“I want copywriting that’s warm and friendly … with lots of stories!”
“I want to connect with my audience … not make them feel manipulated.”
Sound familiar? That’s what more and more service-based business owners are telling their copywriters these days.
The most unkind insult you can offer someone’s copy has become, “That sounds like clickbait!”
“Connection” has become one of those words we’re hearing a lot these days (with “authenticity” running a close second). But it’s not easy to explain what those words mean, let alone to write persuasively with conversational tone, captivating stories and, colorful illustration. And it’s even more difficult when you need to maintain a serious image that communicates credibility.
What makes your online presence truly authentic?
Many marketers insist that connection means, “share your vulnerability,” “admit your weakness,” or “just be yourself.”
But in a Harvard Business Review article Herminia Ibarra challenges these common beliefs. Being true to oneself sounds good, she says, but your authentic business self probably isn’t the same as your authentic “hang out with the family” self.
Openness and self-disclosure can backfire, especially when you’re not established in your field. And, she notes:
“Identities are always on display in today’s world of ubiquitous connectivity and social media.”
Bob Kulhan makes a similar point in his book, Getting To Yes And: The Art of Business Improv. His improv troupe, Baby Wants Candy, presents an hour-long improvised musical with a full band.
For a church group, the content will be G-rated; for a college fraternity, an R to NC-17 is not only appropriate but also expected. The brand remains the same but a rebranding adaptation exists for each audience.
And writing in Training To Imagine, Kat Koppett writes:
“There is no such thing as one right story — or one right way to tell a story. The power of a story … lies in its ability to connect with a specific audience in a specific moment and share a specific experience or message. A story that might play perfectly in one context might fall terribly flat in another.”
“Share your story” really means“curate a story portfolio.”
Each story represents the “real you,” but each can be adapted for a different audience.
A rags-to-riches story — from sleeping on a mattress in a church basement to living in a 20-room mansion — will resonate with some audiences. But others will be skeptical, bored, or just plain turned off.
But there’s one thing anyone can do, and that’s to learn the art of writing conversational content. Here are 5 tips to get you started …and I bet at least one will be new to you.
(1) “Be yourself” is good advice…but which self do you choose?
When I was going around the open mic standup comedy scene, I met many professionals who were doing comedy in their off-duty time. A surprising number of open mic comedians have day jobs in the medical or psychotherapy field. Their comedic selves drew on their professional experiences, but hopefully, they drew on entirely different selves to be authentic in the consulting room.
Most people wouldn’t appreciate a relaxed, humorous style when they’ve just been diagnosed with something more than “take 2 aspirin and call me next week.”
Constraints are even stronger for those in financial services fields. Who wants to trust their money to someone who’s too light-hearted? Someone who’s struggling with personal problems? A potential client won’t think, “He’s just like me.” She’ll think, “If he’s got so many problems of his home, will he have room for me and my money problems?”
(2) Choose a conversational style.
Copywriter Nick Usborne calls conversational copywriting a “marketing superpower.”
In a blog post, he shares this example:
The Oka Beach Family Resort’s all-inclusive family vacations give you a top family vacation with your kids and time to reconnect as a couple, too.
A family vacation should be fun for everyone, right? That’s why we created a resort experience that’s all about the kids… AND all about mom and dad too.
Sometimes you’ll find traces of old school copywriting when you listen to a webinar:
“If you don’t sign up for this program you might as well realize you’ll never retire. You’ll be scrubbing floors into your eighties. “
Well, that might pass for a conversational style if you inhabit the world of Tony Soprano. How about …
“What really helps you retire successfully? Not your glamor stock that tripled in a year. Not your secret strategies trying to beat Wall Street. It’s your ability to save consistently, understand your personal risk tolerance, and create a game plan for emergencies and what-if scenarios.”
(3) Stories help you share knowledge without coming across as preachy.
All too many articles (including some I’ve written myself) get filled with words like “should” and “must.”
The easiest way to avoid sounding preachy is to tell a story. You don’t need to draw on experience. You can invent characters who illustrate the point you want to make.
Chuck Rylant wanted to tell new business owners how to make money on the Internet. He had some tough talk to deliver. He wrote a book, How To Be Rich, that shows how a car repair shop owner wasted time and money on useless marketing tactics … till a golfing buddy walked him through a process that saved his business.
I’ve applied this technique to some of my own articles, such as finding ways to get feedback on your DIY copy and website development. I illustrated each article with stories featuring composites of real people.
The stories accomplished two things. Readers told me they felt more engaged and more likely to continue reading, compared to straight instructional posts. And they helped readers understand exactly how to implement the practices they were learning about.
(4) Writing, “I understand where you’re coming from” usually means, “I’m clueless.”
“This is you. You’d like to take the next big step but you’re scared…”
That’s a good example of a fake connection. In a real conversation, how do you feel when someone says, “I know what you’re thinking right now.” Or worse, “I know what you want to do.”
Unless it’s a close friend — and they’re teasing — I’d push back, big time.
Allegra Stein, a life coach, gets it. The first sentence on her About Page reads, “My clients have for the first time taken vacations and left their cell phones in their hotel rooms.”
Brilliant! In one sentence, she communicates a great deal about the problems her clients face and the transformation they’re seeking.”
(5) Your audience will have way too much fun with your “fish story.”
“We caught a twenty-pounder out there…” That’s the origin of the term “fish story.”
I once met a professional, educated young man at a networking event in Philadelphia. He told me he’d played football in college (not a powerhouse team by any means) and then played pro for a little while.
I’m easy to impress when it comes to sports. So I asked, “What team?”
“The Eagles,” he said, trying to look modest.
“Wow,” I said. “You played for the Eagles?”
In Philadelphia, the Eagles aren’t just a football team. They’re local royalty.
When I got home, I looked him up. I couldn’t believe I’d met a real Eagle.
Sure enough, he’d played for the team…as a walk-on for the pre-season, cut at the end of training camp.
So what’s this guy doing now? He’s working in the financial planning field. He was hoping I’d trust him with some of my money.
And then there was the small business owner who liked to brag about being invited to a VIP celebrity charity dinner — the kind you read about in the New York Times. A quick search revealed that she’d been invited as the plus-one of a friend — who’d been invited automatically by donating a certain dollar amount.
The problem is, “He just told a fish story with a straight face” is a lot more memorable than the original fish story — the one the storyteller wants you to remember.
Choose the best stories for your portfolio.
You have many selves, so you can share many stories. To be effective, each story needs to communicate your message to your audience. And you have to assume every story will be fact-checked (because it’s so easy), especially when they seem too good to be true.
Most business owners realize the power of storytelling, but they’ve been encouraged to learn from campfire stories, movies, and (worst of all) bedtime stories. The truth is, business storytelling is different and many people get it wrong. Check out my FREE tip sheet: 3 Common Storytelling Mistakes Most Businesses Make (and the 1 Way To Fix Them). Click here to claim yours.
Many of my clients are surprised to discover they attract clients more easily when they include stories in their marketing. That means telling the right story..a story that represents your brand and fits your strategic purpose. Click here to learn about the Power Hour one-and-done session.