You have a product or service you want to sell…

Now, you just need to figure out the best way to craft the offer.

And two of the most important aspects of your offer are the headline and the lead. You’ve all heard of the headline before – it’s the first thing your customers/prospects see when they lay eyes on your offer.

A great headline convinces more people to read your copy, while a poor headline turns potential customers away.

And the lead comes directly after the headline.

The lead hooks your readers into reading more. It builds on your headline and delivers on the big promise.

Now, there are two main approaches to the headline and lead: Direct and indirect.

Each approach should be used at different times for different audiences. First, let’s define and give examples of each approach, then figure out which one is best for a given situation.

Direct Headline and Lead

With a direct headline, you go straight to the heart of the matter. You don’t try to be clever, and you don’t beat around the bush.

The headline instantly communicates that an offer is being made and something is being sold.

Here are a few examples of some the most famous and successful direct headlines of all time:

  • Don’t Pay a Penny For This Book Until It Doubles Your Power to Learn
  • We’re Looking for People Who Like to Draw
  • At Last, Instant Beauty!
  • iPad: A magical and revolutionary product at an unbelievable price. Starting at $499.
  • Don’t Pay a Penny For This Book Until It Skyrockets Your Child’s Grades In School!

And using that last example, let’s look at how Eugene Schwartz leads it off in a direct way…

Here at last is your chance to make such an overwhelming difference in your child’s performance in school— in as little as five short minutes of your time every day — that the teacher may actually call you up to see what happened! And I’ll prove it to you before you send me a single penny!”

Indirect Headline and Lead

With an indirect headline, you take more of a subtle approach. You use curiosity to raise a question in the customer’s mind. These are often composed of stories.

Here are a few examples of some the most infamous and successful indirect headlines of all time:

  • Are You Ever Tongue-Tied at a Party?
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People
  • Do You Make These Mistakes in English?
  • How I Made a Fortune with a “Fool Idea”
  • They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano — But When I Started to Play!
  • Do You Have the Courage to Earn Half a Million Dollars a Year

And now, let’s look at one of the most famous indirect leads of all time (an ad for the Wall Street Journal)…

“Dear Reader:

On a beautiful late spring afternoon, twenty-five years ago, two young men graduated from the same college. They were very much alike, these two young men. Both had been better than average students, both were personable and both – as young college graduates are – were filled with ambitious dreams for the future.

Recently, these two men returned to college for their 25th reunion.

They were still very much alike. Both were happily married. Both had three children. And both, it turned out, had gone to work for the same Midwestern manufacturing company after graduation, and were still there.

But there was a difference. One of the men was manager of a small department of that company. The other was its president.

It eventually led to the “reveal” of the Wall Street Journal offer…

The difference lies in what each person knows and how he or she makes use of that knowledge.

And that is why I am writing to you and to people like you about The Wall Street Journal. For that is the whole purpose of The Journal: To give its readers knowledge – knowledge that they can use in business.” 

You can see why this ad was so successful. The lead pulls you into the story of these two young men, one much more successful than the other, and you get curious…”What could be the difference?” you think. You already start feeling like you want that same “edge” too.

Then, they paint the Wall Street Journal as the “edge” that set the more successful man apart.

Which Approach Should You Use?

So, how do you choose the right approach? It all comes down to your customers’ level of awareness.

They can range from “Most Aware”, where they know they have a problem, they know your product is a solution, and they’re ready to see the offer and make a decision…

All the way to completely unaware, where they don’t even so much know if they have a problem, nor what it is, and they’ve never heard of your company or product before.

With this scale in mind, here’s when you should go direct:

  • The product you’re selling is easy to understand
  • You can make a very believable promise
  • You have an usually awesome deal
  • Your customer falls on the “Most aware” end of the awareness scale (think Apple)

And here’s when you should go indirect:

  • Your customer falls closer to the “Unaware” end of the awareness scale
  • Your customer doesn’t fully trust your claims
  • Your customer doesn’t even know there’s a problem that needs solving
  • Your unique selling proposition isn’t strong enough to completely separate you from the competition

So, if you’re a company like Apple, and you just released a new iPad, you’d go direct. You already have a huge, loyal following, and fans will probably camp out to get the product no matter how expensive it is.

However, if you’re a less well-known company, like, say, a supplement company selling a new energy drink to a new audience, you should go with a more indirect approach. A headline like, “A healthy substitute for coffee…?” followed up a lead with a story of how you kicked your coffee addiction and got your energy fix, and eventually revealing that you did it with the help of this new, all natural energy drink.

When creating a headline and lead for your offer, keep the direct and indirect approaches in mind. Be keenly aware of where your potential customers fall on the awareness scale, and cater your approach to them.

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