From time to time, in direct marketing writing and design, we need to focus on the fundamentals to help us stay sharp in conveying the purpose and value proposition of what we’re selling. Why? Because so many direct marketing packages fail to answer these basic questions:
- Do we give our audience a reason to open?
- Are we telling them up front what the offer is (i.e. what’s in it for them) and what we want them to do?
- Are we engaging them in such a way that they’ll follow us to the end of the communication?
- Do we give them the information they need to “take that next step,” also known as the call to action?
Focusing on a Direct Marketing Fundamental: The Call-to-Action (CTA)
All of these questions are important, but getting the customer to take the next step—the call-to-action or CTA—is the strongest tool we have for eliciting a response. It can be a request to visit a website, call a phone number, connect on social media, or anything else that helps the client meet their marketing goals.
To see what I mean, take a few seconds to scan the next few pieces of direct marketing you receive (because that’s all the time your direct marketing package is likely to get in the hands of your audience). I predict you’ll see a few that’ll leave you wondering, “What do they want me to do?”
That, my friends, is another one of those cardinal sins of direct marketing: leaving out the call to action. Without it, all the hard work that went into a direct marketing package—revealing the offer, touting the benefits, removing risk—goes to waste.
7 Basics of an Effective Call-to-Action
No matter what you’re trying to get the recipient to do, your CTA should:
- Be repeated multiple times.
- Appear toward the beginning of your letter or whatever marketing copy form you’re using.
- Begin with an action word (naturally). Examples include Call, Visit, Go online, RSVP, Renew, Sign up.
- Appear toward the end of your letter or form.
- Be impossible to miss.
- Leave no doubt about what you want your reader to do.
- Make it as easy as possible for the reader to respond. (In other words, don’t make your audience jump through too many hoops to get what you’re selling).
How the Call to Action is Used in Direct Marketing
Now that we’ve established the absolute need for CTAs, let’s briefly review their use across various direct selling mediums.
CTAs can be longer in print-based direct response selling because you usually have more room to work with. They are intrinsic to the “funnel” of selling as we walk readers through our pitch. One example: “Call 800-XXX-XXXX to get your FREE widget. Or go online to widgetsforfree.com/offer.” You might also ask people to fill out and mail in a form of some kind. Your CTA should be repeated on the form itself so you leave no doubt in the minds of your prospects what you want them to do and how you want them to do it.
In contrast to print, CTAs used in email or online ads should be short and sweet—no longer than one or two words (e.g. “Apply,” “Buy Now,” “Learn More,” or “Join”). Given that the CTA is often a “button,” placed in an email or online ad, you don’t have a lot of room. In short: shorter is better.
A digital caveat: Many people will see or read your pitch on a mobile device. That means they’re scrolling and scanning—fast. So your CTA and the button it’s in need to pop, as we say. If you want me to “buy now,” then make sure I can’t miss the “BUY NOW” CTA when I’m scrolling along through your email or ad.
Outdoor, TV, and radio
CTAs are no less important if you’re running a true multi-media campaign for your product or service. Most advertisers try to put too much information on a billboard. This one for Target is an exception; it’s one big CTA. They can get away with it because their brand is so strong and familiar to consumers. Still, it’s a good example of how outdoor can augment a campaign.
Savvy advertisers utilizing direct response TV—which I’m defining as any ad-supported programming that appears on a TV screen, no matter its source—will put up a phone number or URL at the beginning of their commercial and leave it up until the commercial finishes. This makes it easy for anyone to respond at any time during the commercial or write down the information in case they want to respond later.
Because radio is missing the visual element, the CTA—most likely a request to call a toll-free phone number or visit a website—becomes all the more important. It’s repeated multiple times throughout the commercial and three or four times in a row at the end.
Of course, I need to end this blog with a CTA, so ask IWCO Direct how to get the most from your direct marketing using direct mail design, personalization, and, yes, CTAs. More experienced, thoughtful advice and insights await when you bring your direct mail dilemmas and direct marketing questions to IWCO Direct.
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