Story TellingI enjoy stories. Tell me a good story engage me and you’ll have my full attention.

We’ve all been brought up on stories, they’re hard-wired into our human brains whether you live in the USA, UK, are a member of a nomadic tribe wandering the frozen lands of Siberia, or an Aboriginal tribesman living in the heat of the Australian outback; every culture has its stories.

Why use stories in your email marketing?

People remember stories, they look forward to them, retell them to others and, as business owners, we can tap into that whether we sell hammers and nails, information, or corporate jets. The story is our friend and ally in reaching out to our prospects and customers, and today I’ll share how you can use stories to transform your email marketing.

Simple, it follows a single but very powerful philosophy that I’ve used since making my first online sale back in May of 1998. It’s the philosophy of giving outstanding value and engaging your customers and prospects BEFORE asking for the sale.

Think back to when you were a child looking forward to Christmas and the presents you’d asked Santa for. From late November until 25th December everything you saw, watched and heard was geared towards the big day. Whether you had an advent calendar (with chocolates behind each door) or an advent candle you lit each night, every day closer to the 25th got you more and more excited.

You may have written a letter to Santa or visited him in a store, maybe you watched as the Christmas lights were switched on, as you sat on the shoulders of your parents? Each of these “events” brought you a step closer to the day you’d be able to open your presents.

The expectation was almost unbearable and on Christmas Eve you couldn’t get to sleep through sheer excitement! When Christmas morning eventually came, it was with a magical rush of excitement that made the wait all the more worthwhile.

Now imagine having your prospects and customers excited to hear from you, have them look forward to your emails, so much so that when they don’t hear from you, they email YOU to ask if they have missed an email or to see if you’re OK.

Impossible? Not as long as you remember the philosophy of value and these two simple words: “Delayed Gratification”.

Actually – and this will seem counter-intuitive to many business owners – delaying the sale or the “sell” can bring you greater profits, loyal customers and raving fans for you and your business. Think about it, how many emails do you get that simply want to sell you something straightaway and all of the time? Both big business and small entrepreneurs are guilty of this. When you receive an email from your bank or insurance company, do you think “great” and rush to open it?

Probably not.

In fact, in most cases, emails like that have you reaching for the delete key without ever bothering to open the email. Many entrepreneurs are falling into the trap of “me too” marketing and send email after email containing only sales messages and then wonder why they are seeing declining open rates, dwindling click-through rates and sales from email promotions falling through the floor.

Emails that contain only sales messages have no benefit to the recipient, no strong reason for them to be opened, and certainly don’t engage the person receiving them. In fact, results show that they can actually damage your brand and reputation as people turn off from your emails and your business. However, if you take the time to engage yourreader via your emails with the use of stories, stories that connect with your prospects and customers, that engage them, draw them in and leave them hanging in anticipation for your next email, then you’ll see profits increase dramatically.

First of all, these stories are sent out via multiple emails over a period of time with each email building on the last and creating anticipation for the next. (I’ll show you how to create these stories a little later and you can have them play out over a number of days, weeks – even months! Most of my stories run over a few days or a couple of weeks at the most.) Each email has a connection to the last and to the next one in the sequence. The sequence has a beginning and an end, the end is where you make BIG profits.

Remember the “philosophy of value”? Each email delivers interesting information that is useful and valuable to your reader and keeps them engaged. And creating these emails is easier than you think if you know how.

Before we go any further let me ask you a question. Have you ever watched a soap opera? Go on, you can admit it, there’s only you and I here. How about the series starring Kiefer Sutherland, 24? Or Heroes? Perhaps Prison Break? What about EastEnders, Coronation Street, Holby Cityor Emmerdale?

What do they all have in common? Stories, and not just one story per episode, each soap opera has multiple story lines running through each episode all designed to engage the viewer and keep them watching no matter what.

And how do ALL soap operas end? With a cliffhanger! You’re left wondering what’s going to happen; will the deal go through, who lives, who dies, will they escape, whose baby is it! Now, and here’s the secret that nobody realizes, all soap operas have sub plots and stories running through them each with its own mini cliffhanger, all designed to keep the viewer glued to the screen to see what happens.

When going to an advertising break, what happens? A mini cliffhanger comes into play to ensure you don’t wander off or change channels. They want you waiting with eager anticipation for the ads to finish so you can find out what happens next. And you can do this with your emails as well. I’ll show you exactly how in a minute. (See? I’ve used a mini cliffhanger here!)

First, I have to give credit where credit is due. I’ve been using these types of story emails for years and they work in ANY market whether it’s Business- To-Consumer or Business-to-Business. Stories get emails opened, read and offers clicked on. And the best way I’ve heard this type of marketing described is as a soap opera sequence; (thank you Andre Chaperon).

Andre is a colleague and great marketer who coined the phrase “soap opera sequence” to describe the style of email marketing that I’ve been using since 1998 to bring in big profits from relatively small lists.

I’ve taken the soap opera sequence to a new level in order to turbo-charge results and profits

Are you ready to start creating your own soap opera sequence? Let’s go…

There are five main elements to your soap opera sequence

1) The main story leading to what you will be promoting.

2) The hook to draw your readers in.

3) The sub plots and mini cliffhangers that run throughout your story.

4) The value you give your readers.

5) And, ultimately, your call to action.

Before we start, I’m assuming (deadly, I know) that you know your market, what makes them tick, their fears and frustrations?

This makes creating your soap opera emails far easier. If you don’t know your market that well, I recommend you take time out to do this now, believe me it’s worth it. If you sell a number of products and/or services I recommend you choose one to use as a base for this project.

Now, answer these questions:

1) What does your market want to achieve?

a. What is the outcome they are looking for?

b. What does utopia look like for them?

2) Name the main hang-ups your market has about reaching this target.

a. Each of these points will form the basis of the emails in your sequence

3) What can you provide them with to help them towards their goal and buildup your credibility?

a. Are there free or low-cost resources you can recommend to help them?

b. Giving these resources freely builds up your reputation as a giver and someone who provides helpful information before asking for the sale.

Once you have these questions answered, it’s time to sit down and create your very own soap opera sequence.

For this, I usually get away from the computer and use a pen and pad! I turn the pad sideways so it’s in the landscape position and then create columns with each of the hang-ups I’ve identified at the top of these columns. Under the hang-ups, I start making notes that will form the basis of each of the emails and how it will weave into the next email and relate back to the previous emails. I let my creative juices flow. The main point to keep in mind is to give good value and tell your reader how to overcome the hurdle they have in their mind.

The secret here is to give the reader a “what to do” without a detailed “how to do it”. The “how to” comes in your paid product. Weave into a couple of your emails a link to a free or low-cost resource they can use that will make their life easier and remember to create mini cliffhangers.

For example, a simple mini cliffhanger could be:

“Many people find they have trouble with/doing X. Not to worry, tomorrow I’ll give you a link to a secret free resource that you can use to easily achieve / beat / overcome X.”

This is a great mini cliffhanger which is like an advertising break in the middle of a real TV soap opera. The reason this works is that we humans are hard-wired for closure, we don’t like things left open. The mini cliffhanger has your reader thinking, “What? I want that link now.” Subconsciously they are already waiting for and looking forward to your next email, so they can get the link and close off the “open loop” in their mind.

At the end of each email, create the main cliffhanger by telling them about what’s coming next, what to look out for and intimating the secrets they will discover. To help you visualise thisconcept, here is a real-life example I created for one of our markets:

We help entrepreneurs start and grow their own online businesses, and one of the challenges they face is building an email list of customers and prospects.

Drilling down into this market, I found that the main hang-ups and fears they have about building their own email lists are:

1) How to actually start building an email list

2) How to create a lead magnet (the offer to get them to sign up on their list)

3) Creating a web page where people go to “opt into” their list

4) How to operate and manage their email list

5) How to build a relationship with people on their list and generate profits

Each one of these hurdles or hang-ups people experience when building their email lists becomes an email within the soap opera sequence with mini cliff-hangers, recommendations to resources they can use, and excitement built for the next email.

For example, in email two, I could give links out to sites where they can get free information and digital products they can use for their lead magnet (saving them the time of having to create one themselves).

In email four, I could recommend the free or low- cost trials of the Autoresponder, and Email providers to manage their lists.

Once the person I am targeting receives all five emails packed with content to help them start and grow their own email list, interspersed with free and low-cost resources, do you think I will have built up a good reputation and trust?

Add to this the cliffhangers I leave them at the end of each email, and the mini cliffhangers throughout the emails, I have my readers looking forward to the next instalment and excited to receive it. And here’s where the magic comes to fruition.

In my final email I remind them what great value they’ve received, how I’ve helped them and then make a recommendation for my own product or service. Having provided great value, excitement and anticipation the click-through rate on my promotional link is always sky high due to the trust Ihave developed with my readers.

Compare this to receiving a one-off email that screams “BUY THIS NOW”.

Instead of going for the immediate sale, you delay immediate small profits for long-term greater profits, and a person who becomes a raving fan of yours and a customer for life.

Creating your own soap opera sequence takes a little additional time, but once in place will continue to pay you back many, many times over.

Now it’s over to you.

Neil Stafford and his business partner Neil Travers (The Two Neils) have been helping people start, grow and profit from their own online business since December 2000. Come and see if they can help you in your business… whether that’s making your first profit online or taking your business to six figures and beyond.

Find out more about how Neil and Neil can help you with a two-month trial to their industry-leading Internet Marketing Review here: