One of my mentors, the American entrepreneur and writer Mark Ford, once taught me a simple way to improve problematic headlines using ‘the Four Us’.
I’ve written about the idea many times before, but today I thought I’d put it to the test LIVE. Or rather, as I write this article.
Why not, eh?
Indeed, I’m going to pluck three promotions at random from the Clickbank marketplace and see if we can’t use this old school technique to quickly improve them.
But first, let me just make sure we’re both on the same page and explain to you the idea behind ‘the Four Us’.
Forgive him, for he is American
A very potted history for you…
So the story goes, many years ago, Mark Ford and his business partner, Bill Bonner, cobbled together all of the direct mail promotions they’d been sending out and studied which worked and which didn’t.
They noted similarities. They highlighted differences.
Then, after much hard slog and various analytical testing (that we’ll skip over here for the sake of time)…
They uncovered four elements that were consistently present in ALL of the most successful headlines.
What were they?
Drum roll please…
First, each headline created a sense of URGENCY.
Second, each headline offered something USEFUL.
Third, each headline contained something UNIQUE.
And finally, each headline was SPECIFIC.
Er… hold on. Hold on. Let’s try that again…
And finally, each headline was ULTRA-SPECIFIC.
I know. I know. The last one has been ‘tweaked’ a bit to bring it into line and it’s not strictly a ‘U’. But it does make it easier to remember.
Regardless, it’s an extremely helpful idea that you would do well to learn. Because if you’re ever struggling to understand why a headline isn’t working as well as it should, chances are it’s because you’re missing one of these four elements.
Make sense? Of course it does.
So, let’s put it to the test on three random headlines I’ll select from Clickbank…
Putting the Four Us to the test LIVE…
6.52pm, The Roundhouse, Wandsworth:
OK. So, first of all I just searched for the term ‘internet marketing’ and the first product I hit at random was a coaching program from some guy named Coby Wright.
Sounds a bit made up to me, but the headline on the sales page is a great example of something that’s lacking the VAST majority of the Four Us.
Here it is. Seriously…
Now I know you’re already looking at that and you’ve already realised it’s obscenely generic and a tiny bit rubbish. But let’s work through the Four Us…
URGENCY: There is none. Simple. Really, there’s no need to go on here. There is NO urgency in that headline. So, an immediate improvement could be “Finally, learn how to make money online TODAY!” It’s still crap, but the simple addition of ‘today’ has already made it seem more urgent. See what I mean?
USEFUL: Almost all headlines have some form of usefulness – especially when they contain a monetary promise – so this is always a tough one. But when you think about it, if you have no knowledge of what ‘online’ really means, how useful is this headline to you? Not very. So, let’s make it more so: “Finally, learn how to make money TODAY, even if you’re struggling to pay the bills.” Here we’ve immediately associated the monetary benefit with something that would be useful to everyone.
UNIQUE: As someone who works in the world of internet marketing, take it from me that this headline is about as unique as a brown paper bag in a shop that sells brown paper bags in a town that is known by the fact that all of its inhabitants only use brown paper bags. A quick improvement: “Finally, how an 15-year-old Aztec code could unlock the secret to making money online TODAY.” Complete nonsense, but you get the point – a unique element makes it far more intriguing.
ULTRA-SPECIFIC: Where the uniqueness of a headline is looking for it to say something new, when it comes to being more specific, you’re looking to include details that make your headline more authentic. Our example here is not in any way specific. Improve it thus: “Finally, a simple six week program that reveals how to make £2,000 a month from online affiliate marketing.” That’s the same as the original headline – just more specific.
OK. That was an easy one. But it did allow us to quickly see the basic principles of the Four Us in action.
7.14pm, The Roundhouse, Wandsworth:
Here I’ve picked another promotion at random searching for ‘financial trading’:
It’s still a terrible headline and looks like it was designed by a mouse that’s been sniffing too much cheese. But to be fair, it’s a much better effort than our last example.
So, let’s break it down using the Four Us…
URGENCY: See that “STARTING NOW”? Well, it’s obvious the writer of this is on the right lines. That does create a little more urgency than the last headline. But it’s still pretty rudimentary. Real urgency is usually created in two ways: either through a limited access play (e.g. Only 500 people will get to use this) or by finding a genuine detail in concept surrounding the product that provides a natural sense of urgency (e.g. a penny share that’s waiting for big company announcement in the next few days). An improvement here could be to add details of a major news announcement that’s due in the next few days or weeks that could provide a great opportunity to use the swing trading strategy.
USEFUL: Again, they’ve had a go at this here. That little section on “Whether you are…” is a good nod to expanding the usefulness of this headline. As I say, the use of a product or service is often inherent when you’re making a monetary promise. So, I won’t criticize too much here.
UNIQUE: As for this headline being unique, I’m less forgiving. If you’ve never seen a financial system type headline before, it might seem unique, but I assure you it’s actually pretty damn bland. Copy my strategy… doesn’t matter which direction the markets are moving… no experience needed. It’s all bland, overused stuff. An improvement? I’d like to see more development of the ‘short’ idea. Swing trading strategies are two-a-penny, but what is it about SHORT swing trading that is so good? A starting point for a better headline: “Revealed: The simple mistake every swing trader makes on a daily basis and how avoiding it could make you £500 a day.”
ULTRA-SPECIFIC: Again, on the face of it, this looks like it’s ticking the boxes… but look again. Consistent profits… the market… month in, month out… years of research and testing. It’s all utterly vague. It ‘alludes’ all over the shop. Alluding is not good. It’s bad. Consistent profits? Detail them. The market? Which market? Month in, month out? How much can I expect a month? Years of research and testing? Since when have you been testing? More detail please. If you’ve done the work – tell me about it. Or are you making it up? Hmmm.
Again, you can see that following the Four Us allows you to ask the right questions about a headline and find problems that you might not have seen on first glance.
My pint is ticking down now, so let’s have a look at one more example…
7.46pm, The Roundhouse, Wandsworth:
Ha. Now, when I searched for the word ‘health’ and landed on this page, my first reaction was to pick another example.
But I won’t cheat – let’s have a look at it…
To avoid inadvertently causing any offence, let me first say that I’m somewhat vague on my religious beliefs. Let’s just say I’m heavily leaned toward science.
That said – beliefs aside – this is actually quite a good headline…
URGENCY: It does fall here. There’s not really any obvious urgency. More and more I realise that the most important question you can ask of a headline is: why should I read now? Aside from the inherent urgency generated from the health issues mentioned, there’s no reason to ‘buy now’. I’d improve this by looking to change that “Haven’t you read?” line and adding a simple “Read on before it’s too late for you and your family.” It’s harsh, but seems fitting with the general feel of the piece.
USEFUL: This is useful despite not having a monetary claim. Instead it has the implied use of helping to prevent a number of awful diseases. I would be tempted to make this implied usefulness more explicit by altering the wording of the headline. You see, the problem with asking a question is that a reader can potentially answer: NO. But if you rephrased it and said “Discover how the Bible can show you which foods to eat to prevent… etc.” I think it would be more effective.
UNIQUE: Er… yeah, I’m not going to say this isn’t unique. I’ve never seen a headline like this before in the health niche. Fair play (even if the uniqueness wasn’t intentional).
ULTRA-SPECIFIC: Again, pretty good job here. It’s specific about the diseases. It’s specific about the books of God that you should read to find out more. What can I say? The writer’s done a good job with specificity. You find examples of good copy in the strangest places!
In each of the headlines I selected, though, I think it’s obvious that simple improvements could be made using the Four Us theory and in each case those changes would make a big difference to how effective the promotion could be.
Before I set about writing this piece, I wondered if it might be harder to evidence the usefulness of the Four Us, but this random exercise just proves how universal they are and why you should spend some time thinking about them in regards to your own headlines.
Indeed, I hope you found this useful – and maybe a little bit enjoyable too. If you did, please comment.
But whatever you do after reading this…
If you’re ever stuck with a headline that’s not working as well as you hoped, look at it again and think about which of the Four Us it’s missing. I bet there’s at least one gone astray.