This continues to be the single-most powerful lesson about effective communication I’ve ever learned.
Thankfully, it’s also one of the simplest!
When I attended my very first AWAI Bootcamp way back in 2009, I walked away with two incredibly powerful takeaways that literally changed my copywriting — and my life.
The first was a literal takeaway. A poster from Clayton Makepeace (via his wife Wendy, aka “The Redhead”). On that poster, Clayton’s “Pretty Darned Good Outline” for writing long copy that sells. Most of my early sales letters were built on that outline. Some made millions.
The second was based on a speech that Mark Ford (then under his pen name, Michael Masterson) delivered. It was about The Power of One.
And while that outline is fun and exciting because it’s a tool you can use to write copy, the concept behind The Power of One is far more, well, powerful. (Sorry, Clayton.)
Summing it up…
The most powerful persuasive messages are built around one single big idea.
It’s a rookie mistake (that I made frequently!) to try to put all the ideas in your copy. A true pro knows that it’s far more compelling to find that one idea that will move mountains, and explore it fully.
If you base a clear and compelling presentation on the right idea, that’s how you end up with blockbuster promotions and messages that get woven into the very fabric of our culture (not just get customers).
I was reminded about this again in the context of the Story Selling Master Class, and reviewing some of the stories I’ve seen there.
(By the way, I’m going to do a limited-time re-launch very soon — click here to join the wait list if you didn’t get on it last time.)
The same natural tendency that makes us want to share all our ideas in copy also makes us want to tell all of our story, even if telling less gives it more impact.
And it can be incredibly valuable to think about The Power of One in the context of storytelling as well.
I’ll get to that in a moment, but first a quick review…
The 5 dimensions of The Power of One!
“But wait?! It’s The Power of One about ONE THING?”
Yes, in fact, it is. It’s about focus on one thing. But when you’re talking long copy, for example, you learn that you can explore one thing from different angles and in different dimensions, to really understand it.
And as Mark told it, there are actually five dimensions to The Power of One.
— One good idea. Your message should be centered around one core, relevant idea, concept, or message.
— One core emotion. There should be one main emotion conveyed and stimulated through your message.
— One captivating story. (Notice: STORY.) There should be one story to convey the idea and make it real.
— One single, desirable benefit. Above all else, this is what your prospect wants, and what you must promise in your message.
— One inevitable response. Effective marketing expects response, and it should be clear what the prospect should do and why.
These all speak to, support, and add depth and dimension to the one idea that you are basing your message around. They are all natural extensions of the same idea under The Power of One.
Now the question is…
How does this apply to storytelling?
Let’s say I’m telling a story about my copywriting experience.
I could go through, project-by-project — like I’m listing my work history — and tell you everything I’ve done.
Or, I could tell you about the first time I made $1,000,000 for a client in under 3 weeks, and how they were so excited to call me and tell me that it was their best single-product sales letter ever.
Or about the time I had a client shut down sales — for the first time in company history — because the product was selling too fast.
Or about the time I beat the client’s control by 130% by putting together two news stories and telling them as one, in a way the market had never heard before.
Any one of the three specific, isolated stories would be far more compelling than the listing of all my experience. And yet, the natural inclination (until you know better) is to tell it all.
In an early article about The Power of One, an email from Bob Bly was analyzed. I’m pretty sure at this time Bob was already making six figures per year publishing ebooks. But instead of talking about his ebook empire, he shared that “My very first ebook has generated $20,727 in sales (so far).”
Instead of talking about all the ebooks, it focused on one — his first (that’s important). And how much that one had made. By making the focus smaller, the appeal was bigger.
Narrowing focus in your storytelling can make it far more compelling…
This is as true in fiction as it is in writing to sell.
Let’s say for a minute — as an illustrative example — that you’re writing a story about the breakup of a relationship.
You could go down the laundry lists that both partners have kept of all the situations and reasons that led to the breakup. And that would, logically, tell you why the relationship was falling apart. But it would suck as a story!
Or, you could tell the story of an argument. Over dinner. In public. Voices strained to be kept at a civil volume, and in civil tones. Layers of hidden meaning in comments between bites of salad. Dropped hints of infidelity and betrayed trust, as side comments when talking to the waiter. Then, three bites into the main course, “It’s over.” She storms out.
Which is more interesting? Which makes a more compelling story? Would the second convey any less meaning than the first, even though you don’t have a clue about 95% of what led to the end of the relationship? No — in fact the second story would be packed with MORE emotional meaning, which is what would make it more compelling.
Which leads us to the big takeaway…
Find a way to tell less to say more…
This totally changed my copywriting, when I first followed it at the end of 2009 (note, I was able to launch my full-time freelance biz in February 2010).
Don’t try to tell more. Try to tell less, for more impact. Find the one thing to focus on. Figure out what’s most compelling. And tell that.
It doesn’t mean you’re going to say less. Sometimes, it means you say more — because you’re able to come at the same idea from multiple angles in fully exploring it, or tell multiple stories as part of the big and overarching narrative.
Whether it leads to more or less words, focusing on less will give you more impact.
And, more response.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
PS: For those who are wondering, I won’t be attending AWAI this week. I’m already regretting it! But it just didn’t line up. For those who are: have fun, and make it great! As my note above should make it clear, there’s a TON you can get out of Bootcamp, so pay attention and take lots of notes!