• Stories/Storytelling
  • The 3 necessary elements in a selling story

    All stories needs a beginning, middle and end. Any form of written communication, from blog posts to email copy to stories, should have those three pieces.

    If you’re wondering what to actually write about in the beginning, middle and end, this post by Nick Usbourne outlines the three elements:

    1. The challenge.

    2. The struggle.

    3. The resolution.

    If, for example, you sell a weight loss product, the challenge is losing a certain number of pounds. The struggle would be the difficulties you faced in losing weight and finding an effective weight loss method. The resolution would be the solution that finally worked.

    Quite often a story will be missing one of these three elements. Usually it’s the case where the story is all middle and missing a beginning or ending.

    Be sure to use recent stories too. People long for authenticity and respond better if they know you’re a real human being. If you’re a size two with a successful weight loss product, don’t be afraid to write the occasional story that talks about a current struggle. Don’t always rehash the story about how you lost 50 pounds five years ago and kept it off.

    Keep in mind a good ending/resolution will cause a beginning in the reader. You’ve done your work in delivering your story. Now it’s up to the reader to take the message and run with it, and, in the case of a selling story, purchase your product. Your story will create a new story within the reader.

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  • Email Marketing
  • On protests and copywriting

    As you may know, I live in Wisconsin and there has been significant political turmoil here the past few weeks.

    I’m not going to go into the politics of it in this email, but I want to point out a couple of principles that are also pertinent to marketing and copywriting (from Neighbor Against Neighbor in Wisconsin in Books & Culture):

    In 21st-century America, 70,000 people do not hit the streets in sub-freezing temperatures for political strategy. Policy does not motivate like that anymore. What does motivate is emotion: anger, joy, fear, loathing, celebration, and so on.

    I’ve been a copywriter for almost four years and find I have to regularly remind myself and my clients that what matters most is how you make your clients and prospects feel.  It might seem shallow, but providing how-to content and information, although important, isn’t fully motivating unless the emotions are also engaged.

    From the article again:

    …this conflict remains at heart a local story. It is about the culture of public spaces and public works in a quirky state. It is about who we are, and who we are becoming.

    Most of us in Wisconsin feel part of this larger narrative and have felt compelled to spend some time at the capitol building or other venues to participate in the expression of this story. We sense this is history in the making and being part of it in some tangible way like that is important.

    Your business has a story, too, and the more your clients and prospects can be a tangible part of it, even in small ways, such as through Facebook fan pages and writing a customer review of your product, the more they will trust you and become a repeat customer.

    Emotions. Story. No good protest or marketing campaign can do without them.

  • Email Copywriting
  • Why your emails should be bloody

    I taught a blogging mini-course at the University of Wisconsin this month and one of the things I told the students was, “the more you bleed, the more they’ll read.”

    An email list or blog becomes one-dimensional so quickly when there are no stories.

    Here’s an example of someone who gets it right, in a niche you might not expect:

    Cellist Zoe Keating has prospered online selling 35,000 of her self-produced albums through her website and iTunes.

    She says telling stories and divulging personal information is a key to her success. ““They want to buy my records five times just to support me because of that.”

    “It’s important for me to always be authentic. It’s me on those websites. If I were to use my Twitter account just to publicize things, it wouldn’t be authentic.”

    By the way, she has 1.3 million followers on Twitter.  She didn’t build those followers by giving cello tips (unlike the many marketers who think they have to tweet endless marketing tips – ZZZZZ) but simply by being real. The world doesn’t need another tip, but it can always use another story.

    So when you write an email or blog post, ask yourself if there’s a detail you could add to make it more real, more personal…more bloody, if you will.

    As sportswriter Red Smith once said, “Writing is easy. You just sit down at the typewriter, open up a vein and bleed it out drop by drop.”

  • Email Copywriting
  • Do you hide your money in your socks?

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic

    When I was a kid I LOVED playing Monopoly.

    There was a strategy I would use that would completely demoralize my opponents – usually my brother and neighborhood boys – but always resulted in my win.

    And the occasional overturned table (my wins didn’t always go over well).

    Throughout the game, when nobody was looking, I would stash some of my money in my socks (fortunately tube socks were “in” back then).

    Then, late in the game, when I would have to pay rent on a high end property, and my opponent started rubbing his hands together with excitement because it looked like I was too low in funds to pay, I would nonchalantly whip out a stash of $500s and $100s.

    This was very satisfying to me, of course.

    I didn’t use this strategy every game because I wanted the boys to be on their toes.

    Besides, I had other Monopoly strategies I used as well (maybe I’ll share those in upcoming posts, as they are applicable to business too).

    What are the “money in your socks” aspects of your business?

    I’m not necessarily talking about literal money (although that helps too)… or things that make competitors overturn their tables (although that could be fun too)… but things like:

    * Colleagues you know you can call on at a moment’s notice to get help with a problem.

    * Authors, speakers, bloggers who, when you take a break and spend some time with their material, leave you inspired and energized.

    * A key piece of software or a never-fail strategy that will help your website rise in the rankings past your competitors.

    * An email copywriter on hand who can quick write up some awesome emails for you. 🙂

    If you have anything to add to that list, let me know.

    Wishing you many “money in the socks” moments in your business and the satisfied feelings that come with them.

  • Stories/Storytelling
  • How I once told a persuasive story that drew blood

    As you know, there are many opportunities in your daily life to practice persuasion skills.

    Those of us who are parents have even more opportunities to have to use persuasion.

    Last week I had to take all four of my daughters in for blood draws at the clinic’s lab.

    As you might imagine, they weren’t excited about this, and neither was I. The youngest two (ages 6 and 8 ) had never had a blood draw before so they were even more anxious.

    At first I tried to use hype to lower their resistance.

    “We’ll make it a blood draw party! Treats afterwards!”

    Of course they didn’t fall for that. And you’d think I would’ve known better, being a copywriter.

    Next I decided to tell them a story about how their six-year-old cousin had several vials of blood taken from him last summer and he handled it like a champ, no tears.

    That didn’t lower their resistance either. I guess hearing a story secondhand about someone else’s success isn’t all that interesting. Again, you’d think I would’ve known better.

    I realized I needed to dig deeper and tell a personal story and show them I know what the fear of blood draws is like.

    So I told them about when I was six weeks pregnant with their 14-year-old sister. I had unexpected bleeding and went to the doctor. I marinated in anxiety in the examination room chair, afraid I was having a miscarriage.

    The doctor patted me on the knee and told me he wasn’t going to do an ultrasound because he thought it would be too emotional for me if we couldn’t hear a heartbeat.  He sent me to the lab instead to get a blood draw that would determine whether or not I was still pregnant.

    “How do you think I felt while I was getting a blood draw that would tell me whether or not your sister was still alive?” I asked the girls.

    Their eyes got big as saucers and they hung on every word.

    Then I told them how powerful blood is and how it can tell us so many things about what’s going on inside our bodies.

    They literally started tugging on my arm and begged me to take them to the lab immediately for their blood draws.

    They did this even though I also told them a story about how I once had a blood draw that ultimately gave me bad news. I felt it was important that they know the full score in the event this blood draw, or one in the future, gives them news they’d rather not hear.

    As it turns out, they were very brave during their blood draws. The youngest cried with empathy during her 8-year-old sister’s blood draw but remained stoic during her own.

    Few things are as powerful as a story. This applies to your business as well.

    Many of my clients are unsure of their stories at first or think their stories are too boring. Sometimes I have to really work at pulling their stories out of them.

    If you need help discovering..and telling…the selling stories in your business, check out my A Year of Email Copywriting course.

  • Stories/Storytelling
  • 5 questions to help you uncover your (or your client’s) story

    As you know, your story is an essential part of your sales page and other marketing materials.

    When putting together a sales page, the story ranks right up there with the marketing research information in importance.

    Sometimes it’s difficult to uncover your story because it’s so easy to overlook the details in your life that make for a good story. If you write copy for clients it can also be a challenge to pry a story out of your client.

    This is why it’s helpful to ask questions and play story detective. I start out by scouring the client’s blog, Twitter page and other materials, looking for any details I can use for a story.

    Here are 5 questions I sometimes ask clients if they don’t already have a story for me to write about:

    1. Here was where I was at before I discovered my magic solution:

    2. Here are all the bad things that happened to me before I found the magic solution:

    3. My desperate attempt to find a solution led me down this path:

    4. Here’s how I finally found the solution:

    5. And here is the reason I am now going to share that solution with you:

    If you still don’t get a good story even after asking questions, as a last resort you can write a fictitious one or show a story example from another website. Sometimes this will help remind the client of a story of their own. It’s worth the extra effort it takes to find the selling story beneath the product.

  • Email Copywriting
  • Marketing lesson from a singing janitor

    While leaving a medical appointment at a clinic a couple of months ago, I walked alongside a janitor on my way to the elevator.

    He sang the entire time while carrying his supplies and putting things in order. He’s an older guy so his songs were from a different era and far more pleasant than the usual Top 40 hits piped through speakers.

    We entered the same elevator and he paused to chat with a woman who was exiting the elevator.

    During our elevator ride he spent the entire time telling me what a wonderful woman she is and how he wished he could chat with her in Spanish, her native language. He was generous with his praise even though I didn’t know the woman.

    As we left the elevator he immediately started singing again as he set about his cleaning tasks.

    I was only with him for about 30 seconds so there was no chance to ask him how long he’s worked there or get any details about his life.

    Even though he didn’t say a word about himself,  those 30 seconds in his presence told me volumes about him.

    Normally when passing people in a hallway at a medical clinic you usually don’t give them more than a moment’s attention and you certainly don’t remember them two months later. The same is true of most websites.

    When people drop by your website you probably have no longer than 30 seconds to make an impression before they move in.

    Are you like the singing janitor and stand out from the crowd by being different and by NOT blabbing endlessly about yourself or your product?

    Do you leave them with the desire to learn more about you and your story?

  • Email Copywriting
  • Marketing and storytelling lessons from QVC

    QVC, the ultimate home shopping network, succeeds in persuading people to buy products they can’t see or touch.

    Even perfume.

    So I think there are a few copywriting lessons here for you.

    According to The Atlantic’s story about QVC this month, each QVC host receives six months of training because they must master the details of dozens of products.

    Here’s quick video of how they sell perfume on television:

    How do they make perfume appear so desirable on TV?

    “The answer is that you tell a story—a story about the viewer, and the product’s place in her life.”

    QVC hosts usually work in teams, which fosters an “over the backyard fence” atmosphere.

    “The model is less a sales pitch than a coffee klatch where friends trade tips on hot new products.”

    Here’s how a host describes a pair of earrings:

    “It’s almost like they’re coins you’ve been collecting for years, and you had them made into jewelry.” She beamed at the camera. “There’s a very Aztec feel.”

    In addition to the stories, the hosts succeed in making you feel like you’re having a conversation with them. QVC fans talk about the hosts as if they are their friends.

    How can you create this “over the fence atmosphere” in your business?

    Consider making videos where there are two people conversing about the product.

    Also, email and social media give you opportunities to be conversational.

    Granted, QVC sells products that are largely status items to an audience that is mostly female and your business may be nothing like that.

    But QVC is a reminder to every marketer that storytelling and building relationships with your customers is what it’s about, regardless of your product or niche.

  • Email Copywriting
  • 5 types of stories to use in email copy

    An email copywriter is, essentially, a storyteller.

    My clients will usually ask me something like, “Write me stories like that one you wrote on your blog/list about the old lady in the grocery store.”

    They almost never say, “Write me 7 killer tips about affiliate marketing” even if they have an affiliate marketing product.

    Stories are memorable. The reader probably forgets whatever marketing tip was at the end of the story but they remember the actual story.

    It’s through the stories that some serious relationship-building can happen too.

    Obviously it all depends on your own list and your niche but I’ve had clients in niches as diverse as how to teach your child the Nigerian language, family law, internet marketing and muscle cars and stories seem to work across the board.

    Even if the client wants a 7 part series on, say, SEO, I’m able to include stories. I mix it up, of course, and often use a mix of these 5 types of stories during the course of a series:

    1.) First person story – a story about you, like, “While I was at the driving range the other day…”

    2.) Third person story – such as telling a story about a customer’s experience with your product.

    3.) Metaphor – a metaphor is a mini story that succinctly summarizes a benefit or problem in a sentence or two. Gary Bencivenga says that if you master metaphors you’ll be one of the most persuasive people on the planet. A metaphor example: “A burst of energy just hit me like a train carrying 10 tons of espresso.

    4.) Analogy/Extended Metaphor – open with a description of a current news item, movie, book, etc. and transition
    into the how-to tip/product promo.

    5.) An “imagine story”– Tell a story of an ideal situation or fantasy and then show how your product will help make that a reality.

    The less an email reads like a how-to article or a sales letter, the better.

  • Email Copywriting
  • How to add Breakfast Club moments to your business

    Today we will discuss the power of the Breakfast Club story and how to add Breakfast Club moments to your business.

    The movie came out in 1985 and is about five high school kids who have to spend a Saturday in detention together.

    On the surface, the kids each fit a certain stereotype and seem very different from each other: a criminal, athlete, princess, basket case and brain.

    The movie made such a powerful impact on us Gen Xers at the time because the movie understood us. It perfectly portrayed what high school life was like.

    If you’ve never seen the movie, click here to watch a trailer.

    It’s almost impossible to discuss the movie without asking, “Which Breakfast Club character were you in high school?”

    For the record, I was a mix of Anthony Michael Hall (brain/dork) and Ally Sheedy (basket case) in high school.

    In addition to making us feel understood, the movie helped us understand others.

    There are many moments throughout the movie where the characters let down their guard and talk about the pain beneath their facades. One even felt empathy toward Bender, the loser/criminal character, when he showed everyone the cigar burn on his arm from his father.

    The movie also me feel empathy toward the bullies I knew in high school.

    At the end of the movie, the brain character writes an essay in which he says that all five of them realized, at the end of the detention, that all of them are a combination of the princess, criminal, brain, athlete and basket case. They are all more alike than they ever would have guessed.

    Or as the Emilio Estevez character said, “We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it.”

    So what does this have to do with your online business?

    The relationship the Breakfast Club characters were able to develop with each other on that day never could have been planned.

    Like all such experiences, it happened spontaneously.

    Obviously you can’t get your clients and prospects together in a detention hall and spend a day listening to them.

    But when your clients and prospects spontaneously contact you through email and social media, they will sometimes reveal things to you that you never would have thought to ask yourself.

    Quite often what they will say to you has nothing to do with you or your product and sometimes it will be negative.

    Instead of dismissing what they say, you should treat it like a Breakfast Club moment.  The more you show  you understand them and have empathy, the more effective your marketing campaigns and product development will be.

    For more about that I suggest you read my other posts about listening.

    Finally, when writing email copy, include occasional Breakfast Club moments of your own, where you are transparent and tell a story about yourself and connect with your prospects on a human level.

    No one wants to read one sales pitch after another and constant chest-thumping. How-to information is useful but too much of it is just makes people feel overwhelmed, especially if it’s not immediately applicable to them.

    Like Claire in the Breakfast club, who overcame her embarrassment and showed them all her unique way of putting on lipstick, let them see a different side of you sometimes.


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