More than half the battle of creating compelling content and copy is solid structure. Disorganized writing inhibits understanding, and without understanding, you’re not going to get a warm reception when you ask for action. Plus, without structural guidelines to follow, you end up leaving out information necessary to your case or promotion.
There are plenty of popular writing structures. One is the inverted pyramid that some journalists favor, which is fine if your goal is to allow the reader to leave mid-story, but not so good if you want people to stick around while you make the case for your call to action.
A popular copywriting structure is AIDA (attention, interest, desire, action), which dates back to the early days of mass media advertising. AIDA is a useful framework, but it leaves some with too little understanding of what each element is intended to include.
The 4 Ps Approach to Persuasion
The 4 Ps structure consists of promise, picture, proof, and push in place of the four elements of attention, interest, desire, and action. The 4 Ps provide more expansive elements than AIDA, which is why it’s a favorite of many top copywriters, notably John Forde.
Let’s look at what each element requires you to deliver to the reader. Oh, and keep in mind that although I refer to readers in this article, the 4 Ps structure works just as well for audio or video content.
The promise you make is designed to catch attention, but here you’re told how to catch attention, unlike AIDA. I’m sure we’ve all seen attempts to catch attention that we’re easily immune to, because it’s something ridiculous instead of beneficial.
That beneficial promise is made with the headline, perhaps elaborated in an initial subhead, and carried over into your opening. This is the most important part of the piece, because if the reader stops here, it’s game over.
This promise is “what’s in it for them.” Yes you want their attention, but the promise is the only reason the reader is willing to give it to you.
Instead of the vague notion of “interest,” here we segue into painting a vivid picture for the reader. You’re fleshing out the promise and beneficial payoff using vibrant descriptive language.
One way to do this is to get the reader to imagine themselves enjoying the benefit or desired outcome. Then you get very specific about how your proposed solution or idea makes that benefit happen.
The Picture phase suggests using storytelling and vivid descriptive imagery as a way to hold the reader’s emotional interest while you nudge them down the path to acceptance. It also keeps you focused on communicating the benefits associated with the features or facts that you need to get across.
In the preceding potion of your copy, you’ve communicated the foundational information you want readers to accept in a brain-friendly manner. Now you’ve got to back it up with supporting proof.
Statistics, studies, graphs, charts, third-party facts, testimonials, a demonstration that the features of your product deliver the benefits you’ve promised—these are all part of the Proof section of your piece. Now’s the time to play it straight and appeal to the reader’s logical mind to support the emotional triggers you pulled with the Picture.
Rhetorical arguments and promotional pieces fail when Proof is missing, skimpy, or lacking in credibility. While your relationship with the reader hopefully carries trust and authority, asking people to accept your assertions without supporting evidence is an easy way for your writing to fail.
Now we come to the all-important action phase of the piece, which incorporates and expands desire. While “push” can carry a negative connotation, here we’re using it as a more expansive persuasive element that makes action more likely.
The Push phase is more than just a call to action. It’s delivering an outstanding offer in a promotion, and then asking for the purchase. It’s the grand finale where your big idea makes as much sense to the reader as it does to you.
Persuasive writing begins with the ending in mind, so during the push you’re tying the beneficial promise and the vivid picture to solid acceptance and concrete action. Don’t be shy about “telling them what you’ve told them” as a way to connect the dots, because an assumption of understanding is an enemy to acceptance.
Understanding is the Key to Persuasion
Persuasion is not about coercion or manipulation (we’ll leave that to the politicians). As Sean D’Souza wisely says in his training programs, persuasion is about understanding. Understanding leads to acceptance when the product is relevant and high-quality, and when the idea is sound and well-targeted.
Just don’t assume people understand on their own. It’s a noisy world out there, so you’ve got to educate your readers.
Good copy simply educates the reader in a way that the brain finds appealing. And a big part of brain-friendly language is the compelling structure that people need to see things your way.
About the Author: Brian Clark is the founding editor of Copyblogger, and co-founder of DIY Themes and Lateral Action. Get more from Brian on Twitter.