Once upon a time, there were two copywriting philosophies. The first philosophy was sales copy: it was direct, logical and purchase-focused. The second philosophy was storytelling, which by contrast, was indirect, emotional and narrative-focused. These two philosophies lived side-by-side, and yet they couldn’t have been more different.
Brand storytelling is powerful. It transports us into a different time, place or context. It changes how our brains respond and hold on to information. And it appeals to our nature as social creatures. Here’s how a good, honest brand story differs from shiny sales copy.
Sales copy and storytelling: peas from opposite ends of the pod.
Sales copy and storytelling share similar – but not identical – goals. Both aim to encourage the customer to take action. But where sales copy is persuasive and rooted in psychological/emotional triggers such as fear, sadness or the pursuit of success, storytelling takes readers on a gentle journey through the use of metaphors and imagery, evoking empathy and emotion. Storytelling allows the customer to come to a conclusion by themselves.
A story well-told is just as effective at provoking action as sales copy, but the method – and the residual feeling – are rather different. Observe the difference in flow of these contrasting approaches:
Name the problem
Agitate the problem
Offer a solution
Describe the struggle
Come to a resolution
Your customer’s brain on storytelling
From their prevalence in childhood, it should come as no surprise that stories have a profound effect on both our brains and our behavior. When you combine facts with narrative, you appeal to both logic and emotion. As we read or listen to stories, we produce oxytocin – the trust hormone – a neurochemical that encourages us to feel empathy and form connections. We use the same parts of our brain that we would use if we were actually experiencing the events for ourselves.
Needless to say, when you’re trying to influence your customers’ buying decisions, being able to influence them emotionally is key. All good copy should touch on emotions; facts and reason alone are not enough to impact the subconscious. But stories enable the customer’s subconscious mind to see your product or solution in a different way, using visual and sensory details to help them imagine its application in their own lives.
Stories are memorable, contagious and humanizing
Stories aid your customers’ ability to remember your brand and your product, since facts are easier to recall if they’re enmeshed in a story. Storytelling provides context for your ideas, like painting a picture instead of writing a bullet-point list.
One of the best things about stories – and what makes them so much more effective than your average sales pitch – is their ability to travel. Rarely will you hear someone say, “Wow! You’re never going to believe the product description I just read!” Even if it was persuasive, it can be hard to recreate the magic.
On the other hand, we are masters at passing down stories – as we did for years before pen and paper became readily available. Storytelling gives us an opportunity to recreate and embellish inspiring, unbelievable or amusing tales in our own words – and our audience will likely be more receptive.
If you run an ecommerce business, for example, there are few skills more valuable than being a master storyteller. Why? Because consumers are loyal to brands, not businesses.
How do you build an online brand worth following? You find ways to humanize your business, beyond being a simple service provider. Storytelling creates trust – and trust makes people more likely to shop with you. With ecommerce marketing, it’s easy to hide behind a comfortable digital veneer, but in reality, the more you understand and interact with your customers, the more devoted they will become.
Telling your own brand story
What kinds of stories do customers want to hear? Here are five examples to get you started:
● Your founding story
● Your company and its values
● How and why your product offering came about
● How your product is made (if applicable)
● How you’ve helped others
But it doesn’t have to stop there. Good storytelling is all about being imaginative – within reason. You should never imply that your offering is capable of something that it’s not. It’s key to work with realistic scenarios and include lots of detail to bring the story to life. We know that storytelling is powerful, but to tell stories effectively is an art in itself. Use the following five techniques to hook your reader:
● Keep to the point – It’s not a novel submission. You’re still writing with the aim of converting customers and growing a commercial following. Get your points across succinctly
● Have a beginning, a middle, and an end – The best stories have a satisfying narrative arc that takes the reader on a journey from start to finish, with a clear takeaway (or more traditionally, a clear moral)
● Make it relatable – When you’re describing a situation, ensure the customer can put themselves in the protagonist’s shoes
● Use humor – If appropriate. You don’t want to overdo it: there’s a thin line between witty and waspish. But used well, it can make your story more appealing and enjoyable, which is never a bad thing
● Include images – Stories allow you to paint a picture, but you don’t have to rely solely on words. Graphics, photographs, GIFs or videos can help bring your tale to life
Sales copy will always have its place. We can’t turn every little detail into a story – and if your customer is simply looking for a list of product benefits/features, you’d be silly not to give it to them. What storytelling will do for you is inject life and humanity into your brand. As with all things content marketing, it’s about being relevant and valuable to your audience. Being personal, rather than contrived – and as Debra says, “Marketing and writing with heart, not hype.”
Where does your brand story begin? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below because I’d love to hear from you. Thanks!
About Guest Blogger Victoria Greene: Victoria is an ecommerce and brand marketing consultant. She also loves to freelance as a writer on the side. Growing a brand’s reach through storytelling is her forté. Most of the time you can find her at her desk with a matcha tea, brainstorming ideas for her latest content marketing campaigns.