You’re sitting in front of a blank computer screen, completely at a loss. You know you need to write copy for your website, a blog post, or another marketing piece, but you just can’t seem to get started.
We’ve all been there. Even the pros get writer’s block! But the thing that distinguishes them from a beginner is that they have tools and tricks that help them break through that block until the copy emerges.
One tool you can try is borrowed from screenwriting: a very simplistic version of the three-act structure of storytelling.
1. What’s the problem? Act I – Chase them up a tree.
If you ever studied screenwriting you learned that the setup or Act I of plots, in movies and TV shows, was often described as “chasing the protagonist up a tree.” It’s basically introducing the character and the problem.
No matter what you’re selling — product or service — it solves a problem for your customer. For some products, the problem is obvious. A bread knife solves the problem of needing to cut some bread. Other problems may be less obvious, but they still exist.
Start by introducing the problem to your reader. Infomercials are a great example of this — even if a little clumsy! I think of them as “problems you didn’t know you had,” like not being able to crack an egg, or not being able to wash your feet in the shower. (Honestly? Are these problems people actually think about?)
They seem like silly problems in a lot of cases, but those infomercials do a good job of setting them up as big problems. Just picture those images of people smashing eggs and falling over in the shower. Tragedy!
The problem you’re solving is probably a bit more serious, but you still need to remind people that they have it by chasing them up that tree.
2. How can you make the problem worse? Act II – Deepen the problem.
You’ve chased your customer up the proverbial tree by reminding them of their problem in step one, and now, in screenwriting terms, you want to make the problem seem even more challenging. (Screenwriters talk about chasing their character up a tree and then throwing rocks at him, but I find that image a bit disturbing!)
What might happen if your potential customer doesn’t address their problem? What’s the worst possible outcome?
You decide how far you want to take it. The most sensational copy can turn anything into a life or death choice, but you can still accentuate your customer’s problem without resorting to extremes. I like to call this pushing their buttons.
This works because people respond to offers for one of two reasons: 1) to avoid losing something they already have (money, time, their life!) or 2) to gain something they don’t have (health, wealth, relationships, etc.).
3. How is your product or service the perfect solution? Introduce the solution.
In Act II, the protagonist comes up with a plan—the perfect solution to get out of that darn tree.
Your product is the perfect solution to a very specific problem for a very specific subset of people. If you reach this step and realize that your solution isn’t a perfect fit for the problem you described, go back and revisit the problem. You might need to rewrite your content.
The key here is to position yourself as not just a solution, but the only solution. You are the magic sword that slays the dragon, or the kiss that wakes the princess—and nothing else will do.
Even in a highly competitive field, your solution is the best—absolutely perfect—in a certain set of circumstances. Figure out what those are and spell them out for the reader, and your ideal customers will feel compelled to purchase.
4. What should they do next? The Final Act – The climax.
The climax of movies often feels so satisfying because it’s the only ending that would feel right. You have to create that feeling for your customers, too.
This step is absolutely key and one that people too often forget.
You can’t just put an “add to cart” or “subscribe” button on your web page and hope for the best. Potential customers must have their hands held every step of the way. Tell them what to do, how to do it, and what to expect next. Refer back to my recent post on calls-to-action for more advice on this, but in short, be explicit and give a reason why they should respond.
These four simple screenwriting questions will guide you through just about any piece of copy — from a traditional long-form sales letter to a blog post. (Yes, a blog post can still move the reader through these steps, even if you aren’t traditionally “selling” something with it.)
Can you see how your copy is telling a story, much like a screenplay? Please take a moment and share one way you plan to apply this new strategy in your next copywriting project. I’d love to hear what you’re thinking! Thanks and here’s to your sweet success.
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