What’s the purpose of the headline?

That’s right…to grab your reader’s attention. Without that, there’s no point in wasting time on the remainder of your sales letter or other copy.

However, once you’ve mastered how to create a compelling headline, learning how to write a strong sales letter lead that gets your reader’s attention is the single most important part of your marketing message.

You see, the power of a winning lead is that it creates a personal bond with your reader. Without that emotional connection to your core message, you cannot sufficiently motivate your reader to hang around long enough to hear your offer.

The purpose of a sales letter lead

In a previous post, I said the purpose of the lead is to make good on your headline’s big promise. And, to introduce the theme or “big idea” of your message.

But that’s not all.

It must also build on the excitement already created in your headline. Plus, it needs to establish the tone of your letter. Said another way, the lead should capture the “voice” of whoever is authoring your message. If that’s you, it means you spend much of the lead helping your reader get to know you—so he begins to trust you.

I’ll share six easy ways to do that in just a moment.

But first, you must understand that it’s extremely critical to use the right type of lead with your prospect. This effort allows you to talk to him with greater empathy and understanding.

Of course, choosing the right lead starts with knowing your prospect. In this case—when writing leads—you must learn what your prospect already knows in advance of making him an offer.

Yet, not all leads are created equal. So it’s important to cater your lead to his current level of awareness of your specific solution.

The most poorly-understood marketing technique for boosting response

Called prospect awareness, this tool helps marketers move a prospect through the “buyer’s journey”—that place where the prospect travels from unfamiliarity to consideration to decision and explained very well in this article by Pardot content strategist Molly Hoffmeister.

Yet, the idea of prospect awareness was originated by marketing legend Eugene Schwartz in his classic book Breakthrough Advertising back in 1966. In it, Schwartz broke down prospect awareness into five separate levels:

1. Most Aware. You prospect is very familiar with your product, and is eager to hear your offer up front.

2. Product Aware. Your prospect knows about what products you sell, but isn’t sure yet they are a right fit for him.

3. Solution Aware. Your prospect knows what result he wants from a solution, but doesn’t know your product provides it.

4. Problem Aware. Your prospect knows he has a problem to solve, but isn’t aware there is a solution for him.

5. Completely Unaware. Your prospect is completely unaware of an existing problem, or that your product is a valid solution to it.

Where on the awareness scale your reader is at depends largely on how long he’s been on your list, or how much he’s been exposed to your product’s offer.

If you’re a marketer in charge of creating content or copy, knowing prospect awareness can help you determine how to approach a reader…or how direct you can be in your message to him.

Why is this so important?

Because copy testing shows that the more aware a prospect is, the more likely he is to respond to a “direct” message approach. The less aware a prospect is, the more likely he is to respond to an “indirect” message.

So, when you first begin talking to readers who are already familiar with your product—but haven’t yet bought it—speak more directly. They already find you credible, and just want to know what your offer is. So, don’t beat around the bush with him.

On the other hand, prospects who are completely unaware of your product or offer—or that they even have a problem that needs addressing—are going to require a different approach to get them to read to the end of your message. So, you’ll want to speak to them more indirectly.

With that, here’s…

How to select the type of lead based on your prospect’s level of awareness

As we already said, you can talk more directly or less directly to your reader depending on how familiar he is with your product.

Fortunately, a model for choosing a sales letter lead type for any marketing message had already been developed nearly two decades ago. It was eventually captured and spelled out in detail by master copywriters Michael Masterson and John Forde in their breakthrough book—the only of one its kind—called Great Leads – The Six Easiest Ways to Start Any Sales Message.

Since its inception, the world’s best copywriters have been using this model for developing the beginning of any direct response sales letter to successfully engage their audiences.

Here’s how it works…


As you can see from the diagram, if your reader is already familiar with your product (most aware), you can employ a more direct approach for talking to him in your lead. That means, you’ll likely make a big promise or invitation in your lead.

If your prospect is unfamiliar with your product (unaware), you’ll want to make a bold prediction or tell a story in your lead.

And, if your list is somewhere in the middle—only vaguely familiar with your product—then use a problem-solution lead, or share a secret with them. Here’s how Masterson and Forde explain each lead type…

The Offer Lead is a direct appeal to the reader and mentions the promotion’s “offer” elements—like product, price, discounts, premiums, guarantee, and more—close to the front of your message. Sometimes even in the headline, but most always early in the lead.

You might even start by asking your prospect to become a member or try a product. Called an “invitation” lead, it’s a more subtle variation on the offer lead.

The Promise Lead is the most common lead type. It’s only slightly less direct than the offer lead because of the delay in mentioning the actual product name. Yet, the letter’s headline almost always makes first mention of your big “promise”, or boldest claim.

The Problem-Solution Lead starts by identifying your reader’s greatest, most pressing issue first, followed up immediately by a promise for an easy, effective resolution—your product.

The Big Secret Lead reveals the solution to a problem in the form of some previously and often purposefully hidden information, formula, or system for success.

The Proclamation Lead is an indirect way to get your prospect’s attention. It works to “shock” an unaware reader into paying closer attention by mentioning an incredible fact, or making a bold prediction or statement.

The Story Lead is the most indirect way to open a sales message. A lot has been written lately on the power of stories in marketing copy and content. Audiences simply respond well to them because everyone loves a good story.

Typical story leads take the form of testimonials, expert biographies, historical proof, track records, and more. These types of leads have a particularly powerful effect on readers new to you and your product, thus the reason they are considered indirect leads.

You can’t afford to bore your reader in your lead

Once you’ve selected your sales letter lead for a promotion, it’s time to start writing. But one word of caution. Despite the correct “approach”, most writers still lose their audience near the beginning of their lead. Why?

They fail to generate enough excitement. In essence, they take too long to get around to the good stuff. So the reader bolts much too quickly.
You can prevent this using a simple trick I learned early on when writing leads. I discovered a way to ensure I publish a lead that always starts with a compelling first paragraph. Notice I said “publish”. That’s because anytime you write a lead—or any copy or content for that matter—it’s important to get your thoughts on paper first.

However, the first few sentences you do write tend to be mostly fluff. Meaningless words that do little to create enthusiasm or stimulate curiosity in your reader.

It’s quite normal for even the best writers to write one, two, or more paragraphs of what the industry calls “warm up” copy in their lead.

Don’t get me wrong. That warm up copy is important…as it jumpstarts the creative process, allowing you to eventually create more compelling copy. But most business owners end up publishing this warm-up copy. Big mistake.

You already know the second you lose your reader’s attention, it’s over. They quit reading and go somewhere else. Maybe never to return.

So, you must identify whether your lead starts out with this “weak” warm up copy or not. Here’s how.

Simply take out the first few lines or full paragraph. Read it again. If it doesn’t seem to weaken your sales copy, leave it out. Or, cut and paste it elsewhere in your message if you feel it still has some value, but isn’t strong enough to begin your lead.

Do this with each succeeding line or paragraph until you finally feel you have strong lead copy that you just cannot eliminate.

There you have it. A key tool to help you identify prospect awareness. And, a method for choosing one of six easy ways to write a strong, attention-getting lead for your next marketing promotion.

Have you experienced success using any of these sales letter lead types in your promotions? We’d love to hear about it in the comment section below.


About the author: Jerry Bures

Jerry Bures

Jerry Bures is a direct-response web copywriter and marketing consultant. Since 2010, he has helped natural health, self-help and business opportunity clients—as well as local small businesses—become more visible, credible and profitable online.  Read more.

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