Business Writing Copywriting 2017-09-21 00:00

Why You Need to Master Storytelling to Become a Great Copywriter

What's one of the most important skills you need to become a master copywriter? No, it's not excellent grammar, but that certainly helps.

It's storytelling.

Consider this: what do copywriters really do? They sell with words. And what do great salespeople do? They tell great stories.

The most famous copywriting story, which you've probably heard of a zillion times, begins with the headline, "They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano, But When I Started to Play!—" If you're not familiar with it, read it here first before reading the rest of this post.

As a side note, Salman Rushdie, Joseph Heller, and F. Scott Fitzgerald have one thing in common, besides being excellent novelists. They all started as copywriters.

Good stories move people to action. They create sympathy, which opens up wallets for donations. Or a good story can start a revolution. At the least, a good story is memorable and influences your readers enough to sell. Just like a great fiction story, when you use a story in your content, you're actually putting your reader in the driver's seat so they can envision themselves having/using your product or service.

Who doesn't love a good story? Something inside everyone is hard-wired to respond to a good story. In fact, Harvard Business Review has an excellent article "Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling" you should read.

Scientists much more intelligent than we are have proven this theory, so we won't debate it here. What we will do is show you how to use storytelling techniques to write great copy.

  1. 1. Know your readers
  2. 2. Plan your story arc
  3. 3. Get your muse on
  4. 4. Make every word count
  5. 5. Make it authentic
  6. Final thoughts

1. Know your readers

Who actually are your readers? Is it your client or their customers? While it's important to understand your client's product or service, business, strategies, and objectives, you need to know their readers/audience/customers even better.

You want a story that doesn't just talk about a product's features, but one that touches a reader's deepest desires or fears. Know your readers intimately, then take what you know about your client and make it relevant to your audience.

2. Plan your story arc

You can't just throw a story into your content to entertain your target audience. It must have a purpose.

If you use a story in your content, it must have a beginning, a climax, and an end, just like any other great story. So you need to know where you're going with your story, or what its purpose or theme is. If you don't create a story arc, you'll end up with well-written prose that peters out.

Let's look at the famous "They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano" piece. The beginning part is when the main character sits down at the piano and everyone at the party whispers about how they think he can't play worth a hoot. The middle of the story is when he begins to play and everyone sat "breathless, spellbound," and he played and played. The ending is the triumph of playing well and explaining to his fans how he learned to play so well, which leads into how you, too, can learn to play the piano just like him.

Your story needs a plot. It needs compelling characters. And it needs an arc connecting these two together, your story arc. You can read more about story arc here.

3. Get your muse on

Now it's time to be creative. If you thought creativity was the sole domain of fiction writers, you're not writing your best content. Clients hire content marketing copywriters to write more than dry, stiff technical information. They want the "sizzle."

Consider what will resonate most with your target audience. Do they respond best to humor or empathy? Maybe they need analogies to show them how others conquered problems, found solutions, or rose above the rest. Think outside the box (pardon the cliché).

4. Make every word count

Readers want easy, conversational words that break down difficult or technical subjects to an everyday level. They're not interested in superfluous or flowery prose. They want every word to count.

Short, concise sentences. Details broken into bite-sized pieces. Two or three-sentence paragraphs. And make sure you cut every word until you have bare bones.

5. Make it authentic

The more authentic your story, or the more real your story's situation, the more your audience will respond. They can smell someone trying to pull a fast one over, so keep your story as real as possible.

You may have to change names for privacy's purpose so your next door neighbor doesn't see himself in your content. The key is to understand people, be a connoisseur of human psychology, and keep your stories as real as possible.

For example, I once wrote a fundraising letter for a non-profit that used the story of one woman they helped. It was a true story, one that I gleaned after interviewing the woman over the phone, but instead of just reporting her words, I wrote a beautiful, heart-wrenching story that opened up purse strings for the non-profit.

Final thoughts

  • "Call me Ishmael."
  • "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."
  • "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…"
  • "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…"

And now you know:

  • "They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano…"

These most famous first lines are powerful because of the memories they touch. We remember the stories that follow. And think of your fondest memories; they're usually wrapped around a story about something that happened to you or you accomplished, etc. And your memories are most vivid because of the emotions evoked, right?

Tell a good story that moves your reader to cry, laugh, reconsider their opinion or stance, or become emotionally invested. Hook them with your story. Your content will be as successful as it is memorable.

Master these storytelling techniques to become a great copywriter.

Let us know in the comments below how you use storytelling in your content marketing copywriting.

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