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One of the first things new copywriters find out about when they start learning, is the classic copywriting formula, “AIDA.”

In case you haven’t heard of it, AIDA is an acronym that refers to a simple, step by step formula that copywriters use to simplify the process of writing a sales letter. The acronym expands out as follows:

1. Attention – Getting your reader to pay attention to your sales letter, generally with an attention getting headline and lead sentence.

2. Interest – Getting your reader interested by playing up the benefits of the product or service you’re promoting.

3. Desire – Making your readers understand the value of your product/service and want to buy it.

4. Action – Capitalizing on your readers’ desire by directly asking them to buy.

This is probably the most popular copywriting formula out there, but there are many others. Examples include:

  • ACCA – Awareness, Comprehension, Conviction, Action (credit: Russell Colley)
  • IDCA – Interest, desire, conviction, action (credit: Earle Buckley)
  • PPPP – Picture, promise, prove, push (credit: Henry Hoke).

My intention in this entry is not to review any of these models in detail. My actual intention is to talk about the idea of copywriting formulas in general, and why writing with any formula in mind is better than writing with no formula.

Probably the most fatal mistake you can make in copywriting is to go into a project without a plan. As Dan Kennedy write in “The Ultimate Sales Letter,” it is more accurate to say that you “assemble” a sales letter than to say that you “write” one. The idea of “writing” something implies a linear process of going from start to finish; putting a sales letter together doesn’t often work like that. Just like anything else that has to be assembled, a sales letter has to be based on a certain structure in order for it to work.

One way to think of the process of assembling a sales letter is to compare it to cooking a meal.

Your goal in making a meal is to make someone want to eat the meal, just like how your goal in writing a sales letter is to make someone want to buy. When you make a meal, you don’t necessarily start by cooking the parts that people eat first (the appetizers). Instead, you start by developing a recipe (or reading someone else’s recipe). Similarly, you don’t necessarily start writing a sales letter by composing the parts that people read first; instead, you might start by creating a plan or outline.

Other similarities between cooking and sales letter writing include:

  • Presentation (you focus on aesthetics to make the meal look presentable, just like you focus on graphics to make the sales letter look attractive).
  • Structure (a traditional restaurant meal has three courses, just like a traditional sales letter has a beginning, a middle and an ending).
  • Ingredients (a sales letter is made up of a combination of components that mix well; the right typeface, headlines, body content, etc).

However, the biggest similarity between cooking a meal and writing a sales letter is not so much the plan itself, as the role of planning in the entire process. 

It is a fatal mistake to think that any one of the copywriting formulas above is *the* correct formula for writing a sales letter. You can use pretty much any of those formulas and get results with it, just like you can use any decent recipe and cook a good casserole. If you don’t like any formula you’ve ever read, you can come up with your own, just like millions of people come up with their own recipes.

At the same time, it is just as fatal a mistake to think that you can write a decent sales letter with *no* formula in mind whatsoever. Sure, you can come up with your own writing formula, but if you’re just “winging” it when you write a sales letter, you will end up with a bit of a mess, just like if you prepare a meal without a recipe. 

In any project, it is best to go in with a plan, even if the plan itself is somewhat arbitrary. That might sound like a paradox, but the principle is sound: there are “laws” of structure (balance, symmetry, contrast) that apply in every subject, and while no structure that follows these principles is inherently superior to any other, all structures that follow them are better than those that don’t. So good luck, and remember, always write with a structure in mind!

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