Writing is hard.

As a content marketer and a storyteller at heart, my love for writing is no secret, but I stand by that statement. It’s not easy.

Whether you’re writing ad copy or a love letter, there are a variety of questions to take into account. Who will read this? What do they care about? What do they need to know? What’s the most important message to get across? How can I make this topic engaging? Where do I even start??

If you feel your heart rate rising from residual stress or fear of impending writing tasks, don’t panic! This blog post is for you.

White-knuckling through writing-induced anxiety to crank out a mediocre blog post is painful. It will not make the task any easier the next time it comes around. Not to mention, average ad copy is hiding your inner Hemingway from the rest of the world. Is that what you want?

I attended Ray Edwards’ workshop at Social Media Marketing World 2017 and learned a fantastic formula for writing copy that sells. This process (called P.A.S.T.O.R.) covers six key items to always address in your writing to make sure it packs a punch. Not only can it cut time spent staring at a blinking cursor, this framework guides you to write something that is actually valuable to your reader. And true value is persuasive. Work smarter, not harder, right?

Sound too good to be true? It’s not. I used Ray’s formula on you and you’re 237 words deep.

Still with me? Let’s dig in. When writing ad copy, landing page content, a blog post, or what have you, here are six key pieces to speak to as you write.

P – Person, Problem, Pain

To quote the presentation, “The reason most copy fails is it’s written to benefit the marketer, not the customer.” How’s that for humbling? To get your copy right, the trick is to start (and end) with the other person in mind. Begin by putting yourself in your audience’s shoes.

  • Who are they?
  • What problem are you trying to help them solve?
  • How are they experiencing pain right now?

Now, put their problem and their pain into words.

For example, say you work at a financial planning firm, and you’re writing a blog post for recent college grads about investing in retirement. I’ve found that sometimes it helps to give your audience a name to make the process more relational and human. Let’s call her Maggie.

The problem you’re trying to help Maggie solve is life after college is costly and full of unexpected expenses. Post-grad Maggie is experiencing a variety of pains from that realization. Bills are a shock, paychecks are low, work is so-so, Spring Break is nonexistent, and so on. But Maggie’s pain is not about a meager paycheck, is it? It’s about feeling unprepared to take on the challenges of adulthood.

Take time to think through the person, problem and pain you’re trying to speak to. Think deep and wide, and then put it to words.

The Problem/Pains: Your parents told you the world is your oyster. Fresh out of college, your paycheck is less than you imagined, while rent, student loans, and groceries give you a migraine.

A – Amplification & Aspiration

Any unsolved problem has a cost. At this step, your copy needs to amplify that cost and give the audience something to aspire to.

Continuing the financial planning firm example, Maggie needs to sense the urgency. What will happen if she doesn’t invest in retirement? What could happen if she does? Amplify the pain and paint a picture to aspire to.

The Amplification/Aspiration: Sure, you can keep sipping that $5 glass of pinot grigio at happy hour, feeling satisfied with your ability to “budget” while maintaining a thriving social life. But what about thirty years from now when your friends are planning a wine tour in Napa Valley? Will you have the funds to hop on the plane, too, or will you still be scrambling to pay your bills like you are now?

S – Story (Struggle & Solution)

Every story consists of a struggle and a solution. As Ray said in his presentation, “To sell anything you must examine the cost of not buying.” First, you voiced the problem and gave Maggie something to aspire to. Now you have to continue the story by identifying with her struggle and pointing her to a solution.

The Story: Your parents, grandparents, and anyone else beyond your years can nod in understanding. We’ve all been there. In your early twenties, you feel closer to your carefree college days than you do to the days of paying for your own non-existent kids’ tuition. We hate to be a downer, but your bills will only grow and your disposable income will only shrink. Since money trees grow in only the rarest backyards, procrastinating solves nothing. But there’s good news! Setting aside a little cash every month is easier than you think and goes miles years from now.

T – Testimony

There’s a reason why social platforms play a pivotal role in the customer journey. Consumer reviews and success stories from other users help us feel like we’re taking less of a risk. So for the fourth piece of P.A.S.T.O.R., point to success stories and examples of how what you’re offering has helped others.

This could take the form of customer quotes, a video, case studies, surveys, or even an infographic. Hint: think back to Maggie, your post-grad reader. What would she want to see/read for testimonials?

The Testimony: We surveyed 3,000 individuals between the ages of 52-60 about their financial planning thus far (infographic below). Of the 58% that felt confident in their financial stability, 94% met with a financial planner and began saving for retirement in their mid-twenties. That’s a pretty staggering statistic, don’t you think?

O – Offer

So you’ve laid the groundwork for the action you want your reader to take. Now it is time to state the offer in its purest form. Based on all you’ve said up to this point, what does Maggie need to do now? And how will taking the desired action benefit her?

The Offer: Today’s the day to start planning for your financial tomorrow. You’ll never have a better chance to start paying it forward to your future self than you do in your twenties. Look beyond next week’s happy hour and reward yourself with the peace of mind that comes from a habit of saving.

R – Request Response

All effective writing should evoke action. You’ve demonstrated that you understand your reader’s situation. You know the consequences of inaction, but you also know a fantastic solution. It’s time to seal the deal with the call to action.

Request a Response: Fill out the form below for a free consultation with one of our financial planners to see what starting a retirement fund looks like for you!

And there you have it!

To flesh out the framework, I used long form copy in this example.  When limited to few characters, it’s even more important to show you understand your reader’s motives. For short copy, Ray recommends focusing on P (person/problem/pain), A (amplification/aspiration), and S (story/struggle/solution).

Using a financial planning firm, here’s an example of a PPC ad:

Headline 1: Save Today to Splurge Tomorrow (26 characters)

Headline 2: Plan for Retirement Today! (26 characters)

Description: A Little Saved Today Goes a Long Way Tomorrow. Talk to a Financial Planner. (75 characters)

And here’s a caption for an Instagram ad for the same firm:

Are you willing to cut back on a few happy hours to give your future self some real peace of mind? Talk to a financial planner today to learn how easy it is to start saving for retirement. (188 characters)

A clear roadmap like P.A.S.T.O.R. makes writing less painful by providing focus to an individual piece of content. Before you start, though, a content marketing strategy can bring some much-needed direction to your writing. 

Need a hand with your content marketing strategy? Learn about what we offer.