02 Apr 2014

Can This Copywriting Tactic Light Up Your Prospects’ Brains And Open Their Wallets?

According to a study cited on LifeHacker, there are more parts of our brain activated via story-telling than when the same information is communicated merely via bullet points. For all of you who know how important split-testing copy is to increasing your conversion rate, this should be a big insight.

Telling stories is a powerful way to persuade, and can be a really worthwhile choice of things to test for your conversion rate optimization. Photo by Daniel http://thedcoy.blogspot.com/

Telling stories is a powerful way to persuade, and can be a really worthwhile choice of things to test for your conversion rate optimization. Photo by Daniel http://thedcoy.blogspot.com/

To first clarify what it is we’re referring to with the word “stories,” since that word is so often abused, the meaning here is a link between cause and effect. “The dog bit the man because the dog had rabies.” That’s a story. Thanks to LifeHacker for help on the clarification!

(You can of course have any length sequence of causally linked events. “The man, foam flying from his mouth in every direction, leaped onto the dog and slammed his teeth back into its tough, hairy neck.” That would be part two of the story. Note also the rich vocabulary which conveys sensation – this is a key way to enhance the storytelling. )

Returning to the question of copy, look at what LifeHacker’s post tells us about bullet points – one of the favourite elements in most copywriters’ toolboxes.

“If we listen to a powerpoint presentation with boring bullet points, a certain part in the brain gets activated. Scientists call this Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. Overall, it hits our language processing parts in the brain, where we decode words into meaning. And that’s it, nothing else happens.P

“When we are being told a story, things change dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too.

“If someone tells us about how delicious certain foods were, our sensory cortex lights up. If it’s about motion, our motor cortex gets active”

To me this sounds like the issue is less bullet points as a formatting question, and more the difference between detailing benefits in the abstract vs conveying the “actual experience.” For example, in the bankruptcy trustee field, you will often find images of people relaxing with their hands behind their head and feet on the table. This conveys the experience of relaxing by having someone assist with the financial burden. This is why we have so called hero images on landing pages.

What story should you tell?

Recently, during linkbait research, I thought to do link research not just on competitors – but also on content sites in space e.g. indie bloggers and magazines. This yielded a rich source of inspiration. Which story should you focus on, though?

You should focus the story on the benefit for the primary audience for the landing page. Suppose you’re selling link building to a company that got penalized before. You want to tell them about how your research on past cases has lead to great links for clients that raised their rankings, traffic and sales significantly. And how the extra time they freed up for clients has resulted in such things as restoring date night for a previously overworked client and his wife, helping someone else find more time to manually cut, sew and knit fabrics into beautiful clothes for the grandkids they love etc.

Warning: Don’t oversell the story.

Here’s a cool headline I found in browsing the travel blog world and its backlinks. “The time I traveled through a war zone.” (Slightly changed to avoid recognition of the original author.)

You’re probably thinking whizzing bullets, close calls and a triumphant hero at the end, right?

Actually the fighting – really some border skirmishes that injured and killed a few soldiers, but hardly a “war zone” – occurred prior to the author’s visit and they basically just described a long trip by motor vehicle and foot. Boooooooring!

Bottom line: Split test it.

Just like mad lib forms when they came out, this allows you to build a more personal connection with your visitors. It therefore sounds like a very likely win! Have you split tested story copy vs mere “benefit” copy? I’d love to hear in the comments or over Twitter!


  1. Arun Kallarackal April 14, 2014 at 6:37 PM

    Hi Gab,

    That’s was an interesting topic! I mean, never thought that story telling could be this effective.

    Just like you said, I will write stories keeping the visitors’ motive in mind. I guess that is a very crucial aspect!

    Not overselling the story is also important. Just taking a look at the example you shared, I can say that it will result in more harm than good!

    I found the link to this post on Kingged.


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