By Simon Bates – Co-founder & Creative Director at Touchpaper

A few years ago my then employer paid for me to sit down with an executive coach. “How’d you become a copywriter?” he began. “Well the first thing you should know is that I was always supposed to be a film director,” I replied. “But if you leave that to one side…”

“Woah,” he interrupted. “Let’s start with that.”

Two hours later my mind was made up. I walked home, wrote a resignation letter and emailed it to my boss. Three months later I left my job, moved to Barcelona and wrote my first feature film. By the end of the summer it had been optioned by a Hollywood production company and I was commissioned to write an action movie for Bruce Willis.

People often ask me what the coach said that made me take the plunge. But it was what he didn’t say. He asked questions and listened as I told myself everything I needed to hear.

This, as you might have guessed, is an anecdote. An essential component of copywriting, anecdotes are a well-oiled rifle in every content marketer’s armoury. There are three reasons top content marketing agencies learn the art of the micro-narrative.

They set the scene

Starting things is hard, right? It’s awkward beginning a presentation or sparking a conversation, and every writer hates the blank page. Here’s where anecdotes are your friend – they’re a light, breezy way to kick things off.

It’s no coincidence that many TED Talkers use mini-stories to begin their presentation.  

Stories promote human connection, warmth and empathy. Not a bad place to start, especially if the meat and potatoes of your presentation is science, data and facts.

They wrap up a message

‘People often ask me what the coach said that made me take the plunge.’ On one level I’m describing a question asked of me by friends and colleagues. Obvs.

The subtext, though, is waving a red flag at the audience and shouting ‘Hey! Wake up! I’m about to say something important!’

What follows is a life lesson (‘active listening is an effective way to motivate and influence’) dressed up as the punchline to a story. Humility is a useful tone to adopt when delivering any kind of message – it makes it far easier for the audience to absorb.

Anecdotes suggest you’re not preaching, merely reporting something you saw or experienced.

They give your theme a face

A good story paints a picture in the mind’s eye of people, places and objects. It brings emotions, thoughts and aspirations to life. Anecdotes may be brief and to-the-point, but they must still fire the audience’s imagination.

Well told, an anecdote offers a human face to your company message, political standpoint or fundraising goal. Because while facts and data engage the brain, stories fire the soul. And content marketing must do both if it is to meet its objectives.

Anecdotal copywriting tips

They’re about people. If the audience don’t know who you’re talking about, make them feel like they do. Describe what the subjects are like, what makes them tick.

Use direct, reported speech – don’t paraphrase or summarise. For example: ‘Then Nick turned to me, looked me straight in the eye. He said “Simon, I like you. But you’ve got to stop with the jokes.”

Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good anecdote. Embellish true stories and be judicious in editing. Amp up the interesting, abandon the boring.

Like all stories, the humble anecdote serves an active purpose. It provides great fuel for video, blogs, presentations and more. They’re a great way of demonstrating expertise or communicating a message without being obvious about it

As a wise man once told me: “Effective copywriting and content marketing depends on anecdotes. So better start writing them down, son.”*

*This might not actually be true.