2. Promise

Next, we need to make a bold promise. Here, it may be tempting to think of the promise as being the same as your
offer, but in reality, your offer is simply a component of the larger promise.

Many copywriters swear that your promise in the headline must contain a tangible, valued benefit directed at the prospect. In other words, the ultimate benefit that comes from taking the action you want them to.

There will be numerous benefits to identify, and you should strive to find as many as humanly possible. But it’s the ultimate benefit you discover by working through the benefits pyramid (see graphic) that equates to your promise.

So, returning to the Ben Franklin example, the premise of creating systems to have a more successful business is a nice hook, but it’s not the promise.

After all, how many people sit around thinking “You know, what I really need are some systems for my business?”

Some do, and those will be your easiest sales.

But most businesspeople are thinking about how to make more money, become more productive, spend more time with family and generally have more of a life.

All of those are benefits of having systems in place, but what’s the ultimate benefit your customer is looking for?


Now you know the story your prospect wants to hear, and the general way it should be told.

Another school of thought on the promise in your headline is that it does not have to directly address the prospects ultimate benefit, because those headlines are too easily dismissed as advertisements. For example, copywriter John Carlton wrote a famous headline about a one-legged golfer and his secret to huge drives and a 10-stroke improvement in his golf game.

The secret, of course, is all about better balance and body positioning, which is the true way to get better at golf, but not exactly sexy. So the premise of the one-legged golfer (which was a true story Carlton discovered in his research, and as with Schlitz and the Collin Street Bakery, the business owner knew about but dismissed) was the key to the hugely bold promise.

In this case, making the story about someone other than the prospect — someone so counterintuitive to “common sense” — made the premise downright fascinating. But that’s not all.

The one-legged golfer story was unpredictable, simple, real, and credible, hitting all of our four conceptual criteria for a great premise. This made the promotion incredibly effective at achieving the intended goal, because the prospect came to the intended conclusion by telling themselves a story:

If a one-legged guy can do it, surely I can do it.

The important lesson here is that the promise is an attention-grabbing expression of your premise. Choosing the right way to tell the story is also vitally important, and that brings us to the next element — the picture.