The Pros & Cons of Choices in CTAs


A few weeks ago, I had the wonderful experience of going to a small town ice cream shop – one of those corner dairies reminiscent of the 1950’s, a wholesome place where the entire family would go after the beach or at the end of a  hot summer’s day.

Instead of typical vanilla and chocolate soft serve flavors, this establishment had 200 varieties. The menu also offered 80 hard ice cream flavors plus a variety of sherbets and yogurts, cakes and pies. My head was spinning by time I settled on a small Expresso soft serve in a cup. (Yes, I could have also had it in several types of cones, dipped or not dipped, turned into a sundae or festooned as a banana split.)

This experience made me think about the guidelines for Calls To Action in direct response.

I have always liked providing several options on the premise that marketers should make it easy for the customer to do business: send back this coupon, order online, swing by our office, call this toll-free number. But after my ice cream quandary, I can certainly see the point of keeping it simple, especially if you’re trying to track response.

In an ideal situation where on an online form (more info, register for webinar, request a demo) integrates with a database for lead capture, the last thing you want to do is send your prospect down the primrose path. You want to funnel them, nurture them and keep an eye on them whether you do it manually or through marketing automation.

If speed is important, then offering a “Click Through” button is a smart way to go. Click to register, click to learn more, click to vote.

But not everything is black and white when it comes to triggering response because psychology and emotions come into play. Here are some effective variations:

* In an email from the CEO or Sales Director, it’s nice to say, “I’d welcome a chance to personally answer your questions/discuss this opportunity. Feel free to contact me directly at XYZ email address.” If providing an individual address is risky, set up an alias – but do monitor and respond. Benefits: person appears interested and accessible; prospect feels important; response mechanism cuts through red tape and encourages spontaneity.

* For phone room sales or telemarketing, I’ve seen success in consolidating response time, i.e. create a “window” for response to suggest urgency. “Call between 7 and 9 to receive this special subscription offer.” That also maximizes manpower and does not tie up phone lines.

* Mobile offers/text messaging can brilliantly play to timeliness and geography. “Come to the pub at the corner of Main and Maple for a free beer tonight between 9 and 11.” (You already know your prospect is in the vicinity.)

* When you want a more engaged response – say, someone who is willing to pursue subsequent action –offer dual options: the first one, in response to the immediate offer/question and then a second option to allow for follow-up. For example: “Yes. Please contact me with future promotions.” “Yes. I would be interested in participating in a market study.”

* Let your call-to-action work double-duty with a ‘get a gift, give a gift’ tactic, especially where a free offer is involved. Provide additional lines to refer a friend or simply, a link (to email or social channels) to easily share the deal.

Regardless of technique, there are several ‘musts’ that a direct response writer should follow:

1. Include an offer or strong incentive with an expiration date
2. Secure a clean, quality list or targeting source
3. Be clear and transparent – no ambiguity about pricing, terms, delivery, or availability
4. Use disclaimers to avoid future problems (“while supplies last;” “rain checks available”)
5. “Satisfaction guaranteed” or “extended warranty” are phrases that add value and comfort
6. Repeat powerful words in a PS or on the mechanism itself: new, free,  exclusive
7. Code your response mechanism for tracking (mouse type for print or custom URL for web)
8. Provide language to those who handle responses; script multiple scenarios
9. Capture valuable information but be honest: “your personal data will” or “will not be shared with third parties”
10. Test response mechanisms by varying language for features, benefits, pricing, and restrictions

That means, try a bunch of Very Berry flavors as well as plain vanilla.

Still Marketing Like We Did in 1890

Boy, are we full of ourselves, thinking that new terminology makes today’s Media Marketing  unique. Sure, technology has changed the tools we use, and the speed of delivery has increased, but publishers in 1890 employed similar tactics to grow circulation and sell advertising.

Cover wraps with ads are not neew

What prompts this post is that I came across an old copy of  The Youth’s Companion, though it might have been a supplement (aka ‘special section’, “downloadable asset”) because it was chock-full of house ads and self-promotions, including a complex subscription incentive program.

The Youth’s Companion was in circulation between 1827 and 1929, published by a Boston company called Perry Mason. (Wonder if that inspired the TV series by the same name…) This was perhaps the most prominent children’s magazine of its time and survived for more than 100 years before merging with The American Boy in 1929.

A little known fact – at least I didn’t know it – is that it was their circulation manager, Francis Bellamy, who penned the Pledge of Allegiance in 1892. Talk about great copywriting!  In an extensive direct mail campaign (probably never referenced as such), they sent leaflets to thousands of schools where the pledge was slowly embraced as the morning opener. Hmmm, sponsored content? In 1942, the pledge was officially adopted by Congress. That would probably be akin to a  high Klout score.

What struck me most in reviewing my 1890 copy is that it upholds the old adage: “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”


The Dangers of Good Movie Marketing




Before there’s an outcry from the advertising community, let me qualify this headline by saying that when I’m not blogging, I’m a media Marketing Director. That means I value smart marketing and the hard work that goes into advertising.

However, as a consumer, I feel I’m often betrayed by successful Marketing. Why? Because powerful Marketing obscures gems with fewer resources and lower profiles.

This came to mind a few weeks ago when I went to see The Avengers . I really didn’t want to go, but heck, it was a summer movie, one of the actors was a home town boy, and there had been plenty of TV coverage a few days prior. Admittedly, the casting was spot-on, the dialogue was snappy, and the costumes and effects were fun. This all would have been fine had I not seen an obscure Netflix movie the night before.

If I had been paying attention in 2010, I would have known that Incendies, a Canadian film based on a Wajdi Mouawad play called “Scorched,” had taken the Toronto Film Festival by storm. [I’m intentionally including a link that does not reveal the ending.]

If this movie had gotten the publicity of more commercial Academy Award nominees, I might have recalled that it had been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.

However, this film was under-marketed in the United States, I assume because it was not “light entertainment” and the actors’ names were not household words. Yet, this film was gripping, compelling, disturbing, and uplifting all at the same time – among the best films I have seen. One reviewer praised it for allowing the viewer to be one step ahead of the plot as it unraveled. I suppose watching it subtitled in French gave it additional mystique.

This film – with its tight, intimate story line – has been in my head ever since, while the slick and heavily marketed Avengers, quickly exited. Ditto John Carter… Ditto Rock of Ages. Meanwhile, Columbiana, another”unknown” film, turned up in our Netflix queue and exposed a raw slice of life, leaving residual questions that have also lingered.

This irony reminds me of the average politician who is endowed with a war chest vs the  exceptional public servant who is not… the terrible singer who has a terrific agent.

In that most of us writers have neither war chests nor agents, we must rely on ourselves to combat the aggressive and often unfounded Marketing of others.  Here are a few tips:

  • Use social media to build your own brand – establish a voice
  • Become an expert in a field – and seek opportunities to educate
  • Speak and contribute ideas publicly
  • Write a Letter to the Editor or comment on a blog
  • Self-publish electronically or in print
  • Enter writing competitions, join writers clubs
  • Mingle with like-minded people – workshops, book signings
  • Read a wide range of content to broaden your perspective
  • Make an appearance in a power setting – posh party, exclusive event
  • Identify mentors who can help you get noticed
  • Grow your network and rekindle influential ties

By the way, I’ve since learned that the New York Times named Incendies one of the Ten Best Films of 2010. That’s actually comforting. Although I knew it in my heart of hearts, I feel so much better seeing an endorsement.  Ahh, testimonials … Marketing 101.

“Great” Ain’t So Great. Put a Macro Lens on Your Language.

Playing with a macro lens the other day, I was reminded that cabbage isn’t necessarily a dull green ball.  macro-red-cabbage-200-px-c-2012-wordsonthefly1 In fact, it can
be violet
, royal, laced with intricate, sensual patterns in white, a labyrinth of curves and crevasses. It’s certainly more than coleslaw and the makings for “Holiskhes.”

The same is true about words. Take the word “Great,” for instance. I’m so tired of hearing it, and yet I’m as bad as the next guy in using it:   “Great to see you!” “What a great idea!” “Isn’t that great news?” But what has “great” told us? Absolutely nothing, other than to convey a sense of elation.

“Great” is one of the biggest wastes of space when you’re counting words. Why use up a Tweet character or air time on a mundane word when there are so many others that add substance. “Great” is convenient but lazy.

Think about business writing, when you have to convey a message fast. Say you have the prospect’s attention for 5 seconds and you opt for a headline that reads, “Greatest widget around.” Well, woopdedoo! You’ve offered no concrete information. Put that phrase under a macro lens and look at it closer.

Consider: “New, portable widget” or “Blue widget at half price” or “The last widget you’ll ever need because it’s so durable.” Now you’re saying something.
Examine the widget further.

How does it feel?  Taste? Smell? What emotion does it evoke? Confidence? Delight? Nostalgia?

“Rugged widget for the serious outdoorsman,” “Widget just like Grandma used to make,” “Succulent widget with a hint of saffron.” You see, it doesn’t matter what the widget is, but as a writer, you must make it unique. “Great” just doesn’t cut it.


Now think about carrots. Gorgeous color. Refreshing crunch. Healthy, too.  Much like cabbage, when seen through a macro lens, there’s much more than meets the eye. There’s form and structure, rings of growth, a tuft of green at the top, and a root with incomprehensible persistence.

Now look at your widget as you looked at those carrots. “Widgets grown from the warm earth,” “Laser cut widgets for precision,” “Collectible widgets etched with the maker’s mark.”

Align your widget with a purpose to suggest value. “Widgets for the busy professional,” “Widgets to relax the mind and restore the spirit,” “Widgets that can be worn with red party pumps or beach sandals.”

Now mix it up. See what happens when you combine bright purple cabbage, bold orange carrots, and a few sweet dried cranberries for fun.  This is so much better than “great.” Under the lens it is a “canvas of color,” “a burst of unexpected flavor,” “a landscape of texture and taste.” So back to your widget.  Maybe it offers an “effervescent splash of citrus,” “an aura of mystery,” or “a playful combination of polka dots against crisp white cotton.”

So set aside your old widget and give it a word makeover. Look at it with fresh eyes. Turn it upside down, inside out.  Describe it as if your audience has never seen a widget before. Surprisingly, your widget will no longer be just plain “great.”

Writing for Results: Customer Communication

How do you get results? There are two rules of thumb: (1) Determine the action you want (different actions warrant different writing styles) and (2) make it easy for people to do business with you (offer flexible response options boldly included in several places)

Good writing is not a haphazard selection of words. Effective copywriting works like a well-oiled machine:  Clean, precise, durable.


Help your clients clarify their goal.  Ask:
Do you want the reader to pick up the phone and call you? Click a link or go online and order something? Visit your store? Do you want the reader to e-mail you for more information or perhaps, provide information to you? Do you want the reader to do nothing more than think good thoughts about you, maybe change their perception of you? Do you want the reader to spread the word about you and join your social community? Give to your cause or volunteer?

Fine-tuning the desired results will shape the way you write. It’s not enough for a client to say, “I want the flyer/webpage/postcard to drive business.”

They need to drill down– so probe:

  • Are you trying to attract a new client/member?
  • Upsell a current client/member?
  • Woo back a lost client/member?


  • How did you lose this client – to competition, faulty product, or poor customer service?
  • Was this a long time client who may just need a graceful way/a good excuse to return?
  • Was this a short term client who ran into some snags and didn’t have a chance to see your good side?
  • Was this a client with a legitimate gripe?
  • Was this client a complainer you could never satisfy?

Adjust your copy points accordingly so your message is loud and clear:

  • car-horn-with-flag-reflections-sm2 A client lost to competition needs to know about the value, convenience, or price advantages you offer.
  • A client lost to shoddy workmanship should receive an apology, a make-good, and a warranty.
  • A client lost to poor service should receive high-level outreach to better understand the situation and then an invitation to participate on an advisory panel or in a survey.
  • A long-time client might return with a “We miss you” mailer, coupled with a good offer.
  • A short-term client might respond to a timely, “boy, is our face red” letter owning up to the problems – and a request for a second chance.
  • Nothing says lovin’ like a refund – so if your client’s complaint is legit, stand behind your brand.
  • If this client can’t be satisfied regardless of your efforts, steer them to the competition.

Need some phrases? Try these:

  • Dear Customer, Two years have passed since we serviced your furnace, and we miss ensuring premium heating and safety standards for you. Were you aware that last year we started a new environmental program and a “rate holder” option?  We also won a “Best in the Business” award from the local Chamber of Commerce. We’d welcome a chance to tell you about our enhanced service and new fuel purchasing packages. We realize you’re busy, so if you’ll give us a half hour of your time, we’ll give you a $25 gift certificate to (favorite local restaurant) – a happy client who is thoroughly enjoying their A+ Service & Pricing Plan.
  • Dear Customer, We understand you had a problem with our  blue widgets, and boy, are we embarrassed! We received a manufacturer’s recall notice after receiving our latest shipment and immediately removed them from our shelves. However, it appears that you purchased a display sample that had been inadvertently tossed into a clearance bin. That’s why you had a problem. Please accept our check for $31.80 to cover the cost of the widget plus tax, along with a coupon for 10% off your next purchase. We hope this will help reestablish your trust in us.
  • Dear Customer, Thank you for contacting us regarding the stitching on the pillow you purchased from us. We’re sorry the seams have failed to meet your needs. Our records show that we replaced the pillow at no cost six months after purchase in keeping with our return policy. You mentioned in your e-mail that you discovered the torn seams after your children had a pillow fight. In that we sell this pillow as a decorative item, it is not constructed to withstand the rigorous usage of athletic gear. You might try“Outdoor is Us” for heavy-duty camping pillows.