Book Summary of Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene M. Schwartz

Copywriting expert Eugene M. Schwartz, in his bestseller Breakthrough Advertising, emphasizes the critical role of headlines and copy in creating persuasive ads that drive sales. A compelling headline grabs the reader’s attention, while strong copy amplifies the message and motivates the customer to make a purchase.

In this guide, Schwartz’s proven techniques for creating powerful headlines and copy are presented in two parts.

Part #1 outlines how to use market research to craft attention-grabbing headlines that entice customers to read on.

Part #2 delves into Schwartz’s strategies for writing persuasive copy that drives demand for your product.

Part #1: Write a Captivating Headline

The first part of this guide outlines the purpose of impactful headlines: to grab attention, connect with customers, and set the stage for your copy. We’ll also cover three crucial areas of customer research that enable you to identify their key needs, tap into their level of awareness, and differentiate your product from competitors.

Headlines Serve Three Purposes

Schwartz emphasizes that the headline is the foremost and vital element of an advertisement. Its three functions are:

1) To grab attention by making a dramatic statement or sparking curiosity, such as “Lose $1,000 a year by not reading this” or “The secret to saving money on fuel that fuel companies don’t want you to know.”

2) To resonate with customers’ desires and promise to fulfill a specific need, as customers rely on headlines to determine if the ad’s copy is relevant to them. The headline ” Get your gas filled for half price” would appeal to drivers who are budget-conscious, but not to those who don’t drive.

3) It sets the expectation for the rest of the copy. For instance, using the “half-price gas” headline, readers can anticipate the copy to cover the drawbacks of expensive gas and present a solution to obtain a cheaper deal.

Schwartz believes that to craft a headline that grabs attention, resonates with customers, and sets expectations for the copy, you need to research three customer aspects:

  • Their desires
  • Their awareness of your product
  • Their awareness of your competitors’ products
  • Now, let’s delve into each of these areas of research.

Research Area #1: What Customers Want

To craft an attention-grabbing headline, you need to grasp customers’ desires. Schwartz asserts that it’s impractical to make customers want something, so instead, you should discern their existing wants and present your product as the sole solution to satisfy their needs.

Schwartz suggests a two-step approach to position your product effectively:

  • Evaluate your product.
  • Connect your product with the primary customer need.
  • Now, let’s examine each of these steps closely.

Step #1: Analyze Your Product

Schwartz suggests that comprehending your product can facilitate creating positive connections between customer desires and what your product provides. He advises noting the materials used, technical specifications, aesthetic details, and possible uses of the product.

For instance, if you have a dating app to market, you can assess its features like profile viewing, chat function, membership size, ad-free interface, and subscription fees. Additionally, you can consider how members might use the app to develop both romantic and friendly relationships.

Step #2: Align Your Product With the Predominant Customer Need

To connect your product to specific customer needs, group each item on your list and consider two categories of needs: primal needs (such as feeling loved) and shifting needs (such as expecting an ad-free interface). Then, choose the customer need that applies to the largest potential market and target it in your headline.

Research Area #2: Customer Awareness of Your Product

To craft an effective headline, you must determine the level of awareness your customers have about your product.

Schwartz identifies five levels of awareness and recommends tailoring your headline to the level your customers are at. Here’s how to create headlines for each level of awareness.

Awareness #1: Customers Don’t Feel Like They Need Your Product

Level one of product awareness represents customers who are unaware of or indifferent to the need that your product fulfills. Schwartz advises creating a headline that resonates with an emotion or attitude they can identify with and then using your copy to educate them on why they need your product.

For instance, for a dating app, you could use the headline “Do you miss being in love?”

Awareness #2: Customers Feel a Need-But Don’t Know How to Fulfill It

Level two of product awareness includes customers who recognize the need for a product that fulfills their specific need but aren’t aware of any solutions yet. Schwartz recommends that the headline clearly defines the need, conveys a sense of urgency, and presents your product as the inevitable solution. For instance, “Feeling alone and unwanted? Our app can solve that for you!”

Awareness #3: Customers Know How They Want to Fulfill the Need Your Product Satisfies

For customers who know what they want but not that your product can help, Schwartz advises a headline with three components: defining the need, demonstrating its possibility, and illustrating how your product fulfills it. For example, “Find all the good dates with [app name] – fulfilling your dating needs.”

Awareness #4: Customers Aren’t Sure About Your Product

Schwartz recommends targeting customers at the fourth awareness level by focusing on one of five objectives in your headline: reinforcing their need for your product, emphasizing the benefits of your product, proving your product’s effectiveness, clarifying how your product works, or addressing common objections.

For example, “Don’t settle for mediocre dates” reinforces the need for a better dating experience.

For customers who are unsure if your product can meet their needs, Schwartz recommends five approaches for crafting an effective headline: reinforcing their need for your product, emphasizing the benefits of your product, proving your product’s effectiveness, clarifying how your product works, and addressing concerns.

For customers who are already aware of your product and just need a push to make a purchase, Schwartz suggests incentivizing them with a discount or promotion in your headline.

Research Area #3: Customer Awareness of Your Competitors’ Products

After identifying customer needs and product awareness, evaluate their knowledge of competing products to gauge how to differentiate your product. According to Schwartz, two types of customers require different strategies for product differentiation:

  • Those who are unaware of competing products
  • Those who are aware of competing products.

Customer Group #1: Unaware of Competitive Products

Schwartz advises that if customers are unaware of similar products, your headline should be simple and direct. For instance, “Effortlessly find love!”

Customer Group #2: Aware of Competitive Products

Schwartz advises that if customers are unaware of similar products, use a simple and direct headline such as “Effortlessly find love!” If customers are aware of a few competitors, expand on their headline and explain why your product is better.

For example, “The fastest and easiest way to find love.” For customers aware of many options, your headline should either emphasize a new benefit, like “Guaranteed perfect match in under 60 seconds!” or appeal to emotions, like “For those who know life should be better.”

Part #2: Write Persuasive Copy

To create an effective advertisement, Schwartz suggests four strategies for writing copy that reinforces the message in your headline.

Copy Strategy #1: Evoke Customers’ Aspirations

Schwartz advises targeting customers’ aspirations by highlighting how they are missing something and showing how your product can help them become their ideal self. This creates dissatisfaction and primes customers to seek a solution. For example, phrases like “Tired of being single?” and “Make your friends jealous with our app!” can be effective.

Copy Strategy #2: Explain Exactly How Your Product Fulfills Their Need

Schwartz advises explaining how product features fulfill customer needs by referencing product analysis such as materials used, technical specs, and aesthetic details. Use these features to showcase how your product effortlessly fulfills customer needs, such as “Our unique algorithm ensures that every match is compatible.”

Copy Strategy #3: Use Endorsements to Prove Your Product’s Effectiveness

Schwartz advises including expert recommendations, customer testimonials, or celebrity endorsements to serve as social proof that your product can fulfill customers’ needs. For instance, “Our app helped [Celebrity] find true love!”

Copy Strategy #4: Emphasize Your Product’s Superiority

Schwartz advises highlighting competitors’ weaknesses and promoting your product’s superiority to establish it as the top choice. This works well because informed customers require assistance in distinguishing between similar products. By emphasizing your product’s advantages over competitors, customers can judge it as the best option. For instance, “We ensure user profiles are accurate, unlike other apps, so you always know who you’re meeting.”