14th Jan 2013 AUTHOR: Matt Milgrom

Tender Writing: Pitch Like an Advertiser with AIDA

Successful tenders and proposals borrow much from the world of advertising. An AIDA flow can ensure your submissions hit the spot


  • Command Attention by means of Professional Design
  • Develop Interest by Clear Writing, Summaries and Theme Statements
  • Create Desire by Focusing on Benefits and the Prospect
  • Move to Action by Making the Next Steps Simple

Organising a tender response using AIDA can really lift the standard of your submission

Of course, competitive pitching differs greatly from conventional advertising. The audience is highly specific. The offer is usually based on clearly established needs. The tone, medium and amount of content vary greatly from conventional advertising campaigns.

However, tenders and advertising do have something important in common: the need to convince the audience of the value of what is on offer, and then to move them to action. Tendering, therefore is highly rarefied selling.

Leading advertising copywriters develop ads using a number of formulas. One of the best known is "AIDA". This formula describes an idealised, high-level journey the reader takes when they encounter a successful advertisement and are moved to buy the product. The steps are:

  • (A) Attention
  • (I) Interest
  • (D) Desire, and finally
  • (A) Action.

As a tender writer, using the AIDA formula can ensure that your written content allows your reader to take a similar journey.

(A)ttention: Create a Positive impression that Differentiates

According to the NY Times, the average city dweller is exposed to around 5,000 ads every day. Advertising companies expend much time and energy trying to 'cut through' this competitive noise. The very best campaigns attract attention, stop people in their tracks and starkly differentiate the product.

In the same way, some tender opportunities will attract dozens of responses. The competition for attention may be less than in the advertising world, but the need to differentiate is still vital.

A tender is a serious business document and in most cases gimmicks and stunts are inappropriate, perhaps even harming the chances of your offer being considered. However, there are practical ways to create a positive initial impression that will help your offer stand out from the others.

For example, a professionally designed document creates an impression even before it is reviewed. A graphically rich proposal with the ambience of an annual report or quality trade journal implies your professionalism and confidence in the quality of your offer. And it will stand out favourably from the others in the pile which have been put together using a generic Word template and few pictures. In many cases, it will even be read first.

When the design is backed by concise, simple writing that employs the pyramid principle, reviewers can see at a glance that your document will be a joy to review.

(I)nterest: Build Anticipation for Your Offer

Successful advertising campaigns do more than simply attract attention. Unless they raise curiosity, spark interest and encourage further investigation, they will quickly lose their audience.

In contrast, tender reviewers are likely to briefly review the entire document whether their interest has been piqued or not. However, building interest in the details of your offer is an important element in securing reader buy-in. Tender responses don't need to be tediously dull documents. Whilst details and data are often compliance requirements, the audience can have their interest deepened by the supporting content, by employing some or all of the following:

  • Brevity and Simplicity: Some sections of your response will likely involve technical details and statistics. But these details don't need to obscure your message. Writing simply will allow the reviewer to fully understand each element of your offer.
  • Executive Summary: This is often a mandatory document and is your opportunity to introduce key ideas, themes and concepts of your offer in a pithy, enthusiastic way. Ensuring the Summary is focused on the prospect will build keen anticipation for what is to follow.
  • Key Points: For lengthy sections, gathering key points into a box at the start will generate interest in what is to follow, perhaps raising questions in the minds of the reviewers which will be answered in the following content.
  • Pull Outs / Theme Statements: Including important elements of your offer as pull-outs within the text will draw casual skim readers in and map out key concepts throughout the body of your response.

(D)esire: It's All About Them

Consumer desire is generated by ads that depict a desirable future state: more money in the pocket, improved social status, peace of mind, etc. Successful campaigns showcase benefits, sometimes linking them to key facts or features.

Interestingly, many tender writers still get this wrong, seeing the tender as an opportunity to talk about themselves. The truth is, however, that the prospect's interest in you is limited to one thing: what's in it for them.

Naturally, many RFT and RFPs do ask about your experience, capacity and capabilities, and rightly so. However, answering these questions without framing them in a prospect-focused, benefit-led context is missing a vital opportunity to generate desire for your offer.

For each key feature you present, ask: "What's in it for them? For example, will it save them money? Reduce their risks? Simplify their operations? Add value to their core business?

When reviewing content, train yourself to ask: "So what?" wherever facts are presented. Are these details linked clearly to meaningful benefits within the section? If not, do they belong in the appendix?

Including details, evidence and testimonials for key elements of your offer is required to give your claims credence. These are usually included after the benefits and features are described, or in detailed attachments.

Finally, where possible, look for opportunities to paint a picture of a desired future state. For example, in a submission developed recently by one of our consultants, a fictitious "A Day In the Life..." account was developed describing one of the prospect's future customers enjoying the benefits the offer delivered. These techniques can humanize a data-heavy submission and generate genuine appetite for your proposed solution.

(A)ction: Closing the Sale

Once desire has been created, advertisers make the acquisition of the product as easy as possible. Most ads include a 'call to action', making the next step clear. A money-off coupon, a website address, social networking to follow or free samples all encourage the audience to take action.

Tenders are a little different. In most cases, a panel will calculate weighted scores against specific evaluation criteria and discuss the shortlist in detail. However, you can make the next step easier for your prospects.

For example, does your tender encourage dialogue? Are key personnel contact details provided on the front cover? Is your desire to discuss details or demonstrate your solution obvious in your covering letter or executive summary?

If possible, provide a tangible sample of your solution that the prospect can 'try before they buy'. Some tenderers are able to offer a demonstration website or a physical product sample so that key features can be experienced as the reviewer reads about them.

Present 'special offers' within the context of the tender, for example, pricing models which incentivize high volumes or rebate schemes on additional services.

Finally, if invited to demonstrate or present, ensure that your team is well prepared and focused on 'the close'. A well-drilled team will be ready to field questions with responses that address the prospect's pressing business needs. An open, friendly presentation which echoes the key elements of the offer will inspire confidence in your ability to deliver on your promises, making it easier for the prospect to commit.

Having the AIDA flow in mind when coordinating a tender response can really lift the standard of a submission. Thinking like an advertiser means that the prospect's needs are centre stage and that the benefits of your offer are presented in the kind of attractive, compelling manner that wins business. But even if your submission isn't selected, the effort is worthwhile. The prospect's reviewers and decision-makers will have formed a positive impression of your brand which will persist in their minds until the next time.

mattMatt Milgrom is a senior consultant for Tender Success. His advertising copywriting skills have helped many Australian corporations win competitive bids. Contact Matt to ensure your next response is a success.