The Savvy Copywriter’s Advantage:
Creative Storytelling

What's Your Story?

Some people write to sell, and other people write to tell stories in novels and film. Pretty cut and dry, right?

A copywriter is the selling type… she uses her talents to promote a person, place, thing, or idea. That copywriter chooses words to make the subject look and sound great so that a desired action happens. It’s all about marketing, sales, and conversions.

But great copywriters are also storytellers.

A History Worth Telling

Storytellers have existed since the dawn of humankind. Cave dwellers told stories of their hunt or the discovery of a good location to set up camp. Villagers told stories of their neighbors or shared rumors that instilled fear and witch hunts. Churches and druids told stories to guide people and lead them on the path of good or evil.

Around fires that warmed chilled hands, Vikings told stories of conquests and battles. Children told stories to share their dreams (or to escape a whipping). Jesters told stories to kings, breaking the monotony and encouraging a laugh.

Modern-Day Storytelling

Even today, stories surround us. The television tells stories of the plights of people in other countries. Movies tell stories to entertain and challenge us. Novelists tell stories to help people escape and relax.

A good story grabs anyone’s attention. We love stories. We listen to the tale and imagine everything in our mind’s eye. We experience emotion and are compelled to take action because of the stories we hear.

As a copywriter, if you can perk a reader’s interest with a good story, you have it made. You can increase those sales and get people talking about a product or a service. You can instill trust and project credibility. You can stir up commitment and encourage action in a specific direction.

You can get people talking. Your story creates more stories, and these people spread the word to everyone. Word of mouth is the best kind of promotion there is, after all.

Where to Use Storytelling

Think there’s no storytelling in copywriting? Think again. Long sales copy uses stories, playing on people’s fears and emotions, reaching out to show them how they can solve their problems with the solution you offer.

Press releases use stories, too. Journalists pick up on stories that are worth repeating. They spread the news and talk over events that happen in the world around us.

Case studies are stories about people’s lives, and how they were affected. Textbooks use stories and examples to enhance learning and show students real life applications.

Entire websites can be stories too. The About Us page is a great place to start. The Home page of any site tells a story too (and if it doesn’t, it probably isn’t doing very well in the conversion department).

Each page leads a reader from one story to another:

  • Who these people are.
  • How these people can help.
  • Why you need these people.
  • Why you should buy.

It’s All About the Story

Storytelling allows you to prick the interest of prospects who might not otherwise stop to read. Invite them in. Have them sit down. Get them intrigued in what comes next. Build the anticipation. Touch their minds. Evoke their emotions. Touch their hearts.

Learn to find that spark of storytelling and use it to light up your copy. Twine the tale around your words, and see if it doesn’t have positive effects on the results.

Creativity isn’t just for fiction writers, and strategic storytelling can produce spectacular sales results. If you lack a good story, you’re less likely to create copy that converts and more likely to waste time and money.

And that’s not a story you or your client wants to hear.

About the Author: If you like a good story, then head to Men with Pens, where James and Harry regale readers with funny stories, wise tales, and great web working advice. Better yet, get it all via RSS feed here.

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Comments

  1. This really hits on using conversation and passion in your voice to connect with an audience instead of trying to establish yourself as too high of an authority figure. Good stuff.

  2. How about convincing each client to hold a contest asking their existing customers to submit the best story of them using the client’s product?

    Your client could have hundreds (maybe thousands) of testimonials wrapped up in nice story packages – and all from a simple contest offering up something of value for free.

  3. James,

    Great reminder to weave storytelling into all copywriting. When writing for the same products and services over and over, I find it takes work to continue spinning out creative copy on the same subject matter. In these cases particularly, I turn to my old journalism storytelling skills – finding the unique angle and story in every project. It certainly helps avoid all copy sounding exactly the same.

    Casey

  4. The whole Jared/Subway campaign came from the story of one customer’s use of the product.

  5. Some stories become the brand of the organization. Despite it’s current size, people still think of Southwest Airlines as the little guy trying to bring cost effective travel to the masses. Or Sam Walton creating Wal-Mart. Or Steve Jobs with Apple. Most good copywriting stories have an individual who embodies the desired characteristics of the brand identity (such as Janice’s Jared/Subway example). This is a people business after all. :)

    Best,
    Mark

  6. I love stories in copy, and I don’t do nearly enough of it. Conversation I’ve got covered, but I don’t have enough real stories.

    Something I need to put more focus on–thanks for the reminder!

  7. @ Sonia – My pleasure to remind you of the little things – you do the same for me many times over.

    @ Mark – That’s an interesting point – how stories can help you develop your brand. Kudos for that thought.

    @ Janice – As a matter of fact, I was talking to someone about that story the other day. Stories are memorable, even in marketing. Or is that especially in marketing?

    @ Casey – Ha, agreed! Using storytelling sure helps take out the monotony of more straightforward writing. Cheers!

    @ Bucktown – That’s a great idea. I’d be curious to see what people come up with for the Pen Men!

    @ Todd – Sometimes the best authorities are the best storytellers. Take Brian, for example. His posts right here on Copyblogger are some of the best samplings of using story in copywriting that I’ve ever seen.

  8. Great article, some useful information.

    http://pixblix.com

  9. I suspect that a lot of people think storytelling is something you’ve got to have a talent for (like singing). But that’s not true. We all use storytelling all the time, in our everyday conversation – and that’s what good copywriting so often is about: a conversation. The key is to listen to yourself talking to someone and identify every time you’re engaging in storytelling.

  10. James, Fantastic points! I’ve been discussing this as Brandtelling (www.brandtelling.com) Brand+Storytelling for the corporate world. Would appreciate your thoughts. –ahg3

  11. One of my favorite sayings is an old Zulu proverb: “There’s no such thing as truth, only stories.”

    When it comes to blogging, often our own stories are the best material we have and we don’t even know it because to us they’re just (sometimes unpleasant) memories. We can’t see ourselves as others see us, can’t see the story in ourselves that others would find appealing.

  12. Stories are excellent no matter if it’s for blog posts or salesletters.

    People love stories and it sucks them into the writing. Many good writers use stories that are related to the topic they want to write about and then have a punchline at the end to drive end it.

    For example, you can talk about a person having lots of success with his blog on blogger.com and earning great income from it.

    Then he gets banned for a reason that he can’t find out about. He lost everything overnight. No more income with bills to pay etc…

    Then end the story with the advantage of hosting your own blog etc…and offer your services.

    Works like crazy once you have a story to get their attention first.

  13. @ Michael – The day we stopped blogging about information and started telling our stories was the day our blog took off.

    And I think you’re very right. A *ton* of people say, “Why do people want to know about me? What’s special about me?”

    Everything. Every experience you ever lived is special and can teach, mentor or entertain.

    @ Ahg3 – You have some interesting stuff on your blog. I was disappointed to see erratic posting (makes me think the blog isn’t in this for the long haul)… what’s up with that?

  14. Jack Zipes stresses the pont that traditional storytellers empower people with the tale they tell, letting them know that “Yes, they can”.
    A ‘copyteller’ empowers the product, loading it with something it does not have on its own.
    What a change of perspective…

  15. Gary Halbert called it “My Story Marketing”. Of course sometimes you are telling someone else’s story, but the concept is still the same.

    Great post, and still the best way to connect with a reader whatever the format.

  16. Great stories are truly viral — they are easy to remember and fun to share with others. A great story can turn consumers into your word-of-mouth marketing team.

  17. “A copywriter is the selling type… she uses her talents to promote a person, place, thing, or idea.”

    Are all copywriters female?

  18. Wonderful post. I enjoyed my visit!

    You gave me a new point of view on StoryTelling : ]

  19. The most important aspect of a good story is that it rings true.

  20. James, thanks for the insightful post.

    Igor

  21. True this, copyblogger. If one thinks laterally about storytelling then all points of contact with the public add to a company’s story – including visual images, publicity and copywriting. Think semiotics – the sign and the signifier.