“It was a dark and stormy night….”

I'm sure you know how Snoopy's opus goes from there: “A shot rang out,” “a woman screams,” and “a pirate ship appears on the horizon.”

As far as communication devices go, it is hard to beat the old fashioned story. Opportunities for mixing stories with copywriting abound and some of them are pretty darn good sales tools.

I like to think of a story as a “before and after sandwich.” You start with the “Before” condition. This is where your customers have a problem. The problem produces pain. The customers try other solutions to no avail, but eventually the pain becomes intolerable and they seek you out.

The other slice of bread is the “After” resolution. The problem is solved, the pain is gone and the customers are grateful to you and your company for coming to the rescue.

The meat of the sandwich is how your product or service moves this person from the “Before Condition” to the “After Resolution.” This is where you show off your skill, expertise, benefits, quality, hard work and customer care. This is also where you show how and why you are unique from all the other solutions the customer tried before finding you.

You can incorporate stories on your website, direct mail or your advertisements. If you capture the emotional import of why your customers must solve these problems, your story will be powerfully effective.

Your stories can be true, as in the case of client testimonials or case histories, or they can be fictional as in the case of a “composite” character who is made up of several of your real customers.

In order to be truly effective, make sure both the Before” and “After” situations are full of emotion. This point was brought home to me yesterday when I saw Will Smith’s new movie, “Pursuit of Happyness.” In most respects I would rate this as an outstanding movie. Smith and his real-life son both gave the acting performances of their lives. The story was gripping as well.

But the one complaint I had about the movie was its ending. After going through all the trials and misery this man went through, and after witnessing his unshakable courage, the ending came quick and was over too soon, without giving me the chance to enjoy his triumph with him.

If you are going to make your readers/audience live through all the emotional pain of a story, you should also let them experience the joy and triumph that comes at the end. As a marketing message, a story without an emotional payoff, just doesn't deliver the goods.

I’d be very interested to hear about what your experiences have been in using stories with your copywriting and marketing efforts. Make a comment and tell us what you think.

COPYRIGHT © 2007, Charles Brown


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