Persuasive Writing 4 – Structure

Dollar's skyscraper

In earlier chapters you identified how to appeal to your target audience and compiled a list of your product’s benefits.

Now you need to plan how to structure your writing so it leads your reader along a logical path of thought towards taking action.

Just like how a seasoned debater or lawyer prepares to argue their case, you need to assess how to communicate your points so they resonate with the reader and seduce them into agreeing to your proposition.

Remember that people make buying decisions based on logic and emotion, so your writing needs to trigger both if you’re going to persuade the reader to pull out their credit card.

Thankfully, there’s a tried and tested structure used by generations of copywriters to convince their readers that buying their products is the smart thing to do.

Abbreviated to AIDA, applying this structure will help you to maintain the readers’ attention, present your points in an appealing manner and provoke the reader into taking action.

Attention – the headline

“If you spend your advertising budget entertaining the consumer, you’re a bloody fool. Homemakers don’t buy a new detergent because the manufacturer told a joke on televisions last night. They buy the new detergent because it promises a benefit.” – David Ogilvy

The most important element of persuasive writing is the headline. If you can’t pull the reader into your first paragraph then the sweat and tears you’ve poured into the rest of your writing will be wasted on words that go unread.

Writing attention pulling headlines is a complex psychological puzzle in itself, so I’ll cover headlines in more depth in my next post.

In basic terms, your headline should clearly promise a benefit that the reader will gain from reading your sales letter or web page. This could be the offer of valuable information, how your product can solve their problem or how you can help to enrich their lives.

Whilst the temptation is to show off your creative wit with a droll pun, using subtle humour in headlines risks alienating readers. Some might be confused by your witty wordplay, whilst most will fail to see the benefit of reading further.

Instead your headline should focus on making a clear, compelling promise and sparking the reader’s interest into hearing what you have to say.

Interest – the problem

“A copywriter should have ‘an understanding of people, an insight into them, a sympathy toward them.” – George Gribbin

After you’ve pulled the reader into your writing, you need to continue building interest in the promise you’ve already made.

This means stirring up the reader’s emotions, and poking at the pain you’ve offered to help them cure. As suggested in my previous post, compile a list of the problems your product can solve.

Your first few paragraphs should then use emotive language to describe these problems, and create an image in the reader’s mind of the annoyances, inconveniences and shear pain caused by having to deal with them in their daily life.

You could open your first paragraph with stats and figures to show how the problem is more common than the reader might think. This can help to create a sense of inclusion and to reassure the reader you know what you’re writing about.

Use empathy to build a bond by describing how you personally or someone you know (even if they only live in your mind) has had to cope with a similar problem and the pain it has caused them personally.

After you’ve finished stirring up the reader’s emotions with images of the problems they have to deal with, make a compelling promise of the tonic you have to sooth their pain, and entice their curiosity into reading more.

Desire – the solution

“The only way to influence someone is to find out what they want, and show them how to get it.” – Dale Carnegie

Now that you’ve created interest and intrigue, you need to make good on the promises you’ve made by explaining how your proposition is the answer to the reader’s problem.

Describe the benefits someone has gained from your product and how it has improved their lives, such as saving time, money or becoming more successful.

Heap benefit onto benefit, and provide logical reasons why they should buy what you’re selling and why it’s superior to the other solutions available.

Explain the reasons why they need your product in a logical, rational sequence and provide evidence, whenever possible, to add concrete to your claims. Remember that readers need logic to backup their emotional impulses.

When you’ve finished explaining all the benefits the readers can gain, provide the social proof of your offer with testimonials, stats and real world examples.

And when you think your reader is wavering throw a guarantee onto the pile to tip their indecisiveness in your favour.

A limited time offer or money back guarantee might seem like your throwing away money. But guarantees are a powerful way of removing the sense of risk and objections that might be holding your reader back from clicking on ‘buy’.

Whilst you might receive a few refund requests, the number of additional sales you can attract with a guarantee should still keep the bean counter weighed in your favour.

Action – telling the reader what to do next

After you’ve built the reader’s excitement about the wealth of rewards to be gained if they just say ‘yes’, you need to clearly tell them exactly what to do next.

Whether it’s entering their email address, calling your sales team or buying that instant, make sure you state what you want the reader to do if they want to reap what you’ve promised.

Finally, you could end your sales letter or web page with a postscript (abbreviated to P.S.), which is estimated to be the most read element after the headline.

You can use the postscript to restate your offer, remind the reader you’re on their side and to add an additional benefit if they respond today, such as a discount or free eBook.

So there’s a brief whistle stop tour of the AIDA principle used by generations of copywriters to structure their sales letters and web pages. The way in which it appeals to the self motivated nature of human psychology makes it a powerful tool indeed, so use it wisely and responsibly.

Next week: headline writing tips.

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