The Only Storytelling Hack You Need For Irresistible Email Copy
I spend most of my days writing email sequences for my clients.
But in my free time, I like to kick back, relax, and… well…
… I usually spend that time critiquing and consulting other writer’s copy when they ask for help.
(What can I say, I’m a workaholic.)
So a few days ago a writer posted up an article for feedback inside one of the many communities I’m in.
She had an email sequence selling a skin care product.
And in the very first email she started to tell a story.
The Story Wasn’t Bad. But It Was Missing Something…
On my first pass through the copy, I couldn’t exactly put my finger on what it was.
But on my second pass through, I found the problem.
And it’s not that the story wasn’t inherently interesting, it’s that it violated one sacred rule of storytelling.
Show Me. Don’t Tell Me.
Most marketers like to “tell” stories.
The character was named ___, they did this… then they did this… then this happened! And everyone lived happily ever after.
And yes… you can get away with that.
And it could convert.
But if you want to cross that threshold from good copy to GREAT copy, you need to learn how to SHOW and not TELL.
Hi, I’m Jim. I used to suffer from a terrible case of narcolepsy. I searched far and wide for a solution but I couldn’t find one. I tried ___ and ___ and ___, but nothing seemed to work! Finally, I discovered a secret. It was ____. And it helped me ___. So I started ____ company to help other people who had the same problem. I created ___ product which does blah blah blah whatever.
^^That’s a story.^^
But you feel nothing as you read those words.
And that’s the big difference.
A good piece of email copy contains a story that hit’s you emotionally and makes you FEEL something as you read it.
Four years ago, I woke up in a ditch.
My car was busted to shit.
I careened off the road with my four month old daughter strapped into the backseat.
Luckily, she was unharmed… safe and sound in her carseat.
The windshield was busted. There was smoke coming from the engine. And all I could hear over my daughter screaming for help was the sound of an ambulance siren off in the distance.
“It’s gonna be OK honey. Daddy’s here. I know it’s scary but everything’s gonna be fine.” I managed to choke out a few words before the tears started to well up.
I felt like I had failed as a father. I put my child in danger. Would she ever forgive me?
My narcolepsy was under control for some time. I was taking medication. Dealing with my symptoms.
But after a while, the side effects got to be too much to bear.
It affected my health, my happiness… even my love life.
And I knew I had to make a change.
So I took a few days off from my meds. No big deal, right?
I guess I was wrong. And I found out the hard way.
That’s what started me on this mission…
My own personal mission to find a cure…
Blah blah blah, whatever.
^^That’s also a story.^^
(Please note: this is not a true story. It’s just something I made off the top of my head as a way to demonstrate how to tell an effective story).
Which one made you feel something, viscerally?
I bet you chose #2.
The Four Building Blocks Behind Any Great Story
There are only four (technically five) building blocks of any great story.
In my opinion, anyway.
- Bonus: Literary devices (although we won’t get too deep into the weeds here with this fifth element).
If you were to pull your favorite fiction book off a shelf, you’d be able to take four different colored highlighters and highlight every single sentence in that book as one of those four (or five) types of sentences.
A story has a character. Who travels through a story arc.
And the way we tell (read: SHOW) that story to our viewer is by filling in all the details with action, feelings, thoughts and dialogue.
The girl skipped down the sidewalk on her way to school.
She felt excited for her first day of school.
She started to imagine all the new friends she’d make.
“This is going to be the best day ever!” she cried.
See what I mean?
One Is Not Enough
Where us marketers/storytellers/copywriters run into problems is when we rely too much on the action of the story.
Action is good.
Action is necessary.
But unless the action is powerful enough to paint us a vivid image of what’s happening to the character, it will always fall short.
You need to layer in the thoughts… the feelings… the emotions… the drama… the suspense.
You need to paint a picture with your words so that as we are reading the text, we are imagining the picture in the theatre of our mind.
More On Storytelling
I’m hoping this article gave you enough insight into the how you can write better story-based email sequences.
But if you’re still looking for more training on this topic, then check out some of my favorite books and trainings on storytelling:
Wired For Story by Lisa Cron
Storytelling Made Easy by Michael Hague
The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
Autoresponder Madness by Andre Chaperon (easily the greatest email copywriting course ever created — it will burn good storytelling for email copy into your brain.)
Storytelling For Marketers by Andre Chaperon & Michael Hague