Pool Pumps, The 5 Senses, & Successful Leads

“A story is a trick for sneaking a message into the fortified citadel of the human mind.”
Jonathan Gottschall,
American literary scholar

I’m going to do something in this issue of The Golden Thread I’ve never done in any of the AWAI articles I’ve written.

I’m going to give you a peak at the first draft of a lead I’m writing. I normally don’t like showing first draft copy. I know time and effort will make it stronger. But I wanted to tell you why I chose the type of lead I did.

Here’s the lead so far …

Dear Neighbor,

I’m worried about what Sarah’s going to do next summer.

Sarah’s a bright, energetic 11-year-old. Her grandmother works, so Sarah is responsible for her twin brothers. Next year they’ll be 9 years old. They can be a handful, and Sarah depends on filling their summer afternoons with fun at our town’s pool.

When Chris and Robbie are splashing around in the pool under the watchful eyes of the lifeguards, Sarah knows they’re safe. She knows they’ll behave. She knows they’ll stay cool there when temperatures spike in the 100s.

And, when she and her brothers are at the pool, Sarah has time for herself, playing with her friends, not having to be a preteen guardian.

But, I’m worried. Last Thursday, Dan Martinez, Recreation and Parks district manager, called to tell me the pool pump had burned out.

That’s why I’m writing you today.


Overcoming natural resistance …

Let me give you some brief background on this copy. I’m a member of my town’s recreation district. The bigger-than-Olympic-sized outdoor pool attracts the town’s children during the summer. It’s a refuge and a safe place to escape temperatures in the 90s and 100s.

Children’s fees are subsidized by a special “Pool Bucks” program. Even so, every year, the pool loses the district between $12,000 and $15,000. The board gladly absorbs this loss. Maintaining the historic pool and providing safe recreation for our children outweigh any losses.

Then, two days before the pool was scheduled to close for the season, disaster struck. The 25-year-old pump burned out. And, too old to repair, its replacement will cost around $10,000 … more than the district can afford. We’re already running a balanced, zero-surplus budget.

So, Dan asked me to help with my writing skills. This lead is my start. (Mark my words … the copy will change by the time it’s mailed in October.)

My copy may seem like a fundraising appeal. It isn’t. Fundraising copy is easier to write than this will be. I’m asking voters in my town to approve a 0.25% sales tax increase.

And, nobody likes voting to increase taxes. I have my work cut out, for sure.

Numbers … or names?

Why did I choose this approach? Don’t voters need to know about the financial squeeze the district’s in? Wouldn’t letting them know the real costs help overcome their resistance to raising taxes?

If I took that approach, I’d be relying on their logical minds to make their decision. But, resistance to raising taxes isn’t logical … it’s gut level. Emotion drives that response. And, the best way to overcome an emotionally resistant stance is appealing to emotions.

Stories appeal to emotions.

That’s one reason I chose to lead with Sarah’s story. But, it’s not the only reason stories are powerful ways to talk to your prospect. Two other factors hold as much, if not more, power to convince.

Humans evolved to learn from stories …

Imagine being part of an extended family unit huddled around a blazing fire in the night 6,000 years ago. There are no books. No scrolls. No writing. The only way to pass on information is through stories.

That’s what the shaman is doing. He tells a story of when best to hunt bison and how best to avoid sabre-toothed cats. He learned the story from his elders who learned it from their elders. Down time to before the people could remember.

Humans have evolved to respond to stories. Our brains alert when we start to hear a story. Stories tell us, “This might be important. Pay attention.” Stories of all types touch us on a basic level of survival.

Emotions and survival. Two powerful factors why stories provide punch in copywriting.

How about five more?

Your brain sees, smells, hears, tastes, and feels with stories …

If I tell you about a delicious grilled salmon meal, your brain experiences it as if you’re eating that meal.

If you read about a beautiful sunset on the Oregon coast, your brain responds as if you’re seeing it.

This is true every time you hear or read something that relates to the five senses. The sensory cortex in your brain processes what you’ve heard or read as if you’re actually experiencing it – a visceral response that bypasses thought and logic.

You can’t help it. Nor can your prospect.

A helicopter view of why you should consider story leads …

Leading with a story can help bring him to the place where his cognitive brain is ready to listen to those details without resistance. But, you can’t write an entire promotion as a story. At some point, sooner rather than later, you must get down to the nitty-gritty.

In my copy, I’ll have to tell the voter about the numbers, costs, and details. These details help his intellectual brain agree with his emotional brain that voting to approve the sales tax bump is a good decision for him.

Story leads are powerful … and work well for all types of niches. Here are 8 reasons why you should consider using them:

  • A story lead is an extremely powerful way to catch your prospect’s interest and imagination.
  • The power comes from a number of places in the prospect’s life, but ultimately resides in human history and your prospect’s brain physiology.
  • Everyone (or almost everyone) loves a story … and stories are everywhere.
  • You can pull from many different types of stories and story leads.
  • Story leads give you a practical way to get into your pitch.
  • Story leads create a friendly, personable tone for your copy.
  • Story leads make your product and your promise real to your prospect.
  • And, story leads make your message more memorable.

Eight great reasons for using story leads. But, you can’t just start writing a story for your copy and expect it to work. Story leads follow certain rules that make them powerful, memorable … and effective.

And, that’s what we’ll talk about next week when we meet again.

Until then, remember the one thing you must do to be a successful writer …


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Published: August 31, 2015

4 Responses to “Pool Pumps, The 5 Senses, & Successful Leads”

  1. Yes, stories are a wonderful way to lead into something! I remember my teachers reading stories in class, and how fascinated I was - totally absorbed!
    And now we must utilize that same strategy to draw in those potential prospects!

    RockyBalladSeptember 1, 2015 at 1:39 am

  2. I wish I knew your town, Will, so I could move there and vote YES on the tax increase for the historic city pool. I'd like to wave to Sarah and her brothers as I sit reading a book by the pool and they splash around in it with their friends under the watchful eye of the life guard. Nicely organized. Emotive. Brilliant, in fact. I love it.

    Guest (Judith Ann Hillard)September 6, 2015 at 2:01 pm

  3. I agree about the senses. It's a powerful way to tell a story. In my POV You have to put me there before you can engage me in the story. I have to get that movie in my mind by seeing it. I have to picture it, and if described right I could smell it. Once that is accomplished, you have my interest and I read on.

    Guest (Theresa Schevis)September 10, 2015 at 1:23 pm

  4. I'll be the hard hearted Hannah and vote no.

    As compelling as this story is, I know how Government operates and I know of no exception to the rule.

    Government will ask for a tax hike for a specific purpose - like raising taxes so our children will have a safe place to play.

    Fine, I can agree to the logic and play on emotions.

    But the reason I'd vote against the tax hike is because after the pool pump is fully funded, the tax increase will not be rescinded.

    The tax will not end.

    BarryBJuly 15, 2019 at 4:37 am

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