How to Write a Headline that Hooks Customers
Four elements to consider when evaluating product concepts part 2: The Hook
Your Hook is Your Headline
Every good product needs a good “hook.” Your hook explains the value your product provides. Contrary to popular belief, your hook doesn’t necessarily need to explain what the product is (that’s what the subtitle is for). Focus on how your product benefits the user, rather than the product itself. People don’t buy products, they buy what the product can do for them. For example, Apple’s headline for the iPod was “1,000 songs in your pocket”, instead of “The world’s first portable digital media player”.
Without a solid understanding of who your audience is, what the exact problem they have, you can’t really explain the value your product provides.
Validate Your Product’s Hook First
Before committing to a product concept, many startups will test their concepts with prospective customers first. Sometimes it’s through an interview or survey, where they do an elevator pitch of their vision. Other times it’ll be through various types of landing pages; typically in the form of a “coming soon” page or “fake doors MVP.” Nearly every product will eventually need a landing page, and the headline has the largest impact on conversion rate. Lucky for you, if you’ve written a great hook that works, you can use it as your landing page’s headline. If users resonate with one of your hooks, then you may have an early indication of product market fit. Conversely, if none of your hooks seem to land, then this is a strong indicator that you need to rethink your product concept. This could mean rethinking your market, your audience, the problem you're trying to solve, or how you solve it. Although you might be able to hire a really great content writer that can “sell sand in the desert”, you’d still be starting on the wrong foot. Product concepts without good hooks usually require more paid growth channels to scale, due to poor word of mouth and organic growth.
Writing Good Hooks
There are many ways to craft a compelling hook. Here are my three favorite approaches: (1) focus on what makes you unique, (2) counter objections, and (3) own your niche.
Before we dive in, here are some general best practices for content writing on landing pages.
Focus on What Makes You Unique
Make your product the focal point, when it’s unique amongst its competitors. For example, Fast is a digital checkout product with the unique CVP of “fastest checkout.” Their competitors typically focus on other value propositions like security and integrations. Therefore Fast leaned into their “speed” value proposition with: “One click. No passwords. The world’s fastest checkout.”
Address your customer’s most critical objection in your headline. This is the best approach, if your product (or, more commonly, your service) isn’t necessarily unique. An objection to the voice in your customers head giving them every reason why they shouldn’t take action. BJ Fogg’s “ability chain” from his “behavioral model” framework outlines the typical types of objections people have.
The ability chain consists of five parts: time, money, physical effort, mental effort, and routine. These factors commonly map to the most common objections preventing customers from converting.
To understand your customer’s objections, you need to have a solid library of generative research and a clear understanding of who they are, what their problems are, and how it manifests in their lives. Be customer obsessed.
For example, Everydae is an SAT prep course that isn’t necessarily unique amongst its competitors. However, they’ve achieved success with a compelling hook that addresses their customers’ key objection: time. Their value is “unlock scholarship money for college,” and the objection is “I’m too busy to finish an online course.” Their combined value + hook headline is “Unlock scholarship money for college in 10 minutes a day.”
Own Your Niche
Own your niche with conviction if you’re confident in your product and the value it provides. Present yourself as the best or only solution for a problem you know customers would love a painkiller for.
Here’s a list of great examples of products I don’t even need to explain, because their headline is so specific and clear: Basecamp “The all-in-one toolkit, for working remotely,” Privy “how small brands sell online,” Descript “It’s how you make a podcast,” and Sparkloop: “The referral tool for newsletters.”
Let’s look at the specific phrasing of each of these headlines that project absolute confidence: “how,” “the all-in-one toolkit,” “it’s how,” and “the.” These simple words may seem inconsequential, but when executed well in a headline, it makes your product or service appear as the definitive solution to the customer’s problem.
After you’ve defined your target market, audience, their problem, and created your core value propositions (how your product solves the problem and provides value), writing a hook should be easy. You may not be able to come up with the best possible hook, but as long as you’re in the right direction it should resonate with your prospective customers. You can always continuously AB test your headlines down the road to make incremental improvements to your website’s bounce rate. However, this is not the focus at this stage.
A good hook will draw people in and convert them into customers. A bad hook will fall flat, and make it hard to grow your user base. Good hooks are relevant and specific to your target audience.
If your hooks test poorly (low conversion on your landing pages or poor reception from user interviews & surveys), it's likely that you need to rethink your product concept. A product concept that can’t generate a strong hook means the value proposition isn’t clear, and will typically have weak organic growth. If your early customers can’t explain your product, then word of mouth will be low, and you’ll have to rely on expensive paid growth channels like ads.
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