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Digging for headlines and the power of stepping away

At least 50 headlines (not counting the ones I deleted) – for one section.

3,4 hours of work, with the thinking behind them.

That’s what it took me the last few days to come up with a good value proposition for a client.

How do I define a good value prop headline? And how do I pick the winner?

It’s a very gradual process really.

Kind of like digging for gold. Inch after inch – with a super tiny shovel.

It’s hard work, but very gratifying when you reach the precious element.

And finding the good ones is a constant process of refinement. You get closer and closer, but until you’re at the end, something doesn’t sound right.

Which makes you dig more. You look at the research (luckily I have my own “Positioning Formula” to help me get a quick recap of it) try writing, backspace, writing some more and so on.

The final and right headline always has to follow a few key characteristics for me:

  • It has to align with the positioning and incorporate your Big Idea
  • It has to include an external and an internal benefit
  • It has to be as concise as possible
  • It has to use the audience’s language
  • It has to be as specific as possible
  • It has to create curiosity

But you usually can’t get there unless you dig for it.

There are exceptions, for example when you stumble on a customer testimonial that can basically be swiped and used as is into the copy. Those are great.

But, especially if we’re talking about your main value proposition headline, it has to be pure gold.

The additional step that I didn’t mention in coming up with one? Stepping away from the writing.

The reason it takes me sometimes 2 or 3 days is because the brain needs rest and distraction to let your subconscious do the work of assimilating all that data and synthesising it into something good.

I like how David Kadavy describes this process (incubation) in his book “Mind Management, not time management”:

“Incubation works is simply by helping us forget bad ideas. When you hit an impasse, it’s often because you’re using too much of your brain power on connections that won’t lead you to a solution. It’s like a log jam. You’re using your working memory to test out connections that aren’t going to work. As long as those bad ideas are jammed together, creativity can’t flow.”

Anytime you’re pushing yourself to create great stuff, remember that at some point you need to free up some working memory.

Bad ideas like fake gems, have to go.

So only gold remains.

If you need help digging, let me know, I’ll bring the shovels.

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