Problem-Agitate-Solve Oh My! Classic copywriting formula that converts

Copywriting isn’t a paint by numbers process. You can’t simply follow a formula and expect brilliant copywriting to follow. What copywriting formulas give you is a starting point; a framework you can make your own.

That’s what’s awesome about copywriting.

While marketing techniques are adapting to technology, copywriting still focuses on people and what motivates us hasn’t changed much since the Mad Men took over. We still need to make sure our survival needs are met, we still want to be loved and admired and when all those things are taken care of we still search for meaning and purpose.

Because those things haven’t changed, the copywriting formulas that have been tried and tested for decades still work today. Let’s keep the baby not the bathwater eh?

Today I want to share one of my favourites: the Problem-Agitate-Solve (PAS) formula.

It’s a favourite because it works for all kinds of marketing, from landing pages to flyers.

Problem

Understanding the problems your audience face is critical to writing copy that evokes a response. And that is the heart of what good copywriting does.

The more vividly you can paint the pain, the more you demonstrate that you understand. As someone reads your description, they feel like you’re tapping into the conversation going on in their head. And that’s a fast track to trusting you.

Agitate

The next step in the PAS copywriting formula is to stir things up.

You’ve identified a point of pain. Now you need to make it painful by making it more emotional. This is where you pour salt onto the wound you’ve just pointed out.

The trick is to not agitate too much. Don’t let your reader wallow. Show them a way out.

Solution

This is where you get to make everything better. This is when you reveal the solution – your solution – that will be the balm your audience has been looking for.

And for good measure….

Add some proof. Add testimonials and quotes from people you’ve helped.

Let’s see PAS copywriting in action

Copywriting for an imaginary mattress company

PROBLEM: When was the last time you had a really good night’s sleep? You know the kind of sleep where you wake up feeling refreshed and genuinely excited about getting out of bed?

AGITATE: A bad night’s sleep can leave you feeling like someone packed your skull with cotton wool. You can’t concentrate, you feel irritable and no amount of coffee will clear the fog in your brain.

SOLVE: If this is a regular occurrence for you, you need to know about our new Tempurpedic mattress. You won’t be sleeping. You’ll be floating, with perfect support all night long.

Copywriting for an imaginary holiday website

PROBLEM: Finding the perfect hotel can be stressful. Almost too stressful to bother.

AGITATE: Hunting down all your options, working out how far away the local hotspots are and reading reviews from other ‘guests’. Then of course there is price.

And all within your lunch hour? Impossible!

SOLVE: Not impossible. Awesomehotels.com makes finding the best hotel deals quick and easy. We compare hundreds of travel sites for you so you get the best hotel deal available. And all faster than you can say “ham, cheese and pickle on rye”.

Copywriting for a real consultation (Leads to Clients)

PROBLEM:
We’ve all been there.

In the rut.

Your business is doing ok but not great. You treat your clients well and they love you but your client base is growing slower than a snail across wet cement.

You read articles on SEO and email marketing, attracting website traffic, effective design and conversion strategies. They make sense on paper but applying those tactics to your business is another matter.

AGITATE:
You feel overwhelmed with ideas about what you should and shouldn’t be doing online and the tech stuff just makes your head hurt.

And then there is the small matter of actually running your business! So you do nothing.

SOLVE:
Being stuck sucks. I get it. So let’s get you unstuck.

The UNstuck strategy session isn’t about giving you more stuff to do. It’s about finding the tactics that will give you maximum return from your efforts online.

Remember, no one likes being sold toCopywriter showing you the thumbs down

The reason the PAS copywriting formula is so good is that you have to focus on the big-ticket item for your audience and the emotions around it.

You want your audience – whether they’re a customer or a blog reader – to think, “That’s exactly how I feel and I’m bloody sick of it!”

Empathy is incredibly powerful.

When you take the time to understand your customers or readers and you use copywriting formulas like this one to structure the messages, you can’t help but write more copy that packs a wallop (in all the right ways).

Belinda 

Want to know how to make this formula EVEN BETTER! Check out the one letter change that can really boost its effectiveness.

41 Responses

  1. So true Belinda! I am getting feedback that topics I’m raising through newsletters are really resonating with people however they aren’t rushing out to sign up to my workshops/coaching. I need to think a bit more about the link between the problem/agitate and then the solution…without them feeling like they are reading a sales pitch. The examples you provide above, especially the last one, are very helpful. Thank you!

    1. My pleasure Ruth. I’m really glad you found it useful.

      Congrats on actually getting feedback on your topics! That’s an awesome first step.

      Spending time thinking about the connections will definitely help. Even if you don’t find the ‘right’ connection immediately, understanding your audience more deeply will always pay off.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    1. No worries Charmaine! I’m glad you found it. I love this formula because it makes you connect with your reader pretty quickly (which is good) and gives you a loose structure to start with. No more fearsome blank page!

      A follow up tip is to not focus on too many pain points as you’ll overwhelm the reader. Choose the MOST painful.

  2. Great, succinct, and very helpful definition of PAS. Thank you Belinda. Article bookmarked, pocketed, and shared on Refind for good measure!

  3. Great article Belinda!
    Thank you so much for taking the time to explain each step of the PAS formula AND giving us helpful and useful examples!
    I am VERY happy I stumbled upon your site. I now have it booked marked for further study!

  4. Landed here by searching: “copywriting make people feel problem” hahaha! I felt like some copywriting can be used to persuade people to read incredibly long posts on my blog, so I searched for it.

    Great post!!

  5. I enjoyed it; thanks for the article.

    Belinda, I’ve a question for you…. Like in P & A… in this P shows all the problem. And the A takes one step further and telling how it’s affecting us daily lives…

    I’m asking this… were my speculations right?

    Please, let me know.

    Thanks,
    Arpit

  6. Thank you Belinda for this awesome article.

    In fact, I am learning about this technique for the very first time. However, I had a question as I am starting my affiliate blog.

    Does it work for Affiliate Products? Would I really be able to get into my customer’s shoes by understanding their pain and empathizing using PAS?

    I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    1. I don’t see why not Shawn as people who are keen to sell affiliate products do so for the extra income (which solves a specific pain point). But there are other reasons which could put the income as a secondary benefit. Like endorsing a program because you support the creator. The income is a perk.

      But I would possibly suggest switching to a slightly different formula that uses a promise or outcomes as the main way to get attention, then digging into the challenges as part of the intro.

      That’s the great thing about formulas… you can adapt them to suit!

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