The Power of Story

Many years ago while on vacation, my parents took our family diamond mining. It was one of the dirtiest things I have ever done.

We were told to keep digging because diamonds had been found right where we stood. The smell of success was enticing. With the dirt solidifying itself under our fingernails and its darkness staining our skin, we continued to move the earth.

By the end of the day, our energy sapped and our arms weak, we admitted defeat. We found nothing. I wish my little story had a happy ending in which we found a real gem, but we didn’t.

Our family excursion is instructive about the power of story, though. You have to sift through a lot of dirt to find that one brilliant jewel of a story that will make every facet of your copy shine.

Some of the greatest copywriters, both past and present, make liberal use of its power.

In one sales letter, Dan Kennedy relates the story of the owner of a small Italian restaurant who reignited his business with the use of Dan’s Marketing Magnet principles. Read it, and you will be the proud owner of Dan’s marketing system. It’s that effective.

The late Gary Halbert knew how to weave story into his copy. Halbert’s “Coat of Arms” letter helped him sell millions of dollars of product. The letter was mailed a reported 600 million times! It offered a report and “coat of arms” to the recipient detailing the ancient origins of their family name at an initial cost of $2.00. Halbert connected with families by talking about where they came from and who was part of their lineage.

As the story went, Mrs. Halbert and Gary discovered the lineage of the letter recipient’s last name while researching the familial ancestry of a friend of theirs. The letter went on to inform the reader that the report “ … tells the story of the very old and distinguished family name of [name of recipient].” Halbert continued by telling the reader that they had “a few extra copies made in order to share this information with other people of the same name.” This manufactured story by Halbert was responsible for him being considered by many as the greatest copywriter of all time.

Then there was Martin Conroy, who wrote the now-famous Wall Street Journal letter. WSJ reportedly used it for almost 25 years. The ad, placed in various media outlets, was responsible for millions of dollars in sales.

Its secret? It tells the story of two young men, both of whom graduated at the same time and worked for the same company. But as the story went, one man became CEO and the other was still a low-level manager. The difference between the two, according to the letter? One was a Wall Street Journal reader, which implied that reading it could skyrocket one’s career, too.

So where can you find the best stories to use?

They are all around you. All you have to do is mine the gems that you see every single day. Here are several suggestions that will help you with that endeavor.

First, gather your experiences. We all have unique experiences that transform our lives, make a difference, and are forever etched in our memories.

It could be something as tragic as the death of a loved one or a humorous story of how you ran into something because you weren’t watching where you were going.

Here’s my challenge: sit down and make a list of 10 experiences during your lifetime that you can think of right now. Don’t try to figure out how to use them yet. Just write them down without editing and without judgment or evaluation.

Your experiences are also those you had with other people, whether they are good or bad. You can write out advice you’ve been given, things that you have observed, or knowledge you have gleaned (yes, even stories!) from other people.

Second, encapsulate those experiences. Here’s what I mean: think about the lesson you have learned or could learn from each experience.

For example, several years ago, Hurricane Wilma caused a decent amount of damage and a lot of inconvenience in South Florida, where I live. Out of that storm came lessons about community, compassion, and those who would manipulate others. There are probably a lot more, but you get the picture. A good question to ask of each is: what did I learn or what can I learn?

Third, mold these experiences into usable stories. This is where the real writing comes in.

Of the 10 stories that you have chosen, write a detailed description of what happened and what you learned. Make sure your words communicate the color, the texture, and every part of the experience. Your goal is to communicate in such a way that your words make people feel like they were there. Let a friend or colleague read them. Ask for their honest feedback, and when they give it, welcome it.

Practice storytelling skills with your family and friends. If you bore them or they don’t get the point, then learn from each experience and adjust your story. If you’re not able to communicate it to close family and friends, it won’t work when it’s time for you to use it in your copy. The rule is to never stop revising!

Finally, save your stories for later use. This sounds simple but is of vital importance. Right now, the stories are fresh in your mind. But don’t trust them to be that way years from now.

Store them topically on your computer or in a file cabinet. While this may sound like a lot of work, you’ll be happy when you have to do your next project. Your story will be at your fingertips.

Once you’ve got your 10 stories down, it’s important to continue to repeat this process every time you have a new experience. When you are really living, you’ll realize that you have experiences almost every day that could be turned into copywriting gems.

Mining those GEMS is possible. Just remember: Gather your experiences, Encapsulate them, Mold them into something usable, and Save them for later use. Do so, and every facet of your story will make your copy sparkle.

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Published: June 11, 2012

1 Response to “The Power of Story”

  1. Thanks for contributing this article. I think it will go down in the AWAI archives as a truly memorable piece.

    A great copywriter is one who can tell a compelling story--of that there is no doubt.

    People are naturally curious and they want a good story to move them to tears or get them to take action.

    A copywriter should be able to capture the essence or the gist in a few carefully crafted paragraphs.

    Avoid long-winded and focus on brevity and make sure you are succinct when you write a piece.

    Archan Mehta

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