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Writing Titles That Hook the Reader

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009 by Kate

Titles and leads can either grab our readers, or turn them off completely. A title is the prose equivalent of a first impression—and we all know what our mothers said about the importance of first impressions!

To make sure readers keep reading, we must make a special effort to write snappy, ultra-compelling titles and sub-headlines. Easier said than done, I know, because we also have to be relevant, informative, and comply with corporate branding guidelines. One of our favorite technology clients asks that we convey the company’s unique value proposition in every brochure title we write. This is DIFFICULT, folks. (Mark T., see us bowing down before you). We work in B2B marcom. We don’t have the luxury of New York Post editors who can craft hilarious yet pithy titles like Headless Body Found in Topless Bar or Ford to City: Drop Dead.

How do we craft gorgeously grippy headlines for white papers, articles and other marcom assets, while staying within the bounds of decency and believability?

Be Topical

This could leverage content “ripped from the headlines,” such as a phrase that has entered the common vocabulary but is repurposed for good effect. The trick is having the pivotal phrase recognized immediately. A few to consider:

  • “Going Rogue” OK for Politicians, Not So Much for Portfolio Managers
  • Can You Hear Me Now? Cell Coverage Degrades as Users Multiply

Be Funny and Clever—but Not Too Clever

You want readers to smile, even laugh, but not be offended, so save the real edgy stuff for your stand-up act. Consider:

  • Furlough to Boot Camp Seen as “Ultimate Time Out” for Bad Corporate Citizens
  • In Fact, You Can Help Me: Better Customer Service As a Revenue Multiplier

Be Bold—Maybe Even Provocative

No, not provocative like that. What I mean is that some topics are so sensitive that you just need to get the debate right out in the open. If you can’t state a clear point of view, then at least frame various positions in an interesting way:

  • Outsourcing: Wise Business Strategy or the Work of the Devil? Discuss.
  • User Error or Software Glitch: What to Do When Your Data’s Gone and Not Coming Back

Be Alliterative

With a nod to the infamous Variety headline—STICKS NIX HICK PIX—a little rhyming or alliteration goes a long way, and functions as an instant hook as long as you keep it short:

  • Trying Times Take Toll on Temping
  • Uncontrolled Emotions and Emoticons Overwhelm Office Dwellers

Do you have a favorite title from a business communication or publication you want to share? Or maybe a tip to add to this list? Send me a message or a link so I can start our hall of fame.

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How to Write a Great Letter to Santa

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009 by Lisa Z.

Crafting a compelling direct appeal letter is all about timing, tone, and attention to detail. Take your basic Letter to Santa. Sure, you could crank it out on mom’s PC to show St. Nick how clever you are (and, therefore, worthy of his attention) by: Ramping your wish list up visually with your fave font, […]

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Death of a (pharma) salesperson?

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009 by Client Jeff Gaus, Prolifiq

Custom marketing materials make it easier for physicians to educate their patients about the Food & Drug Administration (FDA)-approved uses and benefits of the drugs they prescribe. However, some physicians believe that those who distribute these materials—the pharma reps—provide little value beyond giving out free samples, branded “swag,” and educational materials. In fact, their efforts […]

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The Very Best Style Guide Reference Books

Monday, November 16th, 2009 by Chris

If you’ve read the fabulous Grammar Queen’s post on creating a corporate style guide (and if you haven’t read it, do so right now), you know you must make some decisions about how your organization crosses the t’s and dots the i’s. However, you can’t possibly list every grammar or style rule in your own […]

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How Do I Create a Corporate Style Guide?

Thursday, November 12th, 2009 by Lisa S.

Your Highness: I work in marketing at a midsized technology firm. My boss tells me we need a style guide. Yesterday. And I’m just the person to produce it. While I do some writing as part of my job, and I can put commas where they belong—OK, most of the time—I’m not a writer or […]

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A Passion for Prolixity

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009 by Alicia

Copywriters value clarity and concision. Short, pithy, unambiguous—that’s the way we like our verbiage. We count words and lop clauses. On our own time, though, maybe curled up in our favorite cozy chair with a nice steamy cup of tea and the latest issue of Puffball Gazetteer, or maybe catching up on email (even though […]

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How to Write a Great Customer Quote

Thursday, November 5th, 2009 by Lauren

At their best, customer case studies provide compelling proof points that support your message. And at their worst, they read like messaging documents sprinkled with stilted quotes. Yawn. So how can you make sure your customer case studies compel—not repel—readers? With persuasive quotes from actual customers. I’ve been writing case studies with Content Bureau for […]

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The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Thursday, October 29th, 2009 by Stacy

Friends, It’s time for a little spooky fun. What do we love to read during Halloween week, but is too scary for the kidlets? The Legend of Sleepy Hollow If, like me, you’re on the West Coast but missing a NY fall, page 12 is a must-read. If you must jump straight to the chase, […]

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Is My Writing Too Passive?

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009 by Lisa S.

Your Highness: This letter is being written because I’ve been told that there is a problem with my writing. Specifically, a problem with the passive voice. But understanding this is difficult. I mean, my job is in marketing. I’m supposed to be good with words. And language has always come easily to me—out-of-the-box thinking is […]

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Making Your Case: A Guide to Compelling Customer Case Studies

Thursday, October 15th, 2009 by Client

I recently took a stroll down memory lane—and tripped and fell. The occasion was a look at some of the first customer case studies I ever wrote, way back in 1992. Rereading those pieces, it turned out, was not exactly a pleasant excursion—more like visiting an embarrassing relative. I was relieved no one else would […]

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