Are our calls to action too demanding?

23rd June 2016 | Posted in Content creation

The style of a call to action affects people's decisions

Yesterday we took the day off and drove down to the coast. By the time we got there I was fighting an impulse to pull over, knock on various strangers’ doors and complain that their attitude was patronising, over-bearing and downright out of order.

I totally admit that would have been a complete over-reaction. But it had been a bad week.

So what had these people done that was incensing me?

They were telling me what to think about something really important. They had posters in their windows and billboards in their gardens with a single word “LEAVE”.

This was the day before polling day where the nation decided whether we would stay in the European Union or go it alone.

Argument has been fierce and everywhere. All over the local community Facebook and Streetlife groups online. In the pubs. In the hairdressers. Even more hotly debated than the football.

One thing that was clear. Those who wanted to leave were far more vocal than those who preferred to remain. And they wanted to convert. So while many argued their case, many simply shouted “LEAVE”.

To which I have felt the need increasingly to respond “Don’t tell me what to do”.

Are there lessons for business?

This is a special case. The outcome will affect our lives hugely, and those of our children.

But on the long drive home (during which I failed to engage in battle with anyone) this got me start thinking again about CTAs in general.

I’ve written about them before. And, yes, I recognise that the context of a CTA on a blog or a website is obviously very different to this life-changing situation.

But there’s still this issue of command or encouragement. When is it OK to just tell your audience what to do, and when do you need to give them more space to make their decision?

The who, where and why

Context is important of course.

Let’s say a visitor has arrived on a landing page through a tweet or an email. They’ve already actively expressed some interest in an offer of content, such as an ebook or white paper, or they wouldn’t be there. So following through on that offer by using a button that simply says “Download the guide” works fine.

But what if someone is reading a blog or a newsletter and hasn’t yet made any decisions about what they want to do next, if anything? Do we make demands on the page “Download the ebook”, “Watch the video”, “Sign up for the newsletter” without any further explanation? Knowing your audience, will they do as they’re told? Or will they be slightly irritated? And will that undo all the goodwill you’re trying to establish by offering free content?

As a copywriter I believe audiences need more than that. On the blogging site I edit, we offer further articles to read or guides to download, but in a gentle way that leaves the choice with the reader. We write, for example, “If you found this article useful you may like to read …” and a selection of article and download links with a brief explanation of why they would be useful. That’s the right way to do it for our audience, who are stressed-out individuals with personal challenges.

More generally, wherever I write calls to action, I offer a benefit to the reader for taking that action, such as “Read this article to find out why ….” It’s an encouragement that keeps the potential customer on the early stages of the buying journey. Then “Call our sales team to discuss how we can help you keep your staff up-to-date on the latest regulations cost-efficiently” puts the choice back with the reader but dangles the benefits of taking the next step into the sales process.

How do you work it out?

There are numerous factors to take into account. Is this a B2B or B2C CTA – for a business or a personal decision? Have we got to grips with understanding the audience through creating personas that remind us of their needs, desires and likely reactions? Is there passion involved or is the “buying” decision more likely to be a logical choice based on costs and benefits? Does culture of your audience make a difference – do some prefer a gentle approach and others are quite comfortable with directness?

It’s always about putting yourself in the shoes of your audience. And if you think they’ll have mixed reactions, then consider whether encouragement or command will win over more hearts.

And with that said, I’m off to vote.

How can I help you?

Would you like help with creating calls to action that work with your audience? Or would you like to start with building personas that define your audience and writing with their needs and aspirations in mind? Visit the website to find out more about how I can help you craft successful marketing communications or contact me now on [email protected]


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