There are almost as many copywriting structures as there are copywriters.
While researching this article, I came across one article that listed several dozen structures.
But there’s a major problem with copywriting structures…
They are simply tactics.
When you study copywriting, it’s important to understand strategy and principles … not just tactics.
To illustrate the difference between strategy and tactics, think about these examples:
- In chess, a tactic is a series of moves, such as a specific opening — a strategy is a high-level plan with an aim, such as controlling the center of the board.
- In karate, a tactic is a combination, such as one-two-feint-kick. Principles consist of things like constant movement or continually guarding your center line.
- In copywriting, a tactic is using sub-headings every couple hundred words. Viewed as a principle, it would be “keep text readable with devices such as bullets, sub-headings, short sentences, et cetera.”
Copywriting structures are tactics, not strategies or principles.
But by studying a few of them, we can reverse engineer the underlying principles.
Because, as I mentioned in last week’s article, all persuasive copywriting follows the same basic principles.
To prove this, we’ll look at a few random examples that apply to both B2B and B2C copywriting.
The first basic framework is AIDA:
- Attention — Get the reader’s attention
- Interest — Build interest in a solution
- Desire — Generate desire for your solution
- Action — Compel action
This framework is one of the oldest, most cited copywriting structures out there.
It’s one of the first that copywriters learn, and it’s very useful for understanding ad structures.
The Motivating Sequence
Another one is “the motivating sequence.”
It consists of 5 steps:
- Get attention
- Show a need
- Satisfy the need
- Prove your superiority
- Ask for action
The middle steps differ slightly, but we can see that the underlying pattern is the same.
You’re grabbing attention, latching on to a need (directly connected to a problem), then shifting towards your solution.
Finally, call for action.
Next, let’s see if this structure holds true for B2B copywriting.
Stelzner’s White Paper Framework
Michael Stelzner’s fantastic book, Writing White Papers, is a must-read for any B2B copywriter.
In it, he covers a white paper structure that very closely follows the ones mentioned above.
Here’s a simplified version:
- Problem — Introduce a challenge, problem, or need
- Solution — Discuss a solution to that problem or need
- Benefits — The benefits of the solution
- “What to Look For” — A list of considerations when examining the solution
- Specific Advantages — The specific advantages of examining your product or service
This structure varies slightly … or does it?
White papers are more logical and less salesy than direct response emotional copywriting.
But they are still persuasive documents.
We can see from this outline that we still follow a very similar structure — draw attention to a problem, talk about solutions, then generate interest in your specific solution.
Because white papers cannot request immediate action, they are more subtle.
But they still follow a very similar approach, as we can see.
The Sales Letter Formula
Sales letters and video sales letters follow a very standard structure.
Here is a very stripped-down version:
- Headline — Get attention
- Lead — Draw the reader in, make a promise, show benefits, and generate interest
- Body — Build interest some more, prove claims, address objections, et cetera
- Close — Ask for action
There are, of course, other elements in sales letters — false closes, guarantees, bullets, the chain of logic, and so on.
However, these building blocks fit inside the basic structure outlined above.
And, guess what?
This structure follows one that’s very similar to the ones mentioned earlier.
This structure was described by Dan Kennedy in his book, The Ultimate Sales Letter.
It’s another must-read for any copywriter, especially direct response copywriters.
This formula is very straightforward:
- Problem — Draw attention to the reader’s problem
- Agitate — Get them worked up
- Solution — Show them why your solution is the solution
The thing I like about this formula is its simplicity.
The more complex you get with your copywriting structures, the easier it is to confuse principles with tactics.
Conclusion: Focus on Principles and Strategy, Not Formulas
A quick look at these copywriting formulas show that they aren’t really that different.
Yes, on the surface they look different.
They have different steps and use different words.
But the steps are all very similar and they follow the same order, for the most part.
More importantly, the underlying persuasive principles are the same…
Get attention, get people agitated about their problem, generate interest in a solution, and show why your solution is the right one.
Maybe a little.
But better to understand principles than to get lost in a forest of tactics.
You’ll write better copy that way … and you’ll understand what you’re writing, instead of just following formulas.
That’s why the best structures are the simplest.
If I had to pick one copywriting structure to rule them all, it would be Dan Kennedy’s.
It’s so simple that it can be applied in any situation.