There’s an invisible language used in advertising all the time that is designed to get you to pay attention and take action.

In the last 70-80 years, it has been the single most effective way to not only present a product or service to a customer but to tie that product or service to that customer’s needs and desires.

I would go so far as to say, that if you are not using this formula in some way, shape or form, you’re probably not posting on social media or advertising very effectively.

There is power in the story – not just the product at the end of it.

While my newsletters are often self-indulgent walks through the mistakes and stuff-ups I’ve had in life, I will do this almost every time when working with someone else’s business.

For one simple reason – it works.

So we’re going to explore the two variations of this powerful formula through some examples of where I’ve used it to great effect.

And you won’t even need to get a marketing degree to understand it – I promise!

Before I get into the formula, you’re going to need some context because knowing why something works is just as important as knowing that it works at all.

Imagine that your friend forgot their umbrella on a stormy day.

You first point out the dark clouds looming overhead, then you describe the nightmare of arriving at work soaked and shivering. But wait! You then remind them of the spare umbrella you stashed in their bag last week. Their face lights up, and you get to be the hero of the rainy day.

This is a common and boring set of circumstances that could simply be dismissed as “friend forgot umbrella, but I had a spare for them.”

Instead it’s a story involving storms and risk and a hero saving the day.

And it’s just so much more interesting when told as a story.

By highlighting a problem, stirring up emotions around it, and then swooping in with a solution, you create a compelling narrative that grabs attention and sticks in people’s minds. It’s like making a mini-drama out of everyday annoyances, but with a guaranteed happy ending.

The mother of all writing formulas for social posts and ads.

Once you know this formula, you’re going to see it everywhere.

It works because, rather than simply stating your solution, you’re confirming with your customer that you know what their problem is – before they’ve even told you what it is.

Let’s say, you’re a diesel mechanic.

Chances are that you’d normally start off your ad or social post with,

“At XYZ Diesel Services we are your one stop shop for everything to do with diesel engines…”

And then you’d probably list all the things you do right?

Wrong.

This approach just makes you sound like every other ad that no one ever notices, because nothing you’ve said has anything to do with anyone that doesn’t need a diesel mechanic right now and this exact moment.

Rather, with the way that people’s attention works, you need to start with relevance.

And that means introducing a scenario that they can see themselves in, not right now, but at some point in the future.

“When your engine stops, it’s annoying, it’s frustrating and you don’t have the time or patience to deal with it.”

Anyone who drives a diesel 4WD, runs a diesel generator or has a diesel motor that runs anything around their farm, shed or factory is immediately able to relate to it.

Let’s continue.

“And to make things worse, every hour that your engine is down, you’re losing money. And lots of it. Because it you can’t drive, you can’t work. And if you can’t work, you can’t get paid.”

Ouch. Now you’ve gone from getting their attention to some serious insight into a fear that every single one of those people with diesel engines will have.

Now we’ll bring it home.

“A full preventative service costs less than $500, takes no more than two hours and can mean the difference between a couple of hours break and weeks of downtime costing you tens of thousands of dollars. So it makes sense to book in now – rather than when it’s too late.”

We’ve gone from tired old cliches to a gut punch that a diesel engine owner can’t ignore if they tried.

This formula is called PAS – which stands for Problem, Agitate, Solution. And it’s been driving advertising and copywriting since the beginnings of radio and television.

Let’s take it further.

To learn more about PAS and a bunch of others ways to do better writing for your website, your videos, your podcast or your social posts, grab my free 5-part mini course on Writing Better Content. It’s free and it’s here.

Now I mentioned earlier that I had two variations of this. So let’s take a look at the second version which is like a turbo-charged upgrade to PAS.

We’ll use our diesel mechanic again for reference.

We’ll start off with the Problem again;

“When your engine stops, it’s annoying, it’s frustrating and you don’t have the time or patience to deal with it.”

And we’ll continue with our Agitation;

“And to make things worse, every hour that your engine is down, you’re losing money. And lots of it. Because it you can’t drive, you can’t work. And if you can’t work, you can’t get paid.”

But rather than hitting the solution now, we’re going to continue to paint the picture by making the customer curious with a little bit of Intrigue;

“If there was a way to prevent this from happening, you’d do just about anything to make sure it never happened, wouldn’t you?”

Now we’ll help them to imagine what a Positive future could look like for them;

“There is. And it’s so simple that you’ll slap yourself for not seeing it before now. Better still, it means the money keeps coming and the annoyance of engine downtime just doesn’t happen.”

And we finally bring it home;

“A full preventative service costs less than $500, takes no more than two hours and can mean the difference between a couple of hours break and weeks of downtime costing you tens of thousands of dollars. So it makes sense to book in now – rather than when it’s too late.”

What a difference a little intrigue and positive visioning can make. We call this variation, PAIPS. I’ve highlighted the extra words in there so you can work out what it all stands for.

If you’re sceptical about whether this works, try it out.

It’s not me that is claiming that it works. It’s every advertising agency known to history. It’s every insurance company, bank and large corporate that wants to connect with their customers beyond simply screaming a list of products and services at them.

When we start with relevance to our customer, we get their attention. When we show them just how bad things can get with the problem they have, it drives urgency. When we add intrigue, they get curious. When we go even further and paint a picture of a better tomorrow, they start to dream of that better tomorrow. So when we drop our solution into the conversation, it’s already relevant, intriguing, and associated with a positive future.

It’s not hard to see why it works.

This is how the game of content writing is played.

It’s fun. It’s interesting. It’s not about lying or exaggerating.

It’s about connecting.

And if you learn the game, the rewards are massive.


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