Don’t tell a story that entertains. Do this instead.

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Photo by Tierra Mallorca on Unsplash

When I first started using storytelling in my copywriting, I thought the goal would be to engage readers’ attention.

That’s the standard line from storytelling gurus.

“Your readers are overwhelmed with content. They’re bored. You need something to get them to stop and read what you’ve written. That’s why you need stories.”

But as a copywriter, I found that some businesses can’t afford to entertain. Their prospects want to get to the bottom line. They’re focused on numbers and jump right to, “What’s in it for me?”

That’s especially true with businesses operating in highly competitive fields, such as business coaching, real estate, and financial planning. These business owners need to answer two more questions: “How are you different from the competition?” and, “Can you deliver results?”

As I worked with different clients, I noticed that some achieved strong results from the stories they told. Others just … told stories. So I began to pay attention to the ingredients of these stories to see if they followed a proven, repeatable pattern.

What goes into a story that delivers sales?

At first, these stories didn’t seem to have much in common.

One business owner invited readers to imagine themselves on a VIP day. They’d be met at the airport and driven to a luxury hotel. Their working sessions would be interrupted by a delicious seafood lunch. An afternoon break might be a walk on the beach.

Another told stories about clients who never thought they’d be able to reach their financial goals. Their family almost split up over money arguments. Now they were buying a house and planning a dream vacation.

Finally, I noticed a pattern. The stories that sold incorporated 5 elements of success. And by chance, I recently ran across a story that’s likely to bring the marketer a ton of sales, in a very unlikely industry: real estate. This very short story — literally sized to fit on a postcard — packs a wallop.

A Sales Story That Fit On A Postcard

One of the toughest places to differentiate yourself is the real estate industry. By pure chance, I came across an example of excellent copy — with a model success story — that you might find useful for almost any industry.

Like many of you, I get dozens of postcards from real estate agents all over the city. Even though I’ve just bought my dream home and have no intention of selling for the next ten years, they send me notices. Mostly I ignore them, as they tend to sound alike.

But just today I got a card from an agent I’d never heard of — Reid Rosenthal of The Rosenthal Group in Philly. I read every word. His copy could be a model for how to write a success story in any field, but it’s particularly impressive because he’s in real estate. Here’s what he wrote:

“We were employed by the seller of this gorgeous loft condo at [location] after it sat on the market unsold for over 200 days with their previous Realtor. We took new professional photos, virtually staged the condo and put our powerful marketing plan to work We put it under contract in 7 days!

“Selling your home for top dollar requires a marketing strategy that’s as unique as it is effective. Ensuring that the sale happens quickly requires the diligence of a highly active team paired with an extensive network. We offer the most innovative and aggressive real estate marketing services that you deserve.”

Five Ingredients Of A Story That Delivers Sales

(1) Show a successful outcome you created intentionally.

No Cinderella stories. No hyped-up examples that nobody believes. Just a straightforward example that’s the Real Deal.

And it’s not about you … it’s about what you did for the client.

Your outcome was bigger, longer-lasting, stronger, or simpler than what most competitors deliver. If you can’t show numbers, show impact on the client’s life, business, relationships, wealth or health.e

(2) Position yourself as the guide who overcomes obstacles.

A lot of Realtors would write, “This beautiful home sat on the market for 200 days. Then the seller hired us.” That’s a collection of facts.

This story focuses on how the Realtor solved this problem. In the language of Storybrand, the seller is the hero and the Realtor is the guide.

Beginning a story with, “We were hired…” sets your reader up in problem-solving mode.

A lot of service business owners don’t like to use the word “hired.” But experienced marketers aren’t afraid to introduce the elephant in the room. Your readers know they’ll be hiring someone. You won’t be buddies. Words like “retained” or “consulted with” might seem a little more elegant and professional, but ultimately they boil down to the same thing. You’re hired to do a job. Let’s get on with it!

(3) Show exactly how you carried out the job — being specific, not abstract or general.

You want to communicate that it’s not an accident. You have a repeatable system.

What did this real estate company do?

— They took professional photos.

— They did virtual staging. As someone who’s dealt with wonderful non-virtual stagers, this statement alone would get my attention.

— They referred to “our powerful marketing plan.” This statement suggests they’ve got a proven solution — a marketing plan that’s been known to work.

(4) They showed what they did … just enough to give you a sense of what they did, but not so much that you feel, “I could do this myself.”

This is the trickiest part of copywriting. The standard guideline is, “Show what you do … but now how you do it.”

But share too little and you’re just not credible. Share too much and … well, this time you did give away the store.

(5) They followed up with some straightforward reasons to choose their company.

In business, telling a story is just the first step; you have to clarify just what you want the reader to take away.

This company reminded readers that they could step up to the plate and hit a home run. They didn’t shy away from strong words like “innovative” and “aggressive.” In a tough market, that’s what home sellers need — and they know it.

It’s critical to use your story as a selling tool.

As a copywriter, I meet many business owners who say, “We can’t use storytelling. We’re a serious business! We manage money, or change lives, or influence health outcomes.”

Those business owners have been sold the line of stories as a way to engage and entertain. In fact, many storytelling experts actively encourage business owners to seek out fantasy stories and even bedtime stories.

But clients and prospects usually want a strong dose of reality — not a fantasy. And why would you tell a bedtime story? The last thing you want to do is put your audience to sleep: you want them awake and energized, ready to buy.

By focusing on the purpose of your story, and including these key ingredients, you’ll tell stories that actually help you carry out your marketing objectives.

Those other stories? Save them for the campfire.


Helping entrepreneurs and independent professionals grow their businesses one story at a time.

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