It’s been said that there are no hard and fast rules for persuasive writing, but that hasn’t prevented writers from creating formulas that cover basic principles and concepts.
Although these formulas are usually associated with advertisements, direct mail or direct response, they can be used in speeches, articles, press releases, letters, proposals and more.
Most communication materials contain an element of persuasion. We want audiences to download the white paper, give us the account, agree to this policy, keep visiting a website, attend an event, contact us, etc.
I’ve tracked down four classic formulas to share with you.
Formula #1: AIDA
This is the classic of classics, the one that those studying or working in communications will most likely encounter.
Attention – In order to get your message across, you first have to grab your target public’s attention. To do this, pay attention to your audience by identifying characteristics or motives most likely to help you get their notice.
Interest – Once you have your target public’s attention, appeal to their self-interest, (professional or personal) and state your offer or position. Make sure that you sound enthusiastic. Enthusiasm is contagious but a bland tone will sap the energy of your message and reduce its impact.
Desire – By now your target public’s interest should be peaking into desire. Show your desire for their patronage by reducing risk or effort (guarantees, no-obligation samples, making follow-through as easy as possible). The other tactic is to give them an incentive (a deadline, a premium or information).
Action – Most communications are designed to elicit a response, but writers often neglect to include a call to action. If you want readers to take action, take the initiative and ask for their participation, the account, whatever it is that you want.
Formula #2: The Four Ps
Picture – Visual elements, whether “word pictures” or actual images, help your target public to envision your offer or issue. Such sensory experiences boosts their emotions and establishes a sense of immediacy.
Promise – Build on your message’s appeal by stating a promise (e.g.,“we can make things better,” “this could be yours,” or “this is one heck of a story”). Just remember not to over-promise. You’ll disappoint your audience if you’re unable to follow through. Disappointment will turn to distrust or anger, and you’ll have lost your chance with them.
Prove – Back up any promise you make with evidence (testimonials, independent test results, awards, guarantees or quotes from authorities). Having a third party endorsing or supporting your message increases your credibility.
Push – Once you’ve convinced your audience with your message, push them into action. Always tell them what you want them to do.
Formula #3: ACCA
Awareness – The first step is to let your audience know of your issue, service, product, or innovation. Give them some sort of summary or headline so they have a basic understanding of your message.
Comprehension – Once your audience is conscious of your message, help them understand how it specifically relates to them. This is where you answer any questions or arguments that your message may raise.
Conviction – Increasing the audience’s knowledge base is the next step toward building motivation. This is where those who receive your message determine whether their self-interest will be served by responding. Many practitioners “sweeten the pot” with gifts, incentive programs, or special events.
Action – Ask message recipients to respond, even on a trial basis.
Formula #4: Star – Chain – Hook
The last formula is the only one of the series that is not an acronym, and it has a strong selling slant.
Star – This is the“bright” attraction that you use to draw the person in. This can be anything from your unique selling proposition to a provocative statement, etc.
Chain – Once your target public has been attracted to your star, you use the chain to draw them further into your message. They receive more information on benefits and issues until their initial interest peaks into motivation.
Hook – This is where practitioners ask the audience to take action.
Persuading an audience can be a long and tricky prospect. Even when you follow one of these formulas, your methods and expectations will vary widely depending on your objective. While supporting sales can generate relatively immediate results, changing public perceptions is more of a long-term effort. Remember that there’s no “one-size-fits-all” framework for any campaign; creativity and experimentation are always essential.