Do you need copywriting formulas to write successful copy?

If you’re not familiar, copywriting formulas are sort of like “templates” you can use to write copy.

The most common and basic formula is P-A-S or “Problem, Agitation, Solution” – but according to this Copyhackers article, there are 200+ others you can use to structure your copy.

But how important are copywriting formulas, really?

Do you always need them? Are there times when you should not use copywriting formulas?

This is a very polarizing topic within copywriting/marketing, and there are a lot of different opinions from different people.

But in my opinion – and in my 10+ years of experience working with clients from Smirnoff, Under Armour, USA Network, Ben & Jerry’s, The Honeypot Co, Keeps & 100+ others…

No. You don’t always need copywriting formulas to write successful copy.

(I think I hear an angry mob of copywriters coming after me…🔥🪓😜 … though some would agree with me.)

Like AI, copywriting formulas are tools – and like any tool, you use them when you need them, or when/if the situation calls for it.

It’s up to the copywriter to determine when a formula is needed (or not).

And it usually depends on:

#1: The format

By “format” I mean website, landing page, email, ad, social media content, blog post, print ad, etc.

The format matters.

For example, formulas may work on some pages of a website, but they’re generally not appropriate for every page of a website (if at all).

On the other hand, a copywriting formula could work really well on a landing page, in a print ad, or in an email. But not in every case.

It really depends on the format and purpose/goals of the content.

Beyond the format, you must also consider…

#2: The product

Because formulas tend to read more like a conversation between you and the audience, they tend to work better for certain types of products.

For example, copywriting formulas tend to work well for digital products, especially those created by individuals or those who have a personal connection with their audience.

Formulas also tend to work better when you’re selling simpler solutions, like a single product that lives on a landing page (or is sold through a series of emails) or when you’re trying to speak to a specific audience.

There are also certain types of industries — like supplements, direct response, some softwares, etc — that have used copywriting formulas for a long time, so the infrastructure (design, audience familiarity, etc) is already there to support them.

In my opinion, formulas are less appropriate for many e-comm/physical products, especially those that are more about the look of the product (i.e. clothing, shoes, etc) or the UX/shopping experience (like for luxury items or when trying to book a reservation at a restaurant).

Obviously there are exceptions to every rule, but you really have to ask, “is a formula appropriate for this product?” – and once you have an answer, you must then consider…

#3: The audience

For formulas to work, you MUST fully understand your audience, including:

  • Who they are
  • Where they are in the sales funnel (stage of awareness/intent)
  • How they’re arriving on your ____ (landing page, website etc)
  • Their level of familiarity with your brand and similar products (market sophistication)
  • Their goals
  • Challenges/pain points
  • Specific emotions they feel re: their goals / challenges
  • And so on

If you don’t, you risk choosing the wrong formula AND executing it in a way that won’t resonate.

Certain formulas also work better with different types of leads.

For example, a more “education-focused” copywriting formula is probably going to work better with colder, top-of-funnel leads who may be less aware of the problem and/or your solution.

By contrast, warmer, bottom-of-funnel leads probably don’t need much “education” re: their problem. Instead, you probably want to focus on specific benefits that speak to their needs or incentives that will motivate them to buy now (vs using a formula at all).

If you haven’t done your research, no copywriting formula is going to save you, so be sure to do that first.

If it’s helpful, here are a few research resources you may find helpful:

#4: The design / branding 

By nature, copywriting formulas are text heavy.

Yes, you can make them scannable and make them look nice, but they still require a lot of text, which is why it’s important to know that…

Not every business is designed to support copywriting formulas (no matter what you might be taught in a copywriting course or book).

Some businesses (both early-stage and well established) have very strict visual guidelines that aren’t always flexible to this style or kind of writing.

(I literally just went through this while working with Wise on a landing page recently.)

As the copywriter, you can sometimes push clients outside their comfort zones to experiment with different types of copy / design, but this is not always the case.

You can always present the use of a formula as an option, but be prepared to adjust your strategy as needed.

Alternatively, if formulas are crucial to your writing style, work with businesses that are already using copywriting formulas / that style of writing (i.e. direct response, supplements, digital products, etc).

Rather than relying on copywriting formulas, do this instead:

First, understand the COMPONENTS of the formulas (i.e. interest, attention, benefits, scarcity, proof, problem, solution, etc). Know what they are, how they work, when to use them, etc.

Then, use CUSTOMER RESEARCH to help you choose the correct components – and the best way to order them for your unique situation.

In the end, you won’t be working with a preset formula, but selecting the right types of content that will work best for your format, product, audience, goals, etc.

How about you?

Where do copywriting formulas fit into your copywriting process (or do you avoid them altogether)?

Comment below and let me know!

As always, thank you for reading. If you found this article helpful, please share with a friend.


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