Writing Titles That Hook the Reader

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.

By Kate Spears