4 Reasons to Consider Storytelling Leads – and 5 Places to Find Them

One of the most persistent problems copywriters face is how to get into the actual writing of a promotion. At this year’s FastTrack to Success Bootcamp, Jen Stevens gave a very practical, easy solution: Tell a story.

Stories are something we hear and learn from at an early age. We respond to them on emotional levels we’re barely conscious of. This intense human connection to stories makes them a powerful and compelling way to lead your sales letters.

Jen offered four reasons storytelling leads make your job as a copywriter easier. A well-told story …

  • Gives a practical way to get into your sales letter
  • Creates a friendly, personable, and conversational tone for your copy
  • Makes your promise (and your product) “real” to your prospect
  • Makes your message easier to remember

Where Do You Find Good Stories?

Jen suggested these five places to find stories for leads:

  1. Customer Testimonials

    Customer testimonials are one the best-known sources for stories. Jen’s example was a testimonial written for a household-hints book:

    “My guests were due to arrive in just 15 minutes! But the toilet was clogged. And I couldn’t find a plunger … or a plumber! I called my sister, who has a copy of …”

    And it goes on to describe how the customer successfully unclogged her toilet and saved the dinner party, thanks to the book.

    Though that may not have happened to you, the story strikes a chord – because it clearly could happen. It relates to a situation none of us wants to be stuck in. It touches the prospect in a personal place.

  2. Biographies and History Books

    Jen described a lead that told the history of the Mayer Rothschild family, and the fortune Mayer amassed using a “secret currency.”

    The story starts when he was 11 and lost both parents in a smallpox epidemic. It depicts him as a careful, quiet, observant young man who became an apprentice to bankers in Germany. The story continues – never revealing what the secret currency is – to the point where …

    Well, you get the idea. The story was written to intrigue the prospect. And it does that, because we can identify with the poor 11-year-old rising to unimaginable wealth. And we can picture ourselves using his secret to build our own wealth.

  3. Personal Stories From Gurus, or Product-Creation Stories

    If you want to make money in the stock market, who better to listen to than someone who’s done it … time and again? Or if you want to travel the world on a shoestring, who better to follow than someone who does it for a living?

    The power of the guru – the expert who knows how to “do it” (whatever “it” might be) – is boosted by true stories of how he discovered his secrets, developed his product, or built his wealth.

    Giving your prospect stories like this makes the guru more real. It allows your prospect to relate to and believe in the person. And this increases his relationship with the guru and your product.

  4. News Stories

    News is a great source of story leads. One of Jen’s examples tells the story of an 88-year-old woman who loaned her grandnephew money to buy a car. The boy got into an accident … and the woman got sued!

    The story is full of details, which makes it not only very believable, but makes the “injustice” of the situation strikingly real. It’s hard to read that lead without thinking “That could be me.” The story has you hooked. And you keep reading because you want to find out how you can protect yourself.

    (Jen notes, as an aside: If you use a news story in your copy, document where you got the information and be sure to provide that documentation to your client.)

  5. Your Imagination

    “Imagine lounging on your deck, a book on your lap and a cocktail in your hand. Just steps away, turquoise waters slip gently up onto the talcum-fine sand. Overhead, palms rustle and pelicans squawk.

    “As the sun slips behind the red horizon, your cook lights a lantern on the table and brings you the dinner she’s prepared … fresh-grilled fish with mango chutney, a salad, a bottle of wine …

    “You look up at the clear night sky and wonder, for a moment, if it isn’t all a dream … After all, it’s just the kind of extravagance the rich and famous enjoy … But you don’t have to be a celebrity to live like one.”

    You can use your imagination along with any of the previous four story sources to grab your prospect’s attention. Doing this allows you to combine compelling aspects of several true stories and make the overall appeal stronger and more direct.

    Keep in mind that this technique works best when the “story” you’re telling – or the “picture” you’re creating – in your lead is a positive one.

    For example …

    “Imagine you’re being sued by the victim of a car wreck. You weren’t driving the car. You didn’t even own the car. All you did was loan money for the car to your grandnephew.”

    This isn’t as effective as the authentic news story about the 88-year-old woman, because it seems far-fetched. Plus, it’s an unpleasant place for your prospect to go. If you’re going to imagine a story, says Jen, take your reader someplace positive.

What Makes an Effective Story?

Jen said that strong story leads …

  • Are relevant to your readers
  • Often start in the middle of the action (with the guru climbing through the jungle brush, for example)
  • Are rich with detail
  • Show a change, usually for the better – or at least hint at improvement
The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


Click to Rate:
Average: 4.7
Published: November 27, 2006

Guest, Add a Comment
Please Note: Your comments will be seen by all visitors.

You are commenting as a guest. If you’re an AWAI Member, Login to myAWAI for easier commenting, email alerts, and more!

(If you don’t yet have an AWAI Member account, you can create one for free.)


This name will appear next to your comment.


Your email is required but will not be displayed.


Text only. Your comment may be trimmed if it exceeds 500 characters.

Type the Shadowed Word
Too hard to read? See a new image | Listen to the letters


Hint: The letters above appear as shadows and spell a real word. If you have trouble reading it, you can use the links to view a new image or listen to the letters being spoken.

(*all fields required)