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3 Formulas for Persuasive Copywriting

Marketing psychology is a fascinating field, and one that I have written about at length before. But did you know there are formulaic ways to approach your copy that appeal to the all-important psychology and emotion behind the sale? Copywriting legend Robert W. Bly calls these structures “motivating sequences;” model approaches to writing copy that…

Marketing psychology is a fascinating field, and one that I have written about at length before. But did you know there are formulaic ways to approach your copy that appeal to the all-important psychology and emotion behind the sale?

Copywriting legend Robert W. Bly calls these structures “motivating sequences;” model approaches to writing copy that nudge the reader closer to a sale in subtle increments. Here are three of the best I’ve found on my travels through copyland:


AIDA is probably the best known copywriting formula, but it is in no way the only one. For those dipping their toes into the shallow end of the copywriting waters, it is a great place to start, and revolves around focusing on 4 different phases within your copy (as do all of the sequences I’ll be discussing today): Attention, Interest, Desire and Action.

  • Attention – Straight off the bat, you need to get your readers’ attention with a solution to a relatable problem, and show that you have a fundamental understanding of the current issues you’d be solving for them. A novel or interesting way of looking at the problem you are looking to solve can grab attention too.
  • Interest – Hook their interest with something tangible, a piece of data, an offer, or a promise (however, remember that promises need to be followed up on, preferably within the copy). Provide information and discuss the features of the product. Provide them with the facts and figures about your product or service that they’ll need to know so they can move on to the next step…
  • Desire – Amplify the desirability of your offer by picturing how much better life would be after buying the product or service in question. Really get into your potential customers’ heads and convince them that making the purchase will be worthwhile and satisfying.
  • Action – This is the section where your call to action comes in. Tell the reader what action you want them to take next.

This is quite similar to another formula, ACCA: Awareness, Comprehension, Conviction and Action; in which you make the reader aware of your product or service, get them to comprehend how it will benefit them, convince them to buy and then how they can take the desired action.


Copywriter extraordinaire Andy Maslen of Sunfish formulated the TIPS model as an updated cousin of AIDA, and wrote about it in his book Persuasive Copywriting. You may notice that it covers similar ground to AIDA, but comes from a slightly different angle which taps into more emotional and psychological ground: Tempt, Influence, Persuade and Sell.

  • Tempt – Kick things of with a reason to keep people reading. Grab their attention with a tempting proposition, but hold off on the hard sell. This stage is to stop the reader from looking away and to get their neurons firing in the right direction. Get them invested in what you have to say by focusing on the issue from their point of view.
  • Influence – Build on the themes that you’ve drawn the reader in with and get them more invested in what you’re selling. Stay entertaining to keep the reader engaged. Storytelling works well here, as well as facts, testimonials and data, as long as you keep the reader’s deeper drives and motivations in mind.
  • Persuade – Transition from the “Influence” stage with the reasons that make doing business with you a good idea. Talk about the benefits that your products and services offer; always remember intangible extras like feelings of security, emotional comfort and peace of mind.
  • Sell – This is where you convince the reader to buy with strong direction on when you want them to do next. Maslen adds the following “sub-formula” for this stage – The 4 R’s:
    • Repeat the main themes of the story to reinforce the emotional context
    • Remind the reader of how they can benefit from using your product or service
    • Reassure them that they’d be making the right decision and that they’re in good hands
    • Relieve them of their money with a persuasive and practicable call to action

The 4 P’s

This is another one of the more well known formulae, and was touched upon in Robert W. Bly’s Copywriter’s Handbook. When used well it’s a great way to grab attention on a fundamentally emotional level: Picture, Promise, Proof and Push.

Note: This is the 4 P’s of copywriting, not to be confused with the 4 P’s of marketing – Product, Price, Place & Promotion.

Another Note: Sometimes “Picture” and “Promise” are switched around in order, but I have gone with the order as stated by Bly in The Copywriter’s Handbook.

  • Picture – Paint a desirable picture of what the product or service can do for the reader. Get them to imagine what their life would be like if they had the luxuries on offer. Remember to capture their attention and speak to their inner wants and worries.
  • Promise – Make the reader a promise that the above picture is achievable with your help. Continue to appeal to their emotional drives, and always remember the all-important question “what’s in it for them?”
  • Proof – Show proof that your offering has worked for others. You can use data to convince the readers that it has been a success for others just like them, or even better – testimonials from real customers who love what you do.
  • Push – Give one final push for immediate action. Creating a sense of urgency works well, “buy now,” “limited time offer,” and time-bound freebies work well here, but always follow through on anything you offer, and if something really is a limited time offer, have a set date for that limit and keep to it.

Bonus Tip: The Rule of Threes

Three is an odd number, as well as being an odd number. It has been seen as having mystical properties, with links to a number of belief systems. But when we’re talking about writing, it is equally as mysterious. Orators know it; marketers know it; even De La Soul know it.

Threes have appeared in a number of memorable speeches and sayings. One of the earliest of note is attributed to Julius Caesar – “I came, I saw, I conquered,” which is even more snappy in the native Latin, “Veni, vidi, vici.” France’s national motto is “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (“Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”), and even Tony Blair’s pledge of “Education, Education, Education” counts.

But the arena where it really comes into its own is marketing. Take these popular marketing slogans:

  • Finger Lickin’ Good (KFC – the name is a three in itself)
  • Beanz Meanz Heinz – (Heinz Baked Beans – another three)
  • I’m lovin’ it – (McDonalds)
  • Snap, Crackle & Pop!” (Rice Krispies)

Great, now I’m hungry. Anyway, how do the slogans of these heavy hitters relate to us small fry? Simple: remember the poetry of threes when you’re putting text for the key points you want to get across. If you can say your product or service is “fast, easy and reliable” for example, it’s more punchy and impactful than of you were to mention those aspects separately, or in a two or four formation.

Got any feedback or think I’ve missed out an important formula? Pop it down in the comments!

[bctt tweet=”Want to structure your copy to get the best results? It’s all in the formula…”]

Special thanks to Andy Maslen for letting me talk about TIPS. If you’re interested in copy and marketing, he’s @Andy_Maslen on Twitter, and Honor Clement-Hayes interviewed him for Yell Business – check out the interview here.

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