Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

A Six-Part Framework for Writing Better Sales Copy

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Ray Edwards, who is a world-renowned copywriter and communications strategist, writing for some of the most powerful voices in business. You can find him on his website, Twitter, and Facebook.

If you want to sell more of your products and services, or even simply sell more people on your ideas, you must learn the basics of the art of copywriting.

A Five-Part Framework For Better Sales Copy

Photo Credit: ingirogiro via Compfight cc

But what is copywriting, really? One of my favorite definitions was given by a man named John E. Kennedy, back in 1904. Kennedy defined advertising (and copywriting) as: “salesmanship in print.”

If you can write effective sales copy, you can literally write your own paycheck. There really should be no such thing as a “broke copywriter”. By definition, good copywriters can create money out of thin air. So why does copy so often fail?

Copywriting fails when you ignore the principles

There are universal psychological triggers that help you sell more effectively. The problem is, the field of copywriting is strewn with misleading, manipulative, and even in some cases malicious techniques.

You can hardly “swing a cat” without hitting a copywriter who has a “formula” for writing copy. Most of these formulas are actually quite good. Many however, are based on tricks of manipulation and psychology that are more than a bit morally wonky.

The framework I’m going to share with you today, though, is intentionally based on universal principles that are focused on doing good, and helping people make decisions that are in their own best interest.

To sell more, P.A.S.T.O.R. your customers

Most people associate the term “pastor” with the preacher at church. While this is certainly true in most cases, the original meaning of the word “pastor” was actually “to shepherd.” And what does the shepherd do? He or she cares for, feeds, and protects the flock.

Now, before we go any further, I should address the habit that some marketers have of referring to their customers as their “herd.” It seems to paint an unflattering picture.

This kind of imagery is not what I am invoking here. The actual role of a shepherd is a loving, caring, and protective one. In fact, Jesus, who called himself the “good Shepherd” actually laid down his life for his flock.

I am not suggesting any religious overtones for your copy: what I am suggesting is that you adopt the same loving, caring, and protective role as you write copy for your prospects and customers.

And, as you might’ve guessed, P.A.S.T.O.R. is also an acronym for the major sections of your copy. Here is the explanation:

“P” is for PROBLEM

You must begin by identifying the problem that you are solving. The simplest, most effective way to do this is to describe the problem in great detail.

It’s a psychological principle: the more accurately you can describe your reader’s problem in terms they relate to, the more they instinctively feel that you must have an answer to that problem. Use the reader’s own language, the very words and phrases they use to describe the problem they want to solve.

For instance, if you are writing about fitness and weight loss, you might begin by describing their current situation this way:

You’ve tried every fad diet that’s come along. You’ve started and stopped a dozen different exercise programs, perhaps joined several different gyms, but the truth is you just can’t seem to take the weight off (or keep it off.) Perhaps you’re even feeling a little disgusted with yourself and your inability to control your eating and your weight. You feel like no matter what you try, it’s not going to work.

Remember, you’re not judging their behavior, rather you are describing their experience as it currently is. This means you have to understand their experience as it currently is. You have to know your audience and what they are thinking.

As the great copywriting legend Robert Collier said, you have to “join the conversation that is already taking place in the reader’s mind.”

“A” is for AMPLIFY

The next step is to amplify the consequences of not solving the problem. This is really the key to making sales, and it is probably the most neglected step in the process.

What will motivate people to buy your product, invest in your service, or accept your idea is usually not the beautiful outcome framed in a positive light. It is rather, realizing the cost of not attaining that outcome. In other words: what is it costing them to not solve this problem?

When I’m writing copy about a business improvement program, for instance, I may have the reader walk through a simple exercise like this:

Write down your average monthly income over the last 12 months. Then write down what you want your average monthly income to be. Let’s say that your average income is $5000 per month, and your goal is actually to make $15,000 per month in your business. That means the gap between where you are and where you want to be is $10,000 per month. You’re paying a cost of $10,000 every month you don’t solve this problem.

“S” is for STORY and SOLUTION

Once you have described the problem and amplified the consequences of not solving it, it’s time to share the story of how the problem can be solved.

This will be different depending on your situation. It might be the story of how you yourself finally solved this persistent problem. It might be the story of how you helped a client or customer discover the solution on their own.

It does need to be more than simply a description of what the solution is: telling the story of Bob, the frustrated business owner who was on the edge of bankruptcy, whose family had lost faith in him, and who, out of desperation tried one last idea that saved his business, is infinitely more powerful than simply saying, “One day, Bob figured out the answer.”

It should go without saying, but I will say it just in case: the story must absolutely be true. Don’t make these things up. And if you’re thinking, “But what if there is no story?” I would suggest you just haven’t looked closely enough.

There is always a story to tell.

“T” is for TRANSFORMATION and TESTIMONY

The next key step in writing your copy is to remember that whatever you’re selling, whether it’s a home study program, a book, a seminar, your consulting services — anything at all — what people are buying is not the “stuff,” it’s the transformation.

When people buy the P90X workout program, they did not wake up one morning and say to themselves, “I sure hope today somebody tries to sell me a bunch of DVDs and a wall chart.”

Those things (the DVD’s, charts, etc) are the stuff. What buyers of P90X are actually purchasing is that lean, healthy, youthful physique they want for themselves. The transformation.

It’s also important that you offer testimony, real-life stories of people who have made the transformation that you are teaching, and who have done so successfully. Study the most successful infomercials, and you’ll discover that they consist of about 70% testimonials.

And while most of us will not be writing infomercials, it’s important to remember there are three questions people are asking when you sell them coaching, consulting, or instruction about anything. The questions are:

  • Has this person been able to do what they are describing for themselves?
  • Has this person been able to teach other people to achieve the results they are describing?
  • Will this person be able to teach me how to achieve these results?

“O” is for OFFER

So far, you have defined the problem, clarified the cost of not solving it, told the story of the solution, and helped your reader visualize the transformation through testimonials from others just like themselves.

Now is the time to describe exactly what you are offering for sale.

This is the section of your copy where you lay out your offer. You can even create a subheading for the section called something clever like, “Here’s Exactly What You Get.”

Make certain that you focus 80% of your copy on the transformation itself. You do have to talk about the deliverables (the class schedule, the DVDs, etc.), but that should only occupy about 20% of your copy in this section.

Just remember that as you describe the deliverables in the offer section, you must keep tying them back to the transformation and benefits your buyers will receive.

So instead of simply writing that the buyer will receive “8 DVDs, each containing a 45 minute workout session”, you might instead write that they will receive “8 DVDs that each contain a body-sculpting, fat-burning transformational work out that will help you craft the lean muscle you really want.”

“R” is for RESPONSE

This is one of the areas where copy tends to often be the weakest: the response request. We are asking the customer to buy.

At this point, you should not be shy about making this request. You should tell the customer exactly what to do in order to get your program, your consulting, your book, etc. You should remind them why it’s important o do so.

I often write copy similar to this:

You’re at the point of decision. You can either continue down the path of least resistance, the path you have already been traveling, or you can choose the road less traveled. The path of least resistance will probably result in you getting the same outcomes you’ve always received. But if you want something different to happen, if you want to change the direction of your health (or your relationships, or your finances, etc.) you’re going to have to do something different. Make a new choice, and pursue your new outcome.

And then I will write very specific, directive copy telling them exactly what to do next: “Click the button below, fill out the order form, and we will immediately ship your entire package to you. It will contain everything you need to get started.”

Some people shy away from strong language like this, but the fact is, if you truly believe that you have a solution that will solve a problem for people, why on earth would you not be as direct as possible in telling them how to get that solution? In fact, aren’t you doing them a disservice by not making the strongest case possible?

What to do now

My suggestion is that you use this framework to write or rewrite your sales copy. The key to making this approach to writing sales copy successful is the having the mindset of being a “pastor”.

If you apply the principles of being a shepherd to your readers, and you follow the sequence of the P.A.S.T.O.R formula, my prediction is you will experience more sales, more profits, and more happy customers… more often.

What area do you struggle with most when writing copy? Share in the comments.

About Ray Edwards

This is a guest post by Ray Edwards. Ray is a world-renowned copywriter and communications strategist, writing for some of the most powerful voices in leadership and business. You can find him on his website, Twitter, and Facebook.

Start Building Your Audience Today

Download my free eBook and learn exactly what I did to grow my blog from zero to 100,000 readers in 18 months.

In this book, I share everything I’ve learned from building a tribe and becoming a full-time writer — and how you can do the same.

Click here to download the free book now.

  • Jim Coleman

    Fantastic article Ray! The timing is spot on too. I’ve been studying copywriting lately and am preparing to write copy for my wife’s website.

    A structured framework is just what the doctor ordered. Can’t wait to put it to good use!

    One question: When it comes to testimonials on landing pages, do you prefer them to be in written form, or is video better, if available?

    Thanks!

    Jim

    • Great question. I can’t wait to hear his answer.

    • If it’s a choice, video is better. The very best solution is often both: the video accompanied by the written text. This only works well with shorter testimonials, though.

      • Jim Coleman

        Awesome! I’ll give that a go. Thanks for the tip.

  • Great article Ray…just beginning to accept I need to have some kind of business structure in the background, and the need to promote and market my work – and this really helps clarify how I can do that with integrity but also effectively. Thanks so much.

    • Thanks James, so glad you found it helpful.

  • Spot on Ray. Thank you.

  • Love this! I would say amplify is the weakest for me. I totally agree with you on R. People are too shy there.

  • This is so good. Thanks Ray!

    • Thank YOU, Daniel. I owe you a phone call.

  • Jevonnah Ellison

    So valuable! I heard Ray do a podcast on this same topic where he also shares the PASTOR framework. Thank you for sharing!

  • This was really helpful. I squirm a little at employing these methods, but at the same time I recognise that I usually don’t buy something on the spot unless it’s taken me through the exact kind of process you’ve just outlined.

    Psychology is so fascinating. (Aka: people are weird, huh??)

    • Yes, people are weird and fascinating. Many people are uncomfortable selling their “stuff”. Interestingly, the Proverbs offer a startling view on this subject:

      “The people curse him who holds back grain,
      but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it.”

      Proverbs 11:26

  • this was a very helpful article for me. no, i’m not a copywriter, i’m a blogger. but i can see how getting all the steps in clearly will give punch to my posts. and for the record…my husband is a retired pastor and he nailed the definition of pastor to a “T”! the TV televangelists do not represent the rank and file of the majority of the pastors in this country. yes, i know it’s a ramble but that’s what i’m known for too:) thanks for a great post!

  • Lisa Jennett Wood

    Great article Ray, I needed this. When writing content, i.e. for a blog, is there a word count recommendation? And when using social media to generate sales in Facebook and Instagram, do you have any tips for shortening the length of the message without losing the impact?

    • I don’t think it’s useful to set arbitrary word count limits for a blog. Cases in point: Seth Godin’s normal 200-word bursts of brilliance are no less effective than Tim Ferriss’ intermittent 3,000 word epic posts. Social media, in my mind, is about attracting a tribe, serving them, and (one time in 10 or 20 social media posts) getting the click that leads them to your own material.

  • Very helpful Ray – I think I knew most of this but the ordering and emphasis makes all the difference here – as well as the Shepherd model.

    One question. Why is the title refer to 5-step process, when PASTOR is a 6-step solution?

    • Sam, good point. In my original formulation of this acronym, I counted O and R as a single part of the framework… as in “Offer/Response”. Clearly my thinking has evolved on this, but my habitual language about it has not! What is most amusing is you are the first person to point this out! So maybe we need to change the title of the post. Thanks!

      • Oh Well, regardless of 4 or 5 – it’s a great model. I’ve already put it to work tweaking some copy. Thanks

  • Jeff Doubek

    Fantastic article. 2 Questions: I notice you never use the term “Call to Action.” Is this reflective of a deeper meaning to your “Response” writing? Also, how do you get past the “Testimony” phase when you’re describing a new, unheralded or unproven product?

    Thanks for this piece… very helpful. — Jeff

    • Jeff, yes, A “call to action” is very specific instruction in what to do next.

      As to the testimony, presumably you have somehow proven your advice, admonition, or premise has value. This could be anecdotal, personal, scientific – there are any number of forms of evidence you can bring to the argument. But supply evidence you must. And just “logic” or “evidence” is not usually enough… Dan Kennedy puts it this way: “you must supply a preponderance of proof.”

  • jillrapley

    Love the perspective of “pastoring” your tribe/potential tribe. Have always believed that the 5 fold “leadership talents” should not be limited to the church scene.

  • I really appreciate the framework, Ray! Writing copy is an area I really struggle in and the way you laid this out will really help a lot. Thank you.

  • Thanks Ray, PASTOR is an easy acronym to remember and a clear approach!

  • Philip Rothschild

    Excellent post Ray. The biggest challenge I have is making time to write compelling copy – but this framework should really help. One question Ray. Can anyone learn to write copy or do you either have what it takes or you don’t.

    • Philip, I think most people can learn to write copy. As for the level of mastery, it’s much like playing a musical instrument. Almost anyone can be taught to play. But only someone with a gift becomes a master. I think a merely competent writer can become better than more than 90% of other writers, with the right instruction and practice.

  • Vicky Cox

    This is so helpful to me. Not only does it give me an idea of how to reach my audience, but this gives me tons of ideas to write about! The PASTOR acronym looks like a great template for writing blog posts.

    • Vicky – you’re right. You can definitely use it to write blog posts.

  • This is great work, Ray. Thank you Jeff for having Ray contribute.

  • Great post Ray! I definitely need to work on the response, mine has to be stronger! Frank Kern just released some interesting videos on writing good copy, did you see those Ray?

  • Lori Robinson

    Excellent Post Ray. Thanks Jeff.
    I, like Vicky (who commented below) will be using this for blog posts. Ray, is there anything you would add or change if the content is not for selling something specific beyond an idea, inspiration or information? I have a site writing about wild places and wildlife with the goal of inspiring and informing my readers. So, when I follow content marketing guides like this one I can’t seem to follow them 100%. Or, I just have not figured out the best ways to write my posts yet for my particular genre. Any comments would be most appreciated. Lori From AfricaInside.org

    • Lori, it’s really not that different. You’re “inspiring” them, most likely, to DO something. It may be to accept an idea, change a belief, or make a donation. But in the end, you ARE asking them to act on some level. It doesn’t have to be to make a purchase.

  • I struggle with writing copy because I hate reading most of it. The moment I start to see a formula like this one in someone’s writing, I tend to switch off and skip to the end – as I did while reading this, I’m afraid. It took some effort to read the whole thing. The same goes for web adverts and those dreadful letters you sometimes get in the mail. I skip to the end to see how much they want to charge and decide whether I am willing to pay that price for what is offered, excluding any ‘freebies’ the seller may throw in. Also, I rarely read or take heed of testimonials, but I may look for independent reviews on the web. So how do you deal with a reader like me? And how can I get over my own cynicism and write copy that will pull in other people?

    • Karen, it’s important to remember that you are not your customer. We like to think we are, but we’re not. The very fact that we are selling a solution makes us fundamentally different from them.

      As far as not “liking” copy – nobody likes it… until they read copy about a problem that is causing them pain. Then they are very interested.

  • “P” is for PROBLEM. In order to be helpful we must first research and figure out the problem. This is most people’s problem and that’s not knowing what the problem is! 🙂

    • Now that’s funny, I don’t care who you are.

  • Thanks for this, Ray. I realized after reading your article that I’ve been forgetting the A: Amplify. It’s so important to help your audience understand not just how valuable taking this action will be for them, but also the cost of IN-action.

    • I agree. This is so important and so easy to ignore.

      • The cost of not taking action is the key to making the sale.

  • Great post and very helpful. Thank you, Ray.

  • Christy Campbell

    This was great! I loved the acronym and instantly realized areas where I could make my copy stronger. Thanks so much!

  • Fantastic tips Ray and I especially love the copy example in the
    RESPONSE section. Thanks for sharing!

  • Ernestine Eileen

    This is exciting post, Offered plenty of information and facts within, These types of information can keep the web lovers interest in the website, and also keep on writing a little more … all
    the best!

  • This post is so good my face hurts. “focus 80% of your copy on the transformation itself.” Thanks, Jeff and Ray!

  • Thanks for sharing this Ray, great advise. However, I have a question regarding the steps. Must you have all of them and in that particular order for the sales copy to work? What if I use an illustrated copy instead of a flowing letter, what are your thoughts on that?

    • Well, there’s never just one way to do things. My experience, however, has been this is the optimal order, and these are the crucial steps. But sometimes that may be different. The problem is a lot of people will THINK they are the exception – and they probably are not.

      As for illustrations – it really depends on the quality of the illustrations, the clarity of the message, and the level of awareness your prospect has of their own needs.

      • Thanks Ray. This week, I plan to write my very first sales copy. I have been putting it off for some time now, it looms like a sheer cliff face!

  • Pingback: SEO Copywriting Top 10: July 23 to 29, 2014 » SEO Copywriting()

  • Tim H. Swanson

    Jeff & Ray,
    This is post is my new guide to content creation for my blog, and my church. Thank you.

  • Pingback: 3 Ways to Sell More (Ideas, Books, Products, etc) | Daniel Decker()

  • Thank you for this insightful article…I think it will help me improve my blog and writings in general:)