How to Write Great Copy using Storytelling Techniques

How to Write Great Copy using Storytelling Techniques

Everyone loves a good story. Stories draw us into our imaginations and make us feel like we’re right there watching the tale unfold before our very eyes. A story can stir our feelings and make us cry or burst out laughing.

Because they’re so powerful, stories are very useful for copywriters. Good stories can move people to action. They can encourage sympathy and instigate donations. They can cause an uprising or a revolution. They can provoke a response or influence readers. They can sell.

Storytelling works.

Except, of course, when it doesn’t.

You can pen the most gripping tale that hooks readers, tosses them about in a tempest of emotion and makes them live all their feelings until they’re left breathless, panting and desperate for more by the time they reach the end.

But if you haven’t used storytelling properly, readers won’t do what you want them to do. They got a good story. You got a captivated audience. And there are no new clients calling you. No emails. No sales. Just people saying, “Wow, what a great story.”

Your storytelling strategy fell flat.

Using storytelling to influence readers isn’t as easy as it looks. When you’re trying to influence people and get them to take action, you need a few powerful tactics to get the technique right.

Make the Story Relevant and Supportive

Some writers have a hard time picking the right story for their ultimate goal. The story has no particular relevance, no supportive examples, and no specific relation that readers can clearly see. The result is that while readers get an entertaining story, they aren’t sure what it has to do with the title of the post or the action you’re asking them to take at the end.

Unless your goal is just to entertain, select a story that’s clearly relevant to the message, action or lesson you want to get across. A single obscure point within the story isn’t enough to create proper support – find a story that’s clearly relational from beginning to end, and make sure that it connects to the goal you want to achieve.

If you have to explain how the whole thing ties together at the end, go back and try again. It’s not quite right yet.

Maintain the Interest

There are some really boring stories out there. No, seriously. They lack conflict, or the characters are dull, or the writing doesn’t provide good mental imagery, or dialogue sounds stilted, or it’s unemotional and plain. It’s just… a boring story.

Storytelling uses a few basic elements: a beginning, a conflict, a climax, an end. If one of those is missing, it isn’t a story – it’s just the description of an event.

There are also basic ingredients you need to use to write a good story. You need to set the scene, introduce the characters, show the conflict, build anticipation, and create a theme, for example. Learn about the elements of a good story, and practice writing creative fiction as much as you practice copywriting to develop and blend your skills together.

You’ll be able to make magic in no time.

Watch the Length

Too short a story and readers aren’t sure what just happened. Too long a story, and they get impatient or bored, or they get drawn into the story and led down a path so long they forget there was a point to all this in the first place.

Avoid overlong descriptions, going into too much detail, getting off track on tangents that don’t hold up the main goal or skimping on the good parts. Learn to find the right balance that lets you hook readers in and know what to cut because it isn’t necessary to hold their interest.

A good rule of thumb for blending storytelling with copywriting? No more than 50% story; otherwise the tale dilutes your main purpose and detracts from your goals.

Stick to What’s Important

Interest, support, relevance, purpose… all these are critical to using storytelling in your copywriting in an effective, efficient manner. It comes down to this:

Keep what you need. Everything else? Cut.

That’s the hardest part of storytelling – knowing what to keep that helps contributes to your goal and figuring out what’s just fluff and filler that bogs down the purpose. A good yarn can tie everything together beautifully, but too much yarn and you just have one big, tangled knot.

So with each paragraph you write, ask yourself, “Does this contribute to the message? Does this help me achieve my goal?” If the answer is yes, then great. Go for it. But if you could remove that sentence, that paragraph, or that section and still maintain the integrity and emotional impact of the piece, take it out.

You’d be surprised how much more effective your story becomes in helping you reach your copywriting goals when the whole piece is nice and tight.

How about you? Do you use storytelling techniques in your business copywriting? Which stories get you the best results and reactions? Or do you struggle with using storytelling, or think you have no stories to tell?

Want to learn how to write a story so sticky, it goes viral?

Dan and Chip Heath give you all you need to know in their bestselling book, Made to Stick. It's a must-have for writers – and a favourite of ours. Get your copy today.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.