Through my years of editing fiction, I’ve always relished the writing techniques that make books fun to read. As a marketing copywriter, though, I’ve wondered how to make my content even half as exciting as these bestsellers.
In this post, I’ve identified some tried-and-true fiction-writing tactics that content marketers can weave into their brand storytelling to punch things up and keep readers reading. Follow these tips well, and you’ll delight your clients and strengthen your brand – which is better than any Pulitzer Prize, right?
Pick a Metaphor
Bestselling authors are masters of using metaphor to subtly convey meaning without having to state it outright. As readers, we don’t always catch on to the metaphor until we’re far along in the narrative, and so that moment when we do finally make the connection – noticing the parallels between, say, the stormy weather and the protagonist’s muddled mental state – is deeply pleasurable.
For a blog post about hiring the best people and cultivating the right workplace culture, you could use the metaphor of planting and tending to a garden; or for a post on how to survive tax season, you could compare the weeks of twelve-hour days to running a marathon. Your case study about the surprisingly high ROI of good old email marketing might use the metaphor of the turtle winning the race against the hare.
Show, Don’t Tell
Sometimes the joy of reading is more about the journey than the actual end point. Great authors use this for maximum advantage by showing key elements, rather than telling.
It’s the difference between explicitly describing things about a character (which is no fun), versus letting the reader discover the truth about the character through the character’s speech and actions (which hooks the reader in and makes the reader part of the story).
For example, stating “Robert is naïve and trusting” is telling the reader about Robert. But putting Robert in situations where he’s easily taken advantage of shows the reader Robert’s trusting nature – and is far more satisfying.
Focusing on measurable outcomes rather than making qualitative statements is a prime example of showing rather than telling. It’s always stronger to say, “Our new lead-generation software increased leads by 300% year over year” than “Our new lead-generation software was a huge success.”
Make Inside Jokes and References
Sometimes those small, almost throwaway scenes and events are the most important. They don’t necessarily move the action forward, but they do wonders to draw readers in to the author’s world.
An example is a story with an early scene where a dog is begging for scraps under the dinner table. Later on, the dog might be sitting at the table, eating off his own plate. The author doesn’t need to write any more than that. It’s like a mini-story in itself, and it’s delightful for the reader.
Say you’re writing web copy for a campus dining center. At the beginning of the text you mention the dining hall is open late to fuel midnight study sessions. This is a nice setup to later mention the coffee stand that opens at five a.m. for students groggy from late-night studying. Or over a series of blog posts, you could reference the same customer profiles with recognizable names and traits (Too-Busy Tina or Bottom-Line Bill).
Whether it’s on a grand scale, like finding out the butler did it, or a more micro level, such as an ancillary character suddenly becoming integral to the plot, twists and turns are one of the most important elements of a great story.
Sometimes blog posts and other marketing copy feel formulaic: situation is introduced, challenge is explained, solution is found. Although you want your material to be clear, you can still mix it up to make it more readable.
Maybe you present a new product launch by first detailing the failure of its predecessor. Or you define who you are by going over everything you don’t offer. However you do it, try to predict what the reader expects you to say – and then either don’t say it, or say it in an unusual way.
Writing marketing copy doesn’t have to be humdrum. As you read your favorite novels, notice what you love about them, and brainstorm how to incorporate those elements into your brand storytelling.
We’d love to hear from you: What makes you love a great story? And how do you incorporate that into your own content?