The “4 Ps” of persuasive email copywriting

4 min

Since the dawn of time, human beings have attempted to persuade each other — first with a club (ouch) and later with words. Over the centuries, a certain structure developed that still works today. In this post, you’ll learn an easy-to-remember structure for any type of persuasive writing.

If you’ve ever told a joke, you know they have a certain structure. For example, you’d never start with the punch line, right?

Jokes often have a 3-part structure: “A minister, a priest, and a rabbi are in a fishing boat . . .” The first two story items are very similar, but during the third, something different happens — something funny.

And so with all types of writing.

Read more:
1. 10 email copywriting tips that work
2. How to write email subject lines
3. How to increase your email click-throughs

Writing Structures

Back in high school, you probably learned a journalistic approach for writing essays and term papers called the inverted pyramid; you lead with the most important point then add details below.

That structure was designed for newspaper editors, who would often cut the last few paragraphs to fit the available space. So the inverted pyramid is OK if you don’t mind readers stopping halfway through.

Persuasion requires a different structure.

The 4 Ps of Persuasion

Persuasive writing is structured more like a joke: it builds to a climax that evokes a response.

That doesn’t mean the beginning is any less important. In fact, capturing the reader’s attention is so critical that it gets its own P . . .

1. Promise

Too often, writers begin by trying to get the reader into the right mood: excited, curious, motivated, cheerful, angry, fearful, whatever. That’s fine for poetry, but for persuasive writing, it’s usually a waste of time.

To get their attention, think of something the reader wants and promise it to them.

How do you know what readers want? It comes down to knowing your audience. So be crystal clear about the kind of reader you’re trying to reach and research your market to find out what interests them.

Then make your promise. Just remember that you have to keep your promise.

2. Picture

Here’s where you can release your inner poet a bit. The goal is to get the reader to create a mental image of what you describe.

Which brings me to one of my pet peeves. What does “excellent” look like? What image does “beautiful” bring to mind? These concept words mean something different to every reader, so they are impossible to picture.

That’s why descriptions of “excellent service” or a “beautiful assortment” are ineffective. Your service may be quite excellent and your assortment breathtakingly beautiful, but those words don’t convey a vivid image.

A better strategy is to describe specific details that make your assortment beautiful or give concrete examples of your excellent service.

The more specific your description, the easier it is for the reader to picture it.

3. Proof

When stating your case, you present certain statements as fact. Rhetoricians (people who like to argue) call these “claims.” You’re asking the reader to suspend judgment long enough for you to prove the truth of your claim.

So how do you prove your claim? That depends on your audience.

Scientists may demand independent studies and hard data from experts. For some audiences, testimonials persuade. An explanation of how a thing works may help prove that it does work. And descriptions of resultscase studies, before-and-after photos, and statistics showing gains — can be effective.

Omit the proof step at your own peril. People make decisions based on emotion then justify them with proof.

4. Push

Don’t assume anything. Be absolutely specific about what the reader should do next.

Here’s why. If you force the reader to figure something out, you create a moment of hesitation that may lead to confusion. Remember that a confused mind always says no.

So how do you ask for the sale?

One great technique is to provide dual conversion paths:

  • Provide a “Buy Now” button for those are ready to go.
  • Place “hesitation text” underneath the button for those who aren’t quite ready to buy.

The hesitation text might be a link to download a fact sheet, an invitation to call for info, or a sign-up form to receive additional information by email. It gives you one more chance to persuade.

Designing a path

Persuasive copywriting is like building train tracks. But instead of cross-ties, rails and spikes, you use words, sentences and paragraphs.

As in laying train tracks, a copywriter needs to figure out the reader’s destination then design a smooth, effortless path.

A word of caution

Even with the right structure, your copywriting can fail to persuade. There’s an art and science to persuasion.

So in future articles, we’ll dive deeper into each of the 4 Ps with actionable hints for writing emails that engage and convert.

As always, feel free to ask a question in the comments section. We’ll answer it or point you to other helpful resources.