How to Write Stories that Sell
When I graduated from university, nobody knew what to do with me. I’d spent three years studying Creative Writing. Everyone thought it was a useless degree. Nobody – not my university’s career advisors, or my peers, or even I – realised that I’d just spent years studying one of the most powerful marketing tools there is: storytelling.
You see, storytelling makes the world go ‘round.
Nothing sums that up better than Apple’s classic 1984 advert…
In the advert, Big Brother represents the control of the few over the many. A young woman runs down a corridor and breaks Big Brother’s screen, shattering his control. The young woman represents Apple, who wanted to make computers available to the masses. Here’s a full video explanation:
Apple’s storytelling-centric approach to marketing has continued throughout the years with adverts such as the Crazy Ones, Mac vs PC, and Steve Jobs’s iconic introduction to the iPod: “1,000 songs in your pocket”.
Some of their adverts (such as 1984), don’t even include images of their products. But that’s ok, because they’re memorable. You’re much more likely to research a new product or service yourself if a company’s marketing sticks in your head.
But how do you incorporate storytelling into your brand?
Whether someone is buying a product for themselves or for their business, it’s ultimately going to be emotion that drives their decision. Sure, the right price helps, but if a customer doesn’t feel that the company is on the same wavelength as them, they’re far less likely to invest their time and money.
What your product is – and what stories you tell around it – will affect what emotions you invoke and how much money your potential customer is willing to spend.
Yep, I said it – the quality of the story that you tell will affect how much people are willing to spend.
If people see you and your product as soulless, they’re less likely to create an emotional connection even if your product is amazing. This means that as soon as a competitor comes along with a better product and story-centric marketing, you’ll lose customers. Fast.
Whether you’re B2B or B2C, the person on the other end is still just that: a person. They’re just as prone to make irrational, emotional purchases as you or I. I’ve bought many a dress when I’ve needed an emotional pick-me-up, and because I already felt down, it wasn’t the dress’s price tag that mattered to me: it was how it made me feel. Was it cute? Check. Did it suit my figure? Check. Would it go with a leather jacket? Perfect.
How to add more story to your sales
Start with the problem you solve
In the words of Andrew and Pete, you should make your users feel ‘happier and smarter’ with your content. Your product or service should make them feel exactly the same.
For example, my book, Productivity for Writers, aims to make people feel happier because they have more time to write, and smarter because they know how to better manage their time.
My fiction books, meanwhile, help people to feel happier because they can escape reality for a little while, and there’s a little bit of making people smarter, too, as they help to raise awareness on issues such as mental health, disability, relationships, and entrepreneurship.
Once you know the problem that you solve (and you should know this before you even start), you can create your content with that at its centre.
If you’re struggling, put your product or service (or signature product or service) in the middle of a mind map, and write down the different ways it helps people.
Make your customer the hero of their journey
The Hero’s Journey is seen as THE way to structure a story. This has, of course, led to rebels who think that they can deviate from this. And you know what? Of course you can. Rules are made to be broken. But you can only break rules effectively if you first learn them inside out.
The Hero’s Journey goes like this: you have a protagonist. He or she is called on a mission. They may or may not want to do it, but then something happens, and they end up going on said mission (willingly or otherwise). There are challenges and temptations, things look like they’re going great…then everything goes wrong. It looks like the villain has won. But then, the lessons that your hero has learnt along the way come into play. They use that knowledge to turn everything around and win the day!
Things can also go the opposite way and your hero loses everything at the end, but that ending won’t help you to sell anything.
When you’re writing copy, your customer avatar should be the hero of your story. Your product or service is the magical amulet or spell that helps them to save the day.
Stop making it all about you – make it about your customer
I’ve heard so many indie authors sulk because their book isn’t an Amazon bestseller. And every single one of those indie authors cares more about themselves than their readers. ‘Why isn’t my book selling? 🙁 It’s awesome. I don’t get it,‘ they say. And that’s the problem with a lot of writers – they’re so cooped up with their characters that they forget that there’s a big wide world out there, and most of it doesn’t care.
Your attitude comes across in your writing every. Time. So if your writing doesn’t reflect your attitude – or reflects badly on you – it’s time to rethink.
People WILL judge you based on the way that you write. As soon as you play the ‘woe is me’, nobody likes me card, you’ll lose people.
If you haven’t read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, go read it RIGHT NOW. Even if you’ve read parts of it online or listened via one of those apps that sums up the main points of a book, you should still read the full book. You’ll get way more out of it.
It’s not my favourite book, but the lessons in it are irrefutable. Your customer avatar should always be at the centre of everything that you do. It should never, EVER, be about you.
Whether it’s a blog post, sales copy, or an email, it should be about your target audience first and foremost. If there isn’t some sort of takeaway for them at the end, you’re doing it wrong.
There are no ifs, buts, maybes, exceptions, alternatives, or excuses for this one. If your copy is about you and doesn’t tell your customer avatar how awesome you can make them, they’re not going to care.
Whether you’re B2B or B2C, product or service based, private or public sector, you need to trigger emotions in your users in order to encourage them to act. If someone goes, ‘Yeah, OK,’ they’re not going to convert.
This is something I had issues with in my content for a LONG time. My fiction and poetry is deeply emotional, but it’s a lot harder for people to work out what’s real and what isn’t in fiction and poetry. In nonfiction, it’s pretty clear what I really think and feel. That’s scary. But, over time, I’ve come to realise that it’s my tough-love hold-no-punches attitude that people like. (Well, some people.)
Some of my most popular posts have had titles like, ‘You’re Not Bored, You’re Directionless’, ‘Stop Romanticising Your Writing Career’, and ‘Your Copywriting Sucks. Here’s How to Fix it’. These are all controversial titles that are blunt and to-the-point, just like I am in real life.
Sharing your emotions is scary. But if you want to trigger emotions in your user, it’s important to share your own first.
Share your hopes, dreams, fears, and losses with your audience. It’s when I’m most raw and honest with my readers that I get the best (and often biggest) reactions, and the same applies to you, too.
Keep it simple
I’m not having any of this ‘keep it simple, stupid’ malarkey. By using it, you insult yourself and whomever you share that acronym with. Not to mention it isn’t difficult to remember one word: SIMPLE.
Think like Compare the Market’s meerkats instead: ‘Simples’.
(Isn’t that so much cuter?!)
Your language should be simple. Always. I don’t care what you’re selling. KEEP IT SIMPLE. Pretty please?
There is always a way to explain a complex product or service in a simple way. You just need to find it.
Metaphors can be particularly useful for this, especially if you work in technology.
Enjoy what you write
I’ve met copywriters who find writing copy akin to selling their soul.
And yet…they do it anyway.
They also don’t make a huge amount of money writing copy.
It’s no surprise, really.
We put more effort and time into things that we enjoy. That’s why I studied writing at university for so long. Some of my classmates found that studying writing killed their love of it, and they haven’t written since.
When you don’t enjoy writing something, your audience can tell.
Not only that, but if writing something bores you, how can you possibly expect anyone to else to enjoy reading it (let alone purchase what you’re selling)?
Make friends…and enemies
Using phrases like ‘I think’ waters down your message. Of course you think it – you wrote it!
It’s when you’re outspoken that you find people on your wavelength.
People will disagree with you, but people are also attracted to confidence. The less confidence you convey in your writing, the less confident your customers will be that your product or service is for them.
Confidence, of course, attracts negativity. But negative comments are a sign that you’re doing something right.
One of my university lecturers once said that the worst feedback is no feedback, and I couldn’t agree more.
Even if people criticise you, at least they’re actually paying attention to you. If they don’t like what you’re doing and they’re not part of your target audience, does it really matter if they criticise you? Not only that, but their criticism may help your target audience to find you. While not quite all bad publicity is good publicity, all publicity does help with brand awareness.
The more people you try to please, the harder it is to help anyone.
Nobody will feel happier or smarter from anything you do if you spend all day sat on the fence.
Pick your side, and those who think and feel the same will come.
Kristina Adams is the author of three books (two fiction, one nonfiction), an occasional poet, and a writing and productivity blogger. She has an MA in Creative Writing and a day job as a content marketer. When she’s not writing, she’s thinking about writing, reading, or baking. Her latest book, Productivity for Writers, is out now.