If you work in a B2B company focusing on science, there are many frustrating obstacles to getting the information you need. The industry news, product releases, technical articles and other items that keep you updated on developments come from a confusing variety of sources scattered all over the internet. Most items will not be relevant to you, but others absolutely will – and it’s up to you to find out which. The decisive initial contact with a new, potentially useful piece of information is typically through the headline. But that is where the problems begin.
Anyone who believes that the headline, a sort of bottleneck on the way to meaningful content, should arouse curiosity, be exciting, interesting or at least somehow comprehensible … is doubtlessly right, but will regularly be disappointed when seeing what is happening out there in the real world of B2B communications.
Product to target group: Please don’t buy me!
Unfortunately, the reality in B2B communications is that most headlines, whether for a product ad in a newsletter or on an industry portal, are as dull as ditchwater. They require a high degree of discipline and a willingness to suffer on the part of the reader to even be considered as worth clicking. Here’s a little highlight, which I discovered recently in one of our own newsletters:
GIDSpling 4.0 – The GIDS / WIDS / SIGIDS Analysis Flashpiece
Finding it interesting – albeit for all the wrong reasons – I discovered additional bits of information in the subheading:
GIDSpling 4.0 is your expert for limitless characterisation of microparticle substances in routines
Of course, I have modified the words in this example as I don’t want to stain the reputation of any particular product or company. But believe me, the real headline was every bit as absurd and incomprehensible as what you’ve (had to) read.
I encounter similarly cryptic headlines again and again across industries and on many websites. You might just as well phrase them “Please don’t buy me”, which I bet would even get you better click rates.
Three simple rules for writing better headlines and avoiding mistakes
Inspired by this and many similar examples, we at LUMITOS have carried out an extensive evaluation of dozens of newsletter issues with hundreds of advertised products in order to determine which factors contribute most to the success of a headline. The measure for success was the click-to-open rate (CTOR), which is the percentage of the recipients opening a newsletter who subsequently click on individual product links. (For the sake of simplicity, I’ll use “click rate” instead of CTOR from here on.) From the results, we derived 3 basic rules for writing good headlines quickly and easily, even without expert knowledge of neuromarketing, that avoid the mistakes you may have made in the past.
By the way: the most costly mistake of all will probably surprise you. You’ll hardly believe what difference in the click rate this one fault alone makes. Have you committed this cardinal sin yourself? You’ll know if you carry on reading.
1. Reveal what your product is used for
This sounds rather trivial. But again and again we found headlines that are fundamentally flawed: they don’t even tell readers what they can do with the product. The field of application should always be contained. Don’t forget, these days professionals have little time to spare workdays in the office, the lab or at home. They just skim the headlines. Give them terms they can recognise, that attract their attention and trigger a feeling that what they’ll be reading is relevant to them.
Examples of application areas are:
- Nitrogen determination
- Plastics analysis
- Chemical synthesis
- Sample preparation
Alternatively to the application area, it may make sense to include the method, process or type of device in the headline, for example:
- Chromatography (or HPLC / GC)
- Spectrophotometry (or spectrophotometer)
- Mass spectrometry (or mass spectrometer / MS)
Think carefully about who you want to reach with your product ad. If your target group already works with HPLC or your product is only suitable for HPLC users, it makes sense to include this “trigger word” in the headline as well. However, if you want to sell an instrument for nitrogen determination according to Dumas to scientists who are using the Kjeldahl method, including “Dumas” in the headline is unlikely to appeal to them. In this case it is better to use “nitrogen determination” or “protein determination”.
2. Reveal the key user benefit in the headline
We are all self-centred to a significant degree. Everybody likes to hear their own name. Accordingly, advertising is always perceived through the ego filter, something that happens automatically and subconsciously. Everyone viewing your product ad does so asking themselves “What’s in it for me? Why should I be interested?” Answer these questions for your target group. Don’t make it too easy for yourself – the answer to “Why should I be interested?” is not “Because our instrument has innovative ball bearings”. However, the answer could be “Because you’ll not have to interrupt your work process whenever the ball bearing wears out.” In practical terms, this means “Dear customer, our product makes your everyday life easier.” This is the ultimate benefit, which is rarely figured out clearly in technology or scientific B2B companies but is usually hidden behind technical features and supposed advantages.
User benefits are often described in terms of savings or profit:
- Time saved (in %, minutes, hours or days)
- Lower costs (in % or currency units)
- Less maintenance
- Less staff training
- Greater sample throughput
- Higher level of work safety (e.g. when toxic substances are substituted)
You want to find out about how a standardised procedure can determine the true user benefits of your product that make your online marketing more effective? Then read our blog article “Feature – Advantage – Benefit: The FAB formula for product descriptions that sell” and learn how to progress from technical features to the resulting benefits for the user.
Is your USP a real unique selling proposition or just a niche feature?
At this point, let’s look into how to make use of unique selling propositions, or USPs. If your product has a real USP that sets it apart from the competition, it may be worth communicating it in the headline, ideally in conjunction with the resulting user benefit.
But it is always important to ask yourself whether your USP really is ground-breaking. Your moisture analyser may be the only one in the world to display results with 8 decimal places. But do those 8 decimal places matter to a majority – e.g. 60% of those who work in industrial product development – of potential buyers? Or do only the 0.5% of users care who are working on a PhD thesis like “The residual moisture of West Cuban cigars after several years of storage in pharmacopoeia-compliant titanium humidors according to DIN 99718”?
In other words: is the USP you cherish really a relevant user benefit that matters to the majority, or at least a critical mass, of your potential customers? Or is it something that provides benefits only in niche segments of the market?
There’s no place for your product’s name in the headline!
That’s it, the cardinal sin mentioned above. Do not include product or other proprietary names in your headlines! Be honest to yourself, have you ever committed this sin in your online marketing career or are you innocent? Nothing in our newsletter analysis had a more devastating effect on average click rates (CTOR) than including completely irrelevant, unknown and unattractive product or proprietary names.
What our evaluation shows is that newsletter headlines without a product name average 46% higher click rates than those in which a product, brand or company name appears. If you could have 146 visitor for your product ad on a B2B industry portal, would you be satisfied to get 100? Probably not. Then I suggest you don’t mention any such names in your headlines. Even if you have been through weeks of brainstorming, heated discussions and endless meetings in your company that finally came up with the perfect name (or perhaps only a compromise?) that you now want to proudly shout out loud, the probability that it will play a decisive role in any buying decision at any of your potential customers is close to zero. There is limited space in a headline. The LUMITOS industry portals offer 100 characters. Make good use of them.
Conclusions and additional tips
So these are the three basic rules for the perfect product headline in B2B newsletters and on industry portals: reveal what your product is used for and why it should interest your target group – and don’t include any product, brand or company names.
Actually quite simple, isn’t it? If you want to improve on that and stand out from the crowd in terms of language usage, try one of the following suggestions for more creativity:
- Address readers directly
Address the recipient of your advertising message directly for a change by using personal pronouns like “you” or “your”. Self-centredness, remember?
Can you quantify the product’s user benefit (e.g. cost savings of 30%)? Then include it in the headline – as a figure, even if it is smaller than 13. Headlines with figures stand out visually from ones with text only.
Are you creative and good at phrasing? Try converting a familiar idiom into a smart headline that gets across both the application and the key user benefit. Readers appreciate if you make them smile or at least show that you have given it more thought than your competitors.
Finally, I’ll stress one more thing: always look at your texts and headlines through the eyes of the customer or user. The next time you see a headline in an otherwise dead boring environment that somehow appeals to you in a different way and thereby attracts your attention, remember that, in turn, you can give your target group the same positive experience.
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