In the last year or so, I’ve had a couple of clients tell me that they wanted annual report copywriting that was upbeat and inspiring.

That’s fantastic, in principle. There’s every reason to aim high and it’s a good way to make your company stand out.

But here’s the problem. If you want to inspire, you need a great story.

Both companies thought that inspirational copywriting was just a case of putting colourful words in the right order. What they really needed, though, was something upbeat and inspiring to say in the first place.

People are programmed to respond to stories. Stories demand our attention in ways that hard data rarely do. We find them easier to remember than isolated facts. And the right story connects with us emotionally, inspiring us and lifting our spirits – exactly what my clients wanted to achieve.

Neither of the companies, though, had a great story. They didn’t have amazing technology or visionary leadership. They hadn’t changed lives in their communities or created cultures that allowed people to do incredible things.

They were solid businesses, in solid industries, with solid performance and solid prospects. There was plenty there to respect, but not much to grab the soul. And there’s nothing wrong with that, unless you want people to think you’re something you’re not.

You can’t take a shortcut

Here’s the second problem. If you try to talk up your business through hyperbole, you’re going to be found out. You’ll come across as false because you won’t have the examples – the stories – to back up what you’re claiming.

So play to your real strengths, not the ones you wish you had. And make sure you capture the stories you do have, stories that show your strengths and that make you believable. They might not be inspiring, but don’t underestimate the power of credibility and trust.

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