I started this article looking for 101 call to action examples.
My plan was to review the all-time great copywriting controls and find the calls to action that made them so effective.
After all, they were written by the historical greats.
But I hadn’t read more than a handful of mailings when I discovered something interesting. All the CTAs were essentially the same.
Well, that was a bust!
Or was it?
I found some interesting parallels between traditional direct mail calls to action and the digital calls to action being written today. And I found three criteria for effective CTAs that work no matter what format you’re using.
Let’s take a look…
First, some traditional calls to action
Reviewing traditional direct mail promotions, I found three things that nearly all calls to action accomplish. See if you can find them in this line-up of old CTAs. (I’ll tell you my findings below.)
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Those were the more creative ones. But the majority read like this:
Do mail your acceptance to me today.
So act right now. The postage is paid and you’ve got nothing to lose but a great garden to gain!
SEND NO MONEY NOW! But please mail your card today!
So if you’re looking for knowledge, a rewarding adventure, and the advantage a future perspective can offer, mail the enclosed card today!
See the pattern?
The CTA is your final instruction to your reader, so (duh!) there won’t be 101 variations.
In direct mail, you have to tell people to “mail the enclosed card.” In digital marketing, we ask for a click.
No matter how creative we get, it still boils down to this one request.
But if you look closely at the examples above, there are three things that nearly all the CTAs include:
- A no-obligation statement that removes or reduces risk. In many cases, they’re asking for a free trial rather than a purchase. In other words, try us, you’ll like us. This gives people the confidence to buy.
- All of them contain some version of “Mail your acceptance card.” This is simple usability. You have to tell people what to do next. Today it would read, “Click the button below.”
- Encouragement to respond right away. That’s standard direct response. Don’t give people an option to wait and think about it.
Let me show you a few more examples
Transferring traditional techniques to digital formats
Some digital CTAs perfectly mirror the old mailings. Take this one from Stansberry Research’s Retirement Millionaire promotion.
The pattern is there:
- Try it, you’ll like it: “Try” is in all caps.
- There’s no obligation, which is the modern version of “send no money now.”
- He wants a response “right away.”
- Click on the “subscribe now” link to fill out a form.
Now let’s look at some other formats for CTAs…
The “why not” argument
Sometimes there isn’t a strong reason to take action. But there’s no reason not to, either. Here’s how W Magazine used this logic in an old direct mail piece:
This offer may not last long. So order W now—and see what you think of your free issue. After all, with so much to gain—and with absolutely nothing to lose—shouldn’t you at least take a look?
And here it is in a recent 1-2-3 Shrink promotion:
Your CTA needs to make you want to click, and let’s face it, there isn’t always a compelling reason to try something. Price can get people’s attention, but it’s not good for business, so a common alternative is to ask, “why not?”
Making it all about the benefits
This old Audubon promotion didn’t just offer a subscription. It offered “all the benefits of membership.”
To begin receiving AUDUBON at once and to enjoy all the other benefits of membership in the National Audubon Society, simply return the enclosed form.
If you can offer membership in an exclusive group, this may be a useful approach. But what if you aren’t offering a club, per se?
Focus on the benefits of responding, like this “Off the Grid” promotion from Sovereign Investor:
Who doesn’t want to protect their wealth, build a fortress around themselves, and live a richer, more satisfying life?
Leading with a strong CTA
Here’s the headline in an old Earthwatch promotion:
Got some free time? A week? A month? A summer?
Come volunteer for a conservation project in the wilds, an environmental project in the tropics, an archeological dig abroad.
Or if you’re busy now, cheer us on from the sidelines.
Adventure? Save the world? Wow! It even has a built-in call to action, the “come volunteer” statement. Today, I’d recommend following this headline with an order button.
The call to action for this promotion is good, but not nearly as compelling.
Remember, the CTA must tell people what to do next. Which means it can’t always have the same excitement level as your headline or lead. Here’s how Earthwatch did it:
If our organization sounds like something that you too would take pleasure in being a part of—whether by participating actively, or cheering us on from the sidelines—I urge you to send in the order form at your earliest convenience…so your adventures can begin with the very next issue of EARTHWATCH.
Can the lead ever work as your CTA? In the Earthwatch promotion, it could have. But back then, you had to provide instructions for how to respond.
Today, people are comfortable with responding to digital offers, so you don’t need to provide the instructions that made their CTAs clunky. You can simply provide a link or button—and people know what to do.
Here’s a digital promotion that pulls off this technique quite well.
It was introduced in an Early to Rise email like this:
Click the link, and you land here. There’s nothing on the page but the CTA.
Selling the trial
Because people are so comfortable with digital formats, your CTA can almost be implied. (Implied, but not forgotten!)
Prevention promotions typically ask for a Try rather than a Buy. It sounds less obligatory, so buyers offer less resistance.
And Prevention is so sure you’ll like their products, they give generous trial periods. Here’s one from Prevention’s Dance It Off! promotion. Notice that the actual CTA is in a graphic:
Of course, software and similar products rely on the trial too. Here’s Crazy Egg’s call to action:
This approach emphasizes the no-obligation element of strong CTAs. And it works.
Two CTAs that don’t work
I mentioned above that you can leverage people’s comfort with digital marketing, which allows you to streamline your calls to action. But you still need to be clear.
Weak or no CTA
One of the most common (and worst) mistakes in direct response is to assume people know what to do, and forget the call to action.
From my perspective, that’s what this promotion does:
This is just a portion of the page—there are floating elements that didn’t allow me to grab it all—but this screenshot has the majority of the information.
Where’s the call to action?
“Pick your city” is all I can see. That’s not compelling, risk-reducing, or benefits-oriented. In fact, if you read the fine print, the author of the book won’t be at the event.
There’s little here to compel anyone to respond.
The other extreme: too strong of a CTA
I can’t tell you what’s on the page because the pop-up acts as a pay-wall, so to speak, blocking entrance until you share your email:
Here, I’m stuck if I don’t respond.
“Join Now” or don’t view the page.
This call to action is a little too high-pressure for my taste. What saves it is the “Why we ask for email” link at the bottom of the form, the promise of 70% off, and the no-hassles language below the button.
But I still don’t want to be forced into compliance, so no thanks.
You want a strong CTA, sure, but not too strong.
The winner: A benefits-oriented, personal CTA
TheStreet’s Quant Ratings promotion showed up in my inbox, and it’s the clear winner among the promotions I reviewed.
Look at the call to action:
This CTA does a lot of things right.
- It implies no work on your part. It’s completely benefits-oriented and personal, asking you to put TheStreet to work… for you.
- There isn’t a vague, uninspiring “click here” command. The link is embedded in the benefit statement. And that statement is phrased as a command, so I can’t miss it.
- There is also a button—in a bright, can’t-miss red—that offers an incentive for clicking: “Save $150.” (You’ll need to test the color that works for your promotion, but here, red does well.)
- Urgency is subtly included in the CTA with “don’t wait another minute.” So it urges you to respond now without resorting to hype.
Does it fulfill the three criteria for effective calls to action? You bet:
- It offers a trial membership.
- The link and button provide implicit instructions (without going so far as to omit the CTA). It’s clear that you’re supposed to click on the link or the button.
- You’re asked to respond now: “Don’t wait another minute.”
Not only does this call to action use the same techniques that worked in direct mail, it improves on them, because there’s no bulky paragraph telling you where to find the response device and how to submit it.
With digital, you can build the response into the promotion for a seamless user experience.
CTAs may have changed over the years, but the goal hasn’t changed: Put the right message in front of the right people at the right time. It’s critical that you learn to do this well. And, of course, there’s no better way to learn than to be testing your CTAs.
Have you got some favorite techniques for an effective call to action? Or do you struggle with telling people how to respond? Let us know in the comments below.
You could write the most effective, emotional, efficient copy for your printed marketing media, and it wouldn’t amount to anything if a call to action wasn’t clearly defined.
In written advertising, a call to action (by definition) is an imperative sentence that instructs the reader to perform a task. They’re absolutely crucial because once you’ve hooked your audience on your brand, they need to know what steps to take in order to obtain your product or service. Good call to action phrases act like a trail of breadcrumbs leading potential customers directly to your business.
Know your audience’s needs
Before you can begin writing your call to action, you have to understand what you can offer your audience and more importantly, why they need it in the first place. The best practices for accomplishing this are to identify a problem your audience can relate to and position your brand as a solution to that problem. This makes the call to action more enticing to the audience because it gives them a reason to follow your instructions.
This flyer begins by offering a benefit (a happy reaction from your mother) and follows up with a call to action: “Send us her photo.” Photo Credit: LeighAnn Loftus
A call to action is only as powerful as the surrounding copy. If your copy doesn’t tell the audience exactly how they can benefit from using your brand in a clear and engaging way, they won’t even care about the call to action.
Use actionable verbs and phrases
Almost every call to action includes a verb–but some verbs are stronger than others. Action words and phrases compel the reader to perform a task, which is the entire point of a call to action to begin with. Actionable verbs are ones that can actually be carried out by a person in a literal sense.
Good: “Call us today for a free sample” – this is actionable because “call” is a verb that can be carried out by a person.
Bad: “Give us a call for a free sample” – although “give” would normally be actionable, in this case what you’re giving is not a tangible object. You can’t literally hand someone a phone call.
Clarity is crucial
A call to action is only effective if it’s clearly understood by the audience. For starters, the font should be bold and easy to read, so avoid small or overly fancy fonts.
More importantly, the message itself should be easily understood. A clear message spells out exactly what the audience should do and how it will benefit them. Write your call to action using simple language-avoid jargon or confusing terms.
Here’s an example:
Good: “Visit our website! “
Bad: “Point your web browser towards our home page.”
The call to action here is quick and to the point: “ENTER NOW” and a corresponding URL. Photo Credit: Jennie Myers
Make the action as easy as possible
The reader should be able to go directly from the call to action to performing the task itself, so make sure he has everything he need to follow up. For example, if you want them to call, provide a phone number.
However, you also have to consider what kind of phone number you use and if it presents any other problems to your customer. For example, a customer is more willing to call a local number or a toll-free number than a long-distance number.
If you want your customer to visit your website, provide an address. However, if you also provide a QR code, then customers with smart phones or tablet devices can immediately visit your site without having to type an address.
If your goal is for your audience to visit your website, make sure to include a clear and noticeable URL, such as the one on this flyer. Photo Credit: Veronica Varetsa
Obviously you’d provide an address if you want the customer to visit your location, but providing an actual map of your location helps to ensure you won’t miss a sale because the customer lost his way. Better yet, also provide a QR code with Google Map directions to make it even easier.
Writing a call to action is more effective when the audience is only being asked to complete one task. Multiple phrases asking the audience to perform different tasks can be confusing and audiences can loose interest when they think there is a lot of work involved.
However, if you have to have multiple calls to action, make sure one is clearly dominant while the others are just there to work towards the main goal.
This flyer has multiple examples of calls to action, but one dominates the others: “Buy at Fine Retail Stores.” Photo Credit: Fran Linden
For example, the end goal may be to have customers sign up for a free consultation, but they might have multiple options for doing so. By using both “Call us to sign up for a free consultation” and “Visit our website and sign up for a free consultation” in your copy it makes it clear to the audience that signing up is the most important action.
A better way to achieve this would be to eliminate the other calls to action altogether. “Sign up for a free consultation by phone or on our website” is much clearer.
Often times your end goal (making a sale/converting a customer) takes a few steps to accomplish. Your call to action should guide the customer towards the next natural step he or she needs to accomplish in order to get to the end goal.
Create a sense of urgency
A time limitation makes your calls to action a bit stronger because it adds a sense of urgency. However this doesn’t have to be a strict measurement of time, just a general feeling of importance.
Good: “Call us today” – This call to action gives the audience a firm measurement of time to work with and creates a sense of importance.
Good: “Call now” – This is even more urgent and implies the offer may not last forever (even if that’s not the case.) The audience understands the importance of calling soon.
Bad: “Call anytime” – This implies that the offer is always available and that there’s no need to call immediately, which makes it more likely that the audience will forget to call completely.
If your offer does have limitations, make sure this is clearly outlined in your call to action. For example “Call now, supplies are limited” or “Call now to take advantage of this limited-time offer.”
A sense of urgency helps to make your call to action (such as the one on this flyer) more persuasive. Photo Credit: Darren @ Mass Appeal Designs
Answer the reader’s questions
Customers want to know what will happen if they follow your call to action and how doing so will benefit them. Many people in your audience will be skeptical to follow your instructions unless they’re given more information on what happens after doing so.
For example, “Call us today” is not as strong as “Call us today and we’ll help you save money on your heating bills.” The latter tells the audience exactly what will result by following the call to action.
Quell your reader’s fears
Call to action phrases can be used to help your audience get over any opposition they may have. Identify and demolish any misgivings your audience may feel towards your brand and add statements that provide reassurance.
For example, a reader may not want to call because they’re afraid of being sucked into a long sales pitch. Therefore, you might say something like “Call now and in less than five minutes you can get a great deal on your insurance.”
Provide as many details about the process as possible, including any limitations your offer might carry. Walk the reader through the process of what to expect when they follow your call to action. When they do follow your instructions and the results are what you promised, you will have gained their trust and hopefully their future business.
Make an offer they can’t refuse
Sometimes a special offer can go a long way towards convincing skeptical audience members to follow your call to action. This might be a free gift, guarantee, special discount or other incentives to sweeten the deal.
“Order today and get half-off the cost of shipping.”
“Call now and ask about our buy-one, get one offer.”
“Sign up for our mailing list to receive special member coupons.”
Be upfront in your call to action if there are any limitations to your offer, such as a time limit or per-customer limit.
The fact that buyers can ‘save over $700’ makes the call to action on this flyer especially persuasive. Photo Credit: Mike Greenwald
Just like any message you want to drive home, repetition makes your call to action more effective. Repeat your call to action several different ways and in different areas to make sure the message is clear.
Take a look at these examples:
“Visit us at the corner of Main and Maple to receive a free quote”
“Come to our downtown location for your free quote”
“Ask for your free quote at our Main and Maple location.”
“Drive downtown today for your free quote.”
If your marketing materials have multiple pages, then every page should contain a repetition of the call to action. That way, the customer doesn’t have to go searching around to find out what to do when he or she is ready to take the next step.
Use colors and graphics
A call to action is more effective when it stands out from the rest of your design. Try using a contrasting font color to make the call to action pop. Red is an effective call to action color because it’s bright and creates a sense of urgency, but you can use any distinctive color that matches your design.
The bright red color helps this mailer’s call to action really stand out. Photo Credit: Burton Creative
You can also use graphics like an arrow or bullet point to help draw the eye towards your call to action. However, be careful that you don’t go overboard-graphics should enhance the call to action, not overshadow it.
Leave white space
When designing the layout of your printed materials, make sure not to overcrowd your call to action. Leave plenty of white space to allow it to stand out better on the page. This allows your call to action to be easily read when scanning the page for information.
A call to action should usually be sightly larger than the surrounding paragraph text so that readers recognize it as something separate. This also makes it easier to scan and read. People don’t always take action right away; a large call to action ensures that they will find it easily if they look at the ad later.
You should aim for a 20% increase in font size between your call to action phrases and the rest of your copy. That of course means the font size used for the body paragraphs, not the headlines.
When the customer actually does follow through on your call to action, what happens next? It’s your responsibility to make sure that when they follow your instructions, it’s easy for them to follow the next step towards a sale or conversion.
And the next step.
And so on.
For example, if you ask them to call your office, make sure someone is on the other end waiting to take their call and to explain the next step of the process. If the office is closed, there should be an automated message that explains the process and gives the customer instructions on when to call back.
Whenever a customer does follow your call to action, track your success. Figure out which ones are getting positive responses and which ones are having difficulty attracting new customers. Then adjust your marketing strategy accordingly.
Practice makes perfect, and your best call to action ideas will likely come to you after you’ve become more familiar with the process. Take the time to perform writing exercises, coming up with different ways to instruct your audience and drive them towards your brand’s end goal.
What sort of calls to action do you find to be effective in your printed material? What calls to action have you yourself acted upon in the past? Here’s a call to action for you: share your responses, tips and examples in the comments!
Posted in Copywriting