The curtain rises on a murky, foggy night in Elsinore. A man stands a nervous guard atop a castle rampart, his lantern the only point of light in the gloom. He hears a sound, leaps to his feet and demands that the unseen figure identify himself. Fortunately, it's only his friends who have come to relieve his watch, though they appear as unsettled as he. Why the terror? Because of the ghost, of course -- the shadowy figure who has appeared on the ramparts as of late.
Obviously I'm describing a play -- Hamlet, to be precise -- and not a brochure, website or print ad. On the surface, in fact, this scene would appear to have nothing at all to do with marketing or sales copy of any kind. After all, Shakespeare's not selling anything here, is he?
Sure he is. He's selling Hamlet.
An arresting opening to a play, film or literary work sells interest in the rest of it. It must hook its audience quickly and strongly if the author wants that audience to show up for Act Two. A great opening to a gigantic epic novel can persuade a reader to wade several hundred pages deeper than he otherwise might. ("Call me Ishmael" has a lot to answer for.) Raising a brilliant opening curtain is like casting a magic spell -- it may not hold for very long, but it'll do its job long enough for you to strengthen and reinforce your command over those people for the period of time you need it.
The beginning of your marketing piece must command the "stage" -- in this case the inner stage of the mind -- just as firmly. This is especially, brutally true on the Internet, where we all have the attention span of a gnat with attention-deficit disorder. When someone lands on your homepage, you have a precious few seconds to cast your spell, so hit hard and aim true. Whether you open with an all-enveloping mood, a vivid depiction of a painful moment, a hearty laugh, an astonishing concept, or any of the other weapons in your mage's staff, make sure you point that initial moment straight at the heart, mind or funny bone of the specific people you want to enthrall. First ask yourself, "What will get my ideal customer's attention right now and hold it long enough to turn them into potential buyers?" Then fire away.
The same principle holds true for print marketing as well, though generally people will give you more time as they take in the pretty pictures or the nice slick paper. Even so, they want to hear what they want to hear, because they've got stuff to do. So tell them in a big way, right from the opening header, and then follow up on that initial promise with more goodies as you guide them through the piece.
You don't have to be Shakespeare to grab your audience's attention. You just have to know what will make their collective heart skip a beat, and then put it in front of them as the first thing they encounter.