How to write attention-grabbing headlines

Here’s an easy-peasy headline writing technique you can use right away…

FREE Marketing Tips:

(That’s my other website, with DIY marketing resources for small businesses.)

Why use headlines?

Headlines are vital for attracting people’s attention, to compel them to read your marketing messages. You use headlines for:

  • Website content: every page should have a heading… which should be a headline.
  • Email newsletters: the ‘Subject’ line is actually a headline, and has a big influence on your email newsletter open rates.
  • Blog and news articles: these definitely need great headlines to compel readers to read on!
  • Brochures: again, headlines compel people to pick up your brochure and want to read more.
  • Advertisements: a stand-out headline is a must for both print and online advertisements.
Writing attention-grabbing headlines is a vital part of good copywriting. Here's a technique that's easy to use...

Writing attention-grabbing headlines is a vital part of good copywriting. Here’s a technique that’s easy to use…

There are lots of headline writing techniques out there, but this one is probably the easiest to learn… and it works really well.

Step 1: Ask a question
Step 2. Use the word ‘you’ in your question
Step 3: The question should address a problem that your prospect is experiencing

Example: the the intro to this video uses this technique! It is:

Are you struggling to write an attention-grabbing headline?

So next time you need to write a headline, see if you can use this headline writing technique.

Next, review your existing marketing materials (printed and online) and give them a re-vamp by writing a catchy headline.


PS. Yes, this is me, Cornelia, in the video!

This is my very first attempt at a video blog – or ‘vlog’ as it’s called.

It’s filmed on my iPhone using techniques learned from iPhone Video Hero… you can get a FREE eBook on iPhone Video Marketing here.


Business thank you cards: How to grow your business with two little words

Business thank you cards are an easy and effective way to show your appreciation.

Business thank you cards are an easy and effective way to show your appreciation.

Discover why sending “thank you” cards will elevate your business from your competitors…

Think that sending a “thank you card” is a bit old fashioned?

Well, that’s exactly why it’s a great marketing tactic – very few businesses bother to do it! Yet this simple, low-cost gesture will help your business stand out from your competitors.


  • Why it’s important to say “thank you” in business.
  • How to decide if this is a viable, cost-effective (and time-efficient) marketing tactic for your business.
  • When to send “thank you” cards.
  • Design tips: what should be on the front of your card? And should you handwrite the inside – or get that pre-printed as well?
  • Why your choice of envelope is important. (The wrong envelope could ruin the “wow” factor!)
  • Why it’s a good idea to put some nice goodies inside the envelope.
  • Why consistency is important when sending “thank you” cards in business.

Read the article on Cornelia’s ‘The Leaky Bathtub’ website →

How long should an article be?

Have you noticed how some movies have you glancing at your watch after just 45 minutes?

Yet other movies have you on the edge of your seat for nearly 2.5 hours.

So what’s the ideal length of a movie? I’d say that it needs long enough to do the job. When a movie is considered “too long” it’s usually because the plot wasn’t very strong, or the pace of the movie was too slow.

The same thing applies in article writing

In article writing, the article needs to be long enough to do its job

After all, there’s no point rambling on for the sake of it, to meet some imaginary word limit. Likewise, if you make an article too short so it can fit into a teeny-tiny little space, you might confuse your readers if you don’t give them enough information.

The articles on this blog vary dramatically: some are just 400 words long; others are nearly 3,000. I write my articles not to suit a word limit, but to do the topic justice. And for most of the time, following that approach that will be fine: there are only a couple of instances where word count matters.

The only times when word count matters are:

(a) Search-engine optimised website content

The search engines like information-rich websites with unique, quality content. So if search engine rankings matter to you, it’s worth sticking to their guidelines. And for good rankings you need a minimum of 250 words of optimised copy per web page. That’s the absolute minimum; if you can get the word count to over 500 words, that’s even better.

(b) Magazines and other print publications

If you’re submitting an article to a magazine or other print publication, you’ll usually have to write to a strict word count. That’s so that your piece will fill the space available (but without overflowing).

Those are the most common places where there’s a word limit… the rest of the time, just make sure that your article is long enough to do its job well. And a good article has much in common with a good movie.

What are the components of a good article?

A good article has the following elements:

1. Structure

An article needs to be well-structured, which means that the topic needs to flow. You can’t jump around all over the place and expect readers to follow… otherwise it’ll be like one of those confusing ‘flashback’ style movies. And that’s not a good thing in marketing!

How do you make sure that your article has a good structure? A bit of time spent outlining it (before you start writing it) will help your information flow. I outline all my articles first, and it stops me from writing myself into corners and dead-ends. 😉

2. Pace

Your article needs to stride along at an appropriate pace. On one hand, you don’t want to ramble on about something too much, but you don’t want to be so brief that no-one knows what you’re talking about. Again, if you spend some time outlining your article, it’ll help with the pace.

3. “Scenes”

Movies don’t (usually) have the same camera angle and same set for the entire duration. There’ll be indoor scenes. Outdoor scenes. The story’s broken up into segments to keep you interested.

The same applies in article writing, and the technique you use to achieve this is sub-headings. Notice how this article has sub-headings throughout to pull you through it, and to hold your attention. This is much more engaging than writing one long, endless article without an intermission!

4. You-appeal

I don’t like horror movies. Or sci-fi movies. And I’m not big on Westerns either.

You probably have your movie likes and dislikes too.

And when it comes to reading, we all have different topics that interest us. Thus it makes sense that when we’re writing, we’re totally focused on writing about topics that our audience (customers and prospects) will enjoy.

Even more importantly, we need to write using the kind of words and kind of language they’ll enjoy reading. All too often, business owners make the mistake of using industry jargon and buzzwords in their articles, and this is a big turn-off to most readers. The business owner thinks that using long words will make them look good… but actually it makes it very hard to understand what they’re actually saying. Talking in layman’s terms is vital… after all, have you ever heard anyone complain that something is too easy to understand? Neither have I! 😉

5. Editing

Movies that go on and on and on are boring. So are articles that ramble. And the mistake that many novice writers make is to stuff their article full of irrelevant words.

My tip: after you’ve written the article, leave it for a day. Look at it with fresh eyes the next day, and get busy with the ‘delete’ button. Edit out any words or sentences that aren’t needed.

Think of it like the cutting room: in the movies they don’t show every minute of film footage. Nope, most of it’s left on the cutting room floor, so that the cinema-goer can see just the best bits. That’s what makes a movie compelling – and also an article.


There’s usually no ‘ideal’ length for an article – it simply needs to be long enough to do its job well.

To achieve that, begin by outlining your article: that will help you structure it well, and keep the writing moving along at a nice pace.

Break up the article with sub-headings, and make sure that you’re using language that your audience will understand.

Finally, edit the article so that any weak or irrelevant parts are deleted. That way your audience will be so enraptured with what they’re reading, they won’t even get a chance to finish their popcorn. 😉


PS. Yes, I can help you with article writing!

Don't enjoy article writing? You can still use article marketing as a tactic, for example by engaging a copywriter to help you.

Don’t enjoy article writing? You can still use article marketing as a tactic, for example by engaging a copywriter to help you.

Read more about copywriting services from Cornelia Luethi at The Leaky Bathtub.

“Cornelia writes the text for our newsletters and some website updates. She did a great job of taking our rambling thoughts and turning them into professional, easy to read copy. We’ve had a good reaction and it has had the desired effect of prompting some existing clients into starting new projects with us.”   – Nigel Smith, Transformer Design


Why you shouldn’t ask prospects to ‘subscribe’ to your newsletter

If you want your email marketing to zoom along nicely, you shouldn't ask people to 'subscribe'. Discover why 'subscribe' is a poor choice of word - and what's a better alternative.

If you want your email marketing to zoom along nicely, you shouldn’t ask people to ‘subscribe’. Discover why ‘subscribe’ is a poor choice of word – and what’s a better alternative.

Why you shouldn’t ask prospects to ‘subscribe’ to your newsletter

Eh? That sounds crazy, right? Surely you’d want prospects to subscribe to your newsletter?

After all, my last article was all about how to get more email newsletter sign ups from your website.

Let me clarify: yes, you do want to grow your email list

While you want to grow your email opt-in list, you need to be very careful about how you ask people to do that.

Your choice of words has a big influence on how your readers will react to what you’re offering… and the word ‘subscribe’ is a big turn-off.

Why the word ‘subscribe’ is off-putting

As Derek Halpern points out in his article on Copyblogger, ‘subscribe’ has negative connotations for people.

You subscribe to magazines and newspapers: i.e. you pay money to receive these items.

You also subscribe to services such as internet plans, telecommunications, and so on.

Let’s look at how the Cambridge Dictionary defines the word subscribe:

  • to pay money to an organization in order to receive a product, use a service regularly or support the organization
    She subscribes to several women’s magazines.
    I subscribe £10 a month to the charity.
  • specialized to offer to buy something or pay an amount for something as part of your business activities
    Existing shareholders subscribed to only 49% of the new share issue.
(Definition of subscribe verb from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)

Thus people to tend to equate the word ‘subscribe’ with expense, commitment, hassle… stuff they don’t want.

So how do you get people to sign up?

It’s simple: instead of using the word ‘subscribe’, you use the word ‘get’.

‘Get’ is a lot more casual. For example, people get a bottle of milk from the shop. They get a haircut. They get a present. Or get a hug.

We use the word ‘get’ freely, and it doesn’t imply commitment or hassle. (Even if it does sometimes cost money to ‘get’ something.)

Here’s are two of the definitions of ‘get’ in the Cambridge Dictionary:

  • to obtain, buy or earn something
    He’s gone down to the corner shop to get some milk.
    We stopped off on the motorway to get some breakfast.
    Where did you get your radio from?
  • to receive or be given something
    I got quite a surprise when I saw her with short hair.
    I got a (telephone) call from Phil last night.
    What did you get for your birthday?
(Definition of get verb (OBTAIN) from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)

Does using the word ‘get’ really make a difference to newsletter sign up rates?

Apparently, yes, it does. Here’s an article on how one person improved their sign up rate by 254%.

Sure, that’s just one person, but I can see how that might work. People react very differently to certain words. So if I were you, I’d recommend that you tweak your website to use the word ‘get’ instead of ‘subscribe’. It’s a quick job, and one that could make a very big difference to your business!


Instead of asking people to ‘subscribe’ to your newsletter, ask them to ‘get’ your newsletter. Then test and measure to see what effect that has on your sign-up rates.


Understanding Features and Benefits and how to use them in photo captions

Do your photo captions address what your customers really want?

It’s important that you realise which Benefits and Features matter most to your customers.

In the last post on writing photo captions we touched on incorporating a feature and benefit of your product and service in your photo captions.

But what’s the difference between a feature and a benefit?

Knowing the difference between a feature and a benefit is Marketing 101, but I’ve many small business owners struggle to differentiate between features and benefits when it comes to their own business. So if you’re not clear what the difference is, you’re not alone… and by the end of this article you should have a better idea of how this works for your own business.

Once you’ve got that sussed, it’ll help you with many aspects of your marketing – not just photo captions!


Features are fact-based, but by themselves, they’re pretty boring. Here are some examples of features:

  • Car: does 50 miles per gallon.
  • Dog food: contains 20% vegetables.
  • Fountain pen: has a flexible tip.
  • Accountant: provides clients with monthly reporting.
  • Window cleaning service: uses chemical-free products.

Viewed in isolation, most of these statements promote a “so what” response… so what if a dog food contains 20% vegetables? So what if a pen has a flexible tip? Features by themselves don’t make for exciting, compelling or memorable marketing. You need to put the feature into some kind of context.

Benefits put features into context

And that’s where the benefits come in: they put the feature into context, usually by drawing on some kind of emotion. For example:

  • Car: Because it does 50 miles per gallon, you can spend your money on more fun stuff.
  • Dog food: nutritionally-balanced to keep your pet fit and healthy for longer.
  • Fountain pen: the flexible tip enhances your hand writing.
  • Accountant: monthly reports come with easy-to-understand commentary so you know if your business is healthy – or in the danger zone.
  • Window cleaning service: not only will your windows be clean, but the products we use are allergy-free for your family and pets.

Do you notice something about these emotions?

Sometimes the benefit draws on happy emotions (doing fun stuff; having a fit and healthy dog), but other times the benefit draws into a more negative emotion. For example, this fountain pen might appeal to those who are ashamed of their handwriting. And the accountant’s service taps into the fear that entrepreneurs may have of business failure. And so on.

So should you tap into a positive or a negative emotion? There’s no hard and fast rule here, it depends on your product or service, and it depends on your industry. But most if all, it depends on your target customer’s needs and desires. (And to do that, you need to really get to know what motivates your customers. How? Asking them is the only sure-fire way to find out.)

Customers have a mix of emotions going on inside them

Often people will have a mixture of emotional drivers, but at the time of purchase one is often stronger than the others, which is why they’re taking the plunge to buy from you.

How does this tie into marketing – and into photo caption writing?

To market your product or service successfully, you need to hook into those emotionally-based buying decisions. And to do that, you need to recognise that your product or service has two levels:

  1. The basic need, which is where the logical stuff comes into it.
  2. The augmented need, which is where your heart and emotions start getting involved.

20% of buying decisions are based on logic [brain: basic need]... 80% of buying decisions are based on emotions [heart: augmented need]


In short: there’s a difference between the things we need, and the things we want. We may not need that new dress we’ve just splurged on, but we want to feel good about ourselves.

Let’s just look at these emotionally-based augmented needs in a little more details, so you can understand just how far you can go with stating the benefits of your product or service.

The classic example of the drill manufacturer…

Have you heard the saying that people don’t want to buy a drill, they want a hole?

Actually, that’s wrong. They don’t want the hole: they want to hang a painting, or put up some shelves. And there are emotions around that seemingly straightforward desire to have a hole. The customer might be feeling:

  • One-upmanship: they want to show off their new art to friends and family.
  • Nesting: they want to create a cosy, comfortable home.
  • Frustration: they’re fed up with the house looking a mess, and they doing something about it by putting up shelves. (Or maybe they’re frustrated with the lady of the house, who keeps asking for shelves to be installed!)
  • Procrastination: they don’t like home maintenance.
  • Fear: they don’t like using power tools… but know they have to.

Let’s look at some photo caption examples to give you an idea of what works and what doesn’t work, so you can see how to tie in emotional benefits into the features:

This caption makes me think, “so what”? Just stating a feature does nothing for me. Is a 1.5Ahr battery good or bad? I have no idea!

This is better! Notice how this caption incorporates a feature (the 1.5Ahr battery) as well as a benefit. It makes it clear to the reader that a 1.5Ahr battery is a good thing to have.

Let’s look at a service-based example too: a real estate agent

The basic, logical need that a real estate agent fulfils is that to sell a house.

The augmented needs (emotional drivers) around the desire to engage a real estate agent might include:

  • Wealth-driven: wanting to get the highest possible price for your house.
  • Fear: some people hate negotiating and want someone to do that for them.
  • Convenience and time-saving: having someone else take care of viewings.

Let’s look at a poor example of a photo caption, so you can see what to avoid writing:

This caption attempts to state a benefit: but without a feature to back it up, it’s wishy-washy and provokes a “so what” response. Essentially it’s just a bland statement.

A better example is as follows:

Again, the good example includes a feature as well as a benefit. By including a specific statistic, the statement comes across as being more credible. It packs punch. (You can read more tips on using numbers in your copy here.)

You need to include the logic as well as the emotion

Just because buying decision are 80% emotionally-based, it doesn’t mean that you can forget about the 20% logical (feature-based) element. Consumers will need some logic when justifying the purchase either in their own minds, or to their spouse or friends.

Example: justifying a purchase in your own mind

“I can justify buying the top-of-the-range drill with the extra powerful battery, because I can get those chores done more quickly.”

Example: justifying a purchase to others

“Yeah, I know the car looks quite flashy, but it actually does 50 miles per gallon, so it’ll pay for itself in no time.”

…or the more common line of: “I needed to buy this dress, honey. It’s so versatile I can wear it for work and your business dinner. And it was 50% off in the sale, you know!”

In short: your marketing need to address the features AND the benefits of your product or service. One without the other will not work!


  • Features by themselves are boring and provoke a “so what” response.
  • Benefits by themselves can be wishy-washy and may also provoke a “so what” response.
  • Benefits put features into context.
  • Benefits should draw on emotions: either positive or negative.
  • You need to draw on the strongest emotion that your customer is likely to be feeling when purchasing your product or service.
  • It’s important to still state the feature in your marketing, because consumers will need this to justify their purchase (in their own minds, or to other people).
  • Combining a feature and benefit in photo captions gives it maximum impact.



How to choose and use eye-catching photographs for your marketing

This eBook is packed with tips to make your marketing materials more effective!

Are you looking for more ways to make your marketing photography more effective?

Discover more tips on making your marketing photography more persuasive in my eBook ‘How to Choose and Use Eye-Catching Photographs for your Marketing’.




How to write photo captions that’ll get remembered

A good caption does more than just tell the reader what's in the photograph.

… And in this article, you’ll discover the techniques to write great photo captions for your marketing.

Have you ever played a memory game with a group of friends?

You know, the kind where everyone adds an item to the list, and you have to remember what everyone else has said, as well as adding your own item to the list. It gets quite hard, very quickly!

Imagine if you only had to remember one item… it would be a very dull game, for sure, because it’s too easy. Anyone can remember just one item.

With photo captions, it’s good that people are able to remember one item

When you’re writing photo captions, you want people to remember just one thing. Yes, just one thing.

You don’t want readers to try and remember more than one thing, or they’ll get confused and forget. (Remember, you’re trying to get your message across, not play memory games!)

And there’s more to writing a good image caption than simply stating what’s in the photograph. While you do need to put the photo into context, just saying what’s in the photo will generally leave readers confused and thinking, “so what?”

Here’s an example of a photo caption that creates a “so what” response:

Photo caption example: Premium quality dog food.

Simply stating what’s in the photograph is a missed opportunity: you can do better than that!

To write a better caption, you need to incorporate a benefit

To write a more powerful photo caption, you need to incorporate a benefit of your product or service.

So for the dog food photo caption example, what benefits do you think the premium quality dog food may have?

Begin by brainstorming the different benefits of the dog food. (And we’re talking benefits here, not features… we’ll look at the difference between features and benefits in the next blog article.)

The benefits of the premium dog food might be:

  • Nutritionally-balanced for maximum energy
  • Gives the dog healthy skin and coat
  • Quality ingredients promote longevity
  • Keeps teeth clean and freshens breath
  • Supports joint health
  • No flatulence guarantee

… you get the idea!

Now you need to pick one benefit

Yes, pick just one benefit – and it needs to be the one thing that is most likely to motivate customers to buy. This benefit needs to address the biggest worry or concern your target market might have.

While things like glossy fur and clean teeth are nice things for a dog to have, the biggest concern a dog owner will usually have is longevity. Dog owners get very attached to their pooch, yet the dog may live for just 10 to 15 years… not nearly long enough, for something you love so much! So a product that (realistically) promises a long and healthy life is something that’ll tug at the heartstrings of dog owners, motivating them to buy your product rather than your competitors’ offerings.

But before you write the caption, there’s one more thing to address. And that is, to make the caption believable.

Making the caption believable

Notice how I’ve alluded to the fact that a caption must be believable? You can’t just go making wild promises without backing them up. For example, the following caption is totally unbelievable:

Photo caption example: This premium dog food will help your dog live for longer.

This caption would most likely be met with a skeptical, “yeah, right”, and you need to avoid that. You need to make your caption believable.

How to make your caption believable

To make the caption believable, you need to tie in the feature that corresponds with the benefit you’ve chosen.

In the dog food example, it would be the nutritional aspects of the food that help to justify that claim.

But again, pick just one feature, not a bunch of features, or it’ll get confusing.

With your one benefit and corresponding feature selected, you can now write your photo caption. Example:

Example of a good photo caption: The premium dog food is nutritionally-balanced to give your best friend a long and healthy life.

Ta-da! There’s your ideal photo caption.

Of course, you could tweak the caption further, such as:

  • Your best friend can enjoy a long and healthy life, thanks to this nutritionally-balanced dog food. Or:
  • Your dog will get all the nutrients he needs in this premium dog food, so he can enjoy a long and healthy life. Or:
  • Because this premium dog food is nutritionally-balanced, your dog can enjoy a long and healthy life.

There are a number of ways in which the message in the caption can be phrased, there’s no one single right answer. But notice how all these caption ideas incorporate just one benefit, and the one corresponding feature.

Sidenote: A photo that would be more appealing than one of dog food would be a picture of either (a) a cute, healthy-looking dog enjoying eating the dog food, or (b) a cute, healthy-looking dog running through a flowery meadow – the perfect picture of good health.

But the reality is that we don’t always have the perfect photo to work with, and when you’re a small business owner, it’s often about making the most of what you’ve got. So for now, focus on writing great captions for the photos you’ve already got… but do make it part of your plan to obtain better photos if you need to.

How to give your caption the breath test

Before you finalise your choice of caption, give it a quick breath test.

What’s the breath test? This is about making sure you can say your caption in one breath. If you can’t say it in one breath, it’s also too long for people to remember it. (After all, this is meant to be an easy memory game for your reader, not a complex memory test!)

Here’s an example of a caption that’s too long:

Example of a photo caption that's too long: The premium dog food is nutritionally-balanced and packed with natural fish oils to give your best friend a long and healthy life by protecting his cardiovascular system and improving joint health.

Phew, that’s far too long and cluttered! Do not use captions this long: you’ll be out of breath, and your readers will be confused.

But what about writing captions for a service?

The example so far has been product-related, i.e. to dog food. But what if you’re selling a service? Exactly the same rules apply. Let’s look at a quick example to see photo captions for a service in action.

The service we’ll look at is also canine related: we’ll use a dog walking service as an example. This caption is too short and gives us the “so what” factor: Dog walking service.

Using a caption that just talks about a feature gives a “so what” reaction too: Our dog walkers have been police checked.

Instead we need to talk about a benefit; specifically, one which addresses the prospect’s primary concern. And if you were looking at a dog walking service, your primary concern may be that the dog walker treats your pet responsibly and with good care. In short, you want them to take the same good care of your dog as you do. Someone that’ll be kind to them and keep them safe.

So a good caption might be: You can be sure that your dog’s getting good care when you’re at work.

And to make the caption even more believable, you could add in a feature to justify the benefit, e.g.: You can be sure that your dog’s getting good care from our police checked dog walkers.

(Sometimes this adding of a feature is necessary, other times it isn’t… it depends on how believable your benefit is by itself.)

And let’s look at an example that’s far too long and confusing, and fails the breath test (so you know what not to do): Our dog walking service is convenient if you work long hours, plus our dog walkers are police checked and have pet first aid skills for your peace of mind.

To help you visualise the ideal caption for the dog walking service example, here’s a visual:

Caption example: You can be sure that your dog's getting good care from our police checked dog walkers.

With this particular photo, it would be even better to put the text next to the image, so that the dog’s looking at the words. This would create a nice, compelling Non-Mona Lisa effect. (Not sure what the ‘Non-Mona Lisa effect’ is? Then you need to grab the Free eGuide, ‘How to Choose Eye-Catching Photographs for your Marketing’, which explains this.)

Summary checklist for caption writing

A good caption includes the following elements:

  • The caption makes it obvious what’s in the picture, or puts the picture into context.
  • It tells the reader something extra in addition to the obvious, i.e. you avoid the “so what” syndrome.
  • You state just one benefit: ideally this benefit will be your prospect’s biggest motivator.
  • You use one feature to back up the benefit (if it’s needed).
  • The caption passes the breath test; you can easily say it in one breath.

If you work through this process when you’re writing captions for your own photos, you’ll be able to create something compelling that’s also easy for readers to remember… no memory games required!



How to choose and use eye-catching photographs for your marketing

This eBook is packed with tips to make your marketing materials more effective!

PS. Imagine how dull this article would be without the graphics!

That’s why photos and captions are so important: they help to lock in the learning.

If you want your clients to remember what you’re telling them, be sure you’re using all the tips in my eBook, ‘How to Choose and Use Eye-Catching Photographs for your Marketing’.

The eBook has a whole chapter on writing memorable photo captions, plus other little-known tips on making your marketing materials more effective. For example:

  • Where you can find quality photographs – on any budget.
  • The importance of where the model is looking in a photograph.
  • How to choose a photo that won’t date too quickly.
  • Why photographs with white backgrounds are ultra versatile
  • How to combine words with images (captions are just one of the techniques you can use).
  • How you can create drama with photographs through size, positioning, angles and borders.

See details of this eBook and buy online →

How one measly sentence could double your readership

Photo captions are twice as likely to be read as the body copy... so you can double your readership with just one sentence!

Photo captions are twice as likely to be read as the body copy… so you can double your readership with just one sentence!

A dentist I know uses the catchline ‘only floss the teeth you want to keep’. Yes, dental humour is quite, um, unique, but I guess the dentist was fed up with his clients complaining that flossing is a tedious chore that they forget to do.

Flossing is one of those chores that we know we should do, but it’s just not very appealing.

These non-appealing chores aren’t limited to dentistry; they exist in business life too.

A complaint that I often hear from my clients is that it’s tedious to write captions for photos in marketing materials… but the same kind of logic applies as the dentist uses:

“Only write captions for the photographs you want readers to remember”

Eh? What have photo captions got to do with memory? A lot, actually.

It’s been proven that readers are twice as likely to read a photo caption as they are the body copy of your marketing piece.

What’s more, the combination of photo plus caption gives your marketing piece really strong visual branding. The photo and caption combo help to lock your message into the reader’s brain. It captures people’s imagination far more than words alone do.

Photograph + Caption = Visual Branding Extraordinaire!

This visual branding is something I’ve been testing myself

The eagle-eyed readers amongst you will have spotted that not every article on my blog has an image (gasp!). It’s a work-in-progress: I’m gradually adding images (usually cartoons) for each article.

Naturally, I want to promote the articles that I’ve written. (Even the ones without images.) So I’ve got a neat gadget on my website that automatically posts links to my blog articles on Twitter every couple of days. And I’ve noticed that it’s the blog posts with images that are getting more “re-tweets”, more mentions, and more web traffic.

A coincidence? No, I don’t think so. The articles without cartoons are just as well-written and insightful as those without cartoons… but the visual imagery of the cartoons creates a far stronger visual impression than words alone. And yes, the cartoons have captions.

But I don’t have time to write captions…

You don’t have time to write one little sentence? Really? That’s all that a photo caption is: one sentence! And remember, this little sentence is twice as likely to get read as the whole page of blurb you’ve just written. So I strongly suggest you take the time to write that one measly sentence!

But photo captions look ugly; they ruin the design…

Admittedly, sometimes photo captions don’t look so hot. If that’s the case, you need to have a wee word with your graphic designer. Or if you’re DIYing, get a graphic designer to help you, or else look at materials that do make good use of captions, to get you inspired.

Remember, your marketing piece is there to sell, not just to look pretty. Insist that captions are used; it will be worth it!

Like the idea of captions but don’t know how to write them?

Stuck on how to write photo captions? That’s something we’ll look at in the next blog post. We’ll look at what should be included in a photo caption, so that you can write photo captions with confidence.

After that, you’ll be able to confidently write photograph captions for every photograph you want your visitors to remember. So be sure to keep an eye out for the next installment of this blog! (Or get Marketing Tips like this emailed to you directly… here’s where you can add yourself to the list.)


  • Photo captions are twice as likely to get read as the body copy of your marketing materials.
  • Photograph + Caption = Visual Branding Extraordinaire.
  • The visual branding helps to lock in the message you’re communicating.



How to choose and use eye-catching photographs for your marketing

This eBook is packed with tips to make your marketing materials more effective!

Want more tips on how to use photographs to help increase sales?

Then check out my eBook, ‘How to Choose and Use Eye-Catching Photographs for your Marketing’.

The eBook has a whole chapter on writing memorable photo captions, plus other little-known tips on making your marketing materials more effective.

Discover the one word you should never use in your marketing copy…

Actions speak louder than words: you shouldn’t need to spell it out that your business is “professional”.

There’s one word that bugs me like no other in business copy. It’s the most unnecessary, superfluous, dumb word possible. When I see it being used (which is often), I don’t know whether to snort with laughter or snort with tears. It makes me wonder which genius thought that that would be a good word to use in a business description.

And what is this abomination of a word?

The word that I loathe so much is… “professional”.

You see this word all the time; there’s no getting away from it. For example, I saw it signwritten on an electrician’s van when I was driving on the motorway the other day: it had “professional service” written underneath the company’s logo.

“Professional service”… as opposed to what? An unprofessional service? Or an amateurish service?!

The fact that you’re professional should be a given!

Surely, by its very meaning, the fact that you’re in business should signal that you’re a “professional”!

Yet we all moan about the cowboys in our industry; the people who give our trade a bad name; the people who rip off clients.

No siree, we want to let everyone know that we’re better than those sorts of goons!

We all pride ourselves on being professionals in our industry

While we may be professional in our core trade, are we professional in all aspects of our business? What does it actually mean to be professional in business?

Let’s have a quick brainstorm on what it means to be professional:

  • Answering the phone in a friendly, helpful manner – and passing on messages.
  • Responding promptly and courteously to phone and email enquiries.
  • Correct spelling and punctuation in all our company communications: emails, website content, blog posts, estimates, invoices, signage, newsletters, social media updates, and so on.
  • Keeping our uniforms, vehicles and premises clean and tidy.
  • Invoicing promptly and following up promptly for any late payments.
  • Keeping customers updated as to the cost, so that they don’t receive any nasty surprises when they receive your invoice.
  • Honouring any warranty or guarantee claims in a fair way, and going out of your way to ensure that the customer is happy.
  • Taking any complaints seriously, and resolving them. That means putting the immediate issue right (e.g. giving the customer a refund), as well as solving the root of the problem (e.g. identifying the flaw in your manufacturing or quality control process).
  • Giving sincere thanks to the customer for their business, and also to strategic alliance partners who have referred clients to you.
  • If you’re given a referral, keeping the referee updated with the progress, so that they’re assured that their client is in good, capable hands.
  • Ensuring that your website is up-to-date.
  • Regular blog updates.
  • Regular newsletters (be it quarterly, monthly, fortnightly, weekly, or whatever you choose).
  • Regular social media updates (be it weekly, twice weekly, or whatever you choose).
  • Completing work and meeting all deadlines, on time, every time.
  • Treating your staff fairly. That means having systems in place for job descriptions, performance reviews, training, promotion, remuneration, and so on.
  • Good financial management, including regular reporting and analysis as well as goal setting and budgeting.
  • Having a marketing plan documented, and sharing it with your team so that everyone knows the direction that the company is moving towards.

How does your business score against that checklist?

Can you confidently say that you do all of these professional things, all the time? Or are there a few gaps?

You may think this doesn’t matter…

You may think that as long as you’re a great electrician (or whatever you do), these little things don’t matter. But they matter very much to your customers.

After all, your customers probably aren’t experts in your industry. If you’re an electrician, your average client probably doesn’t know very much about wiring. So instead, they’ll judge the quality of your work based on the things they do know about.

Therefore an electrician who’s tidily attired in a neat uniform and who cleans up any mess he makes, will be perceived as being more professional than a scruffy electrician with greasy hair, and a crumpled uniform who leaves a mess behind.


Instead of resorting to words to explain that your business is “professional”, remember that actions speak louder than words.

If you demonstrate that you’re professional in every single aspect of your business, it’ll do a lot more for your business than slapping the word “professional” on your vehicle’s sign writing. Or on your website. Or in your printed brochures.


PS. The only place where the word “professional” is permissible is in your Testimonials. It’s OK for your customers to say that you’re professional, but it’s not OK for you to say it. Yeah, double standards, I know, but that’s the way it is. 😉


Is your negative language turning prospects away?

It's not just dogs that don't understand negative commands - neither do your prospects.

It’s not just dogs that don’t understand negative commands – neither do your prospects.

Imagine that you’re visiting a dog obedience class. And you tell one of the well-trained pooches, “don’t sit!”

What does the dog do? Chances are it will sit. Even though you’ve told it not to.

You see, dogs don’t understand negatives in front of commands. They just hear the command.

The human subconscious brain is just the same

Even though our ears hear the negative language (or our eyes read it), our brains don’t register the negative message either, just like the dog obedience class story.

For example, I were to tell you NOT to think of a bouquet of beautiful, luscious red roses, what are you visualising?

Most likely you are thinking of a bouquet of red roses, even though I explicitly told you NOT to think of them!

Your prospects and clients are much the same

Just like your brain doesn’t really register the negative language, neither do your clients and prospects. Yet it is very common to see negatives being used in business communications. Everything from websites, sales letters and emails will say things like:

“Don’t forget to take us up on this offer.”

“Don’t hesitate to contact me.”

These communications may as well be saying “forget about this offer”, and “hesitate to contact me”. Because subliminally, that’s what the readers will be picking up on.

Be bold!

Instead of negative language and wishy-washy phrases, be bold! Tell your readers what you really want them to do!

“Be sure to take us up on this offer.”

“I’d love to hear from you!”

This may seem a very minor tweak to make to your copywriting, but it’s a powerful one.

You see, this kind of positive language makes your team – and your company as a whole – sound more positive, confident and professional.

So make it your company policy to use nothing but positive language in your marketing materials and chances are you’ll get more positive results too.


Common words you need to stop misspelling

When a prospect is deciding whether to buy from you or not, and they don’t know you, they have no choice but to let their instinct – and your marketing materials – guide them.

So what they’re judging your ability on is what they see in front of them, be it a brochure or your website. Chances are they’ll subconsciously be evaluating the design, photography, and the wording… and the spelling.

Why good spelling matters

Simply put, good spelling indicates that you’re professional and pay attention to detail. Poor spelling indicates that maybe you’re not quite so professional. And while we can’t all be spelling experts, there are some common words people get wrong time and time again.

Even computerised spell checkers don’t pick up all the misspellings. So use the tips below as your quick guide to getting the spelling right.

Here’s your quick guide to overcoming these common spelling mistakes

It’s vs. Its

  • It’s: This is short for “it is” – the apostrophe indicates the contraction (shortening). For example: “It’s raining.”
  • Its: This shows possession. For example: “The dog likes to chew its bone.”

You’re vs Your

  • You’re: This is short for “you are” – again, the apostrophe indicates that there’s a contraction. For example: “You’re learning about spelling.”
  • Your: This shows possession. For example: “Your business is very professional.”

They’re vs. There vs. Their

  • They’re: This is short for “they are” with the apostrophe indicating the contraction. For example: “They’re going on vacation.”
  • There: This is used when you’re talking about a place, idea or situation. For example: “There is no milk in the fridge”, or “I went there yesterday.”
  • Their: This shows possession. For example: “Their car broke down.”

Lose vs. Loose

  • Lose: When you can’t find something, i.e. have lost something. For example: “I always lose at card games.”
  • Loose: The opposite of tight, i.e. when something is baggy. For example: “My jeans are loose on me since I lost weight.”

Stationery vs. Stationary

  • Stationery: things you write with or on. For example: “I need to add pens and envelopes to my stationery order.”
  • Stationary: not moving. For example: “The car was stationary in the traffic.”

Affect vs. Effect

  • Affect: to have an influence on something. For example: “The roadworks will affect my journey time to work.”
  • Effect: a result of something happening. For example: “The effect of the roadworks is that I was late arriving at work.”

If you struggle with spelling the words above, then bookmark this page – or print it out and keep it handy! Remember, correct spelling is vital if you want to present yourself (and your business) in a professional way.


What makes a good headline?

If the job of a headline is to get people to stop and take attention of your marketing message, how exactly do you do that? How do you get a headline to cut through all the other advertising messages and “noise” and busy-ness?

In short, how can you grab your readers’ attention and engage them in just a few words?

How to engage your readers

The key to getting your readers’ attention is to engage them. That means, getting them to pause for long enough so that they’ll want to read more.

There are a number of ways in which you can write headlines which engage readers, and you can use these techniques either in isolation, or by combining them.

We’ll look at these techniques by applying some examples: the “before” is the kind of introductory text you’ll often read online or in an advertisement. The “after” gives an example of a more effective headline.

1. Ask questions to engage your readers

A very popular and very effective way to engage readers is to ask a question in your headline.

Example – website designer:
Before: We design e-commerce websites
After: Do you wish your website generated more sales?

Example – fruit and vegetable store:
Before: Apples $3.50 a kilo
After: Do you need to increase your 5-a-day fruit intake?

2.  Use customer-focused words

Make it about the reader: make sure you use the words “you” and “your” as much as possible – and try to avoid “we”, “us” and “our” as much as you can. Certainly avoid using the latter at the beginning of the sentence.

Example – plumber:
Before: We fix leaks.
After: You don’t need to put up with that drippy tap!

Example – fence manufacturer:
Before: We specialise in the manufacture of high quality fences.
After:  Are you looking for a stylish way to secure your property?

(In this last example, notice how the question-asking technique has also been used.)

3. Offer a solution to a problem

Offering a solution to a problem that your reader is having is another common headline-writing technique. That’s why you see so many headlines beginning with “how to…” or “why…”. Here are some examples:

Example – landscape gardener:
Before: Shrub pruning
After: How to enjoy more fruit this summer with this easy shrub pruning technique.

Example – gym:
Before:  Supervised weight lifting sessions.
After: Why lifting weights will slim you down.

This also means that you’re talking about benefits rather than features, e.g. enjoying more fruit or slimming down… the things the consumer really wants! Pruning or weight lifting is just the means to the end: we don’t necessarily want to spend our time pruning or lifting weights, but we do want more fruit in our garden, or to be slimmer.

4. Using emotional trigger words

There are certain words that are said to grab people’s attention because they generate an emotional response.

Examples of trigger words include: achieve, amazing, bargain, beautiful, easy, exclusive, formula, free, imagine, important, luxury, power, results, revolutionary, savvy, selected, shocking, urgent, valuable… there are dozens more of these. Just look up “emotional trigger words” in your favourite search engine.

Example – hairdresser:
Before: Hair straightening service
After: With this revolutionary hair-straightening technique, you can enjoy 25 valuable minutes longer in bed each day!

Example – business coach:
Before: Dealing with debtors
After: Is your cash flow suffering because you’re not using this important financial management technique?

Health warning: use emotional trigger words in moderation. If you over-use them, you could come off as sounding phoney, insincere and too good to be true. Here’s the business coach example again, with too many emotional trigger words:

Imagine the amazing results you could be achieving with this valuable, revolutionary formula!

… Yuck! That example is so over-hyped, it would be hard to believe what’s being said next. By all means use emotional trigger words, but go easy on them.


These are just some of the ways you can use headlines to engage your readers: there are other techniques as well, but these are a good starting point as they are quite easy to implement. (Plus, they work really well!)

Do make sure you try these techniques next time you write a headline.

One final word on headlines: they shouldn’t be too long. If you can’t easily say a headline in one breath, you need to re-visit it and shorten it. Why? Long headlines are confusing and cluttered… and after all, the whole purpose of the headline is to cut through the noise and busy-ness (rather than adding to it).


Why are headlines important?

Headlines attract attention

It’s true! Headlines attraction attention… Are your marketing headlines working as hard as they should be?

It’s estimated that the average American is exposed to somewhere between 247 and 3,000 advertising messages a day (depending on which research resource you believe), and the numbers are no doubt similar in other Western countries.

That’s an awful lot of advertising messages! So if you want your message to get noticed, it has to cut through all that noise. And that’s what the job of the headline is.

A good headline cuts through the noise so your message stands out

An everyday example of headlines doing this is in newspapers and magazines: their ability to make sales is largely dependent on their headlines.

But I’m not in the newspaper business…

Even though you’re not in the newspaper business, headlines are absolutely vital. They’re not just for journalists: they are equally important for business owners and marketing professionals.

Here are examples of how headlines are used every day in all types of businesses:

  • Email newsletters: the subject line plays a big role in the recipient’s decision as to whether to read your message or not. The subject line is nothing less than a headline.
  • Websites: website visitors decide within a few short seconds as to whether they’ll read on, or go back to the search engine results. A powerful headline will compel them to read on, instead of hitting the “back” button.
  • Print and online advertisements: the best advertisements are the ones that are compelling… and that’s nearly always done with a headline.
  • Social media updates: yes, even many social media updates benefit from headlines – especially if you want readers to click through to your blog, or take some other kind of action.
  • Flyers and brochures: consumers are exposed to so many printed materials, that yours really need to grab their attention right away. Again, headlines play an important role in this.

As you can see, headlines play a major role in the effectiveness of your marketing, both offline and online.

But I’m not using headlines in all these instances…

If you’re not using headlines in all of the scenarios listed above, you should be! There’s absolutely no point in putting all your time in to writing the body content, if you’re not going to write a strong, attention-grabbing headline! Maybe you haven’t even considered that these attention-grabbing things are actually “headlines”.

Next step: Now that you understand how important headlines are, make sure you write great ones. And be sure to review your existing online and print materials, to make sure that the headlines are as strong as possible.

Just like reporters and journalists spend a good amount of time crafting their headlines to sell their newspapers, you need to craft your headlines carefully too, to cut through all that advertising noise. Here’s what makes a great headline →