[Story Sells] Exposing the 60 Second Sales Hook: When Your Story Sucks

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The 60 Second Sales Hook can ignite a timid prospect into action. Or it can freeze ‘em faster than the Ice Bucket Challenge – if you’re telling the wrong story.

In a sec, I’ll give you a simple rule on how to chose which story to tell.

First, a brief refresher of the Hook by way of The Lord Of the Rings. (Mostly because I want an excuse to geek out about LOTR.)

The Hook starts with an IDENTITY, naming the hero. Meet Frodo Baggins.

Then comes the STRUGGLE. The Ringwraiths invade into the Shire, destroying Frodo’s peace and comfort.

Just when things get darkest, we see the promise of hope and life in the form of a DISCOVERY. If you cast the Ring into the Cracks of Doom, Evil shall vanish.

Finally, once the discovery has been grasped with both hands, life is renewed and we have the RESULT.

The Ring is destroyed and the King has returned, to protect us with strength in his hands and wisdom upon his brow.

This story pattern is imprinted on the neuro-architecture of our brains. That’s why the 60 Second Sales Hook, despite its deceptively simple nature, can be found in everything from “about us” pages to novels to songs.

But, a big concern I’ve heard from people is:

What if I don’t have a story to tell? What if I offer a service that never helped me?

This is a common problem. And ironically, it’s a problem faced often by marketers and copywriters.

For example, let’s say you’re a marketing consultant with the secret sauce for effortless lead generation.

Your goal is to help small businesses – like local salons – ramp up their marketing. But you’re not a salon owner.

So what? You might think. I hold the tools that will help them succeed.

All well and good, but if you frame your offer in terms of your magic power, you’ll likely lose their interest. You end up “talking shop.”

The temptation for many of us is to get all giddy with the discovery that powers our work. For example, I might want to say “I used to struggle writing copy until I discovered Eugene Schwartz’s Levels of Awareness.”

But my clients may not care what makes the copywriting process click.

They’d rather hear about a struggle they can relate to … like someone whose copy couldn’t sell free water to desert-dwellers. But now, thanks to Ace Copywriter, they have more orders than they can handle.

So the solution is simple. Instead of telling your story, you tell the story of a client you helped. Then you take the role of the “Guide.” Instead of Frodo, you’re Gandalf.

This idea – make your customer the hero – is advice you’ve probably encountered. You’ll hear it, for example, from Donald Miller in his excellent StoryBrand workshop product.

But I don’t think this advice is always true. Sometimes you should be the hero of the story. Your story can have immense power – if you’ve walked in your customer’s shoes.

The key is the STRUGGLE. If you struggled with the very same problem as your customers, then you should be the hero. Because then you’re not bragging – you’re simply a stand-in for them. You’re showing them how it’s possible.

But … if you didn’t have that particular struggle, then you won’t win points boasting about your genius.

Far better to tell the tale of one of your happy customers.

So I think it breaks down to a simple rule:

If you’re selling a service or product that transformed your life – and it’s this transformation that the client wants — tell your own story.

Examples would include a diet that melted the fat from your belly … a spiritual awakening that granted meaning to your earthly existence … or a doohickey that lets you get stuff done in the kitchen a bazillion times faster.

But, if you sell a service or product that’s more of a “done for you” – where you create result X for someone else – tell the story of one of your happy customers.

For example, if you deliver investment advice, marketing or business consultation, or even an afternoon of entertainment like a magic show.

Ultimately, of course, we want the customer to picture herself wining the RESULT we promise. To do that, we need her to empathize with someone who’s already done it. That someone can be one of your other clients.

Or it can be you, if you’ve overcome the same struggles faced by your prospect.


Make the “Hero” of your story the person who has the happiest ending.

Want to perfect your sales story? Join Copy Chief and get the full 60-Second Sales Hook training, plus unlimited live coaching for only $79/mo.

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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 8 comments
  • Aaron

    Hey Scott,

    I’m very familiar with StoryBrand, and have a huge respect for what Donald Miller is doing.

    And I fully see where you are coming from when you say,

    “But I don’t think this advice is always true. Sometimes you should be the hero of the story. Your story can have immense power – if you’ve walked in your customer’s shoes.”

    Then you follow up with an example of weight loss, and someone having lived the story can be the hero.

    Admittedly I may be splitting hairs here, but I’m not sure that sharing a personal story of empathy is making the storyteller the hero.

    Sure, if I’ve transformed my body, and I share it as inspiration or example of expertise, I’m not sure that should make me the hero of the story … any more than YODA’s power made him the hero over Luke Skywalker in Star Wars.

    YODA demonstrates his power so he can become the guide … not the hero.

    See what I mean?

    Back to the weight loss / fitness / personal trainer industry, I do my best to get the gym owner or trainer to reframe their business as being the guide, and not the hero.

    So many in the fitness industry believe they are the hero of the story, and their lead-generation suffers because of it.

    I enjoyed the read, as always, and one day I hope to meet you in person.

    Thanks or the insights you always bring to Copy Chief.

    • Reply

      Hi Aaron, appreciate you sharing your insight.

      I get what you’re saying. And I bow to your insight in the fitness industry (and to Will Edridge below). If a client’s story gets a better response, that’s the way to go.

      As Will notes below, I think many PT’s might already be fit or always been fit, and that’s where a big disconnect comes in. But … and correct me if I’m wrong … when the PT struggled with the exact same problem — say, they were 200 lbs over weight and spending $400 a month on insulin for their Type II Diabetes — then their story can have a lot of power to engage.

      So maybe it’s the story that’s the problem.

      Again, thanks for stopping by.

  • Reply

    Ha! What a great opening line Scott.

    The ice bucket challenge brings back memories.

    Anyway, I love how you’ve broken down the different uses of the 60 Second Sales Hook.

    I saw many personal trainers struggle with a similar problem where they’d always been fit and healthy so trying to be the hero of the story didn’t resonate when dealing with people who needed to lose unwanted body fat.

    As soon as they made their current clients the hero of the story their lives got easier.

    In part, because the 60SSH made the story more memorable to their clients as well due to how the brain processes stories compared to data.

  • Reply

    Cool, thanks Will. And good point. My buddy is a PT and he’s always been fit … so yeah, it’s hard for him to use his story when talking to ladies in their 40’s who’ve always struggled to get the extra weight off.

  • Reply

    Hi Scott,

    thanks for shedding some light on this issue. I’ve been struggling with it but now I see the answer is crystal clear…

    When I don’t share in the same struggle as my clients, then I need to make them the hero of the story instead of me, plain and simple.

  • Reply

    How do you feel about having multiple ‘heroes’ as a way of presenting testimonials?

    Such as:

    “The lymphoma had advanced to the point that I was unable to sleep more than a few seconds at a time, and I was so exhausted that being out of bed for more than 15 minutes was next to impossible. Just three days after starting on Manapol, I was back to work and sleeping like a baby at night.

    Too dramatic an example? How about these:

    Don A. awoke the day he was scheduled to teach an important afternoon class to find that he had no voice. None at all. He took two Manapol capsules before 9 am. By 1:00 his voice had returned, he felt great, and the class was voted the best of the conference …

    Springtime was excruciating for Brenda K. due to paralyzing allergies from pollen. By taking two Manapol capsules twice a day she was able to enjoy working in her yard and garden again without the need for boxes of tissues …

    Bill K had to be very cautious, constantly checking his blood sugar level and adjusting his insulin intake before he began a daily regimen of Manapol supplementation. Since then, his monitoring has become more precautionary than critically essential …


    It works in LOTR when the heroes get separated and have their own unique struggles. Do you feel it will work in copy, or would it dilute the reader’s attention?

  • Reply

    Hi, Bruce. You get 50 points for invoking LOTR.

    Good question. It’s good to have different testimonials that showcase different benefits. And when you can drape them in the 60SSH, so much the better. Since they’re short, I don’t think they’ll each demand center stage and distract the reader.

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