Business-to-Business Headline Writing Clinic
By Robert W. Bly

It's true that consumer direct response headlines can get pretty clever, daring, and even outrageous. But powerful headline writing is just as important in business-to-business marketing communications. So let's look at some successful headlines you can add to your swipe file and apply to your own product or client:

1-The headline: Imagine Harry and me advertising our pears in Fortune.

The story: Brothers Harry and David Rosenberg launched an unprecedented marketing ploy: advertising gift packages of their pears to business executives through a full-page space ad in Fortune magazine. Within 4 years, sales of the Royal Riviera pears soared to 87,000 boxes, and Harry and David had to double the acreage in their pear orchards, at a time when other pear growers were struggling to survive. Today they are the most recognizable brand in the fruit by mail business.

2-The headline: How to keep your products pure.

The story: Filterite made filtration cartridges used in pharmaceutical manufacturing, an industry where the primary concern is purity above all else.

Why the headline works: Instead of focusing on the brand, it focuses on the prospect and his needs (How to keep your product pure).

In addition, it sounds like you will learn something - the secret to product purity in pharmaceutical manufacturing - just by reading the ad. The secret, of course, is to use Filterite cartridges.

This ad was modeled after an ad running in women's magazines for Duncan Hines Chocolate Cake Mix, with the headline The Secret to Richer, Moisture Chocolate Cake. The headline sounds like you will learn something just by reading the ad. What you learn, of course, is that the richest and moistest chocolate cakes are made with Duncan Hines mix.

3-Headline: 7 reasons why production houses and ad agencies nationwide prefer Unilux strobe lighting when shooting important TV commercials.

The story: Unilux rented strobe lighting equipment to video production studios and advertising agencies for shooting TV commercials (the lights were also used in shooting films). Unilux had a combination of features and benefits that most others did not offer.

Reason-why copy is as old as the hills, but it's still around today because it works. To begin with, Unilux presents product features and benefits in a list format, and people love to read lists. Second, they create a clear differentiation between their product and the competition. In this ad, Unilux gave seven specific reasons why its strobe lighting was superior.

4-Headline: Now you can create a breakthrough marketing plan within the next 30 days ... for FREE!

The story: Prentice Hall used direct mail packages to sell books with soft offers. You would return the reply card, and the publisher would ship the book. If you liked it, you'd pay the invoice that came with the book. If you did not want the book, you returned it within 30 days and owed nothing.

That way, you could theoretically read the book, follow its instructions, achieve its objective (e.g., write a marketing plan), and then return it, essentially getting the knowledge and results for nothing. The headline Now you can create a breakthrough marketing plan within the next 30 days ... for FREE used this ploy to sell the book How to Write a Successful Marketing Plan. The 30-day time limit, which is really the guarantee period, adds a nice sense of urgency to the headline.

5-Headline: How can you stop the 5 biggest problems that wreck productivity and performance in your mainframe TCP/IP network?

The story: This company has a software product that monitors the performance of mainframe networks. Rather than focus on the product, the ad focuses on the performance problems that the monitoring software helps you detect and fix. The five top problems are listed in the lead paragraph.

Question headlines are effective as long as you don't ask a question that the prospect can easily answer. This headline arouses curiosity, because the reader wants to know what the five biggest problems are.

6-Headline: How to solve your emissions problems at half the energy cost of conventional venture scrubbers.

The story: This ad succeeds for several reasons. First, there is a picture of the free brochure being offered. Second, there is an eye-catching cut-away diagram of the product, a wet scrubber (a type of pollution control device).

Third, the marketer coins a term, Hydro-Kinetic Design, which makes the device sound unique. Hydro means water and kinetic refers to movement, and ALL wet scrubbers have moving water. But only this one advertises the Hydro-Kinetic design.

How-to headlines work well. This one offers two benefits. The product will solve your emissions problems. And it will cut your energy costs in half.

This ad was the #1 inquiry generator in six consecutive issues of the chemical trade magazine in which it ran.

7-Headline: Surgical tables rebuilt; free loaners available.

The story: Surgical table manufacturers discouraged repair and rebuilding (although they offered it), preferring instead to sell the hospital a new table. This company was the only independent firm specializing in surgical table repair for all makes and models. To prevent operating room down-time, they would give you a free loaner while your table was being repaired in their shop.

When you have something with little or no competition, a straightforward headline, making clear exactly what you are offering, usually works best: Surgical tables rebuilt; free loaners available isn't creative, but it got the job done.

8-Headline: What do Japanese managers have that American managers sometimes lack?

The story: This was the headline for a direct mail promotion selling subscriptions to Bits & Pieces, a little magazine on business aimed at managers. The headline works because it arouses curiosity: don't you want to know what Japanese managers have that American managers sometimes lack?

9-Headline: Why most trading systems don't work ... and never will.

The story: Most marketers of trading systems use bombastic, hype-filled copy with outrageous claims of huge profits.

Instead of following in their footsteps, this trading system publisher took a different approach, acknowledging the reader's built-in skepticism about all the outrageous claims being made. The headline resonated with readers, and the mailing generated three times more sales than the control.

10-Headline: Try burning this coupon.

The story: This promotion, for an industrial fire-proofing compound, is my favorite business-to-business ad of all time. The headline dares the reader to burn the advertisement! The visual is a photo of a hand holding a match. The ad is actually a bound-in insert printed on paper treated with the fireproofing compound.

When you take a lit match to the ad, it does indeed burn. But the instant you remove the match, the flame goes out - a dramatic demonstration of the fireproofing compound in action.

We always talk about and look for ways to demonstrate our product in our marketing. Relatively easy to do on TV; much harder to accomplish in a print ad. Try burning this coupon is the best production demonstration in print I've ever seen, bar none.

About the author:
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of more than 75 books including The White Paper Marketing Handbook (Racom). You can find him on the Web at, or e-mail him at, or phone 201-385-1220.