A fellow member of the mastermind group I mentioned a while back reminded me recently about something very important.
She was talking about celebrity magazines (which I hate), reality TV (which I mostly detest) and soap operas (which I avoid if at all possible).
They’re all ridiculously popular.
But why, and what do they have in common?
Two things, she points out: people and stories. Stories about people and their lives and relationships – even the grubby and trivial stuff we secretly snigger about – grab our attention and hold it, if only for a short while.
Stand back, and it all seems too silly for words, but let yourself engage with it and you’re hooked. For a few minutes, the writers and creators have you at their mercy.
That’s why ‘salesy’ sales copy works much less well than copy that tells a story, specifically a human (or anthropomorphic) story. That’s why the most successful sales letter of all time was the one about the two graduates – one of whom subscribed to the Wall Street Journal and the other who didn’t – and the effect this decision had on their two lives.
Needless to say, the subscriber prospered while his otherwise identically qualified friend did less well. Specifically, the non-subscriber became a departmental manager (not bad at all) while the subscriber became president of the company. See how specific facts make it more convincing, too?
The letter reads like a true story, to the extent that many people believe it to this day, although it was a work of fiction. It’s a beautiful piece of writing but what matters is that it makes a point by telling a story.
And my posts and emails get much more reaction when I tell a true or plausible story than when I just try to tell you the bald facts, however important they may be.
Storytelling works in every realm, every niche and every industry, with just about every reader (or viewer or listener). That’s probably because storytelling is one of our most ancient and fundamental ways of bonding through language. We feel bound, in some way, to people who tell us a good story.
Even if it’s fundamentally far-fetched and flimsy, a well-told story wins every time.