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9 Nov

Questions, not steps.

Stoa Daily Challenge #17

Giving feedback at the workplace can be challenging.

Good Feedback is growth-oriented and not critical. It also has to create meaningful change without affecting the relations between the giver and receiver.

In today's challenge, you'll play Vivek, a team lead who must give feedback to a new employee encountering troubles.

Play the challenge here.

Now, to today's issue.


Attention. Interest. Desire. Action.


It's a popularly known advertising or copywriting framework. It also describes the stages in a marketing funnel.


I don't want you to think of it as a framework. Because writing with authenticity abides by no framework or rule. If you try to turn copywriting into a formula, your output will feel formulaic and dull, especially to the people you're trying to impress.

So, then, why are we talking about AIDA?

Because it is how general human cognition works.

Hence, let us first look at AIDA from a psychological and behavioural perspective.


Our mind is constantly on the lookout for novel information in our surroundings. Evolutionarily speaking, things that stood out in the wilderness demanded attention as they might have posed a threat to our survival. In the modern world, that attention is usually grabbed by not something threatening, but simply novel, bold, or absurd.

Stuff where the audience feels that they need to pay attention to this lest they miss out on some important information about reality.


For how long something retains our interest depends on how much novel information it contains.

That is entertainment, basically. An entertaining thing, in the truest sense of the word, promises new information and an increased understanding of the world and how it works. If something about it wasn't novel enough, you would find it boring and too unworthy of paying attention. And you wouldn't be held by the frame that piece of content wants to hold you in.

A piece of rope lying on the floor in the dark may catch your attention while going for that 3 am gallon of water, but as soon as you see that it is only a rope and not a snake, your interest disappears.

Not all things that manage to catch your attention are necessarily interesting.

Clickbait is interesting, but if quickly recognized as such, it loses its appeal. Sometimes clickbait may even make a person click on the content but if they realize they aren't going to learn anything novel on a subconscious level, they quickly tune out and drop.


Not all things that are interesting invoke the kind of desire that's financially lucrative. A dank memes account on Instagram or YouTube invokes sufficient amounts of attention and desire, but the end user doesn't feel like paying for it or some other service the account owner is selling.

Desire fundamentally seeks direct mapping between what the audience trusts the brand to be good at and what the brand is selling.

If my content strategy is creating funny memes that go viral on social media and what I'm selling is my legal services and consultation as a corporate lawyer, people will still follow my account for the memes, but they will not consider hiring me for serious legal advice. If I were selling myself as a Chief Meme Officer for a startup, however, that strategy would work well.

If I'm selling an educational course and my content online isn't educational at all, then I might still amass a large audience but not many will buy my course.

So, not all things that are entertaining invoke desire. Even if they do, they might be a desire for gossip or trivia or news that my content is delivering for free, and not for my product.


When you desire something sufficiently, you naturally want to know how to act on that desire, and you look for ways to fulfill that desire. So, it's a common practice for advertisers to leave a Call-to-Action (CTA) and you'll commonly find copywriters asking,

"Hey, what's the CTA?"

As this is when the consumer is most primed to get your product and is seeking a way to get it, you provide the customer an easy way to buy it or take the first step.

Now, amateur copywriters often think that a CTA has to be an explicit request and path to buy the product. Not necessarily. The action doesn't have to be tangible, and in many cases, it cannot be tangible.

For example, if you're selling a million-dollar mansion, you can't end your pitch with,

"So, should I send you my bank account details?"

No, the buyer is not yet ready to make such a big decision. They need time to think before spending a million dollars. So, the way you craft a CTA here is by actually pushing them to take their time and get their doubts cleared because you understand that it is a big decision that can't be made in a hurry. You ask them to do the due diligence. And that's the CTA.

Now, I want you think of AIDA, not as 4 steps in a framework, but as 4 different sets of questions.

No, AIDA won't help you in the act of writing the copy itself. But if implemented correctly, you may not even choose to follow the A-I-D-A order in your messaging. There are no rules, remember?

So, how do you implement AIDA if not in the writing itself?

You think about it as a set of questions you need to ask for A, I , D, and A for any messaging problem at hand, not just an advertisement or a social media creative.

For Attention:

What does most of my target audience usually pay attention to?


What is something that my audience will find novel enough or worthy of their attention?

This can be a platform they regularly visit. A thing they are curious about. A question they are trying to answer. A conclusion they're trying to refute. Something they weren't expecting in the context they were in.

It could be a shocking visual, a bunch of bold words, or even the place in which the consumer comes across your message itself.

Depends on what level of abstraction you're thinking at.

For example, if I know that a recruiter I'm writing to is a no-BS person, I might write the subject line of my email as:

"I can run laps around your designers."

This sounds arrogant, and you better walk the talk, but for a no-BS person, I think this is enough to make them open your email, even if it is to make fun of your lack of self-awareness.

Great, now you have my attention. Now, you need to hold my interest. Be entertaining. Hold me in your frame.

For Interest:

What will keep the consumer hooked and entertained? How do I connect this entertainment with the consumers' interest my product?

How do you use this attention to build more curiosity? Remember, you can only indulge my curiosity if you display some information I'm interested in.Carrying on the previous example of writing a cold email to a recruiter, my opening line could be:

"Hey, I know the subject line is a bold claim, but I'm looking to get hired, and I've come prepared.

I know you're looking to hire great designers. I also know that the issue you're probably facing with many designers you hire is that they have no eye or taste for visual design and no knowledge of design systems. I believe I'm good at both. Not the best, but pretty good.

Here's my portfolio."

With this, you've now held the recruiter's interest. In the opening line, you've demonstrated self-awareness and confidence. In the subsequent lines, you've now given them a glimpse into the way you think about design, and how it matches your recruiter's thoughts on design.

You've spoken the two magic words: "taste" and "design systems", that the recruiter is most passionate about. They now see you on their side and wish to know more.

Of course, there are many other ways to do this, arguably even way better ones. This is just one way. And this of course isn't the way if you truly lack self-awareness, have no pride in your craft, or aren't confident about your own work.

Then your confidence will just fall flat on its face. Don't do that. Try another approach.

For Desire:

What does the consumer need?

Now that the recruiter has seen your portfolio, and you're confident that they'll like it, the next step is to talk about a design problem they might be interested in solving and that you can help solve.

"Speaking of <your company>, I can help you do much better on <X, Y, and Z> and for proof, you can check out <this project> in my portfolio where I've done what you're trying to get done at <your company>."

By doing this, not only do you demonstrate your due diligence and interest, you also prove that you can be immediately useful to the company once hired. You showcase a good understanding of the specifics of the problem. Mastery lies in the details, and masters judge someone's interest in their work via this detail.

And now the recruiter naturally wants to start a conversation with you. It may not be a call. It may not be an interview. It may just be a reply from the person asking a question or wanting to know the specifics.

Desire is about motivating that reply back from your consumer. You don't want to be left on seen. What can you do to not get left on seen?

What you do is promise them that their time won't be wasted by engaging with you. And you do that by crafting your product as a solution to the consumer's real problem.

For Action

What action would feel natural for the consumer at this stage of communication?

The higher end the consumer, the more demanding the consumer, the lesser you should ask them to do, unless you're a luxury brand that works on scarcity. Then you can purposely make the CTA high-friction so that the consumer can prove their interest and worth.

But if you're writing to a high-net-worth individual, you need to make sure you don't come across as demanding in your CTA.

For this recruiter we are writing the email to, I would just write,

"If you see some potential here, happy to field the question that's currently running in your mind over email or hop on a call.

Cheers. Hope I haven't wasted your time!"

With this I offer my recruiter the flexibility, sound less demanding, and try to make sure the CTA as easy and frictionless as possible.

The only aim with AIDA is to keep the reader moving from Attention to Interest to Desire to Action.

  • Interest should build on attention. It should not squander it and feel like clickbait.
  • Consumptive desire should match the area that interest was generated in. Can't talk about cricket — something I'm interested in — and then try to sell me notebooks and pens. That will not work and you'll cut yourself of at AI instead of going the whole AIDA.
  • And finally, the action you demand of your consumer should feel the most natural for that state of desire you've created. If you expect someone to go out of their way or rush their decision-making for a product that needs it, they won't.

If I'm in a movie theatre, the CTA can't be "Start playing now." I'm there to watch a movie, not play a game. Context matters the most for a successful action. If your message catches me in the wrong context, I might still desire but I won't be in a position to act then.

Also, you can't sell an airplane engine using the same CTA you use to sell a 1+1 free Toothbrush combo. People take time to make big decisions. So, another question you can ask is,

How do I keep the ask small and make it feel like the natural next step toward the purchase?

If you crack this, you might not always close the sale immediately, nor would it be advisable to do so in many cases. But you will take a tangible step towards it.

Parting thoughts

AIDA is not a framework or a structure. It's a set of questions; a set of considerations you need to make in order to come up with a compelling message. If you try to follow it like a framework, your message will feel formulaic and uninspiring.

So, use AIDA as a question bank and try to use it as a guide rail on a staircase. You will still need to climb the stairs yourself.

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