Using AIDA to engage your union activists

October 9, 2013

Moving a union member or activist from awareness to action can be a difficult undertaking. The AIDA framework is a useful tool that has existed for over seventy years in the field of sales marketing, but it can also be used by unions or progressive organisations.

What does AIDA stand for?

Most experienced organisers or union communicators will recognise this or a version of this. The widely used version of AIDA for unions is the Anger –> Hope –> Action (AHA) framework.

AIDA is not a new concept and variants have been used since the 1920s and probably earlier.

To explain more fully, the traditional sales steps are:

  1. Gain your audience’s attention, so that people begin listening to you
  2. Arouse their interest, so that they can see why your offering is beneficial
  3. Convince them that your offering meets their needs, so that they desire it
  4. Invite people to take an action

These steps describe a classic sales method that works for selling goods and services, but AIDA applies equally well to unions that are trying to recruit, or trying to engage members and activists to participate in a campaign.

Here’s a modified version that shows how it can be relevant to union organising and communications:

  1. Gain the audience’s attention
  2. Explain what problem your union’s campaign addresses, and why people should care about it
  3. Convince people that your union’s campaign is the solution, but needs support
  4. Invite people to take one simple action

Steps two and three show a slight change from the commercial marketing AIDA format.

Instead of demonstrating how you solve a problem right away, it is often best to get people emotionally invested in the problem first by showing why it matters. This is similar to the “Anger” part of the AHA framework. If you can’t make your member or activist care about an issue, then they’re not going to take any action.

Then, once people are connecting to the issue, you can show that, with their help, there is a solution (the “Hope” part of unions’ AHA).  A problem without a solution is depressing and demoralising. If your members or activists aren’t convinced that a problem needs solving in the first place, it will be impossible to get them to take on the responsibility to contributing to the solution.

This is where AIDA for unions and progressive non-profits is different to commercial sales. Your challenge is demonstrating how your campaign’s “solution” meets the needs of the problem, rather than the commercial side of meeting the consumer’s needs.

Finally, you need to determine a simple, high impact action for your members to take. Depending on the stage they are in with your engagement funnel, you may want the action to have a low barrier to participation (e.g. sign an online petition) or it may be a high barrier (e.g. participate in a strike). It could also be a framework for recruiting new members based around workplace issues like health and safety, or concepts like respect and dignity.

However, there does need to be a clear, intuitive line between your problem, your solution and the action.

AIDA is by big business for decades to sell rubbish to everyday people. Unions can use it for good, by adapting the tried and true framework for online and off-line communications, ads, emails, social media updates and organising drives.


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