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Writing a Better Call to Action

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • Six ingredients to composing a successful call to action
  • How to lead into your call to action

The call to action in your marketing materials—whether on a printed flyer or in an email campaign—is one of the most important elements in a campaign.

If you do not include a solid call to action, you are not telling your customers the next step they need to take. And just as important, without a call to action, your marketing materials fail to create a sense of urgency. When your audience is left with no direction and no urgency, you'll probably receive little or no return on your investment.

Of course, if you have been doing business for even a small amount of time, you probably already know the importance of a solid call to action, but you may be wondering how, exactly, to write one that works.

Every call to action must be customized to the specific campaign, so no one can give you a rulebook full of the right calls to action for every situation. However, a few tried-and-true writing tips can catapult you from "beginner" to "intermediate" in your call-to-action skill level.

Keep in mind, though, that to reach "expert" level, you will need to test, test, and test some more before you find that perfect phrase that will generate the highest ROI for each marketing campaign.


Among the tips you will learn in this article are the following:

  1. How to use the right words
  2. How to lead into your call to action
  3. How to test your call to action

1. Verbs

The first thing to consider when composing a catchy call to action is the introductory verb you will use. The very first word of your call to action should be a hard-hitting, action-calling, no-nonsense verb.

Keep the verb short and to the point, such as read, call, and click. Don't distract potential customers by throwing in nouns and adjectives that describe them; they know who you're talking to.

Describe what you want them to do, and do so with confidence.

2. Show, Don't Tell

Do not, however, simply demand that a person do something. Tell her how to accomplish whatever you're telling her to do. For example, if you are presenting your call to action via a television commercial, and you're telling customers, "Call now, or forever hold your peace," then display the phone number at the bottom of the screen. If your call to action is delivered via the Internet, link customers to the appropriate page, or, even better, use a fancy call-to-action button. Depending on your market, customers might feel much more excited about clicking on a large, shiny, colorful button than a boring, everyday link.

In other words, spoon-feed your customers. Don't give them a chance to excuse themselves from contacting you; otherwise, they will most certainly talk themselves out of the purchase with thoughts such as, "Well, I would call, but I didn't catch the number," or "I don't feel like searching all over this website to complete this offer."

3. Make It Snappy

The attention span of the average customer is less than a minute long. That means you have seconds to convince potential customers that they are about to miss out on the most fabulous opportunity of their lives. Thus, your goal should be to make yourself memorable. Come up with a catchphrase related to your product that will get stuck in customers' heads (for example, "Geico could save you 15% or more on car insurance.")

4. Statistics

People are impressed by statistics. By no means should you fabricate a fictitious statistic; but, if you can find a valid one to back you up, use it to lead into your call to action.

Try something like "We've already served more than 8,000 people this year/quarter/month," or "93% of our customers claim that...." If you can convince prospects that they are in a minority who have yet to be wowed by your product, they will be more likely to purchase.

5. Check Your Lingo

Aside from any necessary "statistic-speak," keep your language understandable. Don't use too many technical terms that are going to bore or confuse your audience. Talk about the product's color options, the versatility of the product, or even the obvious practicality of the product. Relate to your audience using terms it understands. And make prospects want to like you by giving your copy a personal, friendly tone.

6. Test

Testing your call to action can involve several phases. The first is to test your call to action with colleagues, friends, and family. Also, compare it with calls to action in similar marketing materials from competitors. Knowing what your competitors are doing and how their strategies may be working (or not working) can give you a better idea of what your target audience will respond to.

Next, include sending (and possibly resending) your campaign materials. Keep in mind that resending a postcard or email more than once is completely legitimate. In fact, many marketing campaigns suggest sending in batches of three, but readjusting as necessary with each new distribution.

For instance, plan to send an email announcement each week or month before a huge sale. Just remember that the best way to test a design or copy is to change only one item at a time. So if you make changes to your call to action, do not also change your font sizes or colors.

* * *

A good (or bad) call to action will make (or break) your sale. Therefore, spend as much time, invest as much money, and conduct as much testing as necessary to ensure your call to action, and the text leading into it, is the most effective it can be.


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Tara Hornor writes for PrintPlace.com, an online printing company offering flyers, brochures, business cards, posters, postcards, and more print media.

Twitter: @TaraHornor

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  • by Joanne Mon Apr 30, 2012 via web

    I would add: Know your audience. I have found that there is a direct correlation to the target audience and the CTA, particularly in the B2B space. If they're technical, for example, you may want your CTA to be a download of compelling content, such as a whitepaper. If they're more of an end-user, perhaps you want to lead them to a demo or a free trial. Of course if you can get them to interact all the better...can you get them to fill out a survey or play with an online calculator where they input their information to determine ROI? Those are golden leads in my book!

  • by Dara Schulenberg Tue May 1, 2012 via web

    Don't forget the power of social proof in encouraging conversion. And no more HIPPO campaigns, use your data to measure and tweak the conversion path!

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