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One Copywriting Formula to Rule Them All...?

By Momoko Price, October 3, 2017

A while back, I got flown into San Francisco for a few days to talk business with a tech startup.

It was a very surreal experience, full of Silicon Valley tropes:

CEOs expounding on the virtues of Burning Man … Having to sign an NDA just to walk into Twitter’s building … Even getting peer-pressured into skydiving — by my client.

I met a ton of crazy-smart folks while I was in SF, and heard plenty of cool ideas on product design, development and marketing.

But there was only ONE nugget of product messaging wisdom from that trip that’s stuck with me all this time.

It was from a guy named Jim Walker, a Bay-Area marketing whiz who specializes in big data and predictive analytics.

We were leaving a meeting, about to head to a (weirdly fashionable) bowling alley-slash-nightclub, when he said:

“You know, the thing I love about marketing is that it even doesn’t matter what the product is … Every successful sales pitch follows the same structure: Why - Try - Buy. It doesn’t matter if your sales cycle is 5 minutes or 5 months. It never changes. Why. Try. Buy.”

This casual comment (which I’m 99% sure Jim doesn’t even remember) has been hands-down one of the most important pieces of copywriting advice I’ve ever followed.

And Jim isn’t even a copywriter.

… Why do I find it so profound?

Because in the months that followed, I quickly realized that virtually every single sales page copywriting formula out there (and there are dozens) essentially follows a basic Why-Try-Buy progression.

Go ahead, take a look at some of the most popular sales copywriting formulas out there: AIDA, AIDCA, PAS, 4Ps, 6+1, PAPA, you name it.

They ALL start by first by focusing on WHY you should care about their product (i.e. by highlighting your key problems and desires).

… Then they transition into giving you a vivid sense of TRYING their product (i.e. by describing and demonstrating its unique advantages).

… Then they end off by prompting you to BUY (or commit) in some fashion, usually through a prominent call-to-action, bolstered by incentives and anxiety-reducing guarantees.

Sales reps follow the same progression when pitching over the phone ...

… First they get the ball rolling by discussing the prospect’s problems and desires (the WHY).

… Then they transition into talking about how the product can meet the prospect’s needs (the TRY).

… And then they eventually bring things back around by making an offer, ideally one in which the value clearly outweighs the costs (the BUY).

If the item in question is a complex enterprise product, this WHY-TRY-BUY progression might span several months, and even include on-site demos and proof-of-principle projects.

But ultimately, the progression of the sales pitch — whether it’s written on a web page, spoken over the phone, or negotiated in-person — still stays fundamentally the same.

WHY —> TRY —> BUY.

Once I became aware of this zen koan of product messaging, I started seeing it everywhere. In video ads. Landing pages. Drip email campaigns. Copywriting case studies. Even the heralded Conversion Heuristic Formula that we optimizers go back to again and again.

But most importantly, I started noticing how natural, logical and relevant sales copy sounds when it follows this basic narrative, and how tone-deaf, obtrusive, and off-putting it sounds when it doesn’t.

Ever since, I’ve kept “Why-Try-Buy” in my back pocket as a priceless sanity-check for all the sales copy I write.

And now … you can, too.

Why. Try. Buy. So simple. So sensible.

Use it well. (It’s saved my ass more than once!)

—Momoko

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