Suspense

Stories For Business Use, #5

Have you ever been robbed, close up in person?

One September night in 2007 I was walking home about 11PM. The fastest route home passed a derelict university building under renovation.

As I walked two boys appeared at the top of the road. Both had hoods up. One was whistling.

“Excuse me pal! Excuse me!” I stopped and turned around. “Do you know where Broomhill is?”

They continued to walk up to me. As they got closer I could see that one was smoking a spliff. Both were about my height, perhaps taller. They positioned themselves either side of me.

“Yeah back up the road, left and right at the top,” I replied.

The taller one straightened up for a moment. “Just hand your phone over,” he says.

For a second we stood there watching each other. In those brief moments rational thought evaporates with a jolt of fear.

I turned and sprinted back up the road. Thirty metres. Twenty metres. I could hear the ‘thump thump thump’ of pounding footsteps behind me. I reached the junction with no space to turn. I ran blindly in to the road…

Today’s email is about suspense. Suspense is the next ingredient in our recipe for better stories.

Suspense is where you plant questions in your reader’s mind and withhold the outcome.

As a writer I find my written stories are better than my spoken stories. If I tell you a story in person I have a tendency to become self-conscious and hurry to the end of the story. Many people will do a similar thing with a written story, worrying the story is too long.

Suspense works on different levels. You can build suspense into the overall plan of a story, like my robbery story above. You can also build suspense into individual sentences. Sentences like ‘they positioned themselves either side of me‘ forces you to read the next sentence to see what they did next.

Withhold the outcome and people will generally read on.

Your challenge with marketing emails isn’t to write 300 word emails. Or 800 word emails. Or 1000 word emails. The length is less important than whether people want to continue reading, sentence after sentence.

If you re-read the ‘timeline’ article you’ll see I have factored suspense in to the timeline. You can do this up front when you are planning your story, or you can do it retrospectively to make an existing story more engaging.

Suspense doesn’t have to take up a lot of space. You just have to withhold the outcome, even for a sentence or two.

Your task for today is to take a story you have written and add in an element or two of suspense. Send it to me if you like and I’ll send you my thoughts.

I ran out into the road in front of a car. The car braked, blocking the path of my pursuers. The footsteps subsided and I escaped up a side road.

Don’t walk home late at night past building sites. And build suspense in to your stories.

January 7, 2016

Storing AdWords Keyword Information in Infusionsoft

Storing keyword information from Google AdWords in Infusionsoft allows you to determine which of your ad spend is profitable.

You cannot currently do this out of the box with native Infusionsoft functionality. This video shares the steps we take.

The ‘purl’ I mention towards the end of the video is:

{lpurl}?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term={keyword}&utm_content={creative}&utm_campaign={campaignid}

If you need further help with this please contact us.

The Empathy Zone

Stories For Business Use, #4

Have you ever been to a party and struggled to make conversation with the other guests?

When I was a student I wasn’t too discriminate about who I made friends with. I would end up at house parties where everyone would be talking about Final Fantasy 12, or some other computer game. I would sneak off into a corner, or perhaps out the back door.

I am friends with Steve. I met Steve at university, when we did archery. We now play squash together, drink beer, watch rugby and both run our own business.

So, there is a reasonable amount of common ground.

Empathy zone

Now, sometimes I will hang out with Steve and Mike will be there. I like Mike, but we don’t have a whole lot in common, and therefore not a whole lot to talk about.

Empathy zone + Mike

The areas of overlap are called the empathy zone. Squash, beer, rugby and business all belong in the empathy zone I share with Steve.

If I wanted to grab Steve’s attention I wouldn’t tell a story about football. Steve is from Wales, so football is vastly subservient to rugby in his world. I would select one about rugby, beer, or some other common item.

The problem of course is that when you tell stories to promote your business you are talking to an entire audience, not a single person.

Still, the people in your audience will have a degree of shared experience, and maybe a shared perspective or outlook.

If you sell to marketers their shared perspective is that they probably hate selling face to face. I can tell you for a fact that every marketer has nightmares about selling over the phone.

If you sell to business owners their shared experience is the struggle of getting a viable business off the ground.

If you sell to home owners then perhaps they are worried about flooding, taxation, or some other topical item.

Your stories will be more effective when you write stories that overlap to some degree with your reader’s story.

The only way I have found to do this is to journal every day and add the stories to Evernote. Every journal entry I write gets tagged with a specific word.

Next time I need a story about ‘entrepreneurial struggle’ there is a good chance a relevant story will exist in my story bank. If there isn’t an exact match there will be a story there that I can bend to the message.

I was on John Fancher’s email list for a while. John is Perry Marshall’s copywriter, and ghost writes a number of his emails.

John is into rock music, and every message he sent would involve some sort of music reference.

Eventually it just wore a bit thin. I’m sure some people really engaged with his stories, but I didn’t relate to them very much.

The most important thing is to set aside time to actually speak to people in your target audience. You can only write stories that overlap with your reader’s stories if you speak to people regularly. Most marketers prefer to hide behind their keyboard and use fancy words or made-up stories.

When I am writing for a client the stories generally come from the client, not from me.

One final example – my primary audience is people who use Infusionsoft. That is the main group I market my services to.

I spend a lot of time on Infusionsoft forums. I’m not always very chatty, but I’ll chime in where I have something to say. When I see something interesting I’ll add the conversation into Evernote. Stories don’t always have to come from you.

Selecting awesome stories isn’t as important as most people think.

You can nearly always find drama in any story, even the mundane day to day ones. I actually tell a lot of mundane stories simply because people relate to them more than the unusual ones.

Still, you should be aware of empathy zone items when you select stories to tell.

I think there is a degree of confusion between ‘empathy’ and ‘sympathy’. Empathy is an ability to understand the feelings of others. Sympathy is an ability to express pity for the misfortune of others.

I am not a very sympathetic person, on the whole. I think sympathy is more hard-coded in to us through our background and upbringing.

Empathy is just a degree of curiosity about the people you are writing to. I think you can acquire empathy, if you want.

Introducing the timeline

Stories For Business Use, #3

I was telling you last time about my habit of writing outlines to exam answers at university.

I have not always employed the same diligence when writing marketing emails.

For many years I just used to wing it, and rely on natural ‘writing flair’.

I got reasonably good at winging it over the years. Given enough information I’ll normally produce a decent story at the first swing of the bat.

Yes, my stories were good. I knew instinctively what I was doing. But I hadn’t really identified the essential parts. And I certainly couldn’t teach what I was doing to someone else. I thought storytelling was too much of a ‘dark art’ to distill down to a process.

This all changed in December 2015, when I attended Sean D’Souza’s story telling workshop. Within ten minutes it became glaringly obvious that Sean did indeed have a process. Not only that, he was also able to teach it to the group.

The most important thing I took from Sean’s workshop was the importance of mapping your story on a timeline.

Do you remember the story I sent about my presentation at the marketing meeting? You can read the story again here. The outline for that story looked like this:

Timeline example

Every story has an ebb and a flow. Positive and negative things happen throughout the story, and the timeline is a visual way to see the ‘ups’ and ‘downs’.

Without the timeline, the danger is you won’t include enough ups and downs, making the story boring. Or you might end up with all ups or all downs, making it monotonous.

In this case I’ve started with a ‘C’, which means context. As we move through the timeline the first negative change in the story happens when I gave my website presentation.

After that there is a positive change where I talk about the website changes I had been making.

Every good story constricts and expands on different levels, and the timeline is a tool to visualise the flow of the story.

As a contrast, consider any typical television advert. Most television commercials are dull because they only contain super-smiley positive things. The timeline would contain only ‘ups’, making the story desperately boring.

The S stands for suspense. ‘I could hear the knives being sharpened’ adds suspense because we can feel that something is about to happen.

I finish the story with two ‘downs’, Owen telling me the website wasn’t ‘zassy’ enough, and Colin’s interjection.

The one idea I wanted to communicate was ‘meaningful information’, and this forms the bridge between the story and the content. The last line of the story talks about ‘meaningful information’, as does the first line of the content.

The timeline should be drawn before you attempt to draft your story. The timeline acts as a blueprint or framework for your writing. The timeline will save you from waffling and keep you on track.

Avoiding waffle

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’.

Open sandwich

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.

Are Your Stories Boring?

Write Stories That Sell, #1

It was a rainy Tuesday morning in September, 2012. I sat in the boardroom at the Q4 sales meeting, along with 12 sales reps and line managers. After dwelling on the sales figures it was time for me to stand up and deliver my marketing update.

I delivered most of my talk to glazed expressions. Then the subject I had been avoiding came about. The website.

In the weeks before the meeting I had been busy. I had replaced the stock images of unrealistically happy people with photos of real employees. I had rewritten most of the homepage content, cutting out the corporate drivel. I had increased the font size so everything was actually readable.

I published the updates, sent a company-wide email to 60 people, and sat back.

Can you guess how much feedback I received?

None. Zip.

None that is, if you ignored the sound of knives being sharpened.

Owen, the sales director, piped up first.

“I’ve had complaints about the website from partners and customers. It isn’t corporate enough. I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for, but it needs to have more zass.”

“Yeah!” piped up Colin. “Have a look at ABC Corp’s website! We want a website exactly like theirs.”

Contrary to what Colin thought I had actually looked at ABC Corp’s website. I thought it was another ‘mee too’ website, with meaningless corporate branding and empty statements.

I thought there was a big opportunity to zag, as the saying goes. I thought there was an opportunity to ditch the clichés and produce a website that actually spoke to our customers.

But no. That wasn’t what the sales team wanted. They wanted a safe, corporate website that was under no circumstances to impart any meaningful information.

I imagine you are reading this series because you want to communicate meaningful information to your customers. You want them to pay attention to that information and spend their money with you.

I believe stories are hands-down the best way to deliver information. Most corporate people are terrified at the prospect of exposing themselves and telling a story or two.

The one thing people struggle with above anything else is the idea that their stories are boring.

Please take a second to think about today’s video (link at the top) and the sales meeting story above.

I was not doing anything amazing or unusual in either story.

The stories became interesting because I identified the drama in them and followed a specific structure.

You already have all the stories you need. They may seem boring to you, but if you structure them correctly they won’t be boring to your audience.

We’ll talk more about that structure tomorrow.

August 31, 2015

The ‘Set Field Value’ explained

You might have noticed under ‘process’ there is now an option to set a field value.

This can be extremely useful under certain circumstances. I have a guest video today from Greg Jenkins, explaining the ‘Set Field Value’ option in more detail.

Bio:
Greg Jenkins is the founder of Monkeypod Marketing, where they focus on providing empowering entrepreneurs through educational events and online courses. Prior to starting Monkeypod Marketing, Greg worked at Infusionsoft as a curriculum developer and lead trainer for Infusionsoft University. Greg lives in San Diego and loves hiking, traveling, binging netflix and enjoying craft beer. But you could probably switch those last two verbs too.

August 28, 2015

Linking Infusionsoft to WordPress

Getting a contact’s information out of Infusionsoft and on to a web page has always been a pain. The only real solution in the past has been to use imember360, which costs $57 a month.

I was recently introduced a WordPress plugin called WPFusion. WPFusion allows you to display an Infusionsoft contact’s information on your WordPress pages.

You can also restrict certain pages to people who have certain tags, and customise the content displayed depending on a contact’s tags.

Unlike imember, WPFusion is priced at a single one time fee.

Read more about WP Fusion

August 21, 2015

Infusionsoft Campaign Planning

Everybody seems to have a different approach to planning campaigns in Infusionsoft. The default planning mode for most people seems to be to open the campaign builder and start building.

When you start creating campaigns without an overall plan that is when things start to get confusing. Pretty soon you forget what campaigns you have already done, and what the logic behind those campaigns actually was.

I have a particular approach to campaign planning in Infusionsoft which I think you might find helpful.

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