client that has, for 45 years, been a pioneer in research into cancer metastasis – the mechanisms that allow cancer to spread. By far the majority of cancer deaths are caused by cancer metastasis. Our direct mail campaign could have asked donors to help stop cancer spreading. But, instead it asks donors to “Help end the threat of secondary cancer”. This call to arms has been running successfully for 10 years now.

Keeping attention – sell the next line.

Its easy to think that the sale is the most important thing to push. Or whatever end result it is your communication is trying to provoke But it isn’t.

As a communicator you have only one thing to sell.

You have to sell the reader on the value of reading the next line. The reader is jealous of his or her time and will stop reading at the drop of a hat. And, unless the reader does read the next line, she or he will not reach the end point – and not get to the end result you want.

How? Simple. The next line needs to expand and build on the previous. It has to lead the reader further into the story (or web?!) you are spinning. The next line has to offer more content, more interest, more satisfaction. So, every word counts. The weaker each word, the greater is the chance of the reader breaking away. This is why adjectives are so unhelpful. They don’t really add much, just fill out. And readers can spot ‘filler’ a mile off. Its why subject lines and headlines with heady promises are so unsuccessful.

Layers of proof

So what will most successfully sell the reader on reading the next line? Simply this: layers of proof that the message in the subject line or headline is true. And if you can’t substantiate this…..the subject line or headline shouldn’t be there in the first place. Should it?