The 1-2-3-4 Formula for Persuasive Copy

image of numbers 1, 2, 3, 4

I stole it from Naomi Dunford. Naomi stole it from Frank Kern. Frank Kern stole it from John Carlton.

I don’t know who Carlton stole it from, but the end of the copywriting swipe chain is usually John Caples, who stole all of it from Claude Hopkins. And Hopkins stole it from some 19th-century salesman of buggy whips or patent medicines.

What is it? A handy little checklist for any copy you write that tries to get someone to do something.

The best part is, it’s so simple you won’t have to look it up, or write it down 500 times to make it second-nature.

Whether you want to get an opt-in for your email list, a new blog subscriber, to make a sale, or just inspire readers to support your favorite cause, start with the 1-2-3-4 method. You can add all of yourfavorite copywriting tricks to make it work even better, but with the 1-2-3-4 elements in place, you’ll have the most important bases covered.

Here’s the formula in a nutshell:

  • 1. What I’ve got for you
  • 2. What it’s going to do for you
  • 3. Who am I?
  • 4. What you need to do next

1. What I’ve got for you

If you want to persuade, you’ve got to let folks know what they’re in for.

What’s your product? What does it do? Who is it for?

Start with a simple overview, a birds-eye look at what you’ve got to offer. Here’s an example:

A step-by-step home study course that teaches struggling entrepreneurs how to bring in more customers.

Before you elaborate on that too much, go immediately into #2.

2. What it’s going to do for you

Here’s where we talk about the great benefits of taking the action you want your reader to take.

Now Featuring Benefits!

For some reason, the distinction between benefits and features is hard to remember. But “what it’s going to do for you” is much easier to keep in mind – and it’s the same thing.

What’s better about life with your product?

Describe the end result, the “after” picture once your customer has bought your product and used it as you recommend. Let the reader know how your product helps her reach the goals that matter most to her.

For example:

You’ll have more confidence, less stress, and you’ll have a simple, proven plan for smoothing out those awful cash flow gaps in your business.

Now circle back to #1 for a bit — What I’ve got for you

Now we unpack the rest of #1: what’s in the product.

What’s in the box?

These are the “features” of your product or service. They’re important, although they’re not as important as the benefits. But if you gloss over the details of what your product or service actually contains, people will be nervous about putting their money down. And as we know, nervous people don’t buy.

The best way to list features is usually a series of fascinating bullet points. Include enough specifics to make the product feel valuable:

  • More than 30 hours of action-oriented MP3 lessons, with complete optimized transcripts.

Also include compelling teasers that are vague enough to create a curiosity “itch.”

  • The three most damaging and expensive mistakes new businesses make, and the easy way to fix them.

When you can, attach a benefit to each feature.

OK:

  • Next-action worksheets come with every module.

Better:

  • Next-action worksheets come with every module, so you can take what you’re learning and immediately put it into action.

Bullet points are a “secret weapon” for copywriters because they let you make your point in a powerful, skimmable way, and they pull the eye in. For lots more ideas about how to write great bullet points, take a look at Brian’s article on Little-Known Ways to Write Fascinating Bullet Points

3. Who are you?

Whether or not you need this step depends on where you are with this particular reader. If she’s been reading your blog for a year, she knows you very well, so you may be able to skip it.

But most of the time, you need to establish that you’re a trustworthy and worthwhile person, and that you know what you’re talking about.

This is why good sales letters often include a photo near the top of the page. The photo can include some element that helps the reader like and trust the author. Babies and dogs are always winners here.

If your topic is gardening, a photo of you in front of your own great garden is a credibility-builder. And you’ve probably noticed that in weight loss, we always seem get a good look at the fitness guru’s terrific abs.

In the last lesson, we talked about the relationship-building power of the statement “I’m a lot like you.”

That’s what this element is pointing to — not just who you are, but how you’re like your customer, and what you offer that will benefit her. So it’s not actually about you after all — it’s about how you helpher.

4. What you should do next

This is our old friend the call to action.

The reader needs to know specifically what to do next. Don’t just put a link in; tell her to click here.

Tell (don’t ask) the reader what to do right this minute to move forward with the sale. Be specific andpainstakingly clear.

And of course, if you have a good scarcity element (like your terrific offer is going away in 6 days), you make that very clear here.

Every step of your persuasion sequence, whether it’s a short opt-in page or a months-long “sideways sales letter,” needs a clear and specific call to action.

Yes, you still need 1-2-3-4 for “free”

Once upon a time, you could offer any old junk for free and people would take it. The very word “free” seemed like it had magic powers.

But now, especially online, “free” takes some selling.

You’re competing for attention and time rather than money — and those are in very short supply.

So if you have a free special report to build your email list, or you’re offering a valuable free e-class or video, you still need to sell it.

1-2-3-4 isn’t just about exchanging dollars. It’s about motivating a specific, well-defined behavior.

The next time you see a really masterful sales pitch, try to identify the 1-2-3-4 elements. Look for it in infomercials, catalog copy, sales letters, and good product reviews.

Start spotting these persuasion elements “in the wild” and you’ll be on your way to becoming a more effective copywriter — a copywriter who sells.

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