As human beings, we love nothing more than a good story. Throughout history, we have built our societies around a rich oral tradition, as well as the power of the written word. We tell stories to connect with others, to make sense of our journey through life, to share our knowledge – good and bad – as well as to evoke emotions, sensations and responses that speak of being part of a collective experience.
Skilled communicators are skilled storytellers – they know how to incorporate colour, energy and imagery into their words to capture other people’s imaginations. The techniques of storytelling can teach us a lot about writing engaging copy. As the great copywriter, Gary Halbert, once said, “Storytelling puts your customer behind the wheel of your product”.
Here are four fabulous storytelling techniques that can take your copy from mundane to extraordinary.
1. Put your reader in the driving seat
When you use storytelling as a vehicle for your copy, you can create responses to your product that are emotional as well as practical. Use your copy to set a scene, invite people in and give them the opportunity to imagine what their life would look like if they had your product or used your service. By helping your customers to identify with the protagonist of your story, you will create all-important interest and desire – “That could be me” or “I want that to be me”.
2. Make the story relevant
In copywriting, storytelling must have a purpose, a relevance to what you are trying to sell, if it is going to do its job. Unless you’re writing for entertainment alone (and that won’t make sales), you need to know what you want the story to achieve. This will help you find what resonates with your audience.
Too often, people catch hold of a tenuous thread of an idea and attempt to weave it through their copy, with poor results. Instead, think about a customer success story (you don’t have to name any names) or draw from your personal experience to tell a story that is relevant from beginning to end.
3. Plan your narrative structure
Think about your favourite stories, from childhood tales of knights, fairies and magic ships to the novels that will stay with you long after your read the final word, the chances are that they all share a similar structure. They introduce the protagonist and their challenge or dilemma, they create conflict, a problem that needs to be overcome, and offer resolution.
Similarly, your copy should employ a clear beginning, middle and end. By using storytelling as a vehicle, you can show how your product meets a need and will make a customer’s life better, more so than any other product on the market.
4. Keep your focus
The hardest part about writing a story for copywriting purposes is staying focused on what is relevant to your goal and what is just padding. Storytelling is about creating a response and evoking images and feelings. For all this, it is still possible to be concise. After all, there’s nothing worse than a boring, over-long story.
As the famous line in the film, Finding Forrester, says, “Write your first draft with your heart. Re-write with your head.” I have this quote above my desk in my office. Go back through your story and be honest about what is relevant, what drives it forward, what contributes to your message, then cut the rest. Be brutal. Your copy will be better for it.
Ultimately, I believe we are hardwired to remember stories. From cautionary fairy tales and fables to must-read novels, we might not always remember the detail but the essence of the story stays with us. Personally, I know I remember stories and anecdotes much more vividly than more factual blog posts or magazine articles.
My children use storyboards at school to help them remember lines in a play or lyrics for a song. There is something incredibly powerful about stepping into a story and taking a journey into another person’s reality. Harness this power in your copy.
What storytelling techniques to you use to talk to your customers? Do you use success stories or speak about your own journey from rags to riches when giving speeches or running a webinar? Do you ever use stories in your blog? I’d love to hear your experiences.