From Copywriting to Storytelling

The word copywriting is all over the net but I’m not sure everyone defines it the same. Wikipedia defines copywriting as:

“Copywriting is the use of words to promote a person, business, opinion or idea. Although the word copy may be applied to any content intended for printing (as in the body of a newspaper article or book), the term copywriter is generally limited to such promotional situations, regardless of media (as advertisements for print, television, radio or other media). The author of newspaper or magazine copy, for example, is generally called a reporter or writer or a copywriter.”

I define copywriting as the act of using words to sell or influence. My expanded definition is shorter than the Wikipedia version too:  Copywriting is written persuasion created to make your target audience act in a certain way, such as click, watch, read, buy, or register.

Storytelling is a great copywriting tactic. Stories are entertaining and engage the reader in a more subtle way than the triple-decibel BUY THIS! blast-messages we get hit with everyday.

Long before human beings learned to read and write we used storytelling to transfer knowledge and influence one another. A million years of storytelling has altered our genetic code. It’s now in our DNA to listen to stories, decide what’s important to us and then apply that to our lives.

If you want your audience to associate with your brand, your products and with you, then tell them a story. At a strategic level, it’s not much more complicated than that.  Storytelling2

The best way to get your audience to take action is to include these five elements in your story:

  1. Measurement
  2. Comparison
  3. Time
  4. Uniqueness and
  5. Compelling

Measurement: Most people grant numbers more credibility than they do general comments. Whatever it is you do for your clients, using numbers to quantify the benefits will make your claims more believable than claims that lacks numbers.

Comparison: Give your audience before and after examples of the benefits of your product or service. Demonstrating results in a before and after scenario gives your claims perspective.

Time: Similarly, providing a time-frame around your results helps your audience understand the true impact of your product or service, especially if the benefits were produced quickly.

Uniqueness: Since you want to stand out from your competition and have your own brand, it’s important to make your claim as unique as possible. That’s really hard in a web-connected world, but that’s also why it is so critical.

Compelling: The compelling element answers the question: “Who cares?” You may be able to clean reading glasses faster than anyone in your city but I doubt many people will pay for that unique skill.


  5 comments for “From Copywriting to Storytelling

  1. November 30, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    Hi Steve,
    Loved this article and when you compare the two, it really put it into perspective for me. As a writer I’m always looking for other insights, tips and helpful hints that make my job and love easier. You have certainly done that with this article!

    Thanks SO much!

    Deb Lamb
    Freelance Writer and Marketing Consultant

  2. December 1, 2009 at 3:19 am

    Deb, thank you for the kind words and taking the time to read my post.

  3. December 1, 2009 at 7:30 am


    Great post.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on this, a story meant to get the audience to act:

  4. December 1, 2009 at 5:32 pm

    Thorne, I read your excellent post ( but, frankly, was not surprised by the reaction you received.

    Those of us that sell our services to professional establishments have to understand that, unless we’re very careful, we’re operating under the premise that “we’re better at this than you.” That premise scares those that re insecure and insults people with large egos. Do you think there are there any paranoid people or large egos in the Legal industry?

    A softer approach may be warranted. I do a lot of web-related work and try to do three things during “1st contact.” (1) If I a meet with higher-ups I ask/insist that their web-person not attend since, despite all the goods things I see, human nature dictates they will only hear the criticisms, get defensive, and slow our progress. We’ll get them engaged later. (2) I spend a lot of time and effort detailing everything they’re doing well. (3) I list 3-5 of my top suggestions for improving, even if I have 30.

    Good luck and let me know if you want to talk further.

  5. December 2, 2009 at 5:54 am


    Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

    My post is flavored with a sense of amazement. How could an attorney who wants to attract top-notch clients not polish his work before it’s published? Doesn’t he see that what he writes flavors some of the first impressions others have of him? Don’t he care?

    And why is his marketing director afraid to correct his mistakes? He’s not writing a brief; he’s writing promotional copy. The marketing director has nothing to say of its quality?

    I find that just amazing.

    But that’s the post, which tells a story or two.

    I don’t think my approach was what failed. The marketing director couldn’t say yes, because she was afraid to even mention this to the attorney. I got the attorney to agree to look at a red line of his client alert, and we agreed when we spoke: if I didn’t hear back from him, he wasn’t interested.

    It might be a giant ego that stands in his way of looking good. Probably is, as there’s a tendency among many expensive lawyers that THEY don’t emit methane — never, ever!

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