Inverted pyramid v story-telling – Which copywriting approach do you use?

March 20, 2009 •

What is the ‘Inverted Pyramid’ approach to copywriting?

Paul Jones (director of Magneto Copywriting Training, and a guy who knows his stuff) published a very nice blog post today, about the ‘inverted pyramid’ approach to copywriting. You can read the details at his blog, but the essence of the inverted pyramid approach is that you lead with the big point and cover the less important points as you progress. This way, time-poor business audiences get the important stuff without having to wade through the unimportant.

Do business audiences really prefer it?

Although I’m a fan of the inverted pyramid – especially when I’m the reader – I don’t think it’s that clear cut. It’s very much dependent on the audience and your objective.

Some of the big copywriting names, like Joseph Sugarman, argue that stories sell better, particularly for big ticket sales. You know, the whole persuasion slippery slide… Although, from what I’ve seen, most of these claims are based on anecdotal evidence, I think there’s definitely something in them.

Story-telling sells well

When I changed from the simple inverted pyramid approach, on my SEO ebook sales page, to a story-telling approach (but still leading with the big point), my sales increased significantly. The sample size is too small for any quantitative/statistical certainty, but I’ve had qualitative feedback that backs this evidence up. People have told me they bought the book because of the story (what I said and how I said it).

But inverted pyramid is what I use most of the time for corporate copy

On the other hand, for most of the true corporate copy I write, I use the inverted pyramid approach. Like this. The closest I come to a story is usually an intro that establishes my client is aware of the reader’s pain points.

Except THIS corporate copy…

There have, however, been a few times when I’ve written more of a story for corporate copy. Like this. (Sorry to use this client’s copy two posts in a row. There’s nothing underhanded going on, it was just a good example both times.)

When does story-telling work for corporate copy?

So what makes me write a story sometimes and an inverted pyramid others? Thinking about it now, it seems to me that I tend to use a story-telling approach when the copy must also educate the reader. Both the examples above of my story-telling copy are about search engine optimisation (SEO). This tends to be a subject that readers need to be educated about.

My hasty conclusion? The story-telling approach may be more appropriate when you’re trying to educate your reader as well as sell your wares – even when that reader is a time-poor business-person?

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you think about the inverted pyramid v story-telling debate? Which do you use? And when? Please comment…

Feel free to comment...
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Amanda Jephtha wrote on March 20th, 2009

Great points, G. If you know your reader will scan the article, then the inverted pyramid will provide the most information in the least amount of time. The reader can also stop scanning once they have the info they need, without worrying about missing out on anything important. However, story-telling includes emotions. If you know your readers actually read rather than scan, then story-telling wins hands down. As emotional creatures, readers will more easily relate to you and your message; combined with powerful prose, the story-telling method will be more effective in helping you achieve your goal.

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Angus Gordon wrote on March 20th, 2009

I agree that it's horses for courses. But the two approaches aren't diametrically opposite: after all, IIRC the term "inverted pyramid" was originally coined to dissuade journalists from "burying the lede" when writing a news *story*. I like to think every good piece of writing includes elements of storytelling. I guess the difference is that the "slippery slope" style of story leads by making a *promise*, and tries to maintain some kind of suspense about how it will be fulfilled.

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