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The PAS Formula: A Fool-Proof Copywriting Technique You Can Start Using Today

You’ve worked hard to create an awesome product. 

In fact, it’s so good that you are hoping it will sell itself. But, sadly it doesn’t.

It’s up to you to connect with your audience. So you put on your marketing cap (Did ya get that at the marketing store?)

It’s time to write emails, sales pages, blog articles, Facebook adverts, heck — anything to try and reach your target market. You need good marketing collateral. 

But there’s one consistent problem: no-one bothers reading it.

Your Facebook advert relevance score is sitting around 5 or 6, you’re getting less than 30% open rates on your emails, and the time-on-page report in Google Analytics shows that people are ditching your sales page in less than 8 seconds!

What are you doing wrong?!

You’re sinking money into driving traffic to your sales pages and still they all just bounce, bounce, bounce away.

It feels impossible to cut through the noise and reach your audience, doesn’t it?

And it’s so frustrating because you know your product is good! If people would just give you a chance, they’d quickly see that it’s worth every cent and can make a big impact on their lives.

Other businesses seem to have no trouble finding customers! Why not you? What’s the big conspiracy?

Buckle up, because today you’re going to learn something that could change your marketing game forever: the PAS formula.

More...

What is the PAS formula?

They say a magician never reveals his secrets.

Today, you get to be my protégé. I’m going to show you a very simple copywriting formula that works for everything.

Emails? Yep.

Sales pages? Definitely.

Facebook adverts? Uh-huh.

Once you know it, you’ll begin to see it like Matrix code everywhere around you. In fact, you won’t be able to ‘unsee’ it.

And I know it’s sneaky, but I’ve already used the formula on you... in this very article.

It is called: PAS formula.

It stands for:

  • P: Problem
  • A: Agitation
  • S: Solution

Let’s go in depth.

Problem:

If readers aren’t sticking around to read your content, it’s because they haven’t immediately identified a reason to stay. They need to see value immediately.

If you can describe a problem they have early, then you’ll stop ‘em dead in their tracks. You don’t need to overload readers with more information than necessary yet. You simply need to connect with their problems.

But there’s a catch: you really have to hit the nail on the head.

You can’t make assumptions about what you think your target audience is struggling with. You have to know it with absolute certainty.

You need to be able to describe their problem even better than they can.

This is why one of the first steps in product development is to actually speak with your target audience and understand what it is that they are struggling with. How do they describe their problems? What words do they use? The more research you can do on this, the better.

‘Problem’ in action: 

At the top of this post, I described the problem of writing content that people won’t even bother to read. Especially when it’s marketing content that you need people to read because it leads directly to sales.

I know that problem inside and out. It’s what has driven me to become a better writer over the years.

And I gave you stats and numbers to prove that I know it. Facebook relevance scores, click through rates, and time-on-page metrics. I’ve measured that stuff, and if you have too… then I’m immediately speaking to you in your language.

If you weren’t hooked, it’s either because I’ve missed the mark or because that’s not a problem you’ve been facing. In which case, you wouldn’t be my target audience.

But if you haven’t started to sell a product yet, trust me — this soon will become a problem you’ll face.

Why the ‘Problem’ works:

If you can describe someone’s problems better than they can, then you will have them hooked. It implies that there is a reason why you are talking about their problem. Readers will even begin to think that you must have the solution, considering you are so well versed in understanding it.

It’s almost impossible for a reader to click away if you’ve so perfectly captured what it is that they are stuck on.

The human brain has become so adept at solving problems that when it spies one it can’t yet solve, it gets stuck and we struggle to leave without resolving that tension.

It’s the same reason why cliffhangers work so well in TV shows and why, according to Backlinko, headlines that end with a question mark get 23.3% more social shares than those that don’t.

But don’t go for the sale yet. There’s still more to do first.

Agitation:

Sadly, it’s not enough to just describe someone’s problems in the PAS formula. You need to get psychological.

How do you do that? Take the very thing that hurts… and agitate it.

The agitation step means expanding upon the negative feelings and pain caused by that problem. It means describing why it hurts. At this point, you move from just explaining the problem to identifying how it feels to experience that pain and where that pain comes from.

You might have heard of ‘benefit vs. feature’ statements. But if you haven’t, here’s a quick refresher: A feature of a product is only valuable if the buyer can obtain a benefit because of it. By focusing on the benefits, a customer is more likely to perceive the value of the product and it's features.

Phew. That got wordy.

Here’s a quick example: having a 3-finned surfboard (feature) means nothing… unless you can explain to a surfer that 3 fins equals better traction on the waves (benefit).

Agitation is like the reverse of a benefits/features statement. Instead of a feature, you explain a problem. And instead of showing the benefits, you are going to show the anti-benefits, aka: the detriments.

For example, a problem could be a businessman’s lack of productivity, but the agitation looks at how he has to stay back late at work to compensate, thus spending less time with his family and ultimately feeling like he’s disconnected from his children.

Agitation in action: 

At the top of this article, yes I followed the pain points with agitation. My key agitations were:

  1. You are losing money on ads that don’t convert
  2. It feels impossible to get your audience’s attention
  3. It’s frustrating because you know your product is good
  4. It’s unfair because other businesses seem to find success

In each of these cases I’ve advanced from the problem, which is that no-one pays attention to your content, and agitated that by focusing on how it feels to have that problem.

Why Agitation works:

If you’ve hooked them by describing their problem, agitation will start to get your readers to take an introspective look at themselves.

We all have problems, but it’s the uncomfortable feelings of frustration and pain created by the problem that we really want to go away.

If you hit the nail on the head, then by now you’ve explained a problem and centered on all the awful feelings that stem from it. Your readers have been taken on a short journey and the issue is at the forefront of their mind, right where you want it to be.

Ending your article there would be absolute torture. But you’re not going to, of course. Your readers yearning for it, so it’s time to give them the last part. It's time for the...

Solution:

This is the final piece of the puzzle.

But rather than opening your advert / email / sales page / (or whatever medium you use to present your product with), you should first prime your reader by showing them what problem you are about to solve and what awful feelings you can make disappear.

Once that's established, you can then introduce your solution to that problem (a.k.a. your product).

But you can’t just ignore all the work you did setting your readers up for this part. As you now introduce the features/benefits of your product, you can directly address the problems your product solves. After all, your readers are on the same page as you (literally).

Solution In Action:

Yes, right after I explained that getting people to read your marketing content is difficult, and after I agitated those feelings, I told you I was going to give you a copywriting formula to help.

If I had started this article with the formula, you probably wouldn’t have seen the practical relevance of this technique. Don’t put the cart (your product) before the horse (the problem).

Even at this point in the article, I’m still working to show you why this formula hooks your readers attention and keeps them interested, which was the problem I outlined at the start.

Why Solution Works At This Point:

Here’s why it’s so powerful to introduce your product after the Problem/Agitation: your readers will believe that your product is the solution before you’ve even said it.

This is the power of context.

If you’ve just taken time to carefully identify your reader’s problem, and you’ve agitated the negative emotions associated with that problem, then by the time your reader learns about your product, they will already know its value without you needing to explicitly say it.

Suddenly their perception of the product takes a whole new meaning.

This is a far cry from scrolling past an advert or article that led off by presenting the product first.

Readers are curious to learn more about how your product is going to fix that problem and get rid of those feelings.

Bonus Section O: “Outcome”

Depending on your scenario, product, or the marketing piece that you are writing, you may also want to include the optional ‘O’ for ‘Outcome’.

This is where you explain — with examples — what the reader can expect to get, feel or do once they purchase the product. 

The point of this section is to show what life could be like after your solution. How might it feel to no longer have those problems? What might they do with their extra time? What can they look forward to?

It’s the cathartic resolution to the pain journey you’ve just taken the reader on.

Try the PAS Formula Out!

Not only do I love the problem - agitate - solution formula because it helps to connect with an audience, but it helps me to know where to start.

When I’m working on sales pages, emails, or even something as small as opt-in forms, if I’m ever stuck with how to get started… I’ll turn to PAS.

And the PAS formula doesn’t have to be exclusive to long form content at all! It can be as simple as just a headline + tagline + call-to-action.

Next time you sit down to a blank page, give it a shot and see how you go. And remember, if your work still isn’t converting, then do some more market research. Your initial ‘problem’ might be slightly off.

Advance your copywriting skills even further!

The PAS copywriting formula is just the tip of the iceberg. Great copywriting is the combination of marketing theory and good writing skills. But you can keep learning more for free at Thrive University with these courses that are still relevant today:

Headline Swipe File

Get our free Headline Swipe File, and learn how to build a successful headline. In this quick course, we reveal the copywriting formula for writing headlines for blog posts, emails, YouTube videos, and other content. This course equips you with eight versatile fill-in-the-blank templates designed to make crafting shareable headlines a breeze.

From Internet Rubbish to Content Gold

Take our free course From Internet Rubbish to Content Gold, to learn how to write engaging content. This course will walk you through, step-by-step, how to write fantastic blog posts. The lessons span from understanding why most online content doesn’t see the light of day, mastering your technique and presentation, and devising your strategy and goals, to writing an amazing 1000-word article in just five hours, and generating compelling blog post ideas.

For Thrive Suite Users: Landing Page Copywriting Course

If you're a Thrive Suite user, you can access the exclusive Landing Page Copywriting Course, where you’ll discover a practical system for writing compelling landing page copy. 

Start Using the PAS Formula Today

Now there’s just one thing left to do: now that you know all about the PAS copywriting, sign up for Thrive University and hone your copywriting techniques with our free Headline Swipe File, and our free course, From Internet Rubbish to Content Gold. 

About the Author Bradley Stevens


Brad is the CEO at Thrive Themes, and a serious marketing nerd. He’s been a videographer on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a drummer in a rock band, an actor in independent films, and he’s created and sold his own online courses.

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