The Secret of Selling With Storytelling, Part 2

Last week, we brought you some of the main points that Jen Stevens and John Forde made at Bootcamp in their presentation about using the storytelling lead. This powerful technique is rapidly gaining popularity because it’s so effective at grabbing the prospect’s attention and interest. [Ed. Note: If you missed last week’s article, you can read it here]

As John explained to Bootcamp attendees, there are four basic steps to telling stories that sell. So today, let’s take a look at them:


    • Study everything you can about the subject of the story (which is usually someone who is involved in a discovery, a prediction that came true, or some other compelling event).
    • Read everything you can about subject of the story.
    • Close your eyes and tell yourself what your story’s about.
    • Write out the details of your story in a number of different ways.
    • Pick out the story approach that’s most effective.

    • Ask yourself what message you want to convey.
    • Identify the key moment you want to present, the one that makes your story compelling and relates most closely to your promise. In last week’s example of the stock guru visiting an Azerbaijan goldmine, the key moment was when he was going down in a rickety elevator and the manager let slip information about a recent discovery of a vein of platinum.

    "Arc" is a Hollywood term for the way the subject of the story develops and overcomes obstacles in his way. The arc of the goldmine/platinum story is that our stock guru is skeptical of going to Azerbaijan, but badly wants to find something important to tell his readers. He runs into numerous problems in getting access to a goldmine. Then, going down into the mine in a rickety elevator, the mine manager tells him about the discovery of platinum.

    • Start by figuring out how the story ENDS.
    • List and put in order inspiring details about the story.
    • Start in the middle of the story. Our stock guru story might start with him entering the elevator, concerned that he might never make it back to the surface. He may then reflect on why he went there in the first place, and end with the revelation about platinum that he got from the mine manager.

    • Make it tight. Use only important details. Ruthlessly eliminate anything you don’t need.
    • Hint at the Big Benefit to come.
    • Tell your story quickly.
    • Stick to the truth.
    • Rely on specificity and juicy details.
    • When finished, tie it all together with your promise, and then transition to the rest of the letter.

So, where do you find compelling stories? Following are a few of the most productive places to look for story leads. (Remember that unless you lead with a phrase or copy that indicates your story is fictitious – for instance, "Imagine …" – your story must be true.)

  • Customer testimonials
  • Product creation stories
  • Personal stories from newsletter editors or "gurus"
  • Topic-related news stories (An example from the past: the development of genetic engineering, followed by a stock guru describing how to get in on the ground floor by investing in Genentec.)
  • Topic-related best-selling non-fiction books (Maybe you’re writing a sales letter that stresses the importance of separating fact from rumor and hype in investing. In that case, you could get some great stories from Charles Mackay’s book "Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds.")
  • Biographies and history books (Let’s say you’re selling a newsletter with a major focus on individual privacy. You could pull a dramatic and compelling story from a biography of one of the Founding Fathers of our country.)

The next time you’re faced with writing a lead, explore the power of storytelling leads by writing one. You’ll find yourself in the company of the best copywriters in the business.

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Published: October 31, 2005

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