The Power of the Story: For sale, baby shoes, never worn

By Sue Brady

“They Laughed When I sat Down at the Piano – But When I Started to Play!” John CaplesPiano

This headline, written in 1926 by John Caples is still quoted as one of the best advertising headlines of all time. Why? Because it promises a story. It lures the reader in. And that’s really the key to effective marketing. After all, who doesn’t like a good story?

Taking a ‘story’ approach when you write your next piece of content, commercial or ad is almost certain to deliver more success than presenting your product as, well, a product.

Stories are relatively easy to write in marketing. A good story has a beginning, middle and end. The steps to creating a story are:

  1. Establish the setting and introduce your character(s)
  2. Set up the problem
  3. End with the solution

Here’s an old fashioned example:

Establishing the setting: Mom or Dad come home from work and enter the kitchen
Setting up the problem: The kids are hungry and the parents haven’t had a chance to figure out dinner

Providing the solution: Hamburger Helper to the rescue!

Michael Brenner, a great content marketing strategist, says that great marketing storytelling accomplishes three things:

  1. Establishes your brand
  2. Turns your brand from a product into an experience
  3. Lures the reader into that experience so that the consumer wants to “build your product into their lives.”

When you search for brands that have mastered this technique, you’ll find Nike, Budweiser, Dove and even Google.Nikes

Nikes are just gym shoes, no? Hardly. Air Jordans are the top selling sneaker of all time. How did they get there? Michael Jordan actually almost ended his contract with Nike because he wasn’t pleased with the first two iterations of Air Jordan. But ‘shoe architect’ Tinker Hatfield had a eureka moment. He realized that the shoes could tell the story of the greatest basketball player ever. He used what he knew about MJ to create a shoe he knew Michael, and the public, would love. It told a story and had style. And it worked.

Try writing some headlines for your product to make it an experience. You can create your story from there. It’s great practice. Here are some examples (not originals!):

Product: iPod

Experience: “An iPod is 1000 songs in your pocket.”

Product: Soap

Experience: “Dove. Be your beautiful self.”

Product: Beer

Experience: “For all you do, this Bud’s for you.”

And I leave you with perhaps the best short story ever written: For sale, baby shoes, never worn.*

Baby shoes*This story’s origin is an urban legend, with likely false attribution to Ernest Hemingway.


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