The Power of a Good Story

When you write copy, your first mission is to get some type of response: to sell something, generate a lead, get a donation, or get your candidate elected.

In short, you want to move your readers to take a desired action.

But to do this effectively, you must entertain them. That is how you keep your readers' interest.

It's also how you make what you are selling – and its benefits – real to your readers, without making them feel like they're being sold or that they've "seen it all before."

Stories bring originality, creativity, and emotion to your promotions, giving you a valuable advantage over other copywriters.

There are many ways to tell a story, but there are five essential keys that make a story grab your target audience and get them involved – and personally invested – in the promo.

  1. Create a Strong, Personal Voice

    You've heard, many times, that you must know your prospect. But you also need to know the point of view and the voice of the person who's signing the promo, and (seemingly) "writing" it.

    If possible, do an interview with that person. Read through other things written in his name. Get a sense of his personality, phrases or expressions he uses regularly, how strongly he expresses his opinions, and how he speaks to others.

    Use his voice for telling his story. Without a clear voice, your piece will be dull. You'll lose readers before they even finish the first page.

  2. Get Your Mind Around the Details

    There's a great scene in the movie "Reservoir Dogs," where Tim Roth's character tells a story convincing the bad guys he's one of them. The story works because of the details.

    When you tell a story in your promotion, know and use the details. Is the goldmine in the former USSR? Or is it in Yakutsk in Siberia? Did the man who discovered the mine travel thousands of miles before he found it? Or did he trek 3,467 miles across a windswept tundra?

    Use concrete words to describe things … strong verbs, specific nouns. The details make your story believable.

  3. The All-Important Hook

    The "hook" is your story's lead. This may be different from your promotion's lead, since you might use several different stories in different places within a single promo.

    Three effective hooks are: (1) Lead off with a shocking or surprising quote from someone within the story, (2) provide some terrifying fact or figure that relates to the story, and (3) start your story in the middle, when it's most exciting, and then provide the background details.

    The hook grabs your readers' interest, and they are compelled to keep reading to discover what happens next.

  4. Build Emotional Involvement

    Once you've hooked your readers, make them care about what's happening to your story's main character.

    There are two quick ways to do this.

    First: Create a common bond between the reader and the person in the story. In one famous AWAI promotion, the letter begins, "Last year I was going through a bitter divorce …" Everyone knows someone who has gone through this, so it immediately creates sympathy.

    Second: Show your main character growing or succeeding in ways the reader can relate to. For example, this is from a health promo I wrote:

    “Steve came to me feeling miserable. He was overweight. Felt flabby and tired all the time. He sex life was … well, disappointing.

    "In just three weeks, using a simple, natural approach, everything changed for Steve."

    Steve is turning his life around. He's overcoming conflict in his life. Conflict builds your reader's emotional involvement in the promo.

  5. Create Suspense

    In addition to creating emotional involvement, you must create suspense for your reader.

    In the example above, the question is: "How did everything change for Steve?" The reader isn't certain of the answer.

    There are many other ways to create suspense. You can hint at answers to come later. You can promise the reader the startling conclusion to your story if he just reads on. You can also play on anything surprising or unusual in the story.

Short, personal stories sprinkled through your copy will bring the product and the benefits to life for your reader. Study successful story-based promotions, and you'll see how top copywriters use this technique all the time.

Start using it in your own copy, and see how it works for you.

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Published: August 13, 2007

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