Get a Better Direct Marketing Response Rate Using Storytelling Techniques

One of the most famous direct response ads of all times is John Caples’ masterful “They Laughed When I Sat Down At the Piano But When I Started to Play! –” Written in 1925 to advertise the U.S. School of Music’s correspondence course, it remains a timeless classic of direct response marketing, and a powerful demonstration of how the art of storytelling can improve direct marketing response rates.Anatomy of a Successful Direct Response AdBy today’s standards, it’s quite long – much longer, in fact, than most modern audiences will sit still for. But it weaves a magic spell over the reader, drawing you into the tale of the man who was laughed at and who eventually had the last laugh, thanks to the U.S. School of Music’s correspondence course.The ad successfully uses the following storytelling techniques:
The headline instantly touches on an emotional nerve. “They laughed – ” How many of us have been laughed at by the faceless, nameless “they”? Pretty much everyone at one time or another has been on the receiving end of derisive laughter! And who doesn’t want it to end? Caples, one of the best copywriters of all time, draws the reader right into the story.
A setup: The story is told and we view the events unfolding through dialogue and story.
The punchline: We’re already emotionally invested in our hero. Will he play and confirm what the crowd thinks, that he’s just a bumbling fool, an inept musician? No! He sits and plays Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. It’s a well chosen work for the ad. Not only is it a beautiful work, it is one familiar to most people who can immediately hear it in their minds. It’s also a difficult piece but one that a skilled amateur could certainly play. In other words, it’s a stretch but not a crazy stretch to imagine that you can play such a work.
And the call to action: The ad ends with a strong call to action, a free booklet, and the standard direct marketing components to enable easy and fast responses to the ad.Using Storytelling Techniques in Your Marketing MaterialsTo run such a long print advertisement in a newspaper or magazine today would be costly. But what about the internet? So many so-called ‘squeeze pages’ for E books and information products ramble on with hysterical, hard hitting copy, yet fail to tell a compelling story.People naturally gravitate towards stories. There’s a reason that stories such as myths, folklore and legends have passed down to use throughout the ages. The human mind and heart wants to latch onto the emotional resonance in a story. Our brains are hard wired to find and make sense of the story in what we are told. Finding your product, service, or company story and weaving a magic tale around it evokes an emotional response, tapping into the customer’s right-brained, intuitive, creative mind. Skillfully including product features, as Caples does in this ad, then taps into the logical left-brained mind and completes and seals the sale.Look with a fresh eye at what you’re selling. Whether it’s a piece of exquisite artwork or plumbing supplies, what story does it tell?
You don’t have to make up a tale like Caples did in his ad. One of the most successful company “stories” I heard about was a car wash chain in California who spun a great story around their new recycling equipment that cleaned and recycled water from the car wash, thus reducing their environmental impact and saving water, something very important to drought-conscious Californians. The funny thing is that recycling gray water was mandated by law, so the car wash wasn’t doing anything differently from what their competitors were doing – they just figured out how to tell a better story about it!
Think about your brand as if it were a myth or an archetype. If that’s too highfalutin for you, think about it like a Disney fairy tale. Are you Cinderella rising from rags to riches or are you Hansel and Gretel, using cleverness and creativity to save the day for your clients? There are many branding with archetypes workshops and books. See if anything resonates or appeals to you.
Ask a sympathetic friend to spend some time listening to you tell the story of how your product developed. Or use the stuffed animal exercise. Take a stuffed animal, sit it on your desk, and pretend to talk to it (or speak aloud to it as long as your family won’t think you’re crazy). Write down what you say, then let it ‘cool’ and don’t read it for several days. Go back to it. Does your brand story speak coherently and from the heart? Evoke emotion? Weave a story the way Caples did? No – then revise, rewrite, and try again.The power of storytelling is an ancient power that can be harnessed to improve direct marketing response rates. Don’t settle for humdrum, feature-heavy copy on your websites, brochures, postcards and more. Weave a magic spell with words and create a compelling tale that draws customers in. Once they’re into the story, they can’t help but want to know what happens next, and respond not merely with logic but with brand loyalty.The entire ad, including the full copy, of the famous 1925 John Caples ad may be found at Power Writing.