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I call it the Business Prospect Paradox.

In the world of business-to-business marketing, your prospect is a reader. Reading is a big part of his job description. He must read to make informed buying decisions on the products and services he needs to do his job properly.

Yet in our so-called “Information Age” (or “Information Overload Age”) – with so much data available at the click of a mouse, so much promotional material overflowing his inbox and competing for his attention – your prospect doesn’t have time to read most of the information he receives.

And he knows it.

That’s why the vast majority of today’s business readers are scanners. Chances are, you’re one too, as I am. We quickly scan our mail, our email, our trade publications, looking for something that piques our interest, something that might be useful to us…and quickly discard the rest.

And we don’t stop there. When an article or promotion does grab out attention, we don’t just start to read. We scan the piece itself to see if it really has what we’re looking for. We search quickly for clues, trying to determine if its worth our precious time to read further.

That’s why it’s of utmost importance that we optimize our promotions for scanners. Make the clues easy to find. Otherwise, they’ll just end up in the trash.

So today, I’d like to give you 9 tips for making your promotions “scanner-friendly” – nine proven copywriting techniques that will greatly increase your chances of getting your time-pressed business prospect to read your next campaign.

1. Grab ‘em by the eyeballs with a big promise in your headline.

One of the most effective ways to grab a scanner’s attention is to promise him something that he really needs or wants. Make him a promise that your product can deliver on. Preferably something that relieves a big professional pain he’s feeling.

Putting a big benefit in your headline — one that’s important to your prospect – is probably the single best way to grab his attention.

We’ve talked before about benefit headlines and how to make them as powerful as they can be in previous essays, so I won’t go into details here. But if you missed those articles and would like to read more, click here and here.

2. Usher ‘em in with benefit-laden deck copy.

When you hooked your scanner’s attention with your headline, he immediately wants to know more. But he may not be ready to commit to reading the fine print yet. So you might want to “set the hook” – by elaborating on your headline or adding some additional benefits – in the deck copy.

The “deck” is the text found directly underneath the headline that is set in a smaller point size than the headline but larger than the body text, frequently in bold type. The eye is naturally drawn to it after reading the headline. So it’s a good place to sell your scanner on reading your promotion before he gets distracted by something else.

The deck serves as an usher or doorman. It assures the prospect he’s in the right place, tells him what’s in store for him, and invites him in. It works with you headline to answer’s your prospect’s overriding question: “What in it for me?” Answer that question well and you’ll turn that scanner into a reader – and probably a lead as well.

3. Tell a condensed version of your story in the subheads.

Another good technique for reeling in scanners is to summarize your sales message in subheads placed throughout the copy. In Tested Advertising Methods, John Caples writes:

“Here is a solution to the problem of long copy versus short copy that should satisfy the champions of both sides of the question. Put a brief selling message into your headline and subheadings. Put your detailed message into small print. In this way, you accomplish two things: (1) You get a brief message across to glancers with your headline and subheads. (2) You give a complete message in small print to the person who is sufficiently interested in your product to read about it.”

Subheads also help in another way. They give scanners multiple “entry points” into your promotion and multiple reasons to read. Different prospects will have different problems, thus different reasons for needing your product or service. If a particular subhead really hits home, your scanner may start reading at that point and eventually respond – even if he never goes back and reads the beginning of the piece.

By highlighting each of your product’s main selling points in a subhead, you greatly increase the chances your scanner will find something that will make him want to stop and read – and respond to – your message.

One last thing about subheads – and this applies to deck copy, as well: you should treat them just like headlines. Apply “the Four U’s” to make them as powerful and enticing as possible.

4. Capitalize on the attention-getting power of illustrations with captions and call-outs.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Put a caption under every photo and illustration, in every promotion and sales support piece you produce.

Scanners browse photos. And when one catches their eye, they immediately seek out a caption. Take advantage! Don’t just describe the picture. Use your captions to sell.

And if your photo or drawing illustrates multiple benefits, use callouts – bits of copy overlaid on the illustration – to highlight them.

5. Use bullet lists to summarize benefits.

The time-challenged scanner is looking for a summary. And he knows a bulleted list is a good place to find one. Bulleted lists are a great way to highlight a lot of selling points, especially when space is limited.

But don’t bore your prospect with a dry list of features. That will just give him a reason to dismiss your promotion and move on. Instead, tell him what those features mean to him. Attach benefits to them.

Or better yet, make a bullet list of benefits. Then in each bullet – if there’s room – give some idea of how your product achieves those benefits through its unique features.

6. Use sidebars to highlight important information.

Sidebars – those fact-filled boxes that appear along the margin of the page – are honey-traps for scanners. Use them to provide in-depth information on important features and benefits or to showcase awards, success stories or testimonials from satisfied customers.

Be sure to include an attention-grabbing headline at the top of your sidebar. And use an illustration, if possible.

7. Use pull quotes to make “buried treasure” visible to the scanner.

Pull quotes are the bits of text you see re-printed (quoted) in the margin, or in an inset along the margin, near the point where they appear in the body copy. They are usually set in larger type, possibly in a contrasting color to draw attention. Like sidebars, their prominence makes them prime targets for scanners.

Pull quotes are good for highlighting facts that set your product apart from the competition and provide an obvious benefit to your prospect.

8. Make your promotion scanner friendly with plenty of white space.

Documents packed densely with text are intimidating to read and hard to scan. Your prospect is more likely to want to scan your brochure or promotion if there are is a lot of white space on each page.

Use wide margins. They make the document look more inviting. They also give you space for pull quotes.

Write short paragraphs and put extra space above subheads. The added white space emphasizes the fact that the text is broken up into easily-digestible sections. Ignore the rules you learned in school about constructing paragraphs. Use any excuse to chop long paragraphs into shorter ones. Most should be from one to five lines in length. And vary paragraph length to make the text look more interesting.

9. Add a P.S. to the end of your sales letter.

Finally, if you use direct mail to promote your products or services, always try to include a compelling P.S. (post script) at the end of your sales letter. Most people are conditioned to turn immediately to the end of a letter to find out who has written to them. So the P.S. gets high readership. And successful direct marketers know the P.S. is often the first thing the prospect reads when he opens the package.

There are many ways to use the P.S. You can restate your product’s benefits. Highlight your offer. Add more credibility with a strong testimonial. Give your prospect a reason to act now rather than later. Anything that might compel your prospect to stop scanning – and take a few minutes to read what you have to say.

Naturally, I try to incorporate as many of these techniques as I can into every promotion I write. So if you’d like some help converting more of your prospects from “scanners” into leads, just give me a call at (+39) 011 569 4951. Or email me at

And if you’d like more tips for generating more leads and better supporting your sales team with your marketing literature, click here to sign up for my monthly e-zine, Technical Response.

Take-away Points

Your time-pressed business reader tends to be a scanner. He wants to find what he’s looking for fast. If he doesn’t, he’s likely to dismiss your promotion and move on.

So it pays to make your promotions “scanner friendly” using these 9 techniques:

  1. Promise your prospect something he craves in your headline.
  2. Support your headline with benefit-laden deck copy.
  3. Put a “condensed sales pitch” in your subheads.
  4. Use captions and callouts to harness the power of your illustrations.
  5. Summarize your sales points with bulleted lists of benefits.
  6. Feature compelling information in sidebars.
  7. Uncover important points using pull quotes.
  8. Use white space to break up text into easy-to-read chunks.
  9. Put a compelling P.S. at the end of your sales letters.
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