Link to this page

The 1-2-3-4 Copywriting Formula: It’s Not Just For Sales Letters

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

The 1-2-3-4 copywriting formula has long been used to sell. But there’s no reason why this writing template should be relegated for use in ads and direct mail only.

I’ve been trained as a copywriter – those who write to sell. But to be honest, I don’t like to “sell” readers. It makes me feel manipulative and greasy.

However, I like to offer readers answers to their questions and solutions to their problems.

Take this article, for instance. I want to encourage and equip writers with tools to help you be persuasive. So, I feel comfortable coming alongside you and showing you what simple writing tips have worked for me.

The 1-2-3-4 copywriting formula is one of those.

I’ve found this little template useful in persuading readers in all kinds of content: blog posts, articles, email campaigns, cover letters, articles, scripts – anytime I’m writing to convince my reader to understand information, adopt a point of view, or take an action.

I like it for two reasons.

  1. It’s simple. The formula has just 4 items.
  2. It focuses on my reader, not me.

You can easily learn to use this nifty little template. Do so, and you can become a persuasive powerhouse, no matter what kind of content you write.

The 1-2-3-4 Copywriting Formula with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter #WritingTips #Copywriting #ContentWriting

What is the 1-2-3-4 copywriting formula?

The 1-2-3-4 formula is a series of four simple questions – questions your reader asks quietly in her mind. Each represents a piece of information the reader must know in order to be persuaded.

The four questions are …

  1. What do you have for me?
  2. What is it going to do for me?
  3. Who are you and why should I believe you?
  4. What should I do next?

When you answer each of those questions, your writer sees that you understand her. She is more apt to be persuaded to buy, give, click, respond, or act.

The 1-2-3-4 copywriting formula answers 4 questions

Question 1: What do you have for me?

In your content opening, state a solution to a problem.

The problem is one your reader has. Your solution may be a product, service, special deal, information, method, savings, or unique insight.

You can present the problem and solution a few ways.

  • You can present your solution outright. The 1-2-3-4 copywriting formula has long been used to sell. Problem: writers need to make sales. Solution: use the 1-2-3-4 copywriting formula.

  • You can tell a story. Maybe the story is your own. Or maybe there’s a client story that explains why your product or service or solution or answer to a problem has made a difference. Both work.

    Here’s a story: I’ve been trained as a copywriter. But to be honest, I don’t like to “sell” readers. It makes me feel manipulative and greasy. Problem: I know plenty of copywriting techniques, but I feel uncomfortable using them. Solution: the 1-2-3-4 copywriting formula lets me focus on my readers’ needs.

  • You can use both an outright solution and a story to show the reader what you have for her, as I did at the top of this post.

Question 2: What is it going to do for me?

This is the place where you explain your solution’s benefits – not just its features.

To be clear:

  • Features are facts about your solution.
  • Benefits spell out what those facts mean for your reader.

Don’t assume you reader can make a mental leap from a description of your solution’s features to understanding how your solution will benefit her. She has the ability. But make it easy for her. Seeing benefits on paper affirms them in her mind.

Talk directly to her. Outline the benefits that specifically impact your reader … not for someone else. How does your solution make her life better? What information or expertise will she gain? What time or money will she save? Spell out in clear language what the advantages of the facts mean for her.

Here’s an example of benefit-oriented language: You can easily learn to use this nifty little template. Do so, and you can become a persuasive powerhouse, no matter what kind of content you write.

What’s the feature?

  • The 1-2-3-4 copywriting formula is a nifty little writing template.

What are the benefits?

  • The formula is easy for you to learn.
  • The formula will help you become a persuasive powerhouse.
  • The formula will help you no matter what kind of content you write.

Practical writing tip: notice that benefit-oriented language uses the word “you.”

Question 3: Who are you?

Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. She’s flooded with content. Why should she believe yours? Give her good reason to do so.

Professional expertise and academic credentials are useful. But the best way to be believable is to show you are trustworthy.

I find myself apt to trust another person when they are …

  • Helpful. Trustworthy people offer information freely.
  • Transparent. Trustworthy people admit when they’ve felt clueless and confess when they’ve been wrong.
  • Experienced. Trustworthy people write about a particular area in which they sought answers and found one or two that worked. Their experience gives them authority. Plus, it’s more personalized than a Chat GPT narrative.

Explain to your reader what problem you had and why the solution you present in your writing works for you. When you infuse humanity into your content, readers are more ready to trust you and believe what you write.

Question 4: What should I do next?

Maybe you’ve made a compelling case by answering the first three questions. You’ve persuaded your reader and she is ready to respond. But without a clear call to action, your reader may not know how to act … or if she should even do so.

Tell your reader what to do next. Spell out the step she should take, like ...

  • Click now to learn more.
  • Sign up to get involved.
  • Give here to change a life.
  • Download your report and get started.
  • Make a comment for your fellow readers.
  • Read more about other solutions.
  • RSVP by [date].
  • Explore further ways to help.
  • Get more information now.
  • Volunteer here.
  • Check out the book – it’s free.
  • Tell us your idea.

An extra tip for using the 1-2-3-4 copywriting formula successfully

A typical writing formula is structured as a step-by-step guide. Writers follow the format one step at a time. And that sequential approach works when using the 1-2-3-4 copywriting formula, but it’s not necessary. For instance, you could introduce your credentials at the top of the piece rather than three-quarters of the way through it in an answer to Question #3: “Who are you?”

But if you want to persuade you reader – and you’ve chosen 1-2-3-4 to do so – then you MUST answer all four questions. Otherwise, you’ll leave readers confused or unconvinced.

Let’s say you omit an answer to Question #2: “What is it going to do for me?” Even if you’ve described a perfect solution to the reader’s problem, why should she embrace the solution? She doesn’t see what’s in it for her.

Take your next step

What should you do with this template? Test it. Use the 1-2-3-4 copywriting formula in your next writing project. Be sure to answer all 4 questions in your content.

My bet is you’ll persuade your readers to take their next step, too.

More Writing Formulas to Try

Star-Chain-Hook: A Simple (and Persuasive) Content Writing Formula ...

The PAS Copywriting Formula: It’s Especially Good for Social Media ...

Use the AIDA Formula to write great content ...

5 Proven Headline Formulas ...

Bob Stone's 7-Step Copywriting Formula ...

Use A FOREST as a Persuasive Writing Checklist ...

The SELWAB Formula: great for writing leads and headlines ...

See more on our Writing Formulas Pinterest board...

Return from 1-2-3-4 Copywriting Formula to Nonprofit Copywriter home

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Powered by SBI! Learn more here.
Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.

Search This Site

Share This Page


Named to 2022 Writer's Digest list

Get Free Writing Tips

Stop Wasting Time!

Grab your exclusive FREE guide, "5 Simple Writing Tips You Can Put to Use in 10 Minutes or Less"

XML RSSSubscribe To This Site
  • follow us in feedly
  • Add to My Yahoo!