> short words, sentences and paragraphs
> active language
> emotional, visceral, visual expression
... and so many other basics of the trade.
And they're all important. All of them.
But in terms of raw selling power, nothing, and I do mean nothing, holds a candle to a good story, well told.
You're heard all this before. But I have come across some interesting new evidence that leads me to believe stories are even more powerful that I previously realized:
1. Goodbye Hollywood, Hello Dairyland. There's a small revolt going against special-effects 3-D-like animation. After the movie Sinbad tanked three years ago, the big studios said sayonara to doing old-style cartoons. Wisconsin homebuilder Tom Hignite decided to keep the art form alive and opened his own 2-D cartoon studios in Richfield, just north of Milwaukee. 13 former Disney and Warner Brothers artists came to join him. This quote in Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle, from production manager and 28-year industry veteran Tim O'Donnell, who moved from Hollywood, spoke volumes to me: "... we all love the pencil-to-paper kind of thing. We all feel if the story's strong, it doesn't really matter what medium you tell it in."
2. A good story creates automatic choreography. Great book I discovered last week: Presenting to Win, by Silicon Valley Presentations Guru Jerry Weissman. He tells about a Microsoft employee the PR dept. turned over to him in the early 90s to get ready for a very important presentation -- and the PR folks were wringing their hands because the employee didn't know what to do with his when he spoke. Weissman wanted three days to work with the employee but he only got one. In one day there was no time to fuss about postures, gestures and pacing: "I helped Jeff make some decisions about his story... which elements were most relevant and compelling... and which ones were superfluous."
Jeff was a star; his bosses were impressed. Weissman observed: "All the vocal pyrotechnics and body language in the world can't improve a confusing story, while a clear and concise story can give a presenter the clarity of mind to present with poise."
3. The most profitable ad ever written. I should have seen this long ago, but sometimes you just overlook the obvious. One ad has been tracked to bring in over $2 billion in sales. If you are a student of copywriting, these words will be immediately familiar: "On a beautiful late spring afternoon, twenty-five years ago, two young men graduated from the same college. They were very much alike, these two young men..." This letter, written by Martin Conroy, has no headline. No bullet points. No sharp-angled hook. No typical direct-response gimmicks at all. But it sold more than $2 billion in subscriptions for The Wall Street Journal. It sold more than any other copy ever written, and it begins and ends with... a story.
So next time you take a couple hours to sneak away and see a movie, or turn on the boob tube, pat yourself on the back. You're refreshing and strengthening the most important skill for writing persuasive copy that you possibly could.
Publisher, World Copywriting Newsletter