This oldie but goody makes writing a direct mail letter faster and far easier.
I call them my "stupid days." They arrive with distressing frequency.
Even though hundreds of helpful experts reside on the bookshelves of my office, there are still those days when, faced with the obligation to write a piece of fundraising direct mail, I bury my face in my palms, and groan, "Nothing. I have nothing. This is the day I've feared for so long: my creative decline and fall has," beseeching an indifferent sky, "finally and truly begun."
And yet what is that I hear? The clop of hooves, hastening to my rescue?!?
Indeed, it is my ever-true hero/heroine: AIDA, the sales formula, discovered in the mists of advertising time (1898) by E. St. Elmo Lewis. And worshipped by every copywriter since.AIDA = How to sell
The "A" in the AIDA formula stands for grabbing my "attention" any way you can. (Why is advertising so noisy? Because it's always screaming, "Look at me! Look at me!")
The "I" in the formula stands for getting me "interested," by showing me the advantages and benefits of the product or service.
"D" stands for awakening "desire" in me. This is the pivot point. This is when the sale really starts to happen. I.e., I start to believe, "I want that. More important, I need that."
The final "A" in the AIDA formula stands for "action." As in: call me to action. Tell me to do something.
Now, you might be wondering: "What does this have to do with fundraising direct mail? We're not selling products or services."
Yes, you are.
You are selling emotional gratification. You are selling the feeling that the donor has made a difference. And what a warm, joyous feeling it is!
But I digress. Let's get back to AIDA in direct mail.>>>> A is for Attention
Well, the envelope's the first thing the recipient sees. So, what can you add to the envelope that will grab attention?
>>>> I is for Interest
- a message that will set your target audience aflame ("If you love Glenn Beck and Fox News ... then just throw this letter away." - People for the American Way)
- a detail that's unusual (a direct mail appeal from Ontario Nature was "written" and signed by a hummingbird; the envelope bore the bird's "signature" - its tracks)
- a subliminal hook (adding "From the desk of the President" to the return address of a college appeal helps elevate the appeal's status)
- an easy-to-follow demand ("OPEN THIS!")
What's the fastest, easiest way to interest any human brain? Show/tell it something surprising. It's Psychology 101. Why?
Because in the animal kingdom, we are prey as well as predator. We survived as a species because we come well equipped with sensors. And our deepest, earliest brain (the amygdala or so-called "lizard brain") is always on alert. Anything new in our environment receives our instant attention. Evolutionarily speaking: only the alert survived. If we dawdled, we died.
Skip ahead a few millennia. These days, we are news junkies because of that same lizard brain. In fact, new information of any kind tickles our neurons.
The Wall Street Journal reported in 2008, writing about the findings of a USC neuroscientist, "Coming across new information triggers a chemical reaction that makes us feel good, which in turns causes us to seek out even more of it."
The letter for the hospital begins: "Our doctors call it Day Zero. It's the day you come back from the dead.">>>> D is for Desire
What is desire, in a nutshell? Giving the donor something worth doing, that's easy to do. In the AIDA formula, D and A work closely together. Uphill is Attention and Interest. Downhill is Desire and Action.
The Fred Hollows Foundation in Australia raises record millions thanks to an offer formulated around 2006:
"Restore sight for $25." It's worth doing (we all fear going blind). It's easy to do: $25.>>>> A is for Action
The Fred Hollows offer is simple and cheap. The Smile Train offer is simple and cheap: your $250 turns one child from the village monster into a normal-looking kid.
Charities sometimes get all complicated at the end, on the reply device:
"Oh, and if you want information about bequests, check here. And if you want our e-newsletter, give us your email address. And if you'd like to express your concern about this issue, give us your phone number."
That's a mistake. In an appeal, stay focused on just one thing: the gift.