Cockroaches & Copywriting

August 02, 2016   /   by  Diane Callihan

Fear and Loathing in Tampa Bay

The other night, I awoke at 4:30 to the feeling of something skittering across the back of my hand.

I jumped out of bed and turned on the lights to discover a palmetto bug (i.e., a giant flying cockroach) the size of a gerbil. IN. MY. BED.

My husband tried to kill it, missed it, and then lost it. Told me to go back to bed. Uh…nope. I never plan to sleep again.

If anyone needs me, I'll be burning down my house.

What does this have to do with copywriting?

Not a damned thing.

Well, actually, it does. Because if you read this far, this must be a somewhat compelling tale. Why?

  1. It’s relatable. Maybe this story got you thinking of a time a centipede ran across your face when you were camping. Or the time a lizard fell on you when you got the mail (this also happened to me). It’s a common human experience to have some unpleasant interaction with insects or reptiles. It’s what bonds us together as a nation.
  2. It’s true. This really happened! The truth has power. When you watch a movie and it says it’s based on a true story, doesn’t that give it more impact?
  3. It has emotion. Fear, loathing, horror. The ick factor.
  4. It has action. Skittering, jumping, killing, burning. Attempted murder and arson.
  5. It’s descriptive. Did you picture a cockroach the size of a gerbil? OK, that’s a slight exaggeration, but it paints a picture.
  6. It has humor. I didn’t really burn down my house. That was a joke. (We did, however, hire an exterminator.)

These are some basic components of good storytelling. If you want to have engaging, share-worthy, delightful marketing content for your business, you need to tell a good story.

“But I market accounting software!” you might be saying to yourself. “How do I make this a good story?”

  • Make a connection with your reader (something relatable). In my example, this is the common experience of having a disgusting insect crawl on you. But if you sell software, your target audience might relate to the common experience of having software that is so complicated and cumbersome that no one wants to use it.
  • Use a real-life example or testimonial that people can identify with (truth).
  • Write about your reader’s pain—in this case, frustration, exhaustion and stress (emotion). Pain is the emotion that motivates someone to buy something. It can be technical (this doesn’t work right), financial (this is costing too much) or emotional (this makes me angry). Emotional pain is the greatest motivator.
  • Talk about what your software will do (action) to make things better, faster, easier. You can also talk about actions the reader can take to solve the problem, or the exciting things the reader will be able to do once the problem is solved.
  • Paint a picture (description) of what their new and improved, happier work life will look like once they get your new software. Champagne flowing. Bags of cash being handed out.

Humor isn’t necessarily appropriate for all situations – like if you sell caskets – but in my opinion, it’s used far too infrequently in the corporate world. Lighten up, folks. We like to be amused and entertained while being informed.

Which is another important rule of copywriting: don’t be boring. Some businesses think you need to be boring to appear serious and professional. It’s not true. Be smart. Be insightful. Be bold.

Tell a story. Be real.

And sleep with one eye open.

Need help telling your company’s story? We’ve got this. Let’s talk.

Diane Callihan

Diane Callihan

With more than 20 years of experience writing for some of the country’s top brands, Diane helped to shape Roger West’s content strategy, lead generation, and PR efforts as Director of Marketing. She currently serves as President of Callihan Content Creation.