The Secret of Selling With Storytelling, Part 1

Many of the most successful direct-marketing promotions currently have something in common. Their lead is a real story about a real person or situation that impels the reader to read on.

At this year’s FastTrack to Copywriting Success program, Jennifer Stevens and John Forde explained why storytelling leads are so effective … and how to use them in almost any market. Here’s some of what they said:

Storytelling cuts through the mass of information surrounding us. So, instead of being bombarded with facts, names, figures, and other chunks of information that dull your prospect’s interest, a story lead makes what you’re trying to say seem personal and exciting.

For example, instead of leading a promotion with a promise of being able to make "profits of 58% … 131% … or 235%" … you could lead with a story like this:

"As an analyst for the National Security Agency, Malcolm Blahblah got to know 5 highly placed ministers in the Saudi Oil Ministry. His knowledge has allowed him to make perfectly legal profits in oil futures … profits he wants to share with you."

When you use a story like this, you must tell the truth. Exceptions are stories that you clearly label as based on imagination by saying something like "Imagine …" You can also present an obviously fictionalized story such as the classic lead in Bill Bonner’s International Living promotion.

You also must not violate any restrictions imposed by regulatory agencies. (Our Malcolm Blahblah example comes perilously close to suggesting insider trading, which you want to avoid.)

John and Jennifer went on to tell why storytelling leads can be so effective. In sales copy, a well-told story helps you:

  • Sound experienced and expert
  • Present your information in a way that makes people enjoy reading it and remember itmore easily
  • Get around barriers of excess information
  • Pull together many independent facts and figures into an easy-to-absorb whole
  • Show (and not tell) your reader what you’re really promising
  • Make the message more manageable
  • Give your prospect an easy way to understand and explain his buying decision … to himself and others
  • Make the narrator of the story more personable and human

There are nine elements to any good story, whether storytelling lead, novel, or movie. A good story:

  1. IS RELEVANT TO THE AUDIENCE

    Know your prospect and what he’s interested in. If he’s an investor who only pursues safe investments, you wouldn’t want a story about someone who made his fortunes trading stock options.

  2. IS OFTEN ABOUT A PERSON (OR PEOPLE)

    We’re far more attracted to stories about people than stories about machines, ideas, strategies, or the like.

  3. LIKE AESOP’S FABLES, HAS AN UNDERLYING MESSAGE

    The message in a storytelling lead is usually your promise or an idea that leads directly to your promise.

  4. IS RICH WITH DETAIL

    Malcolm Blahblah in the story above knew FIVE oil ministers. Details give stories (and promotions) a texture of credibility.

  5. IS ENTERTAINING … AND ENTERTAININGLY WRITTEN

    A story about an equities trader sitting at his desk isn’t exciting. A story about his trip to Azerbaijan goldmines and going down 3 miles in a rickety elevator is.

  6. BUILDS AND SURPRISES

    Perhaps the equities trader in our example went to Azerbaijan skeptical of there being anything worth noting. But while going down in the elevator, the mine manager told him not about gold, but about a previously undiscovered rich vein of platinum.

  7. IS JUST LONG ENOUGH

    Ever been to a movie that you felt ended two-thirds of the way through? You probably wanted to (and maybe did) walk out as the story dragged on. If you’re writing a storytelling lead, don’t let your prospect feel like that.

Next week, we’ll tell you much more about creating stories that sell.

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Published: October 24, 2005

2 Responses to “The Secret of Selling With Storytelling, Part 1”

  1. What are the 8th & 9th elements of a good story?

    Guest (Pat OConnell)July 17, 2011 at 8:05 pm

  2. The 8th Element Reward & Tease . Rewards listeners with the progress of how they are doing and teasing them with a suggestion of what even more exciting results they can look forward to keeps their interest high and transcends over to you.

    9th Enlarge & enrich the story that gives you not only something to reach for, but to jump over.

    JMF Harrisburg PADecember 22, 2016 at 12:59 pm


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