How to Use the Persuasive Power of Mini-Stories in Your Sales Copy

Have you ever been so engrossed in a book that you couldn’t put it down?

You didn’t notice what was happening around you. You didn’t hear your phone ringing. You let your coffee get cold. That’s because you were living the story; you had become part of it.

It’s not the same type of feeling you get when you read sales copy, is it?

You read about how fantastic someone’s service is. You stumble over superlatives.

Yeah, yeah – you think. You’ve heard it all before. It’s ad speak. Marketer’s drivel. Sleazy sales talk.

Sales copy often turns readers off. As soon as they detect a hint of marketese, their defenses go up. They start questioning the credibility of each statement.

But what if you could write sales copy like a story teller? Could you enthrall your readers and persuade them to buy?

Stories are spellbinding and persuasive because the reader experiences a different world. Jeremy Dean explains that when we’re transported to another world, we’re less likely to notice when something doesn’t quite match up with our own experiences. We’re less likely to question what’s happening in a story. Moreover, our barriers to sales messages go down because the messages slip under the radar. We don’t notice we’re being sold something when we are engaged in a story.

The use of stories to sell is nothing new, of course. Legendary copywriter Joe Sugarman suggested that readers should feel compelled to read your ad as if they’re sliding down a slippery slide. To create this slippery slide, he often starts his copy with a story:

People love stories, and one of the really good ways to relate to your prospect is to tell a story. (…) a story can be invaluable and creates an emotional relationship of bond that keeps your prospect riveted and listening.

A story in your sales copy can do more than just keep a potential buyer captivated. A story can increase his desire to own your product. A story can make your product seem more valuable.

Good stories aren’t just engaging; good stories sell.

How?

Let’s take a look …

1. Increase Desire to Own Your Product

Research has shown that when people hold a product in their hands, their desire to own it increases.

Online, you can’t get people to hold your products, but you can show enticing product images that let them imagine holding or using your product by telling a story.

Here’s an example of a mini-story on the Think Geek website:

Let’s face it, when you’re grilling for a big party and you’re trying to manage beef burgers for the meat-a-tarians, veggie burgers for the vegans, chicken parts for the on-a-diets, hot dogs for the kids, and corn on the cob, it’s easy to lose track of when each thing needs flipping. But you don’t have this problem. You are a BBQ Ninja and it’s time you had the tools you deserve.

When you read the description above, you almost involuntarily move your arm to flip a few burgers. The details make this story compelling as you picture yourself grilling hot dogs for the kids and chicken for the on-a-diets. And that’s exactly the purpose here. When you imagine yourself holding that spatula and having fun at your next BBQ, your desire to own that BBQ set increases.

How to write your own mini-stories: Think about your buyer persona. How can you let her imagine using your product, your app, or your service? Be as specific as possible, because details make your story irresistible and persuasive.

2. Persuade by Appealing to the Senses

Sensory words make your copy more memorable, impactful, and persuasive.

When you read sensory words – like stinky or sweet, sparkling or rough – the areas of your brain that light up are different from those that are affected when you read non-sensory words – like bad, nice, or good. Even when you are just reading, your brain acts as if you actually smell a sweet aroma, feel a rough texture, or see a sparkling diamond.

Here’s an example of a sensory mini-story on the website of UK’s Innocent:

Take your senses on a trip to a bustling, colourful Malaysian foodmarket, teeming with mangosteens, papaya and galangal, and let the aroma of coconut and spices waft up your nose. Ahhh. In Malaysia, rendang is often lovingly prepared for special occasions, festivals and the like. But our tasty vegetarian version works just as well on a regular weeknight or lunch break. Feel free to dress up in your finery to enjoy it, though.

When you read the copy above, you can almost hear the sounds of a bustling market and smell the aroma of tropical fruits, coconut, and spices. You almost forget that they’re trying to sell you a pot of Malaysian rendang.

The story helps to portray the pot of noodles as something much more valuable than some noodles and vegetables. Innocent’s copywriters are trying to sell you a sensory experience rather than a pot of noodles.

How to write your own mini-stories: Sensory words aren’t just limited to food. With a presentation app, for instance, writers can dazzle their audiences. Your software can help design sparkling landing pages. Your content marketing service prevents your client’s blog from going stale and gathering dust.

Sensory words help you sell an experience rather than just a product, and that experience is potentially more valuable to your audience than your product.

3. Make a Boring Product More Fascinating

In the 1920s, copywriter Claude Hopkins was appointed to help Schlitz gain market share. Hopkins suggested that Schlitz tell consumers the detailed story of how water used for Schlitz beer is purified. This purification process is nothing special. Every beer company uses it. But Schlitz stood out because it was the only company telling the story, and it helped them to go from 5th to a tie for 1st in the market.

Here’s a story Apple used to tell on their website:

Apple engineers asked more than 600 people to test over 100 iterations of the Apple EarPods. Testers ran on treadmills in extreme heat and extreme cold. They performed various cardio workouts. They were even asked to shake their heads side to side, up and down. The result: Apple EarPods provide stronger protection from sweat and water, and they’re remarkably stable in the ear. Which means they stay in, even when you’re on the go.

Can you picture the testers sweating and shaking their heads?

Most R&D departments for consumer brands do user testing and could tell similar stories as Apple. Most companies could tell fascinating stories about how their product is manufactured just like Schlitz did. But most of us ignore this huge opportunity to educate, to entertain, and to sell.

How to write your own mini-stories: Learn from investigative journalists. Dig deeper to find fascinating details. Talk to the people on the shop floor, in your R&D department, in your call center, or to those traveling the world to source new products. The more you learn, the more stories you have to tell.

Remember:

There are no dull products, only dull writers. ~ David Ogilvy

4. Add Personality to Strengthen Your Brand

Your unique storytelling style adds personality to your sales copy and strengthens your brand positioning.

The copywriters at The J Peterman Company excel in telling mini-stories:

I was browsing in a Paris antique shop one winter afternoon when a fitted leather train case caught my eye.

It contained silver-handled brushes, boot hooks, a straight razor, several silver-stoppered glass bottles…

One bottle was different. Encased in yew-wood, with a handwritten date: 1903.

Inside the bottle, there was still the faint, intriguing aroma of a gentleman’s cologne. A “prescription” cologne, custom-made for a rich traveler a century ago.

It’s as if you’re looking over the shoulders of John Peterman on one of his sourcing trips across the world. J Peterman’s website is full of historic snippets, literary quotes, and short anecdotes about where their products come from. These stories add a sense of adventure and romance.

How to write your own mini-stories: Develop your own storytelling voice to stand out and engage your readers. Think about the type of humor that entertains your target audience. Consider what kinds of stories connect with your readers.

Don’t tell the stories you want to tell. Instead, tell the stories that speak strongly to your audience.

Three Principles for Writing Seductive Mini-Stories

People don’t think in abstract concepts.

We can’t see generalities; we can’t feel abstract ideas; we can’t experience vague statements.

Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to a story; the pleasure we derive from a tale well told is nature’s way of seducing us into paying attention to it. ~ Lisa Cron

Stories add a dash of fun or sophistication to your products. Stories entertain, engage, and sell. Would you rather read a list of product specs or an engaging story?

Follow these three principles to ensure your mini-stories are engaging, enchanting, and seductive:

  1. Be concise – Don’t waste your readers’ time with a rambling story. Focus on one simple idea. You’re not writing a novel. You’re telling a story to make your product more fascinating, more appealing, and more valuable.
  2. Be concrete – Use specific details and sensory words to help your readers experience your story. Abstract concepts are boring. Specific details are fascinating.
  3. Tell unexpected stories – Avoid obvious stories because they’re mind-numbingly dull; instead, delight your customers with surprising tales and unusual snippets of information.

The Truth about Seductive Mini-Stories

I can’t tell you that writing mini-stories is easy.

You need to be curious. You need to dig deep to uncover fascinating stories. You need to be creative. And you need to write well.

But the reward for your hard work will be worth it.

Rather than just scanning your copy, potential buyers will READ your sales copy. Rather than questioning your statements, readers will be engaged, and they will happily consume your sales messages without realizing it. Your stories will make your product seem more desirable and more valuable.

No product is boring. No company is boring. Each company has fascinating stories that are waiting to be told. Are you sharing your stories in order to engage, persuade, and sell?

About the Author: Henneke Duistermaat is an irreverent copywriter on a mission to stamp out gobbledygook and to make booooring *yawn* company blogs fascinating and seductive. Sign up at Enchanting Marketing to receive your free copy of 21 Simple Tips to Turbocharge Your Web Copy.

  1. I realized early on that creative story telling is a savvy marketing tactic. Well, it’s also an art and takes A LOT of practice.

    Your 3 principles really help narrow the focus and strengthen the strategy quiet nicely.

    Thanks for a very useful post I’ll refer to often.

  2. Wow, this is a great idea. I had also heard that stories used for advertising were worth their weight in gold, but I never really knew how to go about applying it. With these three tips we can certainly give it a go ourselves now and perhaps entice our readers a little more.
    Thanks
    ashely

  3. Thanks Henneke. I think you’ve really nailed the difference between standard and great sales writing. The latter takes an entirely different, story based, approach. We’ve all become so accustomed to skipping through all the superlatives. Writing in a way that makes the reader part of the narrative is the key to standing out and connecting.

  4. Really useful article, thanks!

  5. A lot of great information in this post! We’ve been trying lately to tell more stories in our marketing pieces and the results are substantially better.

  6. Awesome post. You have told a great story and very well said that no company is boring, no product is boring. It’s all about how you tell an engaging story and force your audience to digest your msg without noticing.
    look forward to your other posts Henneke.

    • Indeed. Even in the most boring industries fascinating stories are waiting to be told. You just have to dig a little deeper, work a little harder sometimes!

  7. This is a nice little article with some good and helpful examples. One thing I would add though – when a sentence begins with ‘Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to…’, be very sceptical. As in this case, its probably a meaningless soundbite that conceals the actual complexity of brain science

    • Yes, good point. I certainly don’t claim to be a neuroscientist. I just quoted from a book that I really enjoyed reading.

  8. Great post. I sat greedily reading it, like chocolate ice cream on scorching summer day.

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