22nd Jun 2012 AUTHOR: Matt Milgrom

Caption Attraction: Make Your Offer Irresistible, One Line at a Time

Don't allow highly valuable page real estate to go to waste. Captions create opportunities to tell AND sell.


  • Captions are vital: They are reader-magnets, can be memorable and are often essential to reader comprehension
  • Descriptive captions or those focusing only on features are a wasted opportunity
  • The best bid writers use captions to sell benefits, linking them to win themes

Captions are irresistible, 'sticky' and do some serious heavy lifting

Pictures, diagrams, graphs and photographs are proposal must-haves if you want your tender response to win business. Aside from arresting the attention of the reader, they are memorable, hugely efficient communicators and involve the emotions: vital elements of persuasion.

Including these figures, however, is only half the job. Unlocking their potential relies on another element: writing powerful captions.

Why Are Captions so Important?

Realising the latent potential of captions lifts them above the level of a humble label. They are an essential written element for at least three good reasons.

1. They are Irresistible

Captions don't need to attract attention: they already have it! Your reader has already been captured by the picture above, and they will have registered the presence of the caption during their first glance. So reading it after looking at the figure is usually an automatic, irresistible response.

This is a powerful point. Time-poor decision-makers will often skim-read a pile of proposals, relying on summaries, key points and figures to tell them the complete story. According to our sources, they nearly always read the captions for a figure. In fact, they can't resist it.

2. They are 'Sticky'

Most people are dominated by their visual cortex. This means that we tend to retain pictures in long term memory more easily than words. Associating words and pictures together is a long-recognised method of improving memory retention.

Captions associate a concept with a visual image. And that means that your reader retains key winning themes with less effort.

Additionally, when the reader refers back to your proposal in subsequent reviews, key points are mentally anchored to the images on the page. They are able to go straight to the point they are looking for with ease.

3. They Provide Explanation

Reviewers have a hard enough job to do. And adding to their load by expecting them to interpret your graphs, processes and charts isn't the recipe for a receptive audience. In fact, without an explanation, a reviewer may easily come to a different conclusion - perhaps one that is opposite to the one you intended.

What to Avoid

Our consultants often review past proposals during response benchmarking. They report that most writers fail to capitalise on this unique opportunity to persuade. If captions are used, often they fall foul of the following pitfalls:

  • Descriptive Only: "(Above): Call volumes and Mean Hold Time from 2008-2012."
    Describing what the reader can see with their own eyes is a waste: both of the reader's time and of valuable page real estate. This is the visual equivalent of reading a PowerPoint presentation slide to an audience. Not a bid winning strategy.
  • Features Only: "(Above): We have expanded our call centres in response to increased call volumes from 2008-2012".
    A caption like this fails the 'So What?' test. Winning proposals always provide a 'Whats In It For You' for every feature highlighted. And yes, that includes within captions.

The Anatomy of a Winning Caption

A persuasively written caption is benefit-focused, punchy and factual. It will apply the figure to the specific offer under consideration, using it as evidence. And the best captions are able to weave in one of your 'golden threads' or win themes.

Look at the following example in a proposal to Acme Healthcare:

"Figure 1: Acme will experience no increase in Mean Hold Times, regardless of call volumes. Mean Hold Times have remained at 25 seconds despite a 200% increase in call volume largely due to the flexible staffing model described below."

What makes this caption powerful?

  • The benefit to Acme is dominant. It's first, and it's in bold type.
  • The intended conclusion of the graph is unambiguous.
  • The caption links to a key win theme: the tenderer's flexibility.

The best tender writers use captions like these throughout every section and volume. A reader considering only the figures and captions will emerge with a thorough understanding of:

  • What the key benefits of the offer are.
  • How these will be delivered.
  • Where to find the evidence to back these claims.

Captions are so much more than just labels. They are a powerful opportunity to sell. Using them to highlight benefits, capabilities and win themes are bidding dynamite. When paired with a powerful executive summary they cement the strength and integrity of your proposal in an emotive, memorable way. Valuable page real estate indeed.

mattMatt Milgrom is a key principal at Tender Success and has worked with many Australian organisations to develop powerful, persuasive captions as part of a wider winning strategy. Contact Matt to help you make your next response a success.