People keep saying that “no one reads anymore,” but all available research shows that the opposite is true. We’re reading more than ever, and content marketing is more popular than ever as well. The fact is, your prospects won’t read unless you give them a reason. When marketing your brand, learning how to write a lead is essential to keeping your audience hooked.
One of the key lessons in journalism is “don’t bury the lead.” The lead (or lede) is the essence of any piece of content. It hooks a prospect instantly, leaving them wanting to know more without giving away the whole show. It’s your promise to your reader that their precious time is not going to be wasted, and that you’re planning to take them somewhere important.
With every piece of content you create, the lead should be clear right at the start; you will explain and build on it with each successive paragraph.
The secret to a winning lead
Any good lead needs to have substance and the promise of solid information or a great story to share. It needs to be simple, short, and clear. The perfect lead provides clear structure for your content. For your audience, it hints at the reward they’ll find as they dig into the rest of the content. It’s a value proposition within the story.
Finding the right lead depends primarily on your target audience. For example, the lead for a newspaper article will need to take a different approach than that of an ebook on Blockchain applications or an end-of-year earnings report.
Whether you’re writing a blog, a script for a promotional video, or a feature article for a custom publication, the content only has a few seconds to grab and hold a reader’s attention.
Five examples of great leads
- Summary leads. These leads need to give a quick summary of the content in as few words as possible. A good summary lead is what you’ll often find at the start of breaking news articles or stories with important issues to discuss.
Example: “Fire destroyed New York’s most historic building early Monday morning.”
Summary leads are also found in many other places (such as annual reports and company briefs), as they make the meaning and importance of the upcoming content crystal clear to the reader, all in a matter of seconds.
- Blind leads. This lead hooks a reader in by leaving out one or more important details of a story. It’s a strategy that creates an “open loop,” which the human brain needs to close by reading further to find the missing information.
Example: “An assassination attempt was made on a prominent world leader yesterday morning.”
- Narrative leads. As the name suggests, this type of lead sets the scene and tone of a story. While they’re most often found in narrative stories, these leads can also precede other forms of storytelling content.
Example: “It was a quiet, Sunday afternoon when the past came back to haunt Tammy Millwater. Knocking on her door, it shattered her peaceful world and shocked friends and neighbors who thought they knew this lovely young woman.”
- Scene-setting leads. This describes the scene, situation, or instance where your story will take place. It draws a reader into the content by preparing them for the article ahead.
Example: “A world in which AI and humans co-exist will have better outcomes than a world in which humans and AI work in silos.”
- Question leads. Best used sparingly, the question lead is an effective way to grab instant attention. The downside is that it’s hard to reflect the main points of a story with this method.
Example: “Is there any product on the market that doesn’t have environmental drawbacks?”
What makes a bad lead?
A ton of lazy leads sound okay, and are easy enough to hammer out, but have no substance to motivate a meaningful decision from your prospect.
You might be trying to pack too many ideas into your lead at once, which will confuse the prospect before they’ve even engaged with your content. Or, you might be using generic and clichéd leads, which have show a distinct lack of creative or original thought. You’ll bore your readers before ever getting to “the good stuff.”
Things like “You know what they say — history always repeats itself” and “The good news is that winter is over. The bad news is that flooding is predicted” are both examples of tired leads that could use some more work.
Too good to ignore
A great lead is hard to ignore. It can be the hardest part of creating any marketing content, but in return for your efforts, a powerful lead will do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to making sure people stick around to read your content.
Our editors understand how to produce great content that wins business. Contact us to kickstart your content strategy.
[Source material: Jack Hart’s “A Writer’s Coach: An Editor’s Guide to Words that Work“]