5 Storytelling Tips for Highly-engaging Copy: According to a StoryBrand Certified Guide
“Business owners can’t write persuasive copy.”
Did that statement upset you? Good. Because it’s completely untrue.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that professional copywriters are good at what they do. But if you want words that work — words that sell and grow your business — you don’t actually need any formal training.
I say that because while the mechanics of writing always allow for fine-tuning, the real power of copy is in the story.
Good storytelling is the key to copy that works. As a StoryBrand Certified Guide, I believe that whole-heartedly. And I don’t just believe it because Donald Miller says so. It’s backed by science.
A good story does three things:
- Captures the imagination of the reader
- Connects them to an idea
- Encourages them to take action
You can see why you’d want a story at the heartbeat of your copy.
And you don’t have to be an Academy Award-winning screenwriter to tell a good story.
You just need to know a few tricks.
That’s what I’m offering in this article. Here are five storytelling tips you need for highly-engaging copy.
- The Art of Attention
- The Empathetic Hook
- An Exciting Transformation
- The Stakes
- A Clear Mission
1. The Art of Attention
“Are you watching closely?”
Christopher Nolan uses just four words for the opening line to his movie The Prestige. And that’s all he needs. You’re hooked.
That’s because Nolan knows that a simple question can be the best way to grab his audience’s attention.
A question forces you to respond. It grabs your attention, evokes curiosity and makes you desperate to find out what happens next.
Use this same technique in your writing.
It could be a catchy headline or subheading. A bolded sentence that stands out amongst a block of text. Sometimes, you don’t even need to use any words. You can use … an ellipsis.
Why is this so important? Because once you have someone’s attention they become active participants in the story instead of just passive readers.
2. The Empathetic Hook
Attention brought your reader into the story, but if you want to keep them there, they have to feel like they have some skin in the game.
This is why empathy is a copywriter’s secret weapon.
Because if you can identify the problems your readers face, they’ll hang on every word.
Author and public speaker, Simon Sinek, describes empathy as, “Being concerned about the person, not their output.”
So prove to them that you understand how they feel. And that you’re not just faking empathy to get to the sale.
Meet your customers where they are and hang out there long enough to start building a relationship with them. Genuinely empathize with how they feel and they’re going to want to hear what you have to say.
Pro Tip: Bake empathy into every portion of your copy. Just because you’re using it as a hook doesn’t mean it should only be used at the beginning.
3. An Exciting Transformation
You’ve identified your customer’s problem. But you can’t stay there.
If you want a good story, you need to use an exciting transformation.
That’s why we love underdog stories so much.
Think The Lord of the Rings. Captain America. Erin Brokovich. The Hunger Games.
They might have completely different plotlines. But each one is about a character who manages to overcome the impossible. And it’s this change that shapes them into the hero.
Let’s use Frodo Baggins from the Fellowship of the Ring as an example:
Frodo is just a small and unassuming hobbit living an ordinary life. But pretty soon he’s thrust into the middle of a battle between the forces of good and evil. Now the fate of the entire world rests on his tiny shoulders. Can he somehow beat the odds and summon enough courage to win the day?
To write engaging copy, you need to do something similar.
Remind them what their life is like without your product, show them how it solves a lot of their problems and then help them envision the life they could have after it.
4. The Stakes
To make the transformation more exciting, you need to raise the stakes.
That’s why screenwriters often introduce some kind of countdown scenario.
Picture the main character racing against the clock — defusing a ticking time bomb, avoid a natural disaster or escaping some form of certain doom.
Take the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger for example. In the movie Bond is tied to a bomb that’s about to explode. Can he diffuse it in time?
10 … 9 … 8 … 007.
Notice how Bond frantically tries to push at buttons and look at wires. He’s looking back and forth, his forehead is dripping with sweat. You can tell he has no idea how to stop the bomb. Time is running out.
At its core, the stakes are about creating tension. You’ve bought into the story because of how uncomfortable it makes you feel.
How can you use this in business copy? Usually, the stakes show up as a sale or limited-time offer. This is a great way to elicit a sense of urgency, desire and value.
But the goal is to leverage scarcity and urgency without making it sound like the world will end if someone doesn’t do business with you.
If you can only host a certain number of people in your free webinar, say “seats are limited.” Or if you’re a financial advisor and your ideal client is a “two-comma” family, then use the allure of exclusivity.
Get creative, but find a way to show people that what you’re talking about matters.
5. A Clear Mission
To quote Donald Miller, “If you confuse, you lose. But when you clarify your message, customers will listen.”
The biggest mistake amateur copywriters make is they try to be too clever with their writing. They believe that sounding intelligent will make their audience more likely to listen.
But people process information emotionally first and then use logic to understand its meaning.
That means you need to be clear about what you do, how it’s going to change their lives and what they need to do in order to get it.
It’ll be a bit like writing a movie synopsis or the short book summary on the back cover. Just make sure the mission you’re asking them to accept is clear and concise.
How to Start Writing Better Copy with Storytelling
Now that you have these five storytelling tips, the next step is to get started.
Our advice? The buck starts and stops with empathy.
Be really specific about who you’re writing for. Identify their real problems, their emotions and their wants. Then confirm that your product or service is the perfect solution to those problems.
Now write as if you’re speaking directly to them in conversation and can understand what they’re going through. And help them out of it.
Your copy will only get better as you write more. But start with these five storytelling tips and you’ll have engaging copy that is both persuasive and engaging.