Write Stories That Sell, #2
Do you remember taking exams? I do. The memory is perhaps a little too raw.
All the insecure students would mill about beforehand, testing each other. We were then herded into a cold gymnasium, where row after row of desks were spaced three feet apart.
A bald, serious-looking examiner would explain the rules. Awkwardly, everyone would watch the minute hand of the clock rise agonisingly to the top of the hour.
“The time is now 9.02, and you may begin…” announced the examiner.
As soon as those words were uttered a frenzy of paper turning and scribbling would begin. Everyone would turn over the paper, glance at the question, and write like mad.
Everyone that is, except for me.
I would spend the first seven minutes of an examination reading the questions and drafting an outline.
The outline was essential to keep me on track, and stop me waffling. Students tend to fill their brains with so much information before an exam that it tends to all fall out onto the page in waffle.
When you write emails to promote your business – especially story based emails, there is a great temptation to waffle. You have all this information in your head about your products and services. You have various stories you might use.
The problem is, how do you stay on track and avoid waffling?
The answer is to work to a structure.
The structure I work to is one called the ‘open sandwich structure’.
When you read an email that follows the open sandwich structure it is like biting down into an open sandwich. We first encounter the filling, which is the story. An open sandwich can contain all kinds of fillings, just like your email can contain all kinds of stories.
At some point we stop telling our story, and start delivering our content. Your content is the information you want to deliver about your products and services. Most marketing emails skip the story part of the sandwich, and focus exclusively on information.
If you never include any stories in your emails, you are in effect asking your readers to eat dry bread. They may eat dry bread once or twice, but not over a significant time frame.
If you need to nurture a relationship with a potential customers over months and years, rather than hours and days, you need to be using stories.
At the point in the sandwich where the story meets the content, we have something called the ‘one idea’. The ‘one idea’ is a single word or phrase that encapsulates your story, and is like the margarine that holds everything together.
Without a cohesive ‘one idea’ there is a strong possibility that your story will not relate in any way to your content, and feel desperately random.
The one idea behind today’s email was ‘waffle’. If you look carefully at the end of the story (ends ‘onto the page in waffle’) and the start of the information (starts ‘when you write’) both sentences deliberately contain the word waffle. Waffle is the link between the story and the information.
If I had wanted the one idea to be planning I would have simply rewritten the last line of the story, making the last word ‘planning’ instead of ‘waffle’. Your reader will view your story as being about whatever you finish on.
The power of the one idea is it allows you to apply a single story to a wider range of purposes. The story and content don’t have to be directly related.
I select most of my stories because I like the story, not because the story matches my content. In this email I made the story about waffle by setting ‘waffle’ as my one idea.
Most story telling – especially within business use – is poor because the writer has not chosen a single idea for the story to be about. This one idea needs to link in to the information you want to communicate, which will normally come after the story.
The formula is:
1. Open with your story
2. End your story on your ‘one idea’
3. Begin your content on your ‘one idea’
4. Finish on your content, including a call to action if appropriate
If you tell stories without identifying a one idea you will waffle.