Copywriting and stories without clichés
Let’s start with a copywriter-friendly movie.
The begging hand without a story will be left hanging.
Alright, maybe the literary translation may have been “The pen is mightier than the sword”. But we chose one that is more in line with the context and the character, so you can better understand the action revolving around it.
That’s what Gheorghe Dinică, one of Romania’s finest actors, would say in this masterpiece called Filantropica. It’s an extraordinary example of a tagline that can be applied to a somewhat different business. Because that is what Filantropica was: a business, an affair. Pavel Puiuţ, the character played by Dinică, was a self-made entrepreneur who used to sell his services as an agent on the oversaturated “charity” market from Bucharest. He used to wander around the city, choosing the beggars with the most potential, whom he would eventually enroll in his “program”.
A business model unlike any other
Specifically, he would take their “taglines” and “jingles” and turn them around in order to maximize their “profits”. All that for a special fee- a percentage of their proceeds. All of those who turned to him for “professional begging” advice would see their “personal brand” thriving. Consequently, the entrepreneur’s fortune just kept on growing.
The insight: it takes more than an aggressive approach and lamentations to make passersby pull out their wallets. You have to make it feel like an automatic impulse to them. So tell them stories they want to hear. This is what Filantropica’s CEO empirically found out from his “market research”. And once he started crafting heartfelt stories for the beggars, things changed for good. No one turns down a good story.
If you ask me, it’s a powerful lesson for marketers everywhere. If you choose to watch the movie from this perspective, the beggar market could start resembling a grim group of aggressive pop-ups, much like those piling up on a messy webpage trying hard to sell at all costs. Or maybe even the invasion of billboards and colorful posters, which you’ve become immune to a long time ago.
If you want to stand out, you must take this example of a successful entrepreneur. Do some extensive research. Find your target market’s soft spot. Then carefully pen the right story for that specific audience, aiming for that specific soft spot.
Let’s see what David Ogilvy had to say about this…
The same situation, handled by another professional: an effective copywriting lesson from David Ogilvy himself. The story goes that walking along the street one day, Ogilvy walked past a beggar with a sign that read “I’m blind, please help!” The blind beggar’s donation cup was almost empty.
He didn’t bend down to put something in it but instead, he pulled a marker out of his pocket and wrote a much stronger message on the cardboard: “It’s spring and I’m blind.” When he left work that night, Ogilvy noticed that the cup was overflowing with the many donations from good Samaritans.
The new message led people to think about what the spring days meant to them and how painful it must be not to experience them to the fullest; it opened their hearts and pushed them to reach out and help a poor man. An unconventional call to action—the blind beggar didn’t need to ask for money since the words alone impressed passers-by enough to result in them sparing a few coins.
So simple and yet so complex. Six words that tell an entire story (the same as Hemingway’s bet, which resulted in one of the shortest and most heartbreaking stories: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”).
What is the point of a story?
Keep in mind that there are all kinds of stories—from slogans that support the efforts of a marketing campaign to those that explain the usefulness of a product or the story of a company. They all help create a link with potential customers and build trust in a brand.
Nothing is possible in the absence of a story. People have been telling stories since time immemorial. During the times of myths and legends, they would tell a story in order to make sense of the mysteries which surrounded them. Later, they learned to leverage them as a means of escaping from the burdensome realities of their day-to-day lives.
As children, we were told fairytales so that we could develop our imagination and vocabulary. And we’ve been seeking good stories ever since. They are deeply embedded in our DNA. This is why we are addicted to good stories: it’s just human nature. Telling stories makes us human, draws us closer.
And today, more than ever, we are craving stories and words. On social media, we’re seeking out the same thing: someone’s story, a fascinating brand experience, a great article that can kindle an emotion. Because that’s the essence of it all – emotions and the way words play with them.
Businesses aren’t spared of this emotional component.
Andy Maslen wrote an entire book on how powerful copywriting and “emotional” content writing can be. He repeatedly underlined the importance of showing empathy while writing for potential customers (Persuasive Copywriting: Using Psychology to Engage, Influence and Sell).
Most of our decisions are made unconsciously and based on emotions, he explains. (Maslen elaborates a little about the way the limbic system works and explains the way it helps us deal with emotions and to make decisions, whilst simplifying the neuroscience specialist Antonio Damasio’s famous theory a little for us novices).
No matter what we choose to believe, emotions flare up faster than reason, than logical thinking based on accurate data. This means that we’ve already made a decision long before we can explain it logically. All the information we’re seeking afterward is just meant to support and reinforce that first choice. Rarely do they make us change our minds. Therefore, businesses should never underestimate the emotional component of their communication efforts.
Personal stories and brand experiences
Stories go even further than this, into the depths of our souls. In her book, The Idea Writers: Copywriting in a New Media and Marketing Era, Teressa Iezzi offers us one of the most valuable insights into consumer behavior:
“Each and every one of us is building a personal narrative, a story of their own. We tell our story through the choices we make in life—the people we choose to have around us, the school we go to and, last but not least, the products we buy.”
Our house, our car, our clothes—all these send out a message about who we are.
From this point of view, the history of the brand and product becomes just as personal and important.
If your story isn’t well-defined, people will simply not know what to make of you, in which category they should place you. They won’t know how to make use of your brand to shape their own story.
At some point in time, the functional benefits, the USP or the value proposition were highly sought after. Indeed, a well-defined USP helped some brands and products gain their competitive advantage.
But most brands don’t have it.
Followers of this school of thought would have probably strived in vain to find the unique value proposition for Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Nowadays, there’s a dozen types of everything.
Yet successful brands have this story deeply embedded in the genetic code of the product, in its design, in everything that relates to it. Today, we use stories to differentiate ourselves.
In the end…
Nowadays, having so many channels available and not using them effectively to tell your story is considered a handicap. Choosing not to tell a story at all is even worse.
Any bit of content, any word, any image that you post online are chapters that must be interconnected and tell a personal macro-story about how a product or service can change the consumer’s life, no matter how seemingly insignificantly.
How it can help them lead a better, fuller, more relaxed life, without any specific concerns or uncertainty, without extra stress. A life with fewer issues or, at least, with one specific problem resolved.
So, what do you think? Are you ready to have your story told? Just drop us a line and we’ll help you put it in words.