Tone, Story and Impression: The Three Timeless Secrets to Help Brands Write Headlines That Connect With The Hearts of Audiences

on Headlines

While people might see a banner ad, they read native ads.

In research Sharethrough conducted with Nielsen Neuro in 2015, we found that in-feed native ads receive twice as much visual focus as banners, and audiences spend 308x more time processing them.

The act of reading itself has an actual influence on the human brain, making deep links inside the intricate human network of 100 trillion neural connections.

For brand marketers, the key to unlocking these benefits lies in writing the perfect headline for their in-feed ad. Consumers live inside their content feeds, spending as much as three hours a day inside apps, by some accounts. Even if your content achieves a clickthrough rate in-feed as high as 2 percent, that leaves 98 percent of people who saw but never clicked. The perfect headline creates positive brand perceptions through impression alone.

Based on our work with Nielsen (which tracked on page eye movements and electrical brain activity) and our own in-house analysis of several thousand headlines run through the Sharethrough platform (work that went into building our Headline Analyzer, an AI-powered assistant to help brands write great headlines) we’ve uncovered three key ingredients to every great headline: Tone of Voice, Story and Brand Impression.

The act of reading itself has an actual influence on the human brain, making deep links inside the intricate human network of 100 trillion neural connections.

TONE OF VOICE

This boils down to asking yourself a couple of key questions: who are you addressing? And how are you addressing them?

There’s an unspoken relationship between the consumer and the way the brand addresses them in sponsored content. One of the key takeaways we have seen at Sharethrough, is that brands can see significant bumps in engagement by making it about “you,” “he” or “she” rather than “I” or “we.”

In other words: don’t make it about you.

Third-person headlines in branded content connect with audiences in a way first-person headlines don’t. The numbers bear this out clearly: third-person headlines saw a 45 percent lift in engagement, while first-person headlines performed 23 percent worse.

A great example of this comes from two headlines run by Nestle to promote its Coffee-mate sweetener.

Nestle ran the following headlines:

Stuff I Love: My Coffee-Mate Sweet Throwback

See How This Blogger Remembers Her Husband & When They First Met

Headline two, written in the third-person, received an engagement rate 15 percent higher than headline one.

STORYLINE

Trying to tell a story in your headlines is about trying to make a human connection. You should always remember that you’re writing for people. It just so happens that what you are writing about is branded. Think of yourself as a consumer of your brand and what would make you want to engage. If you don’t find the copy interesting, chances are no one else will either.

Our data analysis at Sharethrough uncovered six factors that help humanize headlines and tell a story people will relate to:

Timeliness: talking about seasons, days, months or years.

Perception: using words like “discover,” “known,” and “secret.”

Social: connecting with people’s love of family, friends, and parties.

Health: Flu Shot, Diabetes, Healthy Foods, and references to health connect with people’s sense of personal wellbeing.

Animals: because everyone likes thinking about cute animals.

Body: for example, making references to hands, hearts and heads.

We’ve seen that all six of the above factors trigger positive increases in engagement rates: with social (+16%), animals (+20%) and body (+27%) words having the greatest impact on engagement.

Even if your content achieves a clickthrough rate in-feed as high as 2 percent, that leaves 98 percent of people who saw but never clicked. The perfect headline creates positive brand perceptions through impression alone.

Context words are another huge asset brands have in attracting audience attention to their story. These are a set of words Sharethrough uncovered in our work with Nielsen which have a subconscious impact on the human-brain and emotional engagement. These words can be split into four categories: Insight (relating, discovering), Time (history, everyday, years), Space (upon, above, beyond) and Motion (appearing, replacing, entering).

Including one context word, roughly every six words, has been shown to spur massive increases in emotional engagement from your audience.

IMPRESSION VALUE

This is probably the hardest to get right for a brand. With every headline, there is a balance to walk between making an impression (i.e. writing a headline that people will remember) and being engaging (i.e. focusing on writing something that the most amount of people will click on).

Getting the most amount of value out of every impression is about finding the right balance between ads and content. For brand marketers, a lot of this boils down to the previously mentioned advice: write like a human.

There are a few tools for brand marketers to make more of a brand impression. For instance, mentioning a celebrity affiliated with your campaign, rather than the brand itself, has been shown to pay clear dividends.

Headlines that mention celebrities receive a 35 percent lift in engagement rates, while mentioning the brand alone decreased engagement by 15 percent on average.

It makes sense. People love celebrities.

We’ve also seen that literary devices like similes and metaphors in a headline increase emotional engagement (e.g. writing “the dress is pretty” vs. “the dress sparkled like diamonds”).

The last thing to keep in mind is to use positive words that create the sorts of favorable associations that you’re looking to foster with your brand.

For example, the GAP uses words like “festive,” “elegant,” “cozy” and “warm” and Whole Foods uses “value,” “greater good,” “responsibility,” “quality” and “fresh.”

It is a good habit for any marketer to set out the sorts of words you want associated with the brand you’re trying to create.

As you put these ingredients together for your own brand, don’t forget to try out your efforts in Sharethrough’s Headline Analyzer.