“Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally.
They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.”
The above quotation was said by advertising legend David Ogilvy. While this sage advice can (and should) be applied to all writing, it’s arguably more important in marketing copy because dollars and sales are on the line.
And the most important place in your copy to apply this advice is the lead. By “lead”, I mean the opening sentence or paragraph of whatever copy you’re writing.
Even if the piece is more on the technical side, such as a scientific article posted on your website, it should still have an uncluttered and compelling lead that draws in your readers and keeps them interested (I mention this because as scientists or engineers, we tend to use too many complex and technical words when less complicated phrasing will do).
Now, I’ve already talked about how your copy should educate and persuade, leading your prospects through it so they take the next step.
Headlines are the first element in this process. Often called the ‘motivating sequence’, it leads the reader through the copy and ends in a call-to-action.
But, while headlines may grab your reader’s attention, it’s what you do with their attention that determines whether or not you make a sale.
Leading from the front
The opening paragraph in a marketing piece that’s written to educate prospects about a certain scientific solution is just as important as a great headline, because it is here where your reader decides if the rest of the copy is worth reading.
In the first few seconds it takes your reader to scan the opening paragraph, they will decide “is this worth my time?”
You’ll often see this in journalism and newspaper articles where the opening paragraph draws the reader in with a shocking or compelling intro . This makes them want to read further and find out the rest of the news story.
If your readers find your opening paragraph interesting, they’ll read on and may even take the next step, moving them further through the sales cycle and closer to a buying decision.
A great motivating sequence (which starts with a great lead) ensures your reader is primed to take that next step.
On the other hand, if your lead is written poorly, you may have lost a potential sale in the long run.
Simply put, if the lead is weak and doesn’t keep your prospects interested, the overall marketing piece is a failure.
So take Mr. Ogilvy’s advice and make sure your lead is clear, concise and remains free of any jargon.
Anatomy of a great lead
At this point you may be asking yourself: “Well that’s all well and good, but how exactly do I write a great lead that keeps my prospects reading?”
Well, it starts by taking the above quotation to heart and ensuring your copy is simplified as much as possible, and long complicated words are removed.
Next, you can use some of the following techniques to flesh out your lead. And it doesn’t matter what form of content you’re writing. These can be used for white papers, articles, case studies, sales letters or emails.
For instance, you could:
- Tell an interesting story
- Ask a provocative question
- Focus on the main problem or challenge
- Feature a key benefit
- State an interesting fact or quotation.
- Quote a satisfied customer
If you’re stuck and wondering which of these you should use, my advice is to focus on the problem or challenge.
When you do this, your piece immediately resonates with your prospects. You also combine the first two steps of the motivating sequence (grab attention and highlight the problem) into one section, so it’s win-win.
A great lead which opens by highlighting the challenge or problem will have your readers nodding their heads and wanting to learn more. So make sure you do this next time you sit down to craft some persuasive copy.
All the best,