The 3 Types of Headlines That Activate Your Audience

No One Will Read Your Copy if Your Headline is Boring as Sh*t

More than anything else, people buy things because they want to change the way they feel.

Whether an audience wants to feel secure, calm, sexier, excited, or more fulfilled, name any emotion, and there’s a product out there ready to deliver that result.

Your headlines need to promise the reader that they’ll feel a certain way by making a purchase––and remind them that they’re not feeling that way now.

How to Write a Headline Worth Reading

Let’s look at three types of headlines that crawl into your audience’s psyche. I call these the Brain Burrow Headline, the Direct-Hit Headline, and the Aspirin Headline, respectively. 

For the purpose of our examples, we’ll look at one company and put each of these headlines into action:

CompanyCustom home builder
Ideal customer avatar (ICA)Working families with school-aged children.
Notes on our ICAParents, and especially parents of young children, have two strong pulls: to provide the lives they feel their children deserve and to spend as much time with their families as possible.In modern society, these two things don’t always live in harmony, and parents find themselves spending more time at the office than they spend with their children so that they can pay their ever-mounting bills. This can lead to being “house poor,” meaning having a nice home but working tirelessly to pay for it.
Company’s Unique Selling PointCustom home building that’s far more affordable than the competition.

Let’s look at three headlines designed to capture the attention of this company’s ICA.

The Brain Burrow Headline

With the Brain Burrow Headline, the customer consumes the headline, then the headline consumes the customer. 

Headline: Where Spending Less Money Means Spending More Time.

Why it works: This headline seeps into the center of the ideal audience’s strongest emotions, which has a direct line to their wallet. This example headline hits these pain points and adds an urgency with the mention of time.

The purpose of this type of headline is to burrow into the audience’s subconscious and leave their brain telling them: You won’t get to achieve that sense of fulfillment until you buy this specific product. There will be a weight on your shoulders until you solve this problem.

Remember, people purchase things based on emotions they want to feel, even if they don’t completely understand their own feelings. And most people don’t.

The Gut-Punch Headline

The purpose of the Gut-Punch Headline is to take a “tough love” approach that pulls your customer’ pain point center stage and shines a spotlight on it. 

The Gut-Punch Headline is a lot like your grandma or your too-drunk aunt at Thanksgiving. Blunt but prescriptive, telling you what you need to hear, even if it feels like you got socked in the stomach.

Headline: Overtime Pay Can’t Watch Their First T-Ball Game. 

Why it works: Our example puts the ideal audience’s central pain point — lack of time with the kids — on display. This headline points out that working all those overtime hours to pay for a more expensive option means losing the little moments with your children, but it does it in a direct-hit to the gut type of way.

The Aspirin Headline

This type of headline shows the transformation from pain point to relief and even pleasure. 

Headline: Finally, a Home You Can Afford to Enjoy

Why it works: In this headline, the word “finally” offers relief from the pain point, which is mentioned in the subsequent text — having to overwork themselves to be able to pay for a home for their family.

The Aspirin Headline includes words that make the reader think this is it. I’ve stumbled across the answer to my problems.

Other Aspirin headlines could include words and phrases like “It’s here:” “Stop looking,” “Now,” “Today,” or “What You’ve Been Looking For.”

But an attention-getting headline isn’t where it ends. Every subsequent word needs to back up that promise and drive it deeper into the psyche.

And every single word has a major influence on the subconscious.

Connotations: Weighing Every Word

In wildly effective copywriting, every single word — from brand awareness campaigns to the final stage of the sales funnel — is strategic. 

Words have different connotations, and connotations are the difference between powerful copy and copy that falls flat.

Every single word you choose has the potential to make or break a conversion. 

Weigh each word. How heavy are they? How light?  How poignant? What’s your intention with each word versus the effect each one has?

Let’s look at some common examples of words that are synonymous but have different connotations:

Positive Connotation Negative Connotation
Budget-friendlyCheap
AbundantExcessive
DrivenAggressive
ConfidentArrogant

Each of these words and their respective synonyms could theoretically be used interchangeably for the purpose of a sentence, but word choice changes the emotion.

For example:

“Drive a budget-friendly car off our lot today!” is far more appealing than “Drive a cheap car off our lot today!”

“Learn to generate abundant wealth,” has a more positive connotation than “Learn to generate excessive wealth.” 

“He is a driven soccer coach,” is more palatable than ”He is an aggressive soccer coach.”

And “Become more confident!” definitely carries a more positive connotation than “Become more arrogant!”

While these words have similar meanings, choosing the right one with surgical precision is the key to conveying emotions that motivates action.

Of course, your connotations don’t always need to be positive. Using negative connotations can shift the entire copy and still have the same effect.

Let’s take our “budget-friendly” example above. Writing “Our competition sells cheap cars,” is more effective than saying “Our competition sells budget-friendly cars.” This word choice  positions your company above the competition—even if the cars in both lots are virtually the same.

Your Headline Matters More Than You Think

Everything depends on the emotion you want to inspire, and the action you want that emotion to spur. If your headline doesn’t evoke immediate emotion, chances are that they won’t take the time to read the rest of your copy. Your headline matters just as much as the rest of the content. Make it count!

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