Bodacious headline -- but I got your attention. I do know a thing or two about marketing, and here’s a truth of the trade:

“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent 80 cents of your [marketing] dollar.”

-- David Ogilvy, founder of Ogilvy & Mather

This adage from the advertising guru is even truer today. The way people decide what to read and how they remember things has changed fundamentally now that digital publishing far outreaches print. I am convinced that with iPads and iBooks, we all read much faster, our eyes automatically checking out headlines, bold words, graphics, first sentences of paragraphs and closing comments. On news sites like Google News, CNN and others, it's all about the headlines calling to you for a “click here!” -- the good ones get you to open them.

On the other hand, I see a lot of reading material from financial professionals that absolutely puts me to sleep. It’s terrible! The good news is that I don't think many of their clients or prospects are reading the commentary, so the damage done isn't too bad.

Here are some pet peeves and pointers to give your communications a necessary makeover:

1. Why would anyone open your e-mail? A lot of advisors send information out with an e-mail headline like “News from ABC Partners,” or simply, “Our Monthly Newsletter.” Really, that's nice for you, but your readers are in a hurry. So you have a newsletter -- what does it do for them? Do you even monitor how often your e-mails are opened? You should, and then you can try different approaches to see what works for you.

There are many how-to guides for better headlines available on the Web. 

Use these headline tricks:

  • Using numbers is beneficial (“3 Easy Tricks to Cut Your Spending.”)
  • Starting with “what,” “why,” “how” or “when” tends to get your e-mails opened more (in headlines such as, “Why Saving May Be More Important than Investing” or “How You’ll Know You Are Saving Enough.”)
  • Try making an intriguing promise to the reader (“Live Richly on a Tight Budget”).
  • If it’s a newsletter with multiple topics, just key off the lead story for your bodacious headline.

2. Step back and look at all that ugly black ink in your newsletters! Why do so many investment newsletters drone on in black ink with small fonts? Every time you produce something, hold it out in front of you, squint your eyes and see what appears. A mass of gray? Fix it!

Establish layout and design guidelines:

  • Everyone, young and old, prefers a cleaner, larger font.
  • Always, always, always use short paragraphs with bold headers or key words.
  • Use bullets! There is no reason that all that information about the U.S. economy, GDP and macroeconomics can’t be summarized as proof points for a clear statement written in plain English. 
  • Every page should have visuals, not just words, to break it up.
  • The easiest and most effective visual of all is a simple callout box that says, “What you need to know” listing three important points from your article.

3. Quit thinking weighty materials make you look smarter. I know advisors who insist that a 43-page financial plan proves to the client “how hard they are working.” That is OK, if your job is as a typist! Other advisors believe that an equally long PowerPoint presentation is an impressive leave-behind with prospects. Wrong! It’s a dust collector before it’s added to the trash.

Lighten up:

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