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5 golden rules to improve the call to action

Wooden scrabble tlles spelling out Go for it, with a speech bubble calling out action!

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Why read this? : Your call to action tells customers what you want them to do next. We share why you need it, and lots of examples of where you use it. Learn the 5 golden rules you can use to improve the call to action. Read this to understand how to make it clear what you want customers to do. 

Writing advertising and sales copy is full of many challenges. And one of the hardest challenges is getting the call to action right. 

The call to action comes at the end of each stage of your customer experience. It tells the audience what you want them to do next. 

It’s plainly written and the action it drives needs to help deliver the business objective. If the customers don’t do what you ask them, you won’t get the outcome you want.

Wooden scrabble tlles spelling out Go for it, with a speech bubble calling out action!

So it’s easy to feel under pressure when you write the call to action. After all, it influences whether you hit your objective or not. 

But remember, it’s part of the business writing process. Get the other steps right first, and the call to action seals the deal.

Why do you need a call to action?

Our guide to brand identity introduces the concept of the brand choice funnel.

The brand choice funnel shows customers go through a similar series of steps before they buy. 

The steps vary by category in how long they take, and how the customer moves through them.

The steps might be long and require a lot of active thinking – buying a new car for example. 

Or they might be quick and need little thought –  trying out a new flavour of crisps for example.

The brand choice funnel - trust - aware - consider - trial - loyalty - repeat purchase

But generally the steps themselves are similar. First, customers need to trust your brand and know who you are (awareness). They need to decide what you offer is relevant, and meets their needs (consideration). And once they decide to buy (trial), they also need to decide if they’ll buy again (and become loyal customers).

At each stage, you can use advertising and sales copy to influence the customer – to be aware, to consider and so on. But you also need to tell them what action’s needed, so they move to the next stage.

That’s your call to action. 

Without it, you risk customers being unclear what they need to do next. The call to action helps customers by giving specific instructions. 

Examples of a call to action

Advertising on its own is good for driving awareness. But unless it’s a low risk product or there’s some sort of heavy price discount, advertising is rarely enough to convince someone to buy. Customers usually need to do something else before they buy.  

So the advert can encourage them to learn more or contact us or make an appointment. These calls to action move customers from awareness to consideration. If they act on them, they’re clearly considering your brand.

But with consideration, you then want customers to choose your brand above all others. You use calls to acton like request a sample, try a demo or book a free trial. These actions move the customer from consideration to trial, because the customer tries the brand. 

But obviously, you want the trial to turn into regular buying. For customers who’ve tried, your calls to action then focus on repeat buying.

If you manage an e-Commerce store for example, your call to action on the product page is very clearly buy. Or even buy now for added urgency. 

And after a purchase, you want them to repeat that action in the future. Re-order, buy again or sign up for a subscription for example. All calls to action. 

So when writing copy, work out where the customer is in the brand choice funnel. Work out where you want them to move next. This focusses you on the customer’s needs and your business goal.

An old pocket watch dangling hypnosis style in front of a leather chair with a speech bubble saying "Buy me..."

Golden Rule 1 - Context matters - where and when

The brand choice funnel gives you context. It helps you set the objective for the advertising and sales copy. We need to get the customer to consider or try for example. 

But trust, awareness and consideration aren’t actions. They’re states of mind.

Your call to action isn’t trust us, be aware of us or consider us. It needs to be more specific and concrete. Learn more. Visit our website. Book an appointment. Request a sample. 

These are tangible actions for the customer to do

Give the customer actions that make sense in the context. Put yourself in their shoes and base the call to action on what they want to do next. 

Think about when they’ll see the call to action for example. If a customer doesn’t even know who you are, a buy now call to action will sound pushy and presumptive. But buy now makes sense if the customer’s seen your adverts, read your website and has made it your e-Commerce product page

Think about where they’ll see it. When audiences passively see messages e.g. adverts in the middle of a TV show, overt calls to action can feel intrusive and annoying because they weren’t looking for them.  

But if they’re actively looking at messages e.g. they’ve gone on to your website, overt calls to actions are much more welcome because they’re expected. 

Use psychology and insights

Good calls to action understand what the customer needs, and when and where they need to see it.

Well timed and well placed calls to action link closely with the design principle of progressive disclosure (see our article on design psychology).

With progressive disclosure, you only reveal information when and where people need it.

So, the call to action should only appear when and where the customer needs it. 

For example, let’s say your advertising goal is to drive website visits so customers consider your band. Then visit website is your call to action. 

Don’t then add in more calls to action to the advert – contact us, buy now, sign up for updates and so on. That’s confusing. Save those calls to action for your website when customers are considering your brand, and you want to move them to the next stage. 

This clarity and single-mindedness brings us to our second golden rule for calls to action.

Golden Rule 2 - Get to the point

Look at some of the call to action examples we mentioned earlier :-

  • Learn more
  • Contact us
  • Make an appointment
  • Request a sample
  • Book a demo
  • Buy
  • Re-order
  • Buy again
  • Sign up
Triangular warning sticker with large exclamation mark on a wall. Sticker has many rips and tears in it.

Notice how clear they are. No more than 3 words. No ambiguity. 

You know exactly what’s going to happen next. These are easy concrete actions to do something, not complex abstract concepts to think about.

While you may need to explain complex abstract concepts elsewhere in the customer experience, don’t do it with the call to action. 

The call to action drives action obviously. The clue’s in the name. Actions need clear and concrete language. Calls to action are decisive and definitive. If they’re not, they don’t work.

You can make it even clearer by making the design of the call to action back up the clarity of the words. 

On your advertising, make the call to action stand out separately from the rest of the copy. Make it big, make it prominent, and make it the last thing the audience see. 

On your website, make the design of your call to action buttons consistent. Notice on our site how our call to action buttons are always red, and always bigger than the body copy. They stand out. 

These all help the customer. But of course, you can only tell they work if and when the customer uses them. For that, you need to test. 

Golden Rule 3 - Test it out

For all you think you know what customers want, and as clear as you make the call to action, the only way to really know it works is to test it with customers. 

In traditional advertising, this is pre-launch testing where you show customers mock-ups of different versions of adverts before they’re made.

You ask for feedback to understand which ones work best, including different call to action options.

(see also our article on advertising evaluation). 

Two men holding pencils comparing notes on a piece of paper in in front of macbooks

You can do this qualitatively in focus groups, or with online panels for a more quantitative answer. 

With smaller campaigns though, it’s often faster, cheaper and easier to run test campaigns. You run multiple versions of the advertising to small audience segments and see which ones work best.

Historically, this was very common with direct mail response adverts for example. You’d run different versions of adverts in local newspapers and magazines at low cost.

But you’d make the response code or address slightly different on each. So you’d know which advert versions worked best.

Digital media works similarly.

It’s relatively cheap to run multiple versions of different adverts on social media channels and test the response. 

If you advertise on Facebook or Google for example, you’re encouraged to try out different call to action options (usually three) of the same advert.

You look at the response data afterwards to evaluate click-through rates, and learn which version works best.

Facebook post originally on Instagram of woman wearing Three-brains Blue Controller Hoodie design

Golden Rule 4 - Make it helpful

The call to action is part of your overall relationship with the customer. 

On its own, the call to action can seem overly directive, even bossy.

But remember, if you’ve placed it where and when the customer needs it, then it’s actually doing the customer a favour. 

You’re helping them make a decision. They know where to go and what to do. You’re eliminating confusion. That’s helpful. 

Close up of two hands in a handshake

They know if they do what you ask, they’re closer to their goal of satisfying their need. Calls to action make it easier for customers to reach their goals.

Remember, you’re the expert in your brand and your customer experience. Customers listen to experts and are happy to do what they ask, as long as it benefits them. 

Good advertising and sales copy means customers see the call to action as an obvious next step. They don’t think about it, because it’s clear and expected.

But you also need to remember, your call to action has to be consistent with your brand identity and your competitive strategy

Brands who focus on cost and price can go direct to sales driven calls to action. Brands who focus on differentiation may need to make the call to action more subtle, and more information or engagement driven first.

Either way, as long as it’s helpful, customers will use it. 

Golden Rule 5 -  Link calls to action together

As we said at the start, every call to action moves customers one step closer to their goal. They help them meet their needs.

Ultimately, if all the calls to action work, they’ll buy your brand.

So consider how your different calls to action work together to move customers through the journey.

You want to create a sense of desire and urgency. Customers need to want to act, and feel they’re missing out if they don’t.

Think through each step of the customer experience journey. Think about what you want the customer to do next. Make the actions relevant to the customer and what they need.

For simple price driven products, you may only need one sales led call to action. For more complex products, you may need a series of calls to action that smoothly moves customers through each step.

Easier to act than not act

Aim to make it easier for customers to act than not act. Every action the customer takes builds the connection. It’s part of your overall CRM approach to continue to engage them until they become loyal customers. Relevant and helpful calls to action help you do this. 

But make sure your final call to action clearly asks for the sale. It’s the ask that can make some people feel uncomfortable, and that they’re being too forward. But the sales call to action should be stated clearly, with passion and commitment. 

By that point your brand should have made clear the benefit it offers. It’s only being helpful when your call to action points to how customers get hold of that benefit.

Conclusion - Improving the call to action

The call to action spells out to customers what they need to do to get closer to their goal at each stage of the journey.

It’s helpful to customers. At the point you deliver it, customers want direction.

If the customer isn’t going to act, the call to action doesn’t matter anyway. But it matters to customers who know what they need.

A clear and confident call to action helps those customers achieve their goal. 

Close up of a hand with thumb up

Test out the call to action as much as you can. Look at the different responses you get. Build up a list of ideas and ways of expressing the call to action that work the best for your target audience. 

It’s part of building a relationship with them. And if it’s clear and helpful, they’ll thank you for it. 

Check out our guide to sales copy for more on this topic. Or contact us if you need help crafting your own call to action. 

Photo credits

Go for it (adapted) : Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Hypnosis Pocket Watch (adapted) : Photo by MK Hamilton on Unsplash

Attention sign : Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Two people with macbooks and notepads :  Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

Handshake : Photo by Cytonn Photography on Pexels

Woman taking payment in a Coffee Shop : Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Thumb up (adapted) : Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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