What do you envision when you think of old-school television commercials? It’s a familiar story: “Come on down to John Doe’s Car Lot, and get yourself the best deal of your life!” Most of us groan when we hear or see that kind of presentation. Maybe we shouldn’t. There’s a reason the Call to Action was done to death, year after year: it worked. When done right, it still does.
As with anything else in business, a successful call to action is about knowing when and where to use it, and customizing language to fit the current century.
What Is a Call to Action?
A Call to Action (sometimes described with the acronym CTA) is any promotional material that directly tells potential customers to do something. It can be an auditory command like, “Come on down!” It can be a “Click Here” button on a website, or a flyer with the words, “Get a new sofa before Christmas!”
Imagine writing an advertisement for special-design boxes of widgets, the deluxe model with gilded engraving and hand-blown glass handles. You’ve got thirty seconds to convince someone to buy them, and make it compelling. There’s a catch: you can’t tell anyone to buy them, and you can’t give directions that say, “Go to our website,” “Turn on Route 60,” or “Open the box.” Any variation of, “Do [this],” is off the table Build a narrative. Imagine making it so magnetic it convinces someone to buy.
This isn’t some random exercise. By law, public radio and public television can’t use any call to action language in their sponsor promotions. Next time you watch PBS, listen to their sponsor promotions. I’ll bet you never noticed that before. It’s why telethons sound particularly jarring when wedged between Sesame Street and a foreign film. A fund-raising telethon is the only time public broadcasting can directly ask listeners to buy.
Now it’s time to flip the concept on its head. Imagine the same ad, only this time use a call to action, maybe a few of them. Create the same thirty-second commercial, only this time, do tell someone to buy those mighty widgets, and tell them step-by-step how to go about it.
Which of these approaches do you think will result in more successful sales? If you guessed the second, you’re absolutely right. That’s why a smart call to action will always be an important sales tool.
When to Use a Call to Action
A call to action is down and dirty. It’s the fastest way to generate the desired result, which is a sale. When working with a minuscule advertising budget, it’s critical to maximize every detail. Whether print, vocal, or digital, a call to action is a shortcut to sales.
When a presentation involves a longer communication to engage buyers, place a call to action at regular intervals. If working with a web page and visitors must scroll to read, a good rule of thumb is to place a buy-in button or link so it shows up at least once every two screens.
During a live event, make it a slam dunk.
Dust off the imagination toolbox again. Picture this scenario: you’re giving a speech to a packed room of buyers. They’re hanging on your every word. They’re ready to buy. They’re waiting to find out how to buy. If you walk away without issuing that invitation, you just left money on the table, not to mention a room full of frustrated would-be customers! The obvious solution is a call to action at the end of the presentation, that, “Sign on the dotted line” statement. It’s perfectly acceptable to pepper calls to action throughout the speech, too.
When employed together with other compelling verbiage, a call to action opens the door and invites customers into your business. Use it as a welcome sign, letting people know that their business is desired and valued.
Examples of the Effective, Modern Call to Action
While the used-car salesman approach still works for used-car salesmen, most businesses prefer something a bit more refined and specific. Tailor a call to action to your business and your target audience.
An upscale clientele responds to words that imply wealth, such as, “Luxuriate in our custom spas,” or “Invest in a superior driving experience.” The tech-savvy buyer will hone in on terms that hit a different note. “Break the sound barrier with high-definition speakers,” or “Unearth the breathtaking difference of 8K resolution.” Seems obvious, doesn’t it? These are only a few examples of how to use a call to action to draw in a targeted demographic.