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.

More...

A Trick So Simple... It Works.

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. Time to roll credits… or rather, roll the Call-To-Action.

Advance your copywriting skills even further!

This 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.


Get our free Headline Swipe File, or take the course From Internet Rubbish to Content Gold, both of which will help you advance your copywriting skills today.


And if you're a Thrive Themes Member, you can access the exclusive members-only Landing Page Copywriting Course.

Try the PAS Formula Out!

Not only do I love the PAS 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.

Let me know if you found this valuable by dropping me a comment below!

Author: Bradley Stevens

Brad is a copywriter and marketing nerd who is passionate about DIY creativity. 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 the founder of Micro Budget Film School where he teaches ultra-low budget film producing.

  • BRIAN L says:

    Any sample?

  • Mark Lester M says:

    Amazing content. Thats the reason why I always get hooked at your blog posts. Thanks very much.

  • Dorothy says:

    Sales pages have evolved into long dialogues of epic proportions and you must scroll to the bottom and then usual click on an action button to find the price, which is what I want to know first. I don’t read any of the sales page until I know the price. The longer the page, I assume the higher the price. If it is too long, I get too cross and impatient and click out of the page. Once I know the price (and I don’t care how high or low it is) I will then go back and read the copy. I want the information to be short and sharp, not a tome worthy of war and peace. I simply don’t have time to be lead by the nose through someone’s sale’s pitch. Something concise and to the point will entice me sooner.

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      Don’t confuse what you feel is true for you with what works in the real world, for people visiting your sales page. What people will say they respond positively to and what they actually respond positively to are often two completely different stories.

    • Jane Fox says:

      I agree totally but with me if the cost is out of the ballpark why even continue. If within my realm, I’ll continue on but scroll through most of the content unless I see bullet points – those I read – and if they grab me I’ll continue.

      • I’ve seen that there are two ways people read content: skim, and scour. Often people will skim first to get the gist of the article, then scour through every word if they decide it’s worth it. For this reason, copywriting trends say that including bullet points, bold, italics, frequent subheadings, etc will help people on their first speed read through an article. You’ll also notice I keep my paragraphs very short and punchy, for this same reason.

        Thanks for your comment, Jane

  • Bia says:

    Thank you very much for this post.
    Good and smart steps to follow.

  • Andre says:

    Come on now… Good Stuff

  • Useful information from Thrive as always!

  • Kavitha says:

    Awesome! I found the reason why I got hooked on your content. Thank you.

  • Karen McCamy says:

    Great article (as always) , Brad!

    I love formulas like this one because they are so versatile…long copy, short copy…opt-in forms!

    Easy to remember, too! :-)

    • I also believe in keeping it simple. If it can be remembered easily, then it can be executed easily.

      • Karen McCamy says:

        So true!

        And, I should have added before…

        Very timely, as it will help me with marketing my course in Shane’s class! :-)

  • Great article Brad. Good to have my brain refreshed and I am going to check all my blogs and opt-in pages straight away.

  • Mark N says:

    Great post. It is this sort of material that marks the difference between a tool vendor and a partner that wants you to succeed.

  • David DB says:

    Valuable stuff. I just gathered +50 responses to a survey where my audience shares their biggest obstacles so I do have good info to go and try PAS out!

    • Perfect! Surveys are an excellent source of market research. You’ll get to see the specific words and language they use too, also very helpful with your copywriting. Good luck David!

    • Leigh J says:

      Yes, surveys are great. And to keep the responses flowing I’ve switched up the questions I ask my FB group member applications to help me identify the problems my target audience are experiencing.
      1. What type of challenges lead you to join this fab community of women over 50?
      2. I’m creating an online course to help solve your frustrations with your work. What would you like help with? What would make a difference? (Thanks for taking the time to answer.)

      It’s working well. I get to hear there problems in their own words, and I can send a personal message of support in response.

      • These are great questions, Leigh. Hopefully asking people what they want help with will also build anticipation for your course. Good luck!

  • Doug says:

    I think the model is sound, but execution is often where I find friction.

    I’ll preface this by saying that I know this applies to me, and not to everyone. So here’s how this impacts me personally:

    I’m fine with a problem being stated, and a little agitation getting mixed in. What I dislike is when there’s superfluous, bloated information.

    For example, I write a lot of tutorials. Someone searching for my tutorial doesn’t need to be hooked into reading it by hundreds of words, then agitated into why they need to keep reading with another few hundred. They’re searching for their solution and simply want that answer.

    I was searching for recipes in Google the other day and I noticed a trend: Bloated articles. I just wanted the recipe. I didn’t need the person’s life story about this recipe or how this recipe would change my life in the kitchen. I just needed to know how many eggs, how much sugar, etc. I had to scroll past hundreds and hundreds of words to find what I clicked on the blog post to find.

    In this article, for example, I found myself scrolling right past the introduction until I found the meat where you told me what the headline promised. And the content is great! I just wish I didn’t have to work to find it.

    I do wonder if there is still value in giving people the content they want faster and more efficiently. I know the data exists showing why longer sales pages are great — and I know there are outliers with shorter pages doing just as well.

    Since this article isn’t just about sales pages, as you mention other forms of content, do you believe there are types of content (tutorials, recipes, etc) where this idea of longer content or even this PAS pattern do not necessarily apply? (I’m looking for opinions and theorycrafting, because I know data from testing is the real answer.)

    • The recipe bloat trend drives me mad. I just want to make a healthy salad, not read about the author’s philosophy on life!

      PAS is a great system, but it is only scratching the surface. I think what you’re talking about borders on the topic of ‘temperature’. I’m sure you’ve heard of cold/ warm/ hot leads before.

      The argument goes something like this: You would connect with a Cold lead (someone who is not familiar with your content/ business/ product) differently to how you would a warm lead (someone that desires any solution) or hot lead (someone that desires your specific solution).

      What feels like bloat to you could be exactly what a Cold lead needs. They don’t understand their problem enough yet. But if someone does know their problem, they don’t need the story intro, right?

      Use this article as an example. If you have already decided that you love the lessons we have in our blog, you’ll want to skip to the point because you’re already ‘hot’. But someone else that has stumbled across our blog for the first time probably doesn’t want to skip ahead until they see a reason why. They are cold, and the PAS story is to show them promise of an answer if they continue to read.

      So to answer your question, if you are ever writing content which is going to Hot leads only – such as current customers – then the PAS pattern may not apply. Instead, you might want to lead with the solution.

      Hope that helps!

      • Ken Taylor says:

        Yeowza! This comment is better than the article! LOL! Should be pinned to the top. Seriously, great article. I’m going to read it before I write.

      • steinv says:

        Great article, great comments and great site. Yep. I’m turning into a fan boy. :-)
        I recognise what Doug said above here and that Bradleys answer is a good one. Also that this is just touching the surface.

        I’m quite impatient and visual. For me it works like this:
        In some cases, like this one, the title of the e-mail and it’s source was enough to make me decide to read the whole article. That’s rare and related to the fan boy issue… :-)

        Most of the time, I need to be convinced, starting from a sceptical expectation. I like to see a structure that I can skim through, where the elements that stand out give me a feel for what it’s all about. I look for headings, fact boxes and such. They don’t need to give me the full story, but close. It must be enough to make sense. If that seems interesting, I read the whole thing. In at least 90% of the cases, I don’t read more.

        Quite often the reason I don’t read more is that there is no obvious visual elements suitable for skimming. Then I just skip the whole thing assuming that the writer isn’t too smart, since he/she doesn’t understand how to present the content.

      • This was also one of our less visual articles. Usually we like to have images and bullet points regularly to break it up, but this article was mostly text. So I’m glad to hear it still drew you in. Thanks for your comment!

      • Karen McCamy says:

        Totally agree with Steinv!

        I’ve become a Thrive “fan-girl” over the last couple of years (which is ever since I found Thrive!) and your content here (& on ActiveGrowth, of course) are the only 2 websites whose posts I open immediately and read from start to finish!

        They are always that good! :-)

        You’ve all set the bar very high and I know it’s hard to keep exceeding expectations, but I haven’t been disappointed yet! ;-)

  • Patrick de Boer says:

    Great article, simple and effective strategies. Thanks!

  • Kelly H. says:

    This is really helpful, and I agree it will give me a good place to start. Reflecting on some of my previous content, I can see how I have room for improvement. This structure is easy to follow and will provide great value for readers. Thank you!

  • Jeffery says:

    Bradley:

    One of my Sons is in Sunshine Coast with YWAM.

    Wow…

    I am so impressed, not only with your ability to communicate clearly and concisely. But also take difficult concepts and explain them so even I can understand…

    Keep up the good work young man!

    • Beautiful beaches in the Sunshine Coast! Your son is lucky.

      Glad I could help, Jeffery :)

  • Hey Brad,

    Simple and effective technique. Thanks for sharing.

    What would be your favorite tool for market research and why?

    I was wondering what would be the easiest way of finding those problems so that we could start writing more content using the PAS method.

    Thank you.

    • Google Forms. The trick is to have a reason why people want to fill them out, and this means building some trust with an audience first. Otherwise, people won’t take the time.

      Google Forms are good because they can be anonymous (some people say different things if they know they can’t be traced), you can prompt specific questions, and you can give people the space to write whatever they want. Freedom to say things in their own words is the key. Multiple choice isn’t as good because you’re putting words in their mouth.

      Also with Google Forms, you can then compare the answers to specific questions at once. Makes it easier to spot familiar language, similar answers, differences, etc.

      Hope that helps!

  • Joel W says:

    Yes indeed, they bounced away! Just had this happen exactly as you described it in the article.

    I’ve been struggling with pain points in copywriting for a while because at first it seams cruel. Like poking a stick in a wound.

    I study buddhism philosophy (not religion) and I had a graphic of the 4 noble truths open right by the browser window while reading this article. Its P.A.S.O.!

    Problem: Buddha identifies life as suffering and the cause being attachment to desires and incessantly striving for more.

    Agitation: Buddha sets out to eliminate suffering in the world and himself and finds he can’t do it.

    Solution: Buddha’s awakening moment is when he realizes that suffering ends when we detach from our obsessive desires and that letting go of them is nirvana or enlightenment – which means to release or exhale. Even the desire to eliminate desire is eliminated.

    Outcome: People can overcome their uncontrolled attachments by adopting the middle way or eightfold path.

    Now take my course on the eightfold path to find how you too can end suffering in your own life!… just kidding.

    Thank you for this great article Bradley! Also, Buddha was an enlightened marketing genius using the PASO method I now realize haha.

    • Joel, this is fascinating! I told you that you’d start to see PAS like Matrix Code, and there it is! Good marketing has it’s roots in human behaviour and psychology, so it doesn’t surprise me to see patterns like this in all kinds of historical teaching. Thanks for sharing

  • Max says:

    Very clear and helpful.

  • Burt says:

    Good article! I often scroll to see the length of the article and then say, “Do I have time for this?” This is too long….

    However, after reading just a few paragraphs…I was HOOKED because of PAS. So, although I had already pre-judged, “too long”…. the content, the pain spoke to me and had me reading to the last line.

    Great Piece!

    • Yes! That’s the outcome I’m going for. But, I never know if I really get there until someone like you drops me a comment to let me know. I’m glad it worked! Thanks for the comment, Burt

  • mmakewell says:

    Good article – a formula I’ve heard before but often forget to use. Thanks for the reminder

  • Susan Marie C says:

    This was awesome. I’m going to use this to audit and help rework some recent opt-in pages, and a sell page I recently developed that I should have done better. Thanks for posting this. I’m going to take some of those Thrive U courses too!

  • Thobile says:

    wooow! been struggling with structuring my blog posts, this is veeeeery useful! thanks so much :)

  • John says:

    Great article on relating to the reason someone is searching online for answers, solutions or a product for what ails them.

  • Your article is great not just for sales but for any article you write including emails. Getting people to read is what keeps them coming back again and again. Thanks for sharing with us.

  • There might be many solutions offered by competitors. How to make your solution stand out? Is this not an important question? Ease of application, results and bonus, support, money back guarantees and last the most important the price.

    • This comes down to the offer rather than the copywriting (though good copywriting will ‘frame’ your offer better). I believe that what makes your solution stand out is your USP: Unique Selling Point. If you don’t have one and your product is virtually identical to a competitor, then you’re going to hard a hard time standing out.

  • Gerald W says:

    I put off reading this article, but knew I needed to b/c of my ‘P’. It’s in your headline. Result: Gold Nugget. Good Article – Great Presentation. Thanks.

  • Hi Bradley
    A comment from Holland.
    From the Boeddhist perspective the question with productdevelopment ( like online-courses or recipes) is: is the product a solution for the pain or one for the greed? So PASO starts at the very beginning even before you have a product. Happily for productdevelopers pain and greed are endless and so are the possible solutions.

    This is just a thought coming up reading your great and very helpfull article. And the comments are great too to learn a lot about different perspectives and issues. Thanks everybody for your commenting.

    As former psycotherapist I know I have to listen to the problems and the pain first. Impossible tot start with a solution. I think even warm and hot leads have their painpoints, otherwise they shouldn’t come back as I do reading your sharings. Maybe you have to use other words for them and surely other solutions.

  • Your article is great not just for sales but for any article you write including emails.

    Getting people to read is what keeps them coming back again and again.

    Thanks for sharing with us.

    • Absolutely. It’s difficult to cut through the noise, but consistent high-quality content seems to be the key.

  • Sveta says:

    Thank you for the article. I get the psychology part and why people need this. I do get terribly annoyed at excruciatingly long sales pages. I hate it when I can’t see the price quickly. I also hate being oversold. I think there is a fine line at connecting and responding to an ICA’s problem without being too sleazy….

    • I agree that there is a fine line. Long sales pages sometimes annoy me too, but one thing I’ve learnt from marketing is to trust the stats, not opinions. What might look to us like an unnecessarily long sales page could be the winner from multiple split tests and is landing the company tenfold more customers.

  • Juan says:

    Great article, thanks so much! It opened a whole new horizon for me!

  • James Thomas says:

    Your explanations of this stuff are the best on the web. Thanks so much I always learn something new from these tutorials

  • Thank you very much for this post.
    Good and smart steps to follow.

  • Sunny Kumar says:

    Great post. It is this sort of material that marks the difference between a tool vendor and a partner that wants you to succeed.

    • Yep, that’s exactly what we want. Our team actually gets really proud when we find our customers succeeding and making awesome pages or writing great copy.

  • Sunny Kumar says:

    Great article, simple and effective strategies. Thanks!

  • Aman Kumar says:

    Good article! I often scroll to see the length of the article and then say, “Do I have time for this?” This is too long….

    However, after reading just a few paragraphs…I was HOOKED because of PAS. So, although I had already pre-judged, “too long”…. the content, the pain spoke to me and had me reading to the last line.

    Great Piece!

    • Perfect! We have a saying at Thrive: “There is no such thing as too long, just too boring”. Thanks for your comment, Aman

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