Copywriting Magic

by Sarah on December 10, 2009


The faces of the people gathered around were rapt with attention.  Children, parents, old folks, even teenagers couldn’t tear their eyes off the man seated in front of the fire.  Behind them the darkness settled in as evening came.  Cold and snow piled up outside, the wind rattling the windows every so often.


But inside, we didn’t care.  The man seated in the center of the room used only a few simple tools – his animated face, his harp and his voice to weave a spell that captured everyone in its magic.


It must be at least 25 years since I first heard master storyteller Odds Bodkin at a friend’s house one cold December night.  But the evening is still clear in my mind.  It inspired me to tell Solstice stories for several years at my children’s school.  And each time I was amazed at how too-cool-to-listen 5th graders and fidgety 2nd graders would grow still as I told simple tales from around the world that haven’t changed for centuries.


I didn’t use special effects, video, a microphone or synthesizer.  It was simply the power of a story well-told imbued with the passion I felt for the story and the act of sharing it.


There’s a copywriting lesson here – especially pertinent for right now.  And I’m not going the usual route of talking about how stories help copywriting. 


Sure they help capture people’s attention and pull them in.  As described above, we’re made to love stories.  But there’s something more . . .


A good story is like a gift.  You’re giving your prospects more than just a sales message.  I often go back to copywriter Arthur Johnson’s explanation for his success.  Johnson pointed out that most people are lonely or bored.  With a story you can give your prospects the gift of some good entertainment, some human connection.  This fits right into the salesmanship principle of reciprocity.  When you give something to someone, they are more inclined to return the favor.  In other words, purchase from you.


A good story can inspire.  When you’re selling something you’re selling the possibilities it can bring to your prospect’s life – the benefits.  When you bring a good story into your copy you help people believe that they can change their lives, make them better.  Your product is nothing if they can’t see how it can help them do what they want to do.  Give them the extra tool of inspiration that works hand-in-hand with your excellent product.


A good story can build credibility.  With several of the promotions I’ve written, I’ve brought in the story of the company’s founder.  When I describe the journey they took to decide to create the product or company, I create a basis for trust.  People read this and they say, “Hey, they know what I’m going through,” or “Hey, it’s a real person behind this product – not a big corporation.”  Use the stories to convey the heart and understanding that goes into your business.


The same is true for stories built around customer testimonials.  One of the hottest sales pieces in B2B marketing is the case study.  People love to hear real life examples of how this product has worked for someone that’s a lot like them.  If it can work for this guy, it can work for me.  Keep in mind that with new FTC rules, you’ll have to be more selective about the results you talk about.


A good story can build rapport.  I’m deep into learning about Jeff Walker’s Product Launch Formula.  He’s had terrific success teaching people how to transform product launches into tremendously profitable events.  And the first thing he looks at is how can he create a story about the event.  His whole launch technique is built on engaging people, making them feel part of something.  Through careful orchestration of messaging, he builds a relationship with his prospects that makes the final sale almost as easy as pie.


Tell a story now


As I mentioned at the beginning, this is a particularly good time for storytelling.  Why?  This goes back to that December evening I described at the beginning.  People have always turned to storytelling during the bleakest times, when winter winds are blowing.


When times are tough, people look for human connections.  They look for assurance that they are not alone.  And they look for imagery that sparks their imagination and pulls them out of the constraints of their reality. 


A good story can do all this.


So look to bring some storytelling into your marketing.  Bring warmth and human-ness; tales of dragons slayed and heroes rescued by fair maidens that help people believe. 


Let people know that while you may be a big company, you’re still just a bunch of people with heart, offering them something great that can make a difference in their lives.


Tell me what you think about storytelling and copywriting.  Share some examples of how you’ve used it or been moved to purchase by it.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

John Babin December 10, 2009 at 9:47 PM

Over a year ago, Clayton Makepeace revealed a graphic designer he calls his secret weapon. Clayton went on to encourage his blog readers to contact this man if we should want to work with him. All we really were told about him was the story of how Clayton meet him in a biker bar. His name was Larry. Well, as a copy-cub, I felt I would just be bothering him.

I wanted a few of his samples.

So I gave him a brief story about a bad-ass biker I know. And to my surprise, he wrote back to tell me he really enjoyed my story. Plus he sent a couple of his samples. Not bad.
Vivid stories are what work. I lead Larry out of the daily grind and right into the crazy world of bikers. It was what he wanted to hear.
Keep writing.
John B.

admin December 11, 2009 at 10:28 AM

Great story of how a story worked for you. You know, wandering storytellers always got a seat at the dinner table if they could provide 1 or two good stories in exchange. It’s currency.

pete van bloem December 11, 2009 at 5:29 PM

At the risk of bragging, used a note in a brown paper bag with an address label (delivered in person to the Exec Creative Director’s assistant). Dropped off 10; heard back from 3 and got 2 interviews. Thanks for your insight and reminder that we need to invest ourselves in our work – and our stories.
Oh, and just email me via linked in for the pdf of the note I sent (sorry to be so mysterious – this site won’t allow me to leave a pdf).

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: