AIDA. Attention, interest, desire, action. It’s the classic copywriting formula, studied and used by almost every copywriter on the planet. Well, I’m not a fan. Not because it isn’t accurate, and not because it doesn’t work. If your writing can get attention, grab interest, create desire and prompt action, then you’re doing a lot of things right.
If your writing isn’t doing these things, however, then I don’t think AIDA will help you very much, because it doesn’t do enough to explain how to do any of these things.
The best way to learn is by example, so let’s look at a promotional failure and see how it conforms to AIDA but still doesn’t work.
Text-Message Loan Sharking?
I recently received a text message from a number I didn’t recognize. It read:
Coming up short between pay-days? You can solve the problem NOW with a $300–$1000 INSTANT–Advance! Respond YES if interested, NO–to–STOP
Now, obviously, I didn’t text back the anonymous sender with a “Yes.” I didn’t text them back with a “No” either. I called the number to tell them that I don’t appreciate unsolicited spam marketing. But no one answered; the call went to a voicemail box that was full.
I was unimpressed before; this sealed the deal!
Let’s see how this piece of marketing stacks up on the AIDA scale, something that is taught even in digital marketing course:
A for attention Sure, the text message got my attention. After all, text messaging is an interruptive medium; you’re bound to get the attention that way.
I for interest Okay, I’ll play along. Let’s say that I am, in fact, coming up short between paydays: the message would have my interest. So far, so good.
D for desire Also good. If I’m broke and need cash, then I’d definitely want an advance.
A for action Well, the message called for action (“Respond YES if interested”), but it didn’t lead to action. Fail.
What Was Missing? Why Didn’t It Work?
The missing element in this campaign was context: who are they, why are they contacting me, and why should I trust them?
Context is a critical component of effective messaging. Without it, an action likely won’t result, even if you call for it.
The trouble with AIDA is that it implies that attention leads to interest, which then leads to desire, which in turn leads to action. But a piece of the puzzle is still missing: context.
AIDA doesn’t give you all of the ingredients that combine to result in action — which is what you ultimately want!
A Better Model: 6 + 1
This model is a little more complex, which is a good thing.
Complexity is important — critical, even. And in this case, it involves information that AIDA lacks but that is needed in order to write effective copy (unless you’re one of those people to whom it comes as naturally as speaking). Here, then, is the 6 + 1 model, with six steps plus one extra thing you’ve got to cover along the way.
Ready to dive in? Let’s get started with the first item.
Step 1: Context
The very first thing you need to do, before trying to get attention or anything else, establishes context. Answer the audience’s implicit question, “Who are you, and why are you talking to me?”
Too many marketers compete for the attention of every single person, so establishing context is necessary to stand out from the crowd. Junk mail is a perfect illustration. The context of junk mail is, “You don’t know us, but we want to sell you something!” That’s why most junk mail ends up in the trash, unread.
A campaign that establishes the context, on the other hand, might arrive in a personally addressed envelope and be written in the form of a letter. The context here is implied, and the proportion of people who open the envelope would be much higher. The first few sentences, naturally, would explain why the recipient is familiar with the sender and needs the product or service.
Just as the recipient’s question of “Who is this person talking to me?” is implicit, so too can be the answer. For example, if you’re reaching out to someone in response to a job offer that they’ve posted, you would send them a cover letter and CV. The combination of circumstances and the format of your letter make it clear why you’re reaching out to them.
That being said, you always want to create as strong a context as possible. So, you would start the cover letter by mentioning where you found the job posting and why you felt you should apply (you’ve always wanted to work for this company, you love the industry, etc.)
This explicit context immediately puts you ahead of other applicants.
In the text-message example above, the context could have been established with a link to a website where I could learn more about the company, or even an automated message at the end of the phone number, instead of a computer telling me that the voicemail box is full.
Better yet, the text message could have begun with a few words reminding me of previous interactions I might have had with the sender. For example, my wireless service provider occasionally sends me text messages about new offers and services, and they always begin with, “Dear Rogers customer…” This instantly lets me know that I am being contacted by someone I know for a specific reason. The sender is credible because it provides a service to me, so I am very likely to read its message. Of course, this works only when the sender has some sort of relationship with the recipient — but that makes for the best messaging in any case.
Context comes down to the reason why your audience is being exposed to your message. If they are subscribers to your blog, then that subscription serves as the context for any email you send them. If the content is found on your website, then the person’s search for information about your topic or service is the context. If you’re running an ad in a newspaper or magazine, then the theme of that publication is the context.
Step 2: Attention
Once the context has been established, you can go ahead and grab the audience’s attention.
If you’re the writer, you’ll do so with the headline. And if you’re the designer, you will make sure that, at first glance, the presentation is eye-catching.
Plenty of resources out there will teach you how to do that, so I won’t go into detail in this article. Suffice it to say that you have to grab your audience’s attention and hold it until you can create…
Step 3: Desire
The reality of marketing in this day and age is that attention is short-lived. Where we once spoke of 15 minutes of fame, today it’s a lot closer to 15 seconds.
In the span of those 15 seconds, you have to make your audience want something, and want it badly enough to keep on reading.
If you’re writing a blog post, this would happen in your opening paragraphs, the section before the <more> tag. It’s the hook: you’ve grabbed their attention, and now you’ve got to reel them in by describing the symptoms that they’re experiencing, ideas that they may not have considered, or outcomes that they want for themselves. This will inspire them to continue reading, and then you can go into detail and describe…
Step 4: The Gap
You’ve got their attention, and created desire — at this point your prospect should be convinced that they need to take action of some kind.
Now you must drive home the idea by communicating the difference between what will happen if they do nothing and what will happen if they take advantage of your product or service. We call this establishing the gap.
You can do this by asking, “What if nothing changed? What would that mean?” Then spell it out for them.
The answer might be emotional; after all, you’re talking about the painful implications of their current situation — the prospect of the situation not changing is scary. This is an excellent time to use examples and case studies to highlight the consequences of inaction.
Step 5: Solution
You can’t leave the reader in this state; once you’ve established the gap, transition quickly into your solution. It’s important to say that you have a solution, and to tell them as much as they need to know in order to understand that it will work — but no more. Any extra detail is an opportunity to question or disagree with you, so keep information about how the solution works on a strictly need-to-know basis.
Step 6: Call to Action
Of course, you have to end with a call to action, which requires you to do two things:
Identify the single next step that you want your audience to take when they’re done reading. Not an array of options (“Call us on the phone or visit our website or follow us on Twitter or…”), just one next action.
Explicitly ask the audience to take that action. Don’t dance around the issue; if you want them to do something, say so.
Again, this is familiar territory, so I won’t go into any more detail here.
It’s tempting to think that we’re done with the model, but don’t forget the +1 part of the model. One important thing still needs to be covered.
Credibility: The Extra Step Along The Way
You can do all of the above and you’ll be well on your way to a sale, but you still won’t get it without one more ingredient, added along the way. That ingredient is credibility
If the reader doesn’t believe what you say, or doesn’t believe that you’re in a position to say it, then they have no reason to follow through on anything you ask them to do, no matter how well you cover the other steps in your content.
To establish credibility, you have to start with understanding: showing the reader that you understand their reality intimately. After all, if you don’t really know their situation, then how would you know how to improve it?
Then show the reader why they can trust that you know what you’re talking about: appeal to their common sense (what you’re saying should make sense), demonstrate social proof (how many other people have already taken the action you want them to take?), demonstrate your expertise (your education and experience in the subject matter), and apply risk-reversal whenever possible (with guarantees and warranties).
This isn’t the sixth step, because you don’t do it all at once. Rather, you build a bit of credibility here and a bit more there, all the way through your messaging, so that by the end they believe you.
The 6 + 1 model succeeds where AIDA fails because it forces you to establish yourself as a source of authority in the reader’s eyes. While doing this through AIDA certainly is possible, the 6 + 1 formula impels you to account for the different responses that readers will have as they digest your copy. For a new copywriter or a copywriter who is not achieving the number of conversions that they think they should, these extra steps will be invaluable.