Advertising legend David Ogilvy may have died in 1999, but his words of wisdom still ring true today: "On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. It follows that unless your headline sells your product, you have wasted 90 percent of your money."

When it comes to communication, nothing is more important than the headline (or, in email, the subject line).

The headline is the first thing audience members notice. It grabs their attention. It promises the solution to a problem the audience has.

At its very best, a headline addresses the most important question of all, "What's in it for me?"

But, despite their importance, headlines aren't that hard. Good headlines are simply common sense. They're logical. They shouldn't be overly clever--no wordplay, no alliteration, no rhyming, no limericks--just simple, short and straightforward.

Despite the rise of clickbait (definition: sensationalist copy designed to tease readers so they click a link), your customers don't want cute or clever. These folks are in a hurry, and want the headline to tell them exactly what the communication is about--so they can make a quick decision about whether or not to spend time with it.

Lots of people have advice about headlines--especially advertising experts--and there are many courses on copywriting that also focus on how to write headlines. I'll boil it down to one piece of advice: When writing headlines, focus on the needs of your audience:

  • What are audience members interested in?
  • What do they need to know?

And then decide: How can you write a headline that will solve a problem or answer a burning question?

Here are the 3 best headline approaches:

  1. Make a promise. "Reduce your energy costs by 14 percent"
  2. Ask a question. "How much would you spend for peace of mind?"
  3. Tell "how to." "How to get promoted" or "12 ways to talk to your teenager"

Ready to create a winning message? Start with your headline.