15 copywriting formulas that sell like gangbusters

copywriting formulasIt seems like people in direct marketing are crazy about formulas.

I suppose that’s because we are focused on what works, rather than what’s cool or pretty. And a good formula gets us to where we want to go a lot faster.

In the world of copywriting, there are plenty of arcane formulas. Some are useful. Some are absurd. But all of them are interesting.

I’ve collected copywriting formulas over the years and would like to share 15 of the very best.

The first you’ll recognize because it’s the most famous. But I’m guessing many of the others are new to you. I’ve even thrown in one of my own for good measure.

I’ll admit that I don’t put a lot of faith in rigid formulas, since they are often of little use in actually writing copy. But they are quite good at analyzing copy after it is written.

So here are 15 of my favorite copywriting formulas:

AIDA — This is the best-known copywriting formula of all time. It stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. Every successful promotional message must attract Attention, arouse Interest, stimulate Desire, and present a compelling call for Action.

ACCA — Awareness, Comprehension, Conviction, Action. This is similar to AIDA, but “Comprehension” stresses the importance of clarity and understanding, which is vital for any persuasive message. Also, “Conviction” is much stronger than “Desire.” It suggests certainty.

Attention-Interest-Description-Persuasion-Proof-Close — This is another AIDA variation by Robert Collier. Intended for sales letters, it outlines what he thought was the correct sales sequence.

Interest-Desire-Conviction-Action — Yet another AIDA variation, this one from Earle A. Buckley.

AAPPA — The eminent Victor O. Schwab suggested this commonsense and clear formula. Get Attention. Show people an Advantage. Prove it. Persuade people to grasp this advantage. Ask for action.

AIU — This is my own formula for envelopes. It stands for Attention, Interest, Urgency. Something about an envelope must get your Attention, whether it’s teaser copy, graphics, or just blank paper. This should lead to Interest in the contests and Urgency to open the envelope immediately.

PPPP — This is a formula by Henry Hoke, Sr. It stands for Picture, Promise, Prove, Push. In many ways, it’s easier to implement than AIDA because it shows you four specific tasks you must perform to make a sale. Picture: Get attention early and create a desire. Promise: Make a meaningful promise, describe benefits and what the item will do. Prove: Demonstrate the value and support your promise with testimonials. Push: Ask for the order.

Star-Chain-Hook — This is Frank Dignan’s charming and surprisingly fresh way to approach an advertising message. Hitch your wagon to a Star with an attention-getting opening that is positive and upbeat. Create a Chain of convincing facts, benefits, and reasons and transform attention into interest and interest into desire. Then, Hook them with a powerful call to action, making it easy to respond.

ABC Checklist — William Steinhardt’s formula is more detailed than most and very practical. Attain Attention, Bang out Benefits, Create verbal pictures, Describe success incidents, Endorse with testimonials, Feature special details, Gild with values, Honor claims with guarantees, Inject action in reader, Jell with postscript.

The String of Pearls — This is a particular method of writing copy. The idea is that you assemble details and string them together in a long line, one after another. Each “pearl” is complete in some way, but when you string them together, their persuasive power becomes overwhelming.

The Cluster of Diamonds — Similar to the String of Pearls, this formula suggests assembling a group of details under an umbrella concept. For example, an ad might have the headline “7 Reasons Why You’ll Save Money With XYZ.” The copy would then list these 7 reasons. Each detail is like a “diamond” in a gold setting.

The Fan Dancer — The analogy here is perfect, though a bit racy. The idea is to tantalize with specific details that never reveal any actual information. It’s like teaser copy or what one influential writer called “fascinations.” For example, let’s say you’re selling a book on reducing your taxes. Part of your copy might read: “The one secret way to pay zero taxes and get away with it — page 32. How the IRS uses your mailing label against you — page 122. Three clever ways to turn a vacation into a business tax deduction even if you don’t own a business — page 158.” As with a fan dancer, you’re left wanting more.

The Five-Point Formula – Jack Lacy offers this guideline often used for sales letters:
1. What will you do for me if I listen to your story?
2. How are you going to do this?
3. Who is responsible for the promises you make?
4. Who have you done this for?
5. What will it cost me?

The Nine-Point Formula — A detailed sales letter formula from Frank Egner:
1. Start with a headline (or first paragraph) to get attention and arouse desire.
2. Follow with an inspirational lead.
3. Give a clear definition of the product.
4. Tell a success story about the product.
5. Include testimonials and endorsements.
6. List special features.
7. Present a statement of value to the prospect.
8. Use specific and urgent action copy.
9. End with a postscript.

The Seven-Step Formula — This gem from Bob Stone is primarily for sales letters:
1. Promise your most important benefit in your headline or first paragraph.
2. Immediately enlarge upon your most important benefit.
3. Tell the reader specifically what he or she is going to get.
4. Back up your statements with proof and endorsements.
5. Tell the reader what might be lost if he or she doesn’t act.
6. Rephrase your prominent benefits in your closing.
7. Incite immediate action.

Do you have any other copywriting formulas that you’ve found interesting or helpful?

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6 Responses to “15 copywriting formulas that sell like gangbusters”

  1. Murlu on November 9th, 2010 9:01 pm

    Thanks for sharing these Dean – I’m by no means a copywriter but I do my best whenever I have to write emails at work and a bit of stuff for the website.

    I had no idea there were so many different approaches out there.

    Out of all of these, which would you say could be the top 3 for a beginner like myself? I’d really like to begin learning the ropes because I see copy-writing as a very important skill as I work a lot more online.

  2. Leaflet Distribution on November 11th, 2010 11:11 am

    Some great ideas for copy writing.

  3. Tombee on November 19th, 2010 10:38 am

    When I was at college learning to write copy for press ads, we were taught to tickle, tell & bounce.

  4. Dean Rieck on November 19th, 2010 11:22 am

    I like the joviality of that one.

  5. Jennifer Bulman on November 19th, 2011 11:33 am

    As an independent professional, I’ve needed to incorporate marketing into my business in a big way, and I’ve learned a lot from people like yourself.
    Thanks for the tip roundup with the clear descriptions. I’m glad to have a name for the one approach I think stinks “The Fan Dancer”. It makes me too angry to buy! I acquire some of my clients after they have fallen for The Fan Dancer approach, because sometimes there is nothing behind it – the ad copy is the best part of the product.

  6. Karen Dietz on December 21st, 2011 11:45 am

    Hi Dean — great piece! I like it so much I’ve brought it into my curated content on business storytelling. You can see it here at http://www.scoop.it/t/just-story-it It’s already been pushed out to Twitter, FB, LinkedIn & Google+.
    Thanks for sharing!

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