Storytelling is an essential element to attract readers and drive engagement. So how can you add this element to your blog posts? Can you even fit a captivating story into a social media update or a 140-character tweet?
Here’s the great news: Yes, and there’s a formula. Many storytellers and copywriters have tested the best introductions and seques, and these formulas just plain work—in blogpost introductions, social media updates, emails and anywhere else you need them.
Should you turn to a formula each time you write? One of my favorite perspectives comes from someone who knows copywriting better than anyone: Copyblogger’s Demian Farnworth. He argues that being an efficient writer means keeping your tools handy. You don’t have to recreate the wheel every time.
A great formula—whether storytelling or headline writing or any other—saves time and boosts productivity. Here are 15 you should take for a spin:
1. Before — After — Bridge
Before — Here’s your world …
After — Imagine what it’d be like, having Problem A solved …
Bridge — Here’s how to get there.
This is our current go-to formula. Describe a problem, describe a world where that problem doesn’t exist, then explain how to get there. It’s simple, and it’s versatile.
2. Problem — Agitate — Solve
Identify a problem
Agitate the problem
Solve the problem
Copyblogger calls this formula the key to dominating social media.
If differs from the first formula in just one way: Instead of describing a life without the problem (the “after” part), it describes life if the problem were to persist (the “agitate” part).
3. Features — Advantages — Benefits (FAB)
Features — What you or your product can do
Advantages — Why this is helpful
Benefits — What it means for the person reading
This formula highlights one of my favorite bits of advice: Focus on benefits, not features. We’ve taken this advice to the extreme by avoiding the word “feature” when launching new tools.
4. The 4 C’s
This formula reminds me to stay focused on the benefits to the reader. Keep the writing clear, keep it concise, find a compelling angle and write with credibility.
5. The 4 U’s
Useful — Be useful to the reader
Urgent — Provide a sense of urgency
Unique — Convey the idea that the benefit is unique
Ultra-specific — Be ultra-specific with all of the above
This formula seems ready-made for social media. The elements of urgency and specificity fit well with the fast pace and text constraints of Twitter. If you can master this one, you can expect to see great results for your social media marketing.
6. Attention — Interest — Desire — Action (AIDA)
Attention — Get the reader’s attention
Interest — Feed readers fresh information
Desire — Outline benefits of your product/service/idea and proof that it does what you say
Action — Ask for a response
AIDA is one of the most standard formulas and has been used for direct mail, television and radio, sales pages, landing pages and so much more. Many of the ideas that follow will play off these elements.
My favorite part of AIDA: attention. With blogposts and social media, this can amount to writing an amazing headline.
7. A FOREST
A – Alliteration
F – Facts
O – Opinions
R – Repetition
E – Examples
S – Statistics
T – Threes (Repeat something three times to make it memorable.)
You would be hard-pressed to fit this into a social media update, but it is perfect for a blogpost or landing page.
For those times when you’re pinched for copy on social media, you can pull elements out of A FOREST. Post with alliteration or facts or threes.
8. The 5 basic objections
1. I don’t have enough time.
2. I don’t have enough money.
3. It won’t work for me.
4. I don’t believe you.
5. I don’t need it.
Readers can easily come up with reasons not to read or click or share. Those reasons will likely fall into one of these basic buckets. Keep these in mind as you’re writing. If you can solve all of them, wonderful. If you can solve even one, great.
9. Picture — Promise — Prove — Push (PPPP)
Picture: Paint a picture that gets attention and creates desire
Promise: Describe how your product/service/idea will deliver
Prove: Provide support for your promise
Push: Ask your reader to commit
Many of these formulas involve showing someone a picture of a desirable outcome. The PPPP follows up this dream with specific ways that the product/service/idea can help, along with proof that it actually does. The final step – call to action – is crucial, and it can be as simple as a short URL.
10. The psychological pull of open loops
Create a cliffhanger
The success of open loops is rooted in psychology. We need closure, and when we don’t get it, we feel anxious, which spurs us to seek it out, to keep reading.
Felicia Spahr described this phenomena in a post at KISSmetrics, pointing out the prevalence of open loops in Hollywood filmmaking and TV.
Open loops in TV shows are the equivalent of that cliffhanger that keeps you up at night or that story line that was never explained. Those aren’t just “blips” in a script. They are put there so that it’s harder for people to get off the couch than it is to stay and watch “just one more episode.”
11. The Reader’s Digest blueprint
According to famed copywriter John Caples, you can take great inspiration from studying how Reader’s Digest articles are composed.
They are fact-packed.
They are telegraphic.
They are specific.
There are few adjectives.
They arouse curiosity.
Copyblogger’s Demian Farnworth and Jerod Morris put this formula to good use in the way they open blogposts. Here’s what they’ve learned:
- Your opening sentence should be short, even as short as one word
- The wrong quote can repel readers
- A great story begins in the chaotic middle
- You borrow liberally from your swipe file
On social media, the Reader’s Digest blueprint might look like this:
12. Sonia Simone’s 5 pieces every great marketing story needs
1. You need a hero
2. You need a goal
3. You need conflict
4. You need a mentor
5. You need a moral
You might pick up on some familiar threads in Copyblogger cofounder Sonia Simone’s formula. “Conflict” fits with Problem-Agitate-Solve. “Mentor” fits with the new-world vision of Before-After-Bridge. All five elements together make for great storytelling.
13. Write to one person
Good advertising is written from one person to another.
The above is a quote from Fairfax Cone, one of the leading voices in copywriting. His tip reads more like advice than a formula, but the takeaway is just as good. Who is your ideal reader? Find out (perhaps using marketing personas), then write to them and them alone.
14. The 3 Reasons Why
Why are you the best?
Why should I believe you?
Why should I buy right now?
This trio is an expansion on a tried-and-true question that all copywriters strive to answer: “Why?” Copyblogger’s Brian Clark has a neat way of summing up all these questions:
Why should I buy from you at all when I understand your competition better than you do, and there’s no difference?
15. Star — Story — Solution
Star — The main character of your story
Story — The story itself
Solution — An explanation of how the star wins in the end
This formula doesn’t necessarily need to be linear. You might tell your story and introduce your star at the same time. And the star can be anything—your product/service/idea or even the reader.
A version of this article first appeared on Buffer.