The Four “P” Approach:
A Persuasive Writing Structure That Works

4 Ps of Persuasion

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.

1. Promise

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.

2. Picture

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.

3. Proof

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.

4. Push

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 founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Hmm. Seems familiar. Gee, I wonder what famous copywriter (whose name is trademarked and can’t be mentioned) used the 4P’s?

    I’d tell you, but then I’d have to sue myself.

  2. Hi Brian,

    “2. Picture” looks incorrectly formatted.

  3. Harlan, I’ve only seen John Forde talk about it, and he never credited a source (that’s why he got the link). If you came up with it (as opposed to only “used” it) I’ll be glad to give you credit.

    And I hope you’re joking about the name trademark… otherwise you don’t understand trademark law. :)

  4. Nice Post Brian, another acronym to help put the main focus in perspective. What formula or style prefer, having something established and set like this always helps a writer focus their attention and overall goal of what they are writing.

    Craig
    http://www.budgetpulse.com

  5. Great post simplifying the widely used 4 P’s :-)

    And to comment about the “creation” of it… Exact concepts within copywriting, journalism, and editorial writing can be traced back as far as the 60’s — with some pretty ingenius thinkers in old school advertising :-)

  6. It’s not me.

    And I’ve been threatened with law suits for mentioning his name.

    We call him Lord Voldermort – He who must not be named.

    Forde probably “lifted” it from Lord Voldermort.

  7. Nice post. The four P’s seem to correspond quite closely with AIDA. In fact, while I was reading them I saw some overlap with AIDA and how the 4Ps could be used together with AIDA.

  8. Another great ‘catalyst’ for content creation.

    Thanks Brian, and great meeting you @izeafest!

    -Ryan

  9. Brian,

    Yet another tool to add to my growing toolbelt.

    BTW, I don’t see any formatting issues. Also, I’m not sure what the trademark issue is? Mayhap a good topic for a future post from my favorite copyblogger… ;-)

    Cheers

    George

  10. Hi Brian,

    Thanks for the great post. It was refreshing to see that I had in fact used all of the 4P’s when creating my own sales page even though I was unaware of them at the time.

  11. I think promise and proof are most important. Without proof, it is difficult to get people to do anything. Well, unless you’re highly gullible.

  12. What happens when your client wants short, succinct copy where you’d be lucky to get ONE ”P” in there (take your pick), let alone the other 3?

  13. Great post. I didn’t know there are such “schemes” to writing before, and although I’m sure it’s very beneficial and clever to have some strategy to writing, it still takes a great amount of skill to make it enjoyable and not too artificial.
    I mean, there are a lot of copys out there that immediately came to my mind who use some of these strategys and they’re just too obvious, it doesn’t achieve the desired effect.
    I’m curious: could you give some links as examples who uses this scheme effecively?

  14. Writing is an art and some of the best writers wrote great pieces of work by not having to following any sort of technique. It is like telling an artist to stay inside the lines.

  15. This post arrived just in time. I enjoy writing, but I am not focused and clear enough. I tend to use too many words that need to be trimmed and reorganized. Yours is a useful tool that, with practice, may help me spend more time with my wife and dogs. They thank you, too.

  16. Great set of tips! I actually write alot using the 4P method….It’s nice to see that it actually has some merit :)

    Thanks again,
    Dr. Ben

  17. Good tips Brian. I’m always having trouble writing content that is in the right order. This’ll help.

  18. Great article, I am posting this on my office wall. Thanks

  19. Sounds like an excellent structure, I’ll be thinking about it in my own work …

    Heidi

  20. Bencivenga has 5 Ps so it can’t be him.

    I love these nuts & bolts pieces, they help me sharpen up things I do mostly by instinct. I will add this one to my bag o’ tricks.

  21. Great article and thanks for teaching us

  22. Lovely article. I cut my teeth on the 4Ps when I got into copywriting. That was about 8 years ago. And of all the formulas I’ve learned since, I still think it’s the best. It paints the most compelling picture of what a copywriter needs to do.

    @Mark Even if you have fourteen words to work with, you can still figure out how to weave all four Ps into it. Not easy. But you can do it.

  23. Simple yet effective. I use a revised version just for my style but follows this basic foundation.

  24. Hi Brian, Harlan, et al…

    John here. A Google alert lead me to this article, so I thought I’d comment. First, Brian, many thanks for the mention! I love your site… it’s easily in the top five of my favorite copy-related websites. Maybe even my top three. Anytime you want to run one of your articles in my Copywriter’s Roundtable ezine, let me know. I’d be happy to.

    About the Four Ps, I also thank you for not crediting me with inventing them but just with talking about them in seminars, etc. I wouldn’t presume the credit (and as you mentioned, never have).

    Where did I first hear about them? From copywriter extraordinaire Michael Masterson, who has been a personal mentor of mine and good friend for the last 14 or so years. He taught the sequence to me and we’ve both used it to train hundreds of internal employees at an international publishing company as well as… I’m guessing… a couple thousand participants over the years in copywriting seminars and “bootcamps.”

    I prefer it to the much more commonly known AIDA because it’s easier to remember and, I think, more easily explained.

    As for it being trademarked, I highly doubt that, simply because the original “Four Ps” of marketing represents something else entirely (Price, Product, Place, and Promotion rather than Promise, Picture, Proof, Push).

    I do know that somewhere once I heard it credited to a marketing text written in the late 1950s. Whether that’s accurate or not, I don’t know. Many of the times I’ve talked about it — and more than I can count at this point — I’ve openly left the credit dangling for anyone willing to step up and resolve.

    Might be that Harlan has the key to the mystery, which would be great. I’m happen to credit it to the rightful creator any time. And I’ll continue to recommend it regardless. Great tool.

    Best,

    John

  25. John, thanks for stopping by and the explanation.

  26. Great advise. I tend to make generalizations too often when I should be forcing specifics. Otherwise my writing turns to mush.

  27. This is a great article!

  28. Nice article Brian, I think these elements seem to be the foundation of any good piece of copy. No matter which way you slice it, the fundamentals never change.

    I don’t know who or where it may have originated, but I see it present in many of the books and reports I come across so I know it’s widely relied upon.

    Anyway, I like how you expanded on AIDA and how it relates to the 4Ps , showing how the 4Ps provide more detail as to the why and how of each part.

    Good stuff man. Thanks.

  29. What a useful article. Any more structures you’d like to share would be appreciated e.g. what’s the most elaborate structure you’ve come across?

  30. It’s not me.

    And I’ve been threatened with law suits for mentioning his name.

    We call him Lord Voldermort – He who must not be named.

    Forde probably “lifted” it from Lord Voldermort.

  31. 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.

  32. I am a new blogger and has always considered myself a better writer more than anything else. But this has put me to shame for I still have so much to learn and develop my own style. So thank you.

  33. I like how you expanded on AIDA and how it relates to the 4Ps , showing how the 4Ps provide more detail as to the why and how of each part.

  34. Great article Brian and excellent food for thought. I’m generally more of a freestyle writer in that I’m not so structured but understand the basics of what makes a good/ great compelling read.

    As a marketer at heart I was always brought up on the 4 Ps of marketing – as mentioned above – Product, Price, Promotion and Place and sometimes People (although you think that latter one would always be a given).

  35. I have come to resolve the issue about who invented the concept of the four P’s debated above.

    Since no one is claiming it, I will take credit. I have always been very comfortable taking credit for things and I see this as an excellent time to build my reputation as a copywriting guru (similar tactics earned me recognition in the screen writing business).

    It was not the vile Lord Voldermort nor the majestic creator of ETR. Nor Forde, though bless him for his truthful, if not excruciating honesty.

    It is was I. Now can we get back to thanking Brian for this excellent article. Thank you Brian. You are the Eugene Schwartz of our time.

    Sincerely,

    Ben Affleck and Mat Daemon.

  36. Thanks for such a great post. I understand the basic idea of “show dont tell” when writing but I’ve always had a problem with the PUSH phase. I really have to work on my writing skills. I’m picking up a lot of great information on good quality sites like this. Thanks.