PAS Formula

Email Copywriting: Tips for Crafting Persuasive and Compelling Content


You’ve probably heard the marketing mantra, “Reach the right person at the right time with the right message.” Eventually, email marketing boils down to the message you deliver. That’s why email copywriting is such a key component of a successful campaign.

If the words you use in an email fall flat or generate the wrong response, you won’t get the results you’re hoping for. And at some point, people are going to decide your messages and your brand just aren’t for them.

So how do you excel at email copywriting? How do you use it to engage, persuade, and motivate a response? What can you do to gain respect and appreciation from subscribers, and grow your revenue?

You begin by reading this article and getting a handle on the art of email copywriting. 

What is email copywriting?

Email copywriting consists of the text and marketing content within an email. It’s what subscribers see, read, and respond to. Its goals vary based on the purpose of each email, but just about every message seeks to motivate some sort of desired response from subscribers. Here are the three basic components of email copywriting:

1. Subject line copywriting

This is where it all begins. If subscribers don’t open an email, they can’t read it. And inboxes are teeming with all sorts of clutter that impedes your subscribers from opening your emails. Your subject lines must break through that clutter to be opened.

Probably the most effective subject line strategy is to arouse curiosity. If your subject line includes just enough mystery, wonder, or a need to know — the itch they can’t scratch until they open it — you have succeeded. The goal in the subject line isn’t usually to make the sale. It’s to get the email opened.

That said, especially for companies that send emails with greater frequency, sometimes the subject line can do enough to get the message across. 

For example, a subject line stating, ‘50% off sitewide’ could motivate a customer to simply go straight to your website and bypass the email altogether. As a subscriber, they already know you. So if the subject presents something appealing to them, it might be enough to convert them. 

Seeing a consistent stream of emails with clear and pleasing subject lines keeps the subscriber informed and updated about your products and services, even if they don’t open them all.

The point is, you should not always use the same subject line strategy. Vary your approach. Vary the length. Use curiosity, direct language, sales language, questions, personalization, and more. Keep the subscriber intrigued, challenged, and entertained. 

Read more about optimizing email open rates

2. Email body copywriting

The body begins with the lead sentence, which is the most important part. Why? Because subscribers won’t read the second sentence until they read the first one. The lead must continue with the promise made in the subject and make the subscriber glad they opened it so they continue to read. 

This isn’t the place for fluff. Just get to the point. Or be clever, funny, or challenging. But don’t be boring.

No matter what, the email body copy should be easy to read. The best email body copy can be understood even if you don’t read it all. By using subheadings, color, graphics, photos, white space, and other methods of communicating your main points, you can deliver the message even if the person doesn’t read every word. The goal is response and engagement. Read more about graphic design trends for emails

A big question for email copywriters is how much copy should be included. So, what is the ideal length of an email? Of course, the answer depends on a lot of factors – your target audience, the type of email you’re sending, and the topic you’re covering – just to name a few. However, it’s a good rule of thumb to keep email copy as short as possible.

That’s because they can always click ov

3. Call-to-action copywriting

The call to action (CTA) in email copywriting is whatever you want the subscriber to do. It depends on the purpose of the email and the campaign it may be a part of. 

Unless your email is a newsletter, a core principle of email copywriting is that each message should be about one ‘thing.’ Emails are meant to be simple. Give your readers one thing to think about, and one thing to do. If you give them more than one call to action, they’ll either get confused or only act on one. Very few people will take two separate actions from one email. 

Depending on your email, you may want readers to:

  • Buy a product
  • Use a special coupon 
  • Schedule an appointment
  • View a demo
  • Read a blog post
  • Download an eBook or other guide
  • Listen to a podcast
  • Watch a webinar
  • Register for an event
  • Comment on social media
  • Leave a review

This is just a partial list. But each one of these purposes will have its own call to action. And how you phrase an email CTA matters. 

One strategy is to make it exciting and conversational. You might use whatever personality tends to run with your emails. So instead of a webinar CTA that reads “Register your seat” you could say “I’m in! Gimme my seat!”. If you don’t want to be that informal, you can still personalize it – “Register my seat” might be more effective, because first-person language puts them in charge.

Another call-to-action copywriting tip is to spread your CTAs throughout your email. Unless it’s very short, you should have multiple calls to action. 

Some CTAs should be text, while others should be buttons (that use live text). Check out our webinar on creating engaging emails to learn more about using the right words in your CTAs.

Email copywriting strategies and tactics

As for how to write the actual email, there are a number of strategies and copywriting formulas out there. You’ll become a more skilled and versatile email copywriter if you know them all well enough to use each in different situations. A sales email may benefit from a different approach than to an email pushing content like a blog post or a podcast episode.

Here are a few of the main email copywriting strategies and tactics to keep in mind:

Know your features and benefits

This is copywriting 101, and it applies to more than just email. A feature is something the product or service does. A benefit refers to its effect on the customer. Features are facts. Benefits are feelings.

One common way this gets stated is that people buy a drill for the hole, not for the drill. 

You can talk about all the features of the drill like weight, grip, power, ease of switching out drill bits, and speed of recharging. And you should. But ultimately, what the customer wants is the hole – that’s the ultimate benefit – the outcome.

The other features each have their own benefits too, and you can present those in your marketing as well. More power makes it easier to drill holes into harder materials, and that means less frustration and less physical strain, which means less stress and no need for pain meds when the project is done. So those are benefits, too. 

But don’t neglect the ultimate benefit when there is one. Tie the other benefits into that one.

As another example, people don’t buy hydrating lotion just to relieve itchiness. That’s a feature. But the benefit is not having to scratch itches in public all the time, and the embarrassment that can cause. Clear skin is another feature. Feeling like you’re presenting your best self is the benefit.

Your email copy should dwell much more on benefits and outcomes than features, because the emotion is in the benefits, and emotion is what motivates action.

The PAS email copywriting formula

PAS stands for Problem, Agitate, Solve. 

What’s the problem facing your customers and prospects? Make it clear and lead with it.

This approach defines from the start what your message is about, and if the person should keep reading. For anyone dealing with that problem and looking for solutions, you’ll have their attention. 

Then, agitate it. Amp up the pain, frustration, annoyance, loss of time, loss of freedom, loss of opportunity, rejection, or whatever other negative emotions and outcomes are associated with not having this problem solved. 

You agitate because you want to get under the skin of the prospect and make them really, really want the solution. Before agitation, they only kind of wanted it. But they might not have been thinking about it the day your email arrives. So you have to remind them how much they hate the status quo. They need to want change – now. You have to make them froth at the mouth for a way out. The better way. 

Then, you close with the solution – your product, service, or another offer. This is where you present your deal, whether it’s a free trial, a new product, a special offer, a membership, a webinar, an event, or anything else you want them to ask for.

Whatever your call to action is, that’s the solution to the feelings you’ve agitated. 

And the great thing is, you can use PAS in just a few sentences on a social media post, or in a 20-page eBook. Copy of any length can employ this formula. It all depends on how much detail you want to include. 

Dan Kennedy summed up PAS pretty well when he said, “When you understand that people are more likely to act to avoid pain than to get gain, you’ll understand how powerful this formula is… It may be the most reliable sales formula ever invented.”

Humans respond to two things more than any other: pleasure and pain. PAS taps into both – the presence of one, or the absence of the other.

It also uses the power of empathy to win over customers, because when you use PAS well, your customers feel understood by you. They feel like you ‘get’ them and know what they’re going through. They no longer see you as a sales rep, but as a friend, coach, advisor, or guru who just wants to help them. 

When you understand your audience well, you can write great PAS email copy.

The four Ps of email copywriting

Another useful formula is known as the four Ps, discussed in more detail in this Copyblogger article:

  1. Promise
  2. Picture
  3. Proof
  4. Push

Here, you begin with the outcome. You create an image of a better, different, wealthier, happier, freer, simpler, more relaxed future. The promise defines it, and the picture visualizes it. The promise will usually show up in the headline and opening copy. In email copywriting, it may include the subject and the first couple of lines or paragraphs. 

The picture follows, and it can come in the form of words or images. Using words like “imagine” and “picture this” and “discover” all tap into the imagery you want them to focus on. They may be imagining the better future you promise to deliver, or they may be revisiting the painful reality you’re agitating and promise to deliver them from. 

The proof is where you demonstrate your credibility and trustworthiness. 

This is one reason testimonials remain such an essential part of copywriting. In addition to testimonials, you can include statistics, graphs, charts, studies, and demonstrations that verify your claims and promises.

The push is your offer and your call to action. Here, you present the fulfillment of your promise and picture, and you include your offer and the price, even if it’s free. As copywriter Jack Turk says, “Free is hard.” Even free stuff takes time to sign up for, read, or consume. You still have to win them over, and the promise, picture, and proof are what enable you to do that.

Storytelling in email

Why does storytelling work? When the story is told well, it can:

  • Bypass sales objections
  • Increase credibility of the seller
  • Elicit emotions more conducive to buying
  • Break down barriers
  • Make your brand and products more relatable
  • Be more memorable and distinct compared to traditional bland ads

In general, companies can tell two different types of stories. 

First, you can tell the story of your brand. How you got started. Your founder’s story, if it’s interesting, compelling, or relatable. A key discovery that made all the difference. The product that launched the brand, and how it was created. The story behind particular product components or ingredients. 

All of these elements can be dramatized in video or in visuals, and they can also be delivered with the written word. To tell stories in email copywriting, you can incorporate them into your welcome series, and also in other emails that reinforce your brand’s likeability and importance for your existing customers. The more stories you can tell and the more ways you can tell them, the more you’ll remain top of mind with your customers.

Second, you can tell the stories of your customers. These could be delivered in the form of testimonials or case studies, depending on the length of detail you have and can share. The best testimonials include a picture of the customer, or even better, a video.

Thought leadership in email

Email excels as a communication tool with prospects because you can send a lot of them for relatively little cost, even when the stakes are low. Not every email needs to (or should) try to make a sale. 

That’s one reason that email copy can bolster your credibility and authority as an industry leader. By writing with authority, sharing your expertise, solving problems, and making yourself available to your customers, you can set yourself apart from many of your competitors. 

This is referred to as thought leadership, and it’s a notch above regular content marketing. See tips to create thought leadership content.

For example, if you’ve written a lead generation book, send portions of it to your email subscribers and make them feel special because they get a sneak peek. Even better, do this before it’s officially released.

Run a series of webinars about a topic, publication, or program you’re offering, and use email to promote it and attract your best customers and leads. Here are five more thought leadership marketing strategies that were tailor-made for email copywriting. 

The power of email design and copy

Of course, email marketing isn’t just about the copy. It’s also about the design and all the behind-the-scenes parts subscribers don’t always see. 

If you write an outstanding email loaded with PAS copy, benefits, and all the greatness you can throw in, but then it looks like a disembodied computer on half the phones of your subscribers, that would be pretty depressing. 

One job of the developer, working in tandem with the email designer, is to prevent this from happening. But it’s a tough job because there are so many devices and email clients out there. 

Email on Acid’s email preview feature lets you view exactly how your emails will look for nearly every subscriber – regardless of their device or email client – and you can also test them in dark mode. If you note any issues, you can keep testing the design until it looks perfect every time, before sending out the email to your subscribers.

Related to that, even if the email looks good to you on all the devices and platforms, it might be hard to read for someone with a vision impairment. And you might be surprised to learn how many people struggle to read from screens. Vision impairment affects far more people than those who are legally blind, and our email accessibility checks allow you to ensure that all your subscribers can engage with your emails.

Lastly, it’s incredible how spelling and grammatical errors manage to squeak through all the editing and proofreading that should happen before emails get sent out. Our Spell check tool has the final say on this.

Even better, it also looks for other terms, like inappropriate language that sometimes sneaks by because it’s spelled correctly. See what else our spell check can do.

Use these tools and the other tips and email copywriting strategies from this article in your next series of email campaigns, and see how your response metrics improve.

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