Posted by Samuel Birnie
These days storytelling is a bit of a buzzword. Last year, branding and design writer Nick Asbury lampooned the overuse of the term in an article for Creative Review. Though Asbury’s piece is incisive and full of insight, storytelling is still a strong marketing tool, especially when it comes to copy.
Stories are deeply embedded in our psychology and culture – they’re how we experience the world around us and communicate with one another. On a practical level, they hold our attention and impart a message more memorably than facts and figures.
Here’s how you can charge your copy with the persuasive power of storytelling.
What’s it about?
Start by thinking about your message: what’s the story about? The first rule of copywriting is to lead with the benefits. Your reader wants to know how your product or service will improve their life. We humans like to think we’re rational animals but we actually make decisions based on our emotions. We then look to the facts to justify our decisions.
Identify the emotional and rational reasons why someone would want your product or service. The emotional reasons are going to propel the narrative in your copy; the rational reasons are there to reinforce it.
So you’ve got your driving theme – the benefits behind your offer – now let’s spin a story. At its most basic, storytelling is action (‘something happens’ is possibly the shortest [and most vague] story ever written).
Use verbs, or doing words, to create copy in which you’re demonstrating the benefits of choosing your brand, rather than just describing them. Let’s say you’re a hotel and you have super-comfy king-sized beds: don’t tell people how big and comfy the beds are – show them. Get them to stretch out on the mattress, or curl up under the covers and lose themselves in a book by lamplight.
These actions get your reader involved in the text and if you string them into a storyline you’ll enhance the effect. As you lead your reader through a series of events and experiences, they’ll fall deeper into the story: it’ll have a greater effect on their decision-making and stick in their memory for longer.
A story also needs a hero. Unless you’re writing about someone specific, the most powerful thing to do is to make the reader the hero of the story. This is because we want them to internalise the message: we want them to imagine themselves enjoying the emotional benefits of the product or service we’re offering. Write in the second person (using ‘you’) to address the reader directly and transport them into the text.
Though you’ll use your brand voice to shape the language and the tone of the copy, you still want to keep the style fairly simple. As Andy Maslen writes in his book Persuasive Copywriting:
Think of your writing as a window. You want your reader seeing the view. Not the glass.
In other words, you want them to be picturing your story, unaware that they’re reading. Sensory cues and small authenticating details prompt the reader’s imagination, but keep these details light and open-ended. In the earlier example, ‘lamplight’ is enough detail to get the reader going. We can leave all that the lamp illuminates for the reader to fill in.
You also want to use simple language and syntax, and stay focused on your message. Remember, no one reads marketing or advertising copy for fun; your audience is unforgiving. Complex sentences, obscure words and unrelated waffle all draw attention to the act of reading: they’ll bore your reader and break the spell. Keep your copy clear and concise – let the view shine through.
Need a hand telling your story? We can help with a range of copywriting services, from crafting persuasive copy for any audience and platform to running a writing workshop for you and your team. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 01736 758600 to chat through your project.
For more copywriting tips, check out How to start writing when it’s the last thing you want to do and Why proof-reading copy is vital.