Tell a Story
Consider this lead paragraph from a direct-mail sales letter:
“On a beautiful late spring afternoon, twenty-five years ago, two young men graduated from the same college. They were very much alike, these two young men. Both had been better than average students, both were personable and both — as young college graduates are — were filled with ambitious dreams for the future.”
This piece, written by copywriting legend Martin Conroy, is one of the most famous direct-mail letters of all time. Used to promote the Wall Street Journal, this simple two-page letter was mailed in various formats for more than twenty-five years and, by some estimates, was directly responsible for generating nearly one billion dollars in subscriptions.
In the two young men sales letter, both men go to work for the same company. Twenty-five years later one man is the manager of a small department within the company and the other is the president of the company. The difference between them, the letter implies, is simply that the president had read the Journal throughout his career. Talk about a convincing story!
The “two young men” letter is now a classic. It clearly demonstrates the power of storytelling and how it can significantly boost results in just about any marketing and publicity campaign. The strange thing is, storytelling is not used nearly as often as it could be in copywriting. In fact, it may be the most underutilized copywriting best practice of them all.
Why is storytelling so effective? People remember stories much more than they do facts and figures. Think of the last time you were at a social or business gathering. Weren't the main topics of discussion centered around stories? Weren't those discussions the ones that lingered in your mind, the ones you perhaps remembered most and retold to others?
Storytelling can be used in just about any type of copywriting. In fact, whenever you have to describe how a product works, bring a benefit to life, explain a feature, tout an advantage, highlight a prospect problem, bring in a solution, or just about any other persuasive writing task, you should try to do so using a story.
Consider these two examples of brochure copy for a lawnmower.
The XBX Lawnmower doesn't just cut your lawn, it also gathers and mulches the grass, effectively cutting any lawn care job down to less than half the time. So you can spend more time with your family.
You pivot to the left, turn, and then take the shot. But your ten-year-old son intercepts, jumps, and scores a basket. Saturday morning b-ball with the kids has never been so enjoyable. That's because you've been able to get the lawn cut, raked, and mulched in less than half the time it used to take you. Thanks to the all-in-one XBX Lawnmower.”
The second example obviously has a lot more impact. What's the difference? The first merely explains the benefit: “…you can spend more time with your family.” The second example, by contrast, creates an appealing story of a dad who finally has time to play some “b-ball with the kids.”
Notice that a story doesn't have to be a long narrative. You don't have to write a Hollywood movie! It can simply be a slice of life that illustrates the benefit in a way that appeals to the prospect.
Some types of copywriting projects lend themselves naturally to storytelling, such as television and radio commercials, press releases, and case studies. However, stories can be equally powerful in brochures, Web sites, presentations, and other sales, marketing, and publicity materials.
And using stories in your copy is not only effective, it's fun, too. Pretend you're a fiction writer. Paint a scene or tell a story that makes the product benefits jump off the page or screen. For example:
Don't just say that a coffee machine makes a great cup of coffee. Describe the brightening look in a woman's eyes as she takes a satisfying sip before beginning her busy day.
Don't just describe how a golf club can help to correct a bad slice. Tell the compelling story of a man having a great game with his friends as he hits every shot straight toward the greens.
Don't explain that a seminar can help to create effective presentations. Feature a woman actually giving a winning presentation, hearing the applause, and even getting promoted!
Don't underestimate the power of storytelling. It makes your copy more compelling than any adjective or expressive phrase you could ever think of using.