Do Hardship Stories Sell?

by art72
26 replies
From a copywriting perspective, does ones struggles resonate with audiences, as like with the movie; "The Pursuit of Happyness" ?
#hardship #sell #stories
  • Profile picture of the author shawnlebrun
    Well, people buy from those they like and trust.

    And if someone can RELATE to your story... then sure, it could help sales.

    If people go through the same struggles... often times there's a bonding that takes place.

    For instance, you can watch a UFC fight where the 2 will try to beat the daylights out of each other... and when the fight is done, they hug it out.

    They just went through a struggle together and bonded as a result.

    so yes, common struggles and overcoming them can help prospects resonate with you and your product/service.

    If I remember right, it was Eben Pagan's copy course that talked about the conversion equation.

    Element No. 1 is your Starting Situation.
    Element No. 2 is Tried and Failed
    Element No. 3 is the Breakthrough:
    Element No. 4 is you started achieving Consistent Results
    Element No. 5 is you Created a Method based on trying and failing,
    Element No. 6 is Others Did It Too.

    So, the "tried and failed" part would be the struggle you were asking about.

    When I wrote a fitness sales letter back in 2001 or so, it was fresh off my struggle to lose a ton of fat and enter a bodybuilding show.

    So in that letter, I talked about all the struggles I faced. And that letter went on to make a LOT of money... so yes, struggles resonate with readers... if they're facing the same type of struggle and you're able to give them hope.
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  • Profile picture of the author Jeffery Moss
    People don't just buy a product out of pity sake or because they feel sorry for someone else. If your reader is in the same sad situation, then they are likely to identify with the sad story being told. So long as you offer a good story and follow up with specific details on how you fixed it (or at least hint via the sales letter), then you are likely to make a sale, if they think you can fix their problem in the same way.
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  • Profile picture of the author BrianMcLeod
    The important concept here is BUILDING RAPPORT THROUGH EMPATHY.

    Your reader should see themselves in your struggle.

    They believe you more as they read because you're accurately describing what it's like to be them.

    "Finally, someone UNDERSTANDS...", they'll think.

    But a sad-sack tale of misery and woe alone, however perfectly targeted, isn't going to bag you any sales.

    There has to be a breakthrough, a discovery, a catalyst that replaces the struggle with hope, opportunity, a way out...

    Make sense?
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  • Profile picture of the author shawnlebrun
    Bingo, THANK you Brian....

    As I was writing this post late last night, after plowing out from under a foot of snow here... I was racking my frozen brain coming up with that line you said.

    "Finally... someone UNDERSTANDS me..."

    THAT is the key part of all of this.
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  • Profile picture of the author Mark Pescetti
    Stories are a way of aligning yourself with your ideal customer.

    If what you've gone through resonates with prospects, they'll see themselves in your story.

    Because essentially...

    You're telling their story.

    They'll want to experience the breakthroughs you created.

    And the only way to do that is pressing the Buy Button, right?


    Do you want a 9 figure copywriter and biz owner to Write With You? I'll work with you, on zoom, to help write your copy or client copy... while you learn from one of the few copywriters to legit hit 9 figures in gross sales! Discover More

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    • Profile picture of the author ewenmack
      Less so when dealing with decision makers in bigger businesses.

      My company got Puma and 10 #1 retail brands as clients,
      100% devoid about us.

      I've worked with a guy who has got into and sold 12 million dollars worth of software to these...Proctor And Gamble, Home Depot, Bank Of America,
      MacDonalds, Burger King plus others... again devoid of a story about themselves.

      Using same strategies in different markets don't always transfer.

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      • Profile picture of the author Jeffery Moss
        Originally Posted by ewenmack View Post

        Using same strategies in different markets don't always transfer.

        I could see this emotional hardship story working with an internet marketing site, where the site owner talks about being down and out, nearly homeless and pulling himself from the brink to success. In that situation, maybe the guy is selling his secrets of making money. And, what better way to illustrate these ideas work than to use yourself as the guinea pig and show how they worked for you. So long as this person could actually produce proof of that success, testimonials from others who have witnessed this transformation, then it could be a very powerful tool to convince someone to buy what you are offering, so they can earn the same money for themselves.
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  • Profile picture of the author MikeHumphreys
    Originally Posted by art72 View Post

    From a copywriting perspective, does ones struggles resonate with audiences, as like with the movie; "The Pursuit of Happyness" ?
    It can. I do this tactic frequently in salesletters I write.

    The key is to use your past struggles as a way to create a bond with the reader... that you were once like them. That you know where they've been... and that you're living proof someone -- maybe them someday -- can get to where you are today.

    At the same time, you have to hit the right length for this section of the salesletter. Too short and your reader will feel like they read a footnote on your past struggles and they won't be able to relate with you. Too long and they will feel like they're reading your autobiography which is not what they signed up for. They're reading the salesletter to find out what's in it for them.

    So you share the past hardship you've endured, tell the tale, and then gradually transition back into talking about what's in it for them.
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  • Profile picture of the author sethczerepak
    Look up " Hero's Journey Story." I've used that formula for 15 years now. It's a sure win if your "hero" matches the target market, if their struggles mirror one another and if the hero's story finishes where the reader want to end up themselves.
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  • Profile picture of the author joe golfer
    Vin Montello has a nice report on positioning the "product as hero" or the "reader as hero," along with other approaches in "Seven Story Secrets":

    Plus, you'll learn about Slimodrine, which I've taken for 3 years and was able to lose 124 pounds.
    Marketing is not a battle of products. It is a battle of perceptions.
    - Jack Trout
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    • Profile picture of the author ewenmack
      No hard luck story here...bought in $183,203
      in a year.


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      • Profile picture of the author BrianMcLeod
        Originally Posted by ewenmack View Post

        No hard luck story here...bought in $183,203
        in a year.

        I think most of us presumed that the OP was talking about long copy, in terms of story and storytelling.

        Naturally, a YP or other classified/display ad is a different animal.


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        • Profile picture of the author ewenmack
          Originally Posted by BrianMcLeod View Post


          I think most of us presumed that the OP was talking about long copy, in terms of story and storytelling.

          Naturally, a YP or other classified/display ad is a different animal.


          O.K. Brian.

          If we were to look at Gary Halbert's Coat Of Arms Letter,
          admittedly not long by many people's standard today,
          you wont find a back story on Nancy.

          Might help readers by reading it again
          to see the simplicity of it.

          Here's the link to it...

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  • Profile picture of the author dmarc
    It really all depends on your list and how you've built it.

    Freebie seekers and buyers are two different animals. A list you want to sell to and a list you want to run paid solos to should be nurtured in different ways.

    Regardless, hardship stories can work, as long as there is a duplicitable redemption story too.
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  • Profile picture of the author BrianMcLeod

    You win. Stories don't sell.

    Gary Halbert and Puma prove it.
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  • Profile picture of the author Raydal
    The story of the "struggler" does resonate with the prospect. For the
    first time I wrote a sales letter using the story as the backbone of the
    copy and it did over 20% conversion at launch. You can see the letter
    here. (No active buy link--just the letter as presented to client.)

    Hyper-Responsive List

    -Ray Edwards
    The most powerful and concentrated copywriting training online today bar none! Autoresponder Writing Email SECRETS
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  • Profile picture of the author ThomasOMalley
    Effective storytelling can definitely be an effective strategy for a sales letter.

    Obviously, however, you don't always need a great story to write an effective sales letter.

    I was recently reading an effective full page ad for a corporation manual that didn't have any story...just benefit after benefit in bullet form.
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  • Profile picture of the author Sandycmy
    The story needs to be well crafted.

    It should sound genuine or else people will leave before you narrate them about the breakthrough part.
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  • Profile picture of the author art72
    As always, the responses here both confirmed and exceeded my expectations.

    I understand from Ewen's example that you don't need a back story or the infusion of suffering before the breakthrough, but even the 'good book' is full of stories about hardship as a way to harmonize commonality between the reader(s) and the author(s).

    Thanks Brian, I think your example in post #4 was all the confirmation I needed.

    The original question actually spawned from niche/market research I am conducting, whereby, many of the leaders in this field of expertise have overcome some great odds, and prevailed to become the most successful entrepreneurs in their niche. Those who are currently dominating this particular consumer market.

    Most of them were regular every day people.. who pursued a dream, and prevailed to achieve great wealth and success, but not without struggle. That motivated me to support their continued success, and to infuse this in my marketing, as I believe it will resonate well with my target audience.

    Personally, I felt inspired to want to promote them (and their products) as a result of hearing their back-story; many of them refused to give up on their dreams, and rose above their short-comings through determination and hard work.

    *Not unlike many on this forum, who are striving to achieve personal/financial success through IM, myself included.

    Ultimately, I was crafting my 'plan of attack' to use this information (indirectly of course) in my marketing efforts to promote their products as an affiliate.

    Who knows, if I can do this successfully; I may create yet another story of my own, lol.
    Atop a tree with Buddha ain't a bad place to take rest!
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  • Profile picture of the author shawnlebrun
    Kevin Rogers wrote a pretty cool blog post this morning, about this
    topic of hardship and struggle.

    Like Kevin said, one "go-to" story hook formula that never fails in the biggest moments goes like this:





    Jimmy Fallon’s 60-Second Sales Hook | Kevin Rogers|Direct Response Copywriting Expert|Marketing Consultant|The Copywriter's Edge
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  • Profile picture of the author art72
    Good read, I like the way Kevin described "getting out of his own way" in writing his book, and to "stop being a writer and be an author."

    The AIDA method forms a very similar objective as Jimmy used in his 'ice-breaker' speech as the new host of the Tonight Show...

    Identity > triggered the audience's > Attention
    Struggle >
    triggered the audience's > Interest
    > triggered the audience's > Desire
    > triggers the audience's> Action

    What does change is the 'directives' (feel & tone) of the writing to achieve the result or action for which it was written. (*Or in Jimmy's case spoken, either way, it starts with writing!)
    Atop a tree with Buddha ain't a bad place to take rest!
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  • Profile picture of the author Mark Pescetti
    Here's the reality...

    People love ups and downs.

    They love reading about (or watching) stories of hardship and triumph.

    As much as everyone says they want a perfect life, it's a total lie.

    The only reason we know what we like and want... is because we know what we don't like and want.

    So when we're exposed to what we DO want, there's a resounding YES! heard throughout every cell in our bodies.

    Why do you think characters like Rocky become icons?

    People love to relate with that kind of stuff.

    It makes them believe, "I can do it too!" (Whatever IT is.)

    Here's the rub...

    There are lot of ways to tell your story - so it creates the maximum affect.

    My advice?

    Have someone interview you, record it... and dictate lots of it verbatim (in the right context) directly into your copy.

    Where you place your story also makes a big difference.

    Are you going to lead off with it?


    Place it 3 pages in - after you've agitated the problem using other techniques?


    P.S. Everyone wants to experience those yummy breakthroughs. We live for those fist-pumping-moments - when we shatter old personal paradigms. Your story should express how you've done it... and how your story is a roadmap for other people to achieve and experience the same "hell yeah" breakthroughs.

    P.P.S. Nobody wants to go to the Superbowl, sit down with their hotdog and coke, then hear someone announce, "The 49ers won 21 - 0. You can go home now." Nope. They want to go through the ups and downs of watching their team tell a story. And win or lose, they enjoy the experience. Remember that. People love stories - when it's something they care about. It's a perfect way to fully capture someone's attention - IF you do it right.

    Do you want a 9 figure copywriter and biz owner to Write With You? I'll work with you, on zoom, to help write your copy or client copy... while you learn from one of the few copywriters to legit hit 9 figures in gross sales! Discover More

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  • Profile picture of the author enger
    Just to throw in my two cents... There are two types of persuasion:

    - rhetorical (aka analytical) persuasion where you try to convince with facts and figures, and
    - narrative persuasion where you try to persuade with imagery and stories...

    Both have their place, depending on the situation. But stories have several unique advantages. To begin with, they have the ability to form and / or change strong attitudes. Uncle Tom's Cabin was attributed to influencing America's views on slavery for instance. This is known as "the sleeper effect".

    Stories can seize and hold attention. People tend to be more transfixed and involved with stories than when reading facts and figures. It's a great way to bring boring products to life or attack uninterested prospects.

    They can also make people care about products. Check out Significant Objects | …and how they got that way for instance, an experiment where writers bought $120 worth of junk products at garage sales then sold it on eBay by using emotional stories in the product descriptions for $3,000 plus... Fascinating stuff!

    Once again, rhetorical persuasion has it's place, but one cannot deny the power of a good sales story when appropriate!

    BTW, consumer psychology research says the two most important parts of a story are 1) how well the reader is transported by the imagery, and 2) how well the reader identifies and empathises with the characters... Which interestingly is precisely what Martin Scorsese also preaches - [character] story is more important than plot!

    OK, I'll shut my mouth now and get back to work... Love these debates
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  • Profile picture of the author misterme
    Without building trust, without affinity built, without something of value in return, then going with only a hard luck story is more like what a beggar would do.
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  • Profile picture of the author rawandrew
    Basically I would use a story in my copy if it would help prove my claims. The best stories I've seen used in copy do just that: prove to the reader that you have the magic formula to solve their burning problem and get them to the promised land.

    If your story doesn't add any proof to your claims it will just bore your reader and make him click away ... or turn the page.

    It is also true that the reader should identify with the character of the story on some level, and maybe even think "Oh my God, this guy has it worse than me." If he was able to overcome those insurmountable obstacles, than this is guaranteed to work for me also. The key is to have a happy ending story where the main character obtained the results your typical prospect wants for himself.
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  • Profile picture of the author The Copy Warriors
    IMO, background stories are one of the least understood things in sales letter copywriting.

    I can't tell you how many times I've had a client come to me with a background story that was little more than just an appeal to pity.

    The point IS NOT to get people to pity you.

    The point is to show the reader...

    A) That you started out in just as bad as or WORSE a position than they did.

    B) That you OVERCAME it and achieved RIDICULOUS SUCCESS!

    It's very simple when you think about it.

    Before someone will buy something that aims to change their life, they need to have some hope that it will work for them.

    A story that shows you did what they hope to do, makes them hopeful and optimistic...

    ... THAT makes them more likely to buy. It creates a revved up mood, a willingness to invest.
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