In our last post on the subject of lifting conversions with copywriting, we briefly touched on the fact that copywriters can learn a lot from fiction writers. Although worlds apart, they both do extremely well when they wear their hearts on their sleeves. The use of things like emotion and passion can help entrepreneurs connect with their target audiences on a deeper level, enabling them to dispel objections and fears.
And with that, selling your products and services becomes super simple. It’s a less pushy approach, replaced by a much more human one, endlessly seeking connection and understanding.
Well, now it’s time to dive a little bit more in depth into the aspect of fiction, by detailing how you can kick your copywriting up a notch by employing the use of persuasive storytelling. This can be in the form of embellishments, which creative writers are known to do for the sake of fantastical storytelling, or it can even be based entirely in truth, relying solely on the use of skillful language.
Whichever road you decide to take is fine, but remember, it’s all about finding the right combination of elements that works for your brand and your audience.
Let’s get started.
Storytelling Meets Marketing
To start, focus on everything you enjoy on an average day that involves storytelling in some way. Maybe you start the day off by reading a chapter in a book, before getting ready for the day and listening to an audio book in the car on the way to work. Maybe you read more at lunch, or browse news, maybe catch up on social media. And once you get home, you relax with your favorite show, movie, or video game.
That’s a lot of writing.
Every single one of those things involved at least one writer sitting down and creating everything from the characters, the plot twists, perhaps even the setting, assuming it’s set in a fictional land.
Well, what if I told you that each one of those stories―because in essence that’s what they are―takes a certain amount of persuasion to keep you coming back, and convert you into a fan?
Take anything written by classic authors, for example. Let’s choose H.P. Lovecraft. His works have inspired video games (Bloodborne), movies (The Thing), and much, much more. But… why? What makes his stories so good? What makes us support the heroes on their quests, or keep coming back to learn more about Eldritch horrors?
On one hand, it really is about sheer quality writing, and good story elements, sure. But on the other hand, it’s because usually the hero of the story is on a quest for something he really wants, and that’s something we can all relate to in some way.
In the case of Lovecraft stories, it's not so much heroes as anti-heros, thanks to the Great Old Ones and the entire Cthulhu Mythos. It’s more about wanting to know more about something kind of forbidden. After all, whenever any of the characters begins to understand what lies beyond their perceived reality, their minds deteriorate.
So, to make sure you’re still with me, this is where we are:
Most entertainment involves writing in some way.
It takes persuasion to keep people coming back for more.
And even more so to get them to convert into fans.
For something to become popular, it needs to be high quality…
But it should also be relatable.
Or at the very least super intriguing, playing on something forbidden, or otherwise spooky. Maybe even dangerous. But of course, it all depends on your audience, your industry, and market (many variables).
What does this have to do with marketing?
Simple: all of these bullet points can be translated into marketing. Using persuasion to tell stories that sell your goods and services is perhaps one of the smartest things you could ever do in business. It’s a more human approach, a relatable one that celebrates connection, rather than being pushy.
For instance, maybe you’re making entertaining YouTube videos. Your scripting process is all about keeping your audience hooked until the end of the video. And to do that, you employ the use of persuasion to get them to subscribe. Of course, this means your videos are high quality, and that you connect with your audience on a human level. You know them, and they know you.
Or, for instance, take skydiving instructors. That’s a huge risk―skydiving. You could land in a tree, your parachute might not deploy, anything could happen. There’s a real sense of danger, and for a lot of people that’s intriguing. Playing on that, much like Lovecraft plays on the sense of celestial, forbidden unknowns, is bound to appeal to your target audience. Tack on a little persuasion to that, and you have yourself a pretty niche, focused, and compelling marketing campaign.
Developing Your Plot
In case you haven’t put it together yet, your storytelling meets marketing moment should start with your own business origin story. You know, the stuff you hopefully have typed up under your about page, or brand mission and values section.
Maybe you’re an artist, and you sell your own work after spending all of your life sketching, digitally designing, painting, etc. Your story began as a child, growing up seeing other people shuck their creativity for more logical, techy, lucrative things. Everyone told you to never be an artist, because you’d die of starvation.
But you stuck to your guns, because that’s what you wanted to do (this is the relatable moment). And you kept practicing, kept making art, until finally, you decided to open up your very own physical shop, which gave way to an ecommerce website, and a huge presence on social media.
You did something, you believed in yourself, you went after what you wanted, and now you get to create art that celebrates individuality and human desire. Your audience loves your work, and relates to your story. You are the icon for anyone who loves art and loves to go against the grain.
That’s just an example, but whatever your story is, it’s still applicable.
To start, define who your hero is. Maybe it’s you, or maybe… it’s your favorite client. What problem did you help them solve and how did that transform their life? How did you transform your life with your own decision?
What is the internal transformation, and how is that reflected externally?
Once you have the answers, have the hero recognize the problem, having worked out what he/she desires, effectively using the element of relatability.
This transformational journey should end with your hero feeling much more positive about their situation, having gained x, y, and z that has changed their day to day for the better.
But a word of caution: although you can certainly be the hero of your own journey story, it tends to come off a little pushy at times, depending on several variables, but mainly the tone you take on in your copy. A safer approach is to take on the role of guide to your clients, and singling out your client/customer as the lead character. By helping this customer, you are still in the story in a huge, impactful way, but you’re not egotistical about needing to be the main focus.
Before moving right along, here are some helpful tips:
To create persuasive content, describe the process you go through with your clients/customers.
Describe how you work, and what you deliver.
Let them know how they will feel at the end of the journey.
Use your homepage to summarize the transformational journey.
Your business plot should be your company story, as previously stated.
The use of testimonials to further prove your customer experiences within the journey is beyond valuable. This means your business should be increasingly growing and gaining enough momentum to gather organic testimonials and reviews. If you need help with this, try reading my guide on growth hacking.
Persuasive Writing Tips
I could sit here for weeks on end telling you the various ways you could add the element of persuasion to your writing, but instead, I’ve categorized them into five major tips. This keeps things efficient, and keeps you from getting overloaded with information.
We’ve all heard how powerful imagination is. We imagine ourselves living with something we deeply desire, and it makes us want that thing, or experience, that much more. In my case, I see myself using the latest in techy gadgets. The minute a new phone or computer model hits the market, I’m there. And every single time I see it in person, each second I hold it in my hand, my desire to make it a part of my daily life increases.
And companies know that, so the second a new gen device hits the shelves, you’ll find copy that uses sensory wording, such as “vibrant photos” and “crisp and clear display.”
#2 Mini Stories
Imagine for a second that you’re back in college and the English professor hands you all a copy of Migel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Your homework: finish all 967 pages and a 10-page paper by the end of the week.
That’s daunting, even for the most voracious of readers, especially tacking on a pretty sizable paper.
That is the feeling that most prospects get when you type up a massive brand story. The sheer time consumption of that makes them want to click back fast.
But mini stories lower barriers to sales messages, mainly because they’re short enough to read all the way through, without hesitation. This allows people to get caught up in the story, transported to a different world, so to speak. And presto, your sales message slips right in, under the radar.
#3 Use Sound Bites
Think rhymes, because they’re catchy, and surprisingly memorable. There’s a great pleasure in repetition that makes readers and listeners alike fall in love with a story. When things come full circle, or when history repeats itself, or even just when the same elements keep popping up here and there, that makes for some excited audience members.
If you’re stumped on this one, don’t fret too much, it doesn’t need to read like poetry. Simply ending two sentences with the same word is enough. For instance “Not just a crisper image. A better image.”
#4 Show Don’t Tell
Think of your five senses: hearing, touching, smelling, tasting, and seeing. These are verbs, actions. When you describe a new scent as part of a perfume product launch, it should convey a sense of smell, and perhaps even taste. Maybe fruity flavors of papaya and mango, infused with a sweet kiss of coconut, topped with a generous, sumptuous helping of sweet strawberries.
Notice, I didn’t tell you that the perfume smell was a mixture of papaya, mango, coconut and strawberries. I showed you a huge helping of sugary strawberries, a piece of coconut at the lips, and maybe a whole tray of papaya and mango on a table.
Showing people allows them to experience the story, pick up details and actions. Telling them something speeds everything up and eliminates the details that make your story come to life.
#5 Using Numbers
As it turns out, readers love to fixate on numbers, and the way you portray them will detail just how information gets processed. For instance, when it comes to product weight and size, they want real, factual numbers, written as numerals. However, when a number is spelled out within the context of a paragraph, it loses its impact.
For instance, if I said less than half of American adults drink soda on a daily basis, it’s not very impactful. But if I said 48 percent of U.S. adults drink at least one glass of soda per day, then that gets your mind going. Notice, the use of a real percentage, and more details about the sheer quantity of soda on a regular basis, turned that message around to make it punchy.
For reference, you should be using digits for all numbers, unless it’s one or two. For huge numbers, do a mixture, such as 9.6 million.
Features & Benefits
Odds are you’ve been in a situation where you were extremely excited about something, and talked someone’s ear off. Only, the person you spoke to had no clue what you were saying.
This happened to me the other day, when I went on a giant tangent about music. You see, I’m very knowledgeable about the subject, and I listen to music more often than not, unless I’m watching TV, or playing a game. To me, music is just one of those things that I am ever, always obsessed with, and that includes finding out little facts and trivia about artists and the song creation process.
Well, the friend I was speaking to was, let’s say not very excited about the conversation. He is not at all knowledgeable about music in the same way I am, so whatever I was saying was falling flat. Things I would have been floored about, things I would have had a lot to say in response to, fell by the wayside.
And so by the time I was done rambling on, I felt like my time could have been better used speaking to a wall.
Was it my friends fault for not learning a thing or two about music? Not at all. To each their own, and all that. But it was definitely my fault for taking on a very advanced approach with someone who is at best in their toddler phase of musical knowledge.
The same goes with your audience. You’re likely very excited about your business, very passionate, or at least you should be. Imagine that when you spoke to a prospect who needed guidance and some more information about your goods and services, you took on a very advanced approach. Instead of easing them into the information, or gauging where they were at in terms of experience, you went full throttle and scared them off.
Well, that’s exactly what you should avoid doing. Otherwise, you’d only be working with experienced people, and that limits your market. It doesn’t allow you to help those with less experience, or become as popular of a brand. Furthermore, those you scare off will likely badmouth you because you made them feel less than adequate.
People are sensitive that way.
So, to avoid putting people off and gaining a bad rep in the media, make sure that you tell readers what is in it for them. Aside from all the bells and whistles (features), you need to list off benefits.
It’s simple, really. Features are based in facts. They make your brand credible, trustworthy, but they mean nothing if the person you’re speaking to has no clue what it is you’re saying. That’s why telling them how these things come together to impact their lives for the better matters. Giving them a reason to buy, because their lives are improved as a result is a huge motivation.
If you’re wondering how to do this, there’s an even simpler approach―keep asking “So what?” until you can’t anymore.
“The fan is silent, despite running just as fast as any other high quality fan.”
“That means it’s quickly going to cool your room.”
“Yeah, so what?”
“Life is less stressful. There’s less time spent in uncomfortably warm rooms.”
The Five Benefits to Highlight
Now that we’ve highlighted the angle you should always take when discussing features and benefits, it’s time to focus on the five main benefits that truly make an impact in any marketing campaign. Your funnel, landing pages, conversion rates, advertisements (Google or Facebook), and testing will thank you as a result.
Consider these the things that we need to survive. Food, water, shelter, clothing (before you argue this one because cavemen wore next to nothing, consider your environment and how much clothing would come in handy in the northern circumpolar region of eastern Siberia, where the Eskimo people are).
Most people would call these essentials, needs rather than mere wants. Sure, we want fries, but our bodies need food to thrive and survive, so it goes beyond your tastebuds.
Water may be plain, but your body will literally fight you if you don’t have enough of it. Go long enough without it, and it will specifically make you crave water sooner rather than later.
And ask any homeless person on the street how much shelter would come in handy, and you’ll get a pretty intense response. Shelters allow us to own things, to live peacefully, in the comfort and privacy of our own homes. Without it, we’re subject to the harsh elements and pollution.
That means companies that pander to the physiological, like Hello Fresh, Tyson Foods, Fiji water, SmartWater, Redfin Real Estate, and Zillow, have a strong business foundation. They are seen as leaders in providing essentials. The only thing that keeps them from becoming monopolies is that they have stiff competition. There are many brands that provide the same goods and services―some for a lower price.
Speaking of which, what about designer clothing? Clothes may be a need, but is there an actual need for high-priced designer products, or is that just a want? Well, look at it this way: physiologically speaking, your body needs clothing to be protected from the elements, but on a social scale, it also needs to be at least decently stylish if you want to be perceived in a positive light. More than a skin-deep need, designer products are about self-esteem, a sense of belonging, and even self-actualization, all of which we’ll touch on in a second.
This illustrates how well you can connect your benefits list. Depending on what it is you’re selling, it may be super easy to highlight all of these benefits, seamlessly connecting them to one another. And ideally, that’s the goal. But it won’t always work out that way. There are many variables, the biggest one being what it is you’re actually selling.
#2 Safety & Security
Think anything that involves protection against threat and danger. Things like disease, poor health, malnutrition, or even other human beings.
Companies like Nest do exceptionally well because they connect customer homes seamlessly with all the security devices they sell. Every new addition just adds one more layer of security and convenience. You can see who’s at the door without getting up off the couch, you can set your alarm system, or use a digital lock, or set your thermostat, all easily and conveniently.
It’s almost like it sells itself, really, since it’s advertising protection against home invasions, fires, and even small little mysteries like who stole the last cookie from the jar.
Of course, there’s also the other side of this, which is the more human one: illness. Companies that advertise themselves as protectors against sun damage, or obesity, do well because people naturally want to avoid getting sick.
And that goes for skin deep products too. We tend to associate yellow teeth with disease and poor dental health, so whitening products fly off shelves. We dislike dry hair because it signals that there’s damage from the elements (hello sun), so products like hair masks and serums are always top sellers.
#3 Love & A Sense of Belonging
That’s right, because even those with cold, cold hearts want to be loved. Everyone wants to feel like they belong, even if it’s within their own small circle of friends.
That means that depending on your market, you should be able to provide this feeling. And it won’t always be in an expected way.
For example, dating apps and services like eHarmony are in the business of helping people find love with compatible matches. They are in the business of love.
But how about gyms and fitness programs? They’re in the business of getting people healthy, sure, but they’re also aiming to help people feel like they belong. When you first step foot in a gym, it feels awkward. It feels like you’re out of place. That confidence and sense of belonging only comes from weeks or months of hard work and dedication, making it a mission to go to the gym on a regular basis, pickup up tips and tricks along the way. You improve and feel more comfortable with each passing day.
And you know what? Unexpectedly, you also start loving yourself a lot more as a result. It’s bound to happen, seeing all the positive changes to your body, feeling proud about your accomplishments, etc.
#4 Self-Esteem & Awareness
This includes confidence, recognition from others, status within society, respect from others, and your self-awareness. How you feel about yourself, how you come across within society, and how people see you.
Say for example, that you sell men’s grooming products. Aftershave, shaving cream, men’s beard balm, some face wash. Will using your products clear up enough dirt and grime (and hair) to make a man feel confident in his own skin? Will they get recognition from others in the form of compliments? Will other men respect them for it?
Perhaps more importantly, how will your customers feel about themselves thanks to your grooming products? Maybe they’ll feel and look more put together, so they’ll get treated differently for it.
Anytime your products can sway people for the better, it’s a winning scenario. Use it to your advantage.
Here’s a term we surprisingly don’t hear enough of in society, despite most people seeking it in their lives. Self-actualization is the realization of one’s own fulfillment; it’s when someone reaches their full potential.
Most people want that. Or at least dream about reaching that point.
To be self-actualized, someone needs to accept themselves as they are, lead with realistic expectations, carry on in a very problem-centered way (ex. focused on solving issues), and be very independent, among many other traits. For instance, freedom and creative fulfilment are aspects of self-actualization.
This is a huge benefit for most people, if your product or service can somehow make them one step closer to self-actualization. They will feel like they have something figured out, like they’re doing something positive in their lives, taking responsibility and doing something worthwhile.
That’s not a common feeling. Most people are just trying to make it through the day, their giant to-do lists, meet their deadlines, run their errands. Anytime that you can provide a different, positive feeling of accomplishment, that’s a good thing.
If you’re wondering how you can highlight benefits in a way that doesn’t involve blatantly telling people everything they need to know in very long-winded content, remember that keywords are your friend. Not only can the right verbiage deliver a vivid image, and solution, it can also help boost your SEO. So, don’t be afraid to try things out. If you’re wondering if it’s paying off, use Google Analytics to gain some insight.
And take it up a notch. Use those keywords in places you wouldn’t expect, like a chatbot, or an influencer. Give them a list of the things you’d ideally love if they said. This may not help your SEO or anything, but it will convey a certain feeling, or reaction from your audience.
Fiction writers are onto something in terms of persuasion. They know how to craft stories that hook readers and keep them coming back for more. They use relatable heroes, compelling plots, and a very strong grasp of the human condition to convey a message that effectively sells.
And although copywriting and creative writing are completely different, this is a lesson both can benefit from.
By basing your marketing campaign on persuasive storytelling, you open yourself up to a thriving online community, one that can’t wait for your next email, or lead magnet. You make press coverage easy as well, providing a compelling story that most journalists would want to share, assuming there’s some exciting news tacked on to it. Your CTAs would light up, your landing pages would hit home, and your SEO would be right on point. Networking would become a breeze, because your content would be so exceptional, others in your market would want to be a part of it, or at the very least, learn a thing or two from you.
And those are just some of the perks of incorporating persuasive storytelling elements into your marketing.
If you’ve been trying to build up your brand, market yourself on YouTube and Instagram, or link build and prove that you have what it takes to lead a popular business, then this is the perfect way to start on your path. Paired with lead generation, you could conquer the world.
But of course, there’s a lot of work involved. If for any reason you feel you lack the skill, patience, or time to get this task done, don’t fret. You can always outsource the work to a copywriter, or better yet, hire a digital marketing consultant to steer you in the right direction. They’re often well connected, and employ copywriters that could help.
So, what aspect of persuasive storytelling most surprised you, and why?
Let me know in the comments section below, I love hearing from you all!