The AIDA Principle:
Four Things Your Message Must Do If You Want Results

The AIDA principle is a time-tested, back-to-basics principle of persuasion. You may also see it referred to as the AIDA principle of Advertising. I say AIDA is a simple formula for crafting a any message, in any media, that influences choice and gets people to take action. It doesn’t matter whether you want them to click, call, buy, hire, refer, or merely remember you when they need you; put the AIDA principle into play if you want results.

The AIDA acronym of the principle stands for the four things your message must do, in this order, whenever you want someone to do, not do or let you do something for them:
A = Attention
I = Interest
D = Desire
A = Action
As a consumer, you experience the AIDA principle every day. It starts when an email, snail mail, spoken or written message, presentation, article, conversation, or good old-fashioned advertisement grabs your attention. (Most don’t.)

For the few that do get your attention, it’s then up for grabs as to whether you are interested and engaged enough to stay with it. If and when your interest builds, so does your connection to the product, service, idea or promised experience.

And your interest might stir desire. (Or not.) If yes, you start to imagine your world a better place. Your problem is solved. Nirvana! What now?

You take action. You pick up the phone. You decide, “Yes! Let’s do that.” Where do I sign? Do you take credit cards?

Tips for Putting the AIDA Principle into Practice

Attention. Whether it’s the subject line of an email, a headline in a blog post or marketing piece-even the opening sentence of your new business pitch—beware of the killer bees at this critical step. Don’t be:

  • Boastful. It’s too early to be bragging about you, your product or service in the Attention phase of the AIDA principle. In fact, it’s more likely to repel people than attract them to your message or offer. People care about themselves, not you. Start by talking about the problems you solve and the outcomes you provide.
  • Blatant. When I receive an email with the subject line “You’re invited,” or “You don’t want to miss this!” I instantly know it’s a pitch for something. Same goes for when I answer the phone and the person mispronounces my last name. (Hint:  It rhymes with Bang Pans.) Don’t trigger alarm bells that scream, “Incoming! Here comes a sales pitch.” Think dialogue, not monologue.
  • Boring. Sorry, but your company’s history, mission statement or proprietary process will not turn heads. They might close a few eyes and cause a few snores, however. Instead, ask a question, appeal to the dream, warn of loss, create some intrigue. Basically, resist the usual, the expected and the ordinary.

Interest. Remember the famous line from the movie Jerry Maguire where Renee Zellweger says to Tom Cruise, “You had me at ‘Hello’”?

We should all be so lucky to “have them” at the A of Attention. We’re not that lucky. This is real life, not a movie, and your message (and mine) still has to move through all phases of AIDA after you’ve captured someone’s attention.

“Tell me more.”

That’s what we want from the Interest phase of the AIDA principle. “Tell me more” can be the nonverbal act of opening your email, turning over the postcard to read the back, reading beyond the headline, asking you a question in a conversation, surfing your website before making a call.

The best way to hold people’s interest is to show that you understand their world and can make it better. What is the need or want that is satisfied by your product, service, idea or recommendation?

For instance, when I write about my effective communication and marketing topics or presentations, I realize that people aren’t interested in communication, marketing, branding or presentation skills. That’s not what they want.
They want to set themselves apart from the competition, attract more clients and referrals, win more work, influence choice, get to the point, be clear, confident and convincing. Write or talk about what they want, not about what you do.

If you want to keep people in Tell-Me-More mode, appeal to the results, rewards and relief they’ll experience when they eventually take the action you’re after. Here are some questions to ask and answer as you craft your interest-keeping message:

  • What is the want or need that is satisfied if they take action?
  • Why is that important, personally, to the audience? (And why is THAT important? Keep asking and you’ll have a slew of sentences that build interest.)
  • How does that improve their situation or life?

Desire. You got their attention and kept it. Good job, You. Now, In order to prevent the endless cycle of analysis paralysis or Let-Me-Think-About-It-Forever syndrome, the next thing your AIDA principle message needs to create is desire.

Desire happens when you appeal to both the head and to the heart, aka both logical and emotional benefits. Here are the big three desire developers:

  1. Save time (logical)
  2. Save money (logical)
  3. Feel better (emotional)

Of course your message wouldn’t just say “save time,” “save money,” or “feel better.” An AIDA message paints a picture, projects the future and points out the ultimate rewards.

Try using the word Imagine as a transition. Imagine what you could do with the extra time. (And tell them.) Imagine what you could do with more money in your pocket. (And tell them.) Imagine how great you’ll feel when [fill in any emotion related to pride, safety, comfort, prestige, love and so on.]

Action. Your AIDA principled message has one last job to do—generate action. Big step or baby step, make sure you are clear and specific. Click here. Call between these hours. Fill out this form. Approve. Cancel. Switch. Order. Join.

Subtle tip:  Do not mistake the call to action as closing a sale. Sometimes it is, and many times it’s not. For those of us who sell services (our time, talent, or expertise), it’s highly unlikely that someone will “click here” and instantly hire us. That’s why, for me and my brand, my call to action statement is more of a “first step.”

If you’d like to explore whether or not one of my programs is a fit for your organization, I’d enjoy having that conversation. Just call or click.

I like any call-to-action that make us (and you) more approachable, likeable, and easy to do business with. In the paraphrased words of another back-to-basics guy named Dale Carnegie, “People like to do business with people they like.” Hence my use of the phrase “explore whether or not” and the word “conversation.”

I have found that when prospects know I’m not going to deliver a sales pitch, they’re more likely to take action. AKA: pick up the phone and call.
The beauty of building your message around the AIDA principle is that it gives you just the right mix of head and heart, connecting and convincing. And it works.

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