Use Storytelling for Compelling Web Copy
When was the last time you read a home page that made you feel something? (Note: boredom doesn’t count.)
Copywriters are often torn between communicating their point in a concise way and connecting with their audience on an emotional level.
These two ideas, while not always in harmony, do not necessarily have to be in conflict with each other.
We’re wired to respond to stories. Storytelling has been an important tool for sharing lessons throughout history. The guy who was nearly eaten by the wild animal? Yeah, he probably told his mates about it afterwards.
So how do stories work? What’s the alternative? And how can you use storytelling in your own business without burying the main point?
Inverted pyramids tell, but stories sell
When I was studying journalism, we had the inverted pyramid drilled into us from day one. You would lose serious marks for burying the lead, and asking ‘what’s the story?’ became second nature.
This approach to writing allows an editor to cut entire paragraphs from the bottom and know that no critical information is being lost. Additionally, newspapers and online news publications are competitive places with multiple stories all trying to cut through and grab attention. When a reader can scan the lead, understand the story and move on, this makes the news easier to consume and therefore more pleasing and rewarding to read.
Nowadays, the inverted pyramid is shuffling its way into all the corners of the internet, thanks to the highly controversial belief that audience attention spans are getting shorter and shorter.
But does the attention span of your audience really matter? Even the most time-poor person will read a well-written article that tells them stuff they want to know. As Virginia Heffernan says in her article for the New York Times:
“Whether the Web is making us smarter or dumber, isn’t there something just unconvincing about the idea that an occult “span” in the brain makes certain cultural objects more compelling than others?”
Those who believe a person has a predetermined time they can dedicate to any one thing with no regard to the content of that thing are in denial.
The biggest advocates for the inverted pyramid are writers scared they can’t keep their readers’ attention.
When you craft a story worth reading, it will be read
Assuming your content is reaching your audience (we’re not getting into content distribution today, #sorrynotsorry), then it’s simply a matter of knowing who you’re writing for and crafting the story that touches a nerve for them.
- Writing for busy mums? Talk with them about social expectations that lead to disproportionate housework in the home.
- Writing for marketing managers? Open a discussion about how difficult it can be to create compelling web copy.
- Writing for tradies? Don’t just talk about how great power tools are – they probably know that already. What are the challenges they face onsite each day? Speak to those, and let them speak back to you.
If in doubt, consider the person you tell your troubles to. Why do you trust them? They probably know who you are, understand your individual challenges, and offer constructive ways to solve problems. They probably don’t make light of your problems, and they probably listen to you and engage in dialogue.
Speak to your potential customers and clients as friends instead of money machines, and get in a frame of mind that sees their human emotions and speaks to those.
Tips for writing good stories in web copy:
Find the story that will work
Most businesses will have a basic understanding of the problem their product or service solves. Take that a step further. It’s not enough to simply create a generic story about the person who has a problem then solves it. Make it specific to your target market. Know who you’re writing for, then write for them.
“Know who you’re writing for, then write for them.”
Build your characters
Characters are central to stories. If you’re not connecting at some level with the characters involved, you’re not going to keep reading. Your brand is a character, so develop it and make it relatable. People love feeling like part of a community, so when you build your brand as a character, your positioning it as a friend, not just a solution.
“Your brand is a character.”
Commit to the story
Don’t be half-assed about this. You’re either a storyteller or you’re a fact-reciter. Don’t toe the line; don’t try to be both because you will fail at both. Be passionate about the brand you’re writing for, and let it come through in the words you choose.
“Be passionate about the brand you’re writing for.”
Use your whole website
Don’t just stick to the About Us page for your story. Weave your magic throughout the home page, the FAQs, the blog, even product pages if you have ecomm functionality. Deliver a consistent experience throughout the site, and keep your readers anticipating interactions with your characters.
“Keep your readers anticipating interactions with your characters.”
Examples of websites that use copy to tell a story:
Passion Planner (detailed diaries/daily planners)
The team at Passion Planner make good use of a page dedicated to their brand story, but it doesn’t end there.
Their whole website takes the user on a journey – a journey of giving back to the community, and of giving back to yourself.
Even their Tips page is clearly designed to connect with the right people at specific points in their lives.
First Round (start-up assistants)
The folk at First Round know the problem, the solution, and the story behind their offering. You know how I know? Because they told me, with their web copy. And I read it.
Of course, I make it a habit to never to trust anyone offering me success. But if you’re a founder struggling to make your idea viable, you can see how this is appealing. I mean, come on, these guys get it.
The final word:
If you have the resources available to create high-quality stories, try it. If in doubt, go ahead and split-test your copy and assess engagement and user behaviour through Google Analytics.
Keep in mind that poor storytelling is worse than no storytelling. If you don’t have the time or expertise to craft incredible copy, it’s OK to stick to simpler options like the efficient inverted pyramid style of web copy. But if your brand does have the opportunity and potential to tell a solid story that connects with your customers, you should definitely give it a go.