“Writing headlines is a specialty. There are outstanding writers
who will tell you they couldn’t write a headline to save
their lives.”
– Bill Walsh

If you’re like me, you can’t check your mail or log onto your e-mail without seeing a slew of messages trying to sell you. A quick scan of mine this morning reveals everything from outrageous promises to “Increase Your Size” to legitimate “Special Offer” promotions sent by companies I’ve purchased from in the past.

Most days, I’ve only got time to give them a 15-second look, open the ones that seem interesting, and send the rest to the trash. And you can bet that’s what even your loyal customers are doing too.

If you want to increase response to your company’s direct-mail and e-mail marketing efforts, you’ve got to do more than simply make them stand out from the pack. You have to engage your customers from word one with your headline or subject line. But how do you do that every time?

Even the savviest of entrepreneurs start scratching their heads when it comes to choosing the best words for the job. Many that I’ve talked to resort to hours-long brainstorming sessions, and pick what they think will work. Then they cross their fingers and wait for the phone to ring.

But there’s a better way.

There’s a shortcut I learned from the copywriting program Michael Masterson developed for AWAI that can help you come up with, in record time, the most powerful line to engage your customers and increase the sales of your products and services.

So, rather than spending hours to come up with a blah headline like …

“Why the Stock Market’s Set to Take a Tumble”

You will quickly come up with a winner like:

“5 Events That Will Send Your Stocks Plummeting Next Year – and What to Do Today!”

Instead of …

“New Breakthrough in Men’s Health”

You will say:

“How any man can build muscle in 30 days, naturally!”

And why say …

“Fall sale, save up to 50%”

When you can say:

“Save $25 Off Your Next Order of Imported Belgian Chocolates”

See the difference? This simple tool that turns ho-hum headlines into attention grabbers is one of the first lessons taught to new copywriters who take Michael’s program.

The “secret” works whether you’re contacting your prospects online, or trying to come up with a winning headline for direct-mail efforts or space ads. It works for every product in every market. Guaranteed.

What I’m talking about is a “test” that Michael calls the Four U’s. Apply these four words to your ad copy and you’ll know how to narrow down a dry-erase board of a dozen headline ideas to the very best response generators in a matter of minutes. So, what are they?

1. Usefulness 2. Ultra-specificity 3. Urgency 4. Uniqueness

Here’s how they work:

Let’s say you’re sending out an e-mail blast selling a stock investment tip. Your team comes up with the following headline …

“The Hottest Investment Tip in Town”

Not bad, but the Four U’s can make it better. First, you need to communicate something of value to the prospect. So let’s add the first U, Usefulness. What about …

“Make thousands by following one investment tip”

Better. Now your prospect knows the benefit. But it’s kind of vague. How much is “thousands”? Your reader must know what specific benefits are in store for him or you’re going to lose him. So you need the second U, Ultra-specificity. Let’s try …

“Make an extra $4,500 by following one investment tip”

Okay, now we’re really getting somewhere. The prospect knows he can make $4,500 with this tip. Still, you need to give the reader a reason to desire the benefit – and, here’s the key – sooner rather than later. So you need the third U, Urgency …

“Wake up tomorrow $4,500 richer by following one investment tip”

This could work. Who wouldn’t want to “wake up tomorrow $4,500 richer”? But you can make it better still when you use the fourth and final U, Uniqueness. After all, the reader could think this investment tip is just like all the others out there. You have to suggest that what it’s offering is in some way different from everything else of its type. So let’s try this …

“Psst … buy this little-known stock and wake up tomorrow with an extra $4,500”

Now the reader knows that if he buys a certain secret stock he can roll out of bed with an extra $4,500 in his pocket! Not bad.

I certainly want to find out what it is and how it can make me so much money, don’t you?

That’s the power of the Four U’s. Every time you or someone on your marketing team is writing ad copy, put the subject line, headline, even the subheads and bullets through the Four U’s by asking:

1. Is it Urgent? 2. Is it Useful? 3. Is it Unique? 4. Is it Ultra-specific?

If you can answer “yes,” to at least three of these criteria, you’ll fast and furiously weed out the ones that won’t work. As for the mediocre ones? You’ll know immediately how to kick ’em up a notch to attention-grabbing great. No more finger-crossing. No more guesswork.

[Ed. Note: Katie Yeakle is Director of American Writers and Artists Inc (AWAI). The Four U’s is just one of the many winning sales techniques personally developed by Michael Masterson in AWAI’s Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting. Find out how you can start using these secrets today to boost sales or become a successful copywriter yourself.]