Email Marketing Optimization Using the AIDA Framework

A lot has been written about how to pursue Email Marketing Optimization, often with emphasis on tactics like subject line testing, email creative testing, and landing page optimization for email campaigns.

All great topics, but what I haven’t read about is an overarching framework to use while doing email optimization that will guide you through the process in a strategic way. In my day-to-day world of Conversion Optimization, there are many frameworks that one can follow. For example, the Persuasion Architecture™ developed in the early days at FutureNow, or the LIFT Model™ used by WiderFunnel up in British Columbia.

These frameworks give you guideposts to follow, things to think about, and ways to prioritize work in the field of Conversion Optimization. Maybe some experts have developed similar frameworks for Email Marketing that I don’t know about?

No matter: I’ve got one that I think will work! But I didn’t invent the framework “AIDA,” I’m just going to map it to Email Marketing optimization.

AIDA for Email Marketing Optimization

“AIDA” stands for: Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. This framework is a bit “Marketing 101,” but the reason why tried-and-true ideas like AIDA stick around is because they’re useful!

In pure Marketing terms, AIDA helps you think about how to market to and sell prospects on anything. It’s not so much about the consumer journey (especially in 2013), but about the steps a marketer must go through to achieve the desired result of a lead, a sale, engagement, etc.

Attention: Before you can ask for a prospect’s time or money, you must first get their attention, right? In the old days, getting attention meant print, billboards, TV, etc. Now, it means nearly anything; digital or otherwise, online or offline. It could mean a Tweet, and Facebook post, a search engine result, word of mouth, and more!

Interest: Beyond mere attention, you must gain a prospect’s interest. They must be intrigued, curious, surprised, or otherwise engaged. Sometimes, a product or service generates interest all on its own (“buzz”). Other times, marketers use brand, design, sponsorships, endorsements, or other campaigns to get the attention of a wide audience.

Desire: Desire is where Marketing starts to lead towards actual commerce. It’s the “sizzle that sells the steak.” It’s the gorgeous lines of a new sportscar, good-looking models in the latest fashions, and it’s product features that delight and change the game for consumers (e.g. think when you first played around with the iPhone).

Action: Action is where the “rubber meets the road.” Desire is present, meaning an emotional energy has motivated the prospect to a new level of engagement. Not only is desire present, but the prospect has done whatever rationalization necessary to move to action (e.g. I need that sexy new car because mine is breaking down all the time and isn’t really safe anymore). Once you’ve motivated the prospect to action, it’s all about making their action-taking process as smooth and intuitive as possible, whether it’s finding a retail store, buying online, or signing up for a sales demo. In other words, get out of their way!

So how do we map AIDA to Email Marketing optimization?

  1. First, we map the landscape of email (e.g. the Inbox, subject lines, emails, landing pages) to AIDA.
  2. Then, we look at what Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will help us measure and improve at each step of the framework.
  3. Finally, we look at what types of experiments can be run to optimize the KPIs we’ve identified.

The below graphics and sections will drill down into each letter of AIDA and do just that. Stay with me!


Getting “Attention” in your prospects’ beloved, personal inboxes is challenging. Especially if they’re Gmail users, and your emails aren’t yet pinned to their “primary” tab.

So to improve your chances of keeping attention, you need a KPI to measure over time, and to measure your changes against. I propose that your Unsubscribe Rate is the best metric to use in these efforts.

To optimize against this KPI, you should be testing your overall content and offers on an ongoing basis. You’re already doing that, right? Good. The idea with Attention is to track Unsubscribe Rate over time to make sure you’re staying at a healthy baseline, which for most is in the single digits.


Assuming your Unsubscribe Rate is staying low, you have your prospects’ attention. The next thing to work on is getting, keeping, and increasing their interest in your communications.

I propose that the crucial KPI for Interest is your Open Rate. Again, you’re probably already tracking this metric over time and doing some testing to improve it.

Some popular ways to test your emails and optimize your Open rate are to test subject lines (my personal favorite), “from” address, time of day, and day of week. Open Rate should be analyzed over time to discover trends, as well as tracked as part of scientific experiments.

desire infographic

Tracking Desire is easy; just monitor your Clickthrough Rates of your emails. I propose that if you have a prospect’s Attention and Interest, and you get a clickthrough on your call to action, you’ve got some level of Desire. To phrase it another way, if your prospect isn’t unsubscribing, is opening your email, and is clicking through, you have some level of Desire. It may not be enough desire yet, but it’s desire nonetheless.

There are many ways to test your emails to improve clickthrough rates: optimizing for better “preview pane” experience, layout, aesthetic design, imagery, copy, and call(s) to action. This is likely where the bulk of optimization efforts will occur. Ultimately, you want to Optimize such that 100% of prospects who have Desire are clicking through on your call to action.

action infographic

Action is again pretty easy to map to email marketing optimization. You should already be tracking conversions (and conversion rate) from email campaigns. If you’re not getting financial KPIs like Revenue and Average Order Value from your Email Service Provider, make sure you’re tagging your email links so you can get this information out of your Web Analytics tool by segmenting by email campaign. Conversion rate is a great place to start, but ultimately it’s about the financials (don’t forget about Lifetime Value), so work towards getting clean financial data back on every campaign you send out.

In order to optimize for Action, you can now start testing your landing pages and your conversion funnel. You can also use Targeting to personalize the prospect’s experience based on their touchpoint (email) and offer (campaign). If you’re working on optimizing for Attention, Interest, and Desire, you’re likely to get more Action. But perhaps of all the testing opportunities, testing for Action will get you the best ROI because you’re working with prospects who have demonstrated a strong Desire for your product or service!


As always, I welcome your comments and questions on this topic. Are there other frameworks for email marketing optimization I should know about? Have you used AIDA in your optimization efforts? Note: if you comment, and aren’t part of the horrendous amounts of spam this blog gets, it’s best to contact me via other channels so I know to approve your comment 🙂

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