The power of origin stories

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The STORY

You ever wonder how the internet came to be?

Lean closer and I’ll tell you (no Al Gore jokes, I promise.)

The internet was invented at the height of the Cold War so the U.S. Department of Defense could survive a nuclear attack.

No, no. That’s not right. Let’s try again.

The internet was invented in the 90s so people could get porn without having to sneak into adult bookstores.

Close … but not in the money.

One more try —

The internet was built in the last few years by smart marketers who learned to satisfy our deep longing for nostalgia.

Yep.

Cause now I can get my hands on all the things from my childhood that I only dimly remember.

TV shows like The Incredible Hulk (all 5 seasons are on Netflix.)

G.I. Joe Action figures, like the 1983-version Snake Eyes (complete with inky black Uzi) — not a problem if your toy drowned in a pond years ago; Ebay’ll hook you up.

And my latest grab …

Secret Origins of The DC Super Heroes, purchased form a third party on Amazon.

I remember pouring through the pages of this book before I could read. My dad fished it out of the vaults of the newspaper where he worked and brought it home to me. I spent hours puzzling out the stories from the pictures alone.

Later, after I got hooked on phonics, I explored each tale … inching my way across words like “commence” and “cease” (ten dollar words from ten cent comic books — not a bad investment.)

As I grew, I would go on to amass a respectable comic book collection (feeding my habit with a newspaper route) … but there was one type of story that captured my attention more than any other … the kind of story featured in the nostalgia bomb I just purchased:

Origin Stories.

How did Hal Jordan get his ring of power? The dying alien Abin Sur needed someone without fear … and Green Lantern was born.

How did Bruce Wayne become Batman? He watched his parents gunned down by a petty thug … and so he Tebow’d his butt off to become Bruce Lee in a bat suit.

Where do Superman’s powers come from?

The dude’s an alien, and our yellow sun supercharges his cellular batteries.

Origin Stories satisfy our deep hunger to know where things come from, and why they are the way they are.

(The Bible – widely regarded as the best-selling book of all time – starts with an origin story, telling how the world began.)

This hunger means you can grab immediate attention by telling your prospects your origin story.

Plus, your Origin Story accomplishes THREE other persuasion benefits:

  1. Proof.

When we learn how something came to be, we believe in it.

Even in fiction, which is why so many movies start this way. It creates believability about the characters. (“Of course Superman can fly. It’s the yellow sun, stupid.”)

  1. Accessibility — “I Can Do It Too”

When we see how someone else developed their skill, we believe we can do the same thing (provided we break it down in a step by step process.)

Or … if you’re a service provider, and your special skill is unreachable for mortal men  –  then your origin story should make your prospects feel “You Can Do it for Me.”

And last, your origin story is a perfect place to showcase …

  1. Your Secret Power

Often called the Mechanism or USP, your product’s secret power creates the results you promise.

Here’s an Origin Story that incorporates all three: John Carlton’s famous “One Legged Golfer” ad. The sales letter promoted a new golf swing that promised to improve your drives.

Here’s a slice of the copy:

 “Milt actually felt sorry for the one-legged man who was teeing up for his first shot…until he saw him drive the ball 320 yards dead center down the fairway, while maintaining a smooth grace even his two-legged companions couldn’t imagine!

“ … It was because this man was forced to balance on one leg-Milt will explain the physics and which leg it was to you later-that he was able to “supercharge” his swing by letting the naturally coiled tension of his movements “cock” and then explode.”

Proof – So crazy it’s gotta be true.

Accessibility  –the letter shows how Milt breaks down the secrets of the one legged man’s swing.

Which leads to …

Secret Power — elsewhere, the copy talks about the “Triple Coil Swing”, the secret power behind the unipedal man’s thundering drives.

So just write something like that.

“Gee, thanks!” (you might be thinking, throwing your hands up in exasperation)  “if I had a story like that then my sales copy would write itself!”

Point taken. So what if you don’t have a “chance discovery” like the above? What if the real story is boring?

First, you might have a hook buried in your past, but not know it.

The “One Legged Golfer” hook wasn’t handed to Carlton on a silver platter; he had to don his “Sales Detective” hat and dig until the client mumbled it in passing. The product creator didn’t realize what he had.

And second, origin stories are still powerful proof builders even without a “chance discovery.”

Sometimes your origin unfolded from good old sweat, blood, and tears … from overcoming a struggle you faced.

That works. Just tell it like it happened, cutting out the unnecessary bits. Focus on your struggle, your discovery, and the results you achieved.

The easiest way to tell it is by using the 60 Second Sales Hook.

Here’s the Origin Story of a brainy Brit turned vacuum salesman, in 60 seconds:

“James Dyson was an inventor [DISCOVERY] who got frustrated every time he had to clean his carpet … because his vacuum lost suction as the bag filled up. [STRUGGLE]

But one day, he observed that saw mills used huge spinning cyclones to siphon off saw dust … without losing suction. A lightbulb went off. [DISCOVERY]

James spent the next several years and racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt (a second mortgage on his house) on his dream of transplanting cyclone technology into a vacuum cleaner.

He discarded  5,127 prototypes until he found success: The Dyson Vacuum, powered by Cyclone Technology. [STRUGGLE part 2]

Now he can vacuum his whole house without his vacuum losing suction, and so can you.” [RESULT]

 The MORAL

Put the power of Origin Stories to work for your marketing. (You might just discover a hidden secret power during the telling.)

Stay Tuned For Next Week …

Where a physicist teaches us how to create our own worlds.

 And why wait for a writing retreat? Share your origin story in the comments below.

Learn more about using the power of stories in marketing in Scott’s marketingwithstory.com.

Get immediate access to Scott and a slew of other brilliant writers and marketers when you join Copy Chief

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Scott McKinstry
Scott McKinstry
Scott McKinstry is a direct response copywriter who specializes in telling stories. You can contact Scott and learn more about using the power of stories in marketing at marketingwithstory.com.
Showing 2 comments
  • Deborah Owen
    Reply

    I am Deborah Owen, a family and life coach, and former long-time public school teacher. In both my own parenting of three kids, and in my teaching career, I saw many kids struggling with issues that they simply didn’t know how to solve. These ranged from academics, to relationships with family and friends, to understanding how to be successful in different social environments. Desperately trying to find a way to help kids be happy and feel successful, I discovered that the best way is actually to empower their parents to be great parents. Now I work with families to create a stress-free, non-chaotic safe place at home, so kids can learn the problem-solving skills they need as they grow up, and parents can learn to connect with their kids with calm compassion, instead of with conflict.

  • Scott McKinstry
    Reply

    Hi Deborah,

    Thanks for sharing — great use of the 60SSH to condense your story (Did you read Kevin’s book — or were you just winging it from the example in the blog post?)

    If you haven’t already done so … you might think about expanding the story to include a narrative with a specific child/teen you interacted with — maybe from your librarian days (I peeked at your website — lots of great content there.)

    Even if that child’s story didn’t come to a resolution (because you had to learn and develop your “Pied Piper” method), you could end up telling the story of a different child.

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