The Four "P" Approach: A Persuasive Writing Structure That Works (2023)

More than half the battle of creating compelling content and copy is solid structure. Disorganized writing inhibits understanding, and without understanding, you’re not going to get a warm reception when you ask for action. Plus, without structural guidelines to follow, you end up leaving out information necessary to your case or promotion.

There are plenty of popular writing structures. One is the inverted pyramid that some journalists favor, which is fine if your goal is to allow the reader to leave mid-story, but not so good if you want people to stick around while you make the case for your call to action.

A popular copywriting structure is AIDA (attention, interest, desire, action), which dates back to the early days of mass media advertising. AIDA is a useful framework, but it leaves some with too little understanding of what each element is intended to include.

The 4 Ps Approach to Persuasion

The 4 Ps structure consists of promise, picture, proof, and push in place of the four elements of attention, interest, desire, and action. The 4 Ps provide more expansive elements than AIDA, which is why it’s a favorite of many top copywriters, notably John Forde.

(Video) Writing Formula: The 4 Ps Approach to Persuasion

Let’s look at what each element requires you to deliver to the reader. Oh, and keep in mind that although I refer to readers in this article, the 4 Ps structure works just as well for audio or video content.

1. Promise

The promise you make is designed to catch attention, but here you’re told how to catch attention, unlike AIDA. I’m sure we’ve all seen attempts to catch attention that we’re easily immune to, because it’s something ridiculous instead of beneficial.

That beneficial promise is made with the headline, perhaps elaborated in an initial subhead, and carried over into your opening. This is the most important part of the piece, because if the reader stops here, it’s game over.

This promise is “what’s in it for them.” Yes you want their attention, but the promise is the only reason the reader is willing to give it to you.

(Video) The Write Question 212: Is there a structure for persuasive writing?

2. Picture

Instead of the vague notion of “interest,” here we segue into painting a vivid picture for the reader. You’re fleshing out the promise and beneficial payoff using vibrant descriptive language.

One way to do this is to get the reader to imagine themselves enjoying the benefit or desired outcome. Then you get very specific about how your proposed solution or idea makes that benefit happen.

The Picture phase suggests using storytelling and vivid descriptive imagery as a way to hold the reader’s emotional interest while you nudge them down the path to acceptance. It also keeps you focused on communicating the benefits associated with the features or facts that you need to get across.

3. Proof

In the preceding potion of your copy, you’ve communicated the foundational information you want readers to accept in a brain-friendly manner. Now you’ve got to back it up with supporting proof.

(Video) AQA English Language Paper 2 Question 4 (updated & animated)

Statistics, studies, graphs, charts, third-party facts, testimonials, a demonstration that the features of your product deliver the benefits you’ve promised—these are all part of the Proof section of your piece. Now’s the time to play it straight and appeal to the reader’s logical mind to support the emotional triggers you pulled with the Picture.

Rhetorical arguments and promotional pieces fail when Proof is missing, skimpy, or lacking in credibility. While your relationship with the reader hopefully carries trust and authority, asking people to accept your assertions without supporting evidence is an easy way for your writing to fail.

4. Push

Now we come to the all-important action phase of the piece, which incorporates and expands desire. While “push” can carry a negative connotation, here we’re using it as a more expansive persuasive element that makes action more likely.

The Push phase is more than just a call to action. It’s delivering an outstanding offer in a promotion, and then asking for the purchase. It’s the grand finale where your big idea makes as much sense to the reader as it does to you.

(Video) The Four P's of Persuasion, narrated by Michael T Glaspie

Persuasive writing begins with the ending in mind, so during the push you’re tying the beneficial promise and the vivid picture to solid acceptance and concrete action. Don’t be shy about “telling them what you’ve told them” as a way to connect the dots, because an assumption of understanding is an enemy to acceptance.

Understanding is the Key to Persuasion

Persuasion is not about coercion or manipulation (we’ll leave that to the politicians). As Sean D’Souza wisely says in his training programs, persuasion is about understanding. Understanding leads to acceptance when the product is relevant and high-quality, and when the idea is sound and well-targeted.

Just don’t assume people understand on their own. It’s a noisy world out there, so you’ve got to educate your readers.

Good copy simply educates the reader in a way that the brain finds appealing. And a big part of brain-friendly language is the compelling structure that people need to see things your way.

(Video) AQA English Language Paper 2 Question 5 (updated & animated)

About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on Twitter.


What are the 4 Ps of persuasive writing? ›

The 4 Ps Approach to Persuasion

The 4 Ps structure consists of promise, picture, proof, and push in place of the four elements of attention, interest, desire, and action. The 4 Ps provide more expansive elements than AIDA, which is why it's a favorite of many top copywriters, notably John Forde.

What is the 4P formula? ›

The 4P Formula for Persuasive Copywriting: Promise-Picture-Proof-Pitch. The 4P formula for persuasive copywriting is somewhat different to the traditional 4P Marketing formula – Product-Price-Promotion-Place.

What are the 4 P's of selling promise? ›

4P Sales Copywriting Formula - Promise, Picture, Proof, Pitch (or Push)

What is the structure of persuasive writing? ›

The main structural components of the persuasive text are the introduction, development of argument (body) and conclusion.

What do the 4 Ps stand for? ›

The four Ps of marketing is a marketing concept that summarizes the four key factors of any marketing strategy. The four Ps are: product, price, place, and promotion.

What are the 4 Ps also known as? ›

The marketing mix, also known as the four P's of marketing, refers to the four key elements of a marketing strategy: product, price, place and promotion.

How do you do a 4p analysis? ›

How to Use the 4 Ps of Marketing to Sell Your Product
  1. Clearly identify which product or service you are analyzing. ...
  2. Analyze how your product meets the needs of your customers. ...
  3. Understand the places where your target audience shops. ...
  4. Decide on a price for your product. ...
  5. Formulate marketing messages to promote your product.
Jun 7, 2021

Which of the 4 Ps includes distribution? ›

Place – the third P of the marketing mix

The third P of marketing is about where you will sell your product or service. This encompasses both your distribution channels and your place in the market. Your distribution channels are the avenues through which you reach your target market.

What is 4p service strategy? ›

ITIL discusses at length the four “Ps” of strategy- perspective, position, plan and pattern, each of which represents a different way to approach your service strategy and not to be confused with the 4 P's of ITIL Service Design.

What are 4 Ps quizlet? ›

Defined by 4 P's. product, place, promotion, and price, which together make up the marketing mix.


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