Copywriting 101: The Story

By Travis Lee

Each month in my printed newsletter, The Copywriter’s Corner, which I produce for my 3D Mail Inner Circle Members, I review a fundamental element of copywriting or direct mail which I call Copywriting 101.

For our newer members it’s a great place to learn a new skill.  For our veterans, it’s a great review and will prompt then to go back to their previous letters to see if they’re using them correctly.  We cover some high level techniques and strategies.  In the next few tips here, I’m going to share with you one of these strategies I recently shared with our members.  This month’s topic:

The Story

This is a very important (aren’t they all, why else would I bother to cover them), but often overlooked part of most copywriting.  The stories you tell and weave into your sales letters and promotional material can give a huge boost to any copy you write.

People have been trained all their life to read or listen to stories.  Think back to when you were a child, and your parents would tell you stories and read stories to you.  Even now, what happens when you meet up with your family and friends around a campfire, or meet old high school or college buddies for a few brews at the bar?  You TELL STORIES.

We’ve been conditioned from a very young age to listen to and read stories.  The most effective letters all contain stories, and all good copywriters know this and use it to their advantage.

So the first reason to use stories is to increase readership.  We know, without a doubt, it will increase your readership, and as a result will increase your sales.  It also gives creditably to your copy.  Again, stories sell, and a story, if even ‘mostly’ true, lends a level of credibility.  After all, if he’s telling a story, it’s GOT to be true.

Stories humanize you.  Instead of buying from a large, nameless company, you become the star and the face of the organization.  It makes you real and it makes you more interesting.  This again increases readership and thus response and sales.

I’ve included one of the all-time best uses of stories in copy at this link here.  It will open a PDF in your web browser and it about 1 MB so it may take a moment to download.  I’ve used this letter as an example before, and it’s good and worthy of your close study.

This letter was written by Martin Conroy decades ago.  At the time it was mailed regularly by the Wall Street Journal.  It compares the success of two college graduates.  Although the letter doesn’t claim that reading the Wall Street Journal made the difference (in fact, they say in the closing that they cannot promise that) the thought is strongly suggested.

Author Denny Hatch called this letter, “the most successful single advertising in the history of the world.”  He estimates that the letter has been directly responsible for producing $1 billion in revenues for the Wall Street Journal. (Million Dollar Mailings, Dennison Hatch, Libbey Publishing, Inc., Washington, DC, 1992).

You’ll notice the first thing the Conroy did was start with a story.  It draws you in.  It actually has very little to do with the product being sold.  In fact, he doesn’t reveal to you that he’s selling the WSJ until the sixth paragraph.  And that is what a good story does.

When you read a book from your favorite fiction author you don’t realize how much time has passed until you look up at the clock.  While not a novel, this short story does the same thing.  It moves your mind away from the “I’m being sold something I don’t want” reaction, to reading a story.  One where you want to know the conclusion, just like a good novel.

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To Your Direct Mail Success,
Travis Lee

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