Every company struggles to target the right audience and, just as important, to grab the audience's attention long enough to drive real action. After all, consumer attention spans have now waned to a mere eight seconds—down from a whopping 12 seconds not even two decades ago.

But blaming consumers for a lack of interest in your digital marketing efforts isn't going to solve the problem. Nor will all those tools that keep you abreast of every click, like, and share. They serve only to confirm that something isn't working, but they do nothing to tell you how to actually improve performance.

Creative that inspires action is still key to improving response rates. Even the subtlest mistake can keep consumers from doing what you want them to do.

If your response rate is falling short of expectations, don't rush to overhaul your marketing strategy or media spend. Instead, check for some of the following less-obvious mistakes.

1. Using 'Clever' Headlines

Telling consumers that your construction company "raises the roof" or that your record shop is "always in tune" may seem like shrewd messaging, but neither says much about your business. If a headline doesn't make clear why readers should keep reading, then you need to come up with something different.

Moreover, consumers aren't voluntarily seeing your messages. Countless ads and articles pop up in their search results or distract them while they're checking email and social media feeds. They certainly don't care enough to click on a cute or vague headline just to see what you're offering.

Alternatively, a clear, benefit-oriented headline such as "How to Improve Marketing Response Rates" will outperform a clever one virtually every time. And the headline is critical: An article on Upworthy can generate up to 500% more traffic with a good headline versus a bad one, according to co-founder Peter Koechley.

2. Depending on Lifestyle Photography

We often judge people on appearance alone, so it makes sense that consumers would make assumptions about a brand based on the people photographed in its marketing campaign. The instinctual reactions consumers have to those types of images can even discourage them from doing business with a brand.

Let's say, for example, you come across an ad for a resort featuring two hipsters—he with his unduly coiffed beard and man bun, she in her shapeless cardigan and ironically hideous glasses—tooling around a lake on a couple of bikes. What do you think that image says about its clientele? A seemingly innocuous photo may end up alienating a large segment of the resort's target audience.

If you're using real-life photos of real-life people, make sure they represent as many members of your target demographic as possible. Or use images that won't cause consumers to jump to conclusions about your brand.

With a few exceptions, the use of lifestyle photography as a primary visual generates less response than ads with no photography at all.

3. Burying the Call to Action

A well-placed call to action is the lifeblood of a marketing campaign. If your CTA is vague or hidden, how do you expect consumers to take the desired steps?

I've seen too many CTAs that look like the designer squeezed them in as an afterthought. In other words, make your CTA as prominent as possible. Every element of the ad, landing page, and website should lead the reader to your desired outcome. If you want consumers to call, then tell them to. Follow up the request with your phone number. There is nothing wrong with informing consumers about the next steps.

You want to make everything as clear as possible.

4. Implying Effort or Work

We have a saying at our agency: "Work is a four-letter word." Any insinuation of effort or work—even unintended—will hurt response rates.

I recall an ad I wrote a while back that highlighted a product's "easy five-minute installation." It failed because of the mere mention of time.

To avoid this problem, take a step back to view your messaging through this lens: Consumers don't just want something easy or quick; what they're looking for is instantaneous and automatic.

So think twice before saying anything about time or hassle in your copy. It'll come back to bite you.

5. Offering No Social Proof

Imagine you're searching for a product online and you come across two options. The first has great photos and a well-crafted description—and nothing else. The second has a couple of grainy shots, a decent description, and a ton of reviews, most of which are positive. If quality and price are equal, which product would you choose?

Today's consumers aren't just going to take your word for it. Most base their purchase decisions on third-party reviews. Whenever possible, include reviews and testimonials to encourage people to give your product or service a try.

Thanks to social media, companies can now easily find positive quotes and blurbs about their wares. Hit all the platforms to capture what people are saying about your brand, and encourage customers to leave feedback on your site.

When used well, reviews can help drive response and deliver more customers.

* * *

You no longer need a massive marketing budget to increase awareness of your brand. But you do need a keen eye to sidestep the subtle mistakes many companies make in their messaging.

As long as you keep your message short and sweet—not to mention relatable to your target audience—you should start achieving the response rates your efforts deserve.

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Five Subtle Mistakes That Are Limiting Your Marketing Response Rate

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image of Tim Carr

Tim Carr is the chief lifter at LIFT Agency. His specialty is to generate positive results for any direct and digital markering objective, and to improve response for CRM, acquisition, retention, and winback.

LinkedIn: Tim Carr

Twitter: @weareliftagency