How To Use the 5P Writing Framework to Connect Emotionally With Your Audience
Send your audience a clear and compelling message that shows how you can benefit them.
Copywriters have long been using frameworks to quickly and effectively get their messages out to intended audiences and encourage them to take action. One of the oldest frameworks is AIDA, or Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action, which was created by Elias St. Elmo Lewis (or perhaps Frank Hutchinson Dukesmith?) in the late 1800s.
And though we no longer meticulously craft copy for ads selling items like 1800s-era hand cameras (“may be loaded in daylight!”), frameworks like AIDA are still useful for connecting with audiences on an emotional level.
These frameworks are also key for hashing out messages quickly and efficiently, allowing modern-day entrepreneurs more time to focus on creating and iterating on their latest project. As copywriter Demian Farnworth said,
“This is what it means to be an efficient writer: keeping your tools handy. You don’t have to recreate the wheel every time. When you can reduce the moves you need to make to share content, then you can share more content in less time.”
Farnworth himself is a supporter of the PAS, or Problem, Agitate, Solve, method. But personally, I prefer the 5P framework: Problem, Promise, Picture, Proof, Proposal.
The 5P framework doesn’t gloss over any steps needed to create an emotional message that reaches your intended audience. And it guides you through considering what benefits your product or service provides, what problem your audience may face, and what proof you have that you can solve that problem.
Here’s how each step of the 5P method can be used to develop a clear and compelling message — even if you’re not a professional copywriter.
1. Premise (or problem)
It took me a few days of mulling over the idea of a problem or premise within the framework of the 5Ps to really understand how it was different from a unique selling proposition (USP). I found that this explanation from Graham Robertson of Beloved Brands explains USP best:
“Brand positioning is the conceptual space that a brand owns in the consumer’s mind. It’s what they think of you. Your brand positioning statement defines how your brand shows up in the market. Start by matching what consumers want with what your brand does best.”
Premise highlights a problem you solve, a problem that’s related to your product’s positioning.
Example: Simply Gum’s premise
I’m a big fan of Simply Gum, which I discovered on Amazon when searching for gum without aspartame. Turns out, Simply Gum’s problem to solve doesn’t just involve sugar. Most of its website copy instead refers to the fact that other gums use plastic and chemicals while Simply uses all-natural chicle.
“‘Gum base’ is where most brands hide their plastic and chemicals,” Simply says. “Instead of plastic, we use CHICLE, a natural tree sap, as the base of our gum.”
This story resonates with folks looking for a healthier gum to chew. And while other gum brands may focus on their use of healthy ingredients or flavors, Simply tells a different story about its natural gum base.
2. Promise (or position)
First thing: What you promise with your product or service doesn’t have to be your offer. I like to think of the promise as the absolute best benefit to my audience. It’s the main reason why someone might go download your e-book or sign up for your online course the moment they see you promote it on Twitter.
Your promise takes your premise’s story one step further by providing a solution to your audience’s problem.
Example: Simply Gum’s promise
For Simply, its be all, end all benefit is a brand of gum you can trust.
It realizes that customers looking for healthier gum are skeptical of long ingredient lists with unpronounceable chemicals. And many “healthy” foods on supermarket shelves today are actually not healthy at all. So Simply promises no artificial or hidden ingredients — and no “hidden agendas.”
“We like to tell it how it is. No hidden agendas or ingredients.”
Let’s say you found Simply Gum after searching for a healthier, more natural gum to chomp on while you flow through writing your next article. Chances are you’ll continue to buy it — and potentially trust it enough to purchase its other products — based on this promise.
“Picture” is perhaps the most straightforward of the 5Ps: You weave a story that shows your audience how your product or service positively affects their life.
As with any story, don’t be afraid to include rich imagery that touches on all five senses where it makes sense: sight, taste, smell, hearing, and touch. Most importantly, leave room for your audience to add their own experiences and understanding.
A Russian filmmaker named Sergei Eisenstein believed that, in order for movies to have the most impact on a viewer, they needed to “arouse the senses, the mind, and the emotion of every spectator,” writes David Bordwell, a professor of film studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Leaving spaces in your story where your audience can fill in the blanks with their own emotions, experiences, and senses makes a stronger, longer-lasting impact.
Example: Simply Gum’s picture
For Simply, the picture is, pardon me, simple: “Do you like chewing plastic? Neither do we.”
Reading this, I can imagine chewing hard plastic. (In my mind, I’m picturing myself gnawing on a handful of gum with the consistency of those old Now & Later candies.) The emotion I feel is disgust, and this alone sways me to look closer at Simply’s offer — or at least never pick up a stick of regular gum again.
Social proof, statistics, studies, even your own results, can prove that your product does indeed deliver on the ultimate benefit it promises.
Proof is not something you should skip when talking up your product or service. Robert Cialdini covers proof as it pertains to influence in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion:
“…One means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct.” (p. 116)
If a few folks enjoy our product, they can show others that this product is right for them too.
Cialdini also has a lot to say about the use of celebrity reviews, which fall under the association principle of influence:
“Did you ever wonder what all those good-looking models are doing standing around in the automobile ads? What the advertiser hopes they are doing is lending their positive traits — beauty and desirability — to the cars. The advertiser is betting that we will respond to the product in the same ways we respond to the attractive models merely associated with it.” (p. 191)
Basically, if someone as smart/beautiful/rich/successful/etc. as so-and-so likes our product, then others may respond to our product in the same way they respond to those smart/beautiful/rich/successful/etc. people.
Example: Simply Gum’s proof
Simply’s website provides two kinds of proof: celebrity proof on its main page with quotes and logos from well-known brands and publications. This includes Buzzfeed, goop, Vogue, and Keeping Up With the Kardashians.
On its individual product pages, Simply adds a dose of social proof in the form of reviews. The majority of the reviews skew positive, but a few negative reviews bring Simply Gum’s star rating down to 4.8 stars.
Negative press isn’t all bad
I’d argue that negative reviews are key to maintaining your credibility.
An all-star lineup of gushing reviews will set your audience’s spidey senses tingling — and not in a good way. Negative reviews add balance and a sense of authenticity. Your product or service isn’t for everyone, so it makes sense to have a few naysayers among your fans.
5. Proposal (or push)
Hopefully by now your audience understands your premise and promise, can picture the benefits of using your product, and believes the proof you provide is credible.
Once your message resonates and your audience has a clear understanding of what your product is and what it can do for them, it’s time to make a proposal.
Medium’s own email marketing expert, August Birch, puts it well:
“At the end of every piece of content, offer your reader something of MONETARY value in exchange for her email address. Not ‘join my list.’ Not ‘keep in touch.’ Not ‘sign up for my newsletter.’ No one wants to be on a list. No one wants your newsletter. They want stuff that benefits them.”
If you’ve pinpointed exactly what your audience needs and didn’t put the cart before the horse, your audience should follow through on your proposal. This is why it’s critical to poll your audience or chat with them first to get a picture of what they need and what problems you can solve.
Example: Simply Gum’s proposal
I’ll admit, Simply’s proposal is weak. Aside from generic calls to action like “Shop Now,” the benefit to buying its products is highlighted in a couple of easy-to-miss places:
“Satisfy your Gummy Cravings! Vegan Gummies Made With Real Fruit” is seen on the main page slide featuring Simply Gummies. It’s a proposal aimed at folks who crave candy and snacks but want to eat health at the same time.
And at the bottom of the main page, you can see its logo with the tagline “Chew Better.” Though vague, it links the audience’s mind back to Simply’s promise of no hidden ingredients or agendas. But this proposal would be more effective as a call to action rather than a tagline so that audience members who do want to “chew better” can immediately make a move on that proposal.
So there you go: crafting a message that covers your premise, promise, picture, proof, and proposal provides your audience with all the tools to:
- Understand your product or service,
- Actively picture the benefit you offer in their life,
- Know that your claims are credible, and
- Have a way to take action and make that benefit theirs.
What about you, have you ever used the 5P writing method? Or do you prefer a different approach? I’d love to hear your take.
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I've been writing for 10+ years in a variety of formats: journalism, emails, website copy, you name it. I enjoy sharing my craft with others. I'm also a total geek for all things internet and gaming.
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