“The best fiction is like lingerie,” one of my creative writing teachers used to say. “It shows just enough to be seductive, while leaving something to the imagination.”

This teacher was talking about writing, not business, but his advice holds true for both: after all, a large part of fiction and marketing is telling a compelling story. Whether that story is about wizards in training or a new product, here is why my teacher’s advice holds true:

1. Provide substance.

Fiction: If you’re going to suggest substance or action, you better come through on that promise. Lingerie is appealing because of the substance it promises. Don’t write on the cover that the story is full of intrigue and action if it’s actually an intricate character study, or you’re going to have some angry readers.

Marketing: Your product or service should be seductive by its very nature. You can spin a story as much as you want, but if you can’t live up to that story, you’re going to be in big trouble. For example: if you say your pizza company delivers in under 30 minutes, you’d better deliver or pay up. Padding your story with false promises will make your customers angrier than if you had just been truthful from the start.

2. Encourage engagement.

Fiction: The best stories seduce their readers into working towards a revelation. Whether that revelation is an insight into a character, figuring out who committed a crime, or seeing a connection in the plot that ties together loose ends, “ah-ha” moments are rewarding because the reader put in the effort to engage, not because the author has spelled everything out for them.

Marketing: Customers should be seduced into doing some of the work. If they can come to conclusions about your business themselves, say, through taking advantage of a free trial period, they’ll be much more satisfied with their decision to buy. How can you encourage customers to find out more about your business on their own initiative? Is it through providing thought leadership? A generous return policy? A special or deal? Don’t push yourself on your prospects—invite them to learn more on their own initiative.

3. Find balance.

Fiction: Stories should be neither fully clothed, leaving everything to the imagination, nor completely nude, giving all the details away.  It’s frustrating not to have a clue what an author is talking about, but some mystery and dramatic irony add a whole new level to the reading experience. Good fiction is balanced between mystery and disclosure.

Marketing: Successful businesses find the balance between what they can and can’t give away as marketing. They know whether to offer a free white paper or a free ebook, a 10% coupon or a 50% coupon, a free webinar or a paid seminar. If you can’t seem to convert prospects from site visitors to free trial users to paying customers, you might need to change the balance between what you’re giving away and what you’re charging for.

Does your business work by the lingerie theory?  We’d love to hear how you provide substance, encourage engagement, and find balance in the comments.

Tracy Gold is a Marketing and Content Associate at Right Source Marketing. Follow @tracycgold or subscribe to the Marketing Trenches blog for more marketing commentary.