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.

Writing for Presentations


I’ve never thought of myself as a Powerpoint guru – and that “death by Powerpoint” phrase echoes loudly in my ears – but during the past few weeks I’ve been asked twice to help polish up some Powerpoints. One was for a real estate firm; one was for a publisher.

Both contained great information and made a strong case, but there were inconsistencies in the language as well as the design.

Fortunately, I was working with designers who were able to simplify, stylize and unify the visual aspect, but from a communication perspective, there was work to be done.

The rules of Powerpoint are not too different from other forms of presentation:

  • Know your audience
  • Understand the objective
  • Have a clear call to action
  • Offer logical thought progression
  • Open with an intro and close with an ask
  • Brand consistently
  • Include a content copyright
  • Use high quality images
  • Parse your words
  • Bullet the key points
  • Don’t switch pronouns mid-stream

This is not the place for a narrative or a mural. In other words, get to the point, keep it simple, make it visually clean.

With regard to audience, understanding their level of sophistication and familiarity with your product is critical. If you need to educate them from the ground level, you’ll want more material up front. If they already know who you are and just have to be sold, then you can jump right in. Although I usually advocate writing in third person, this is one place where first person works. “Welcome to our presentation. We hope you will join us…”

Next, step away from your desk and consider the topic as if you were stranger. What is this about? What do I need to know? What’s important here? What’s fluff? I’m not convinced. Can you say that again?  A diagram would really help.  I’d believe this number if you sourced it. I can’t read this tiny type so forget it!  Man, this presentation is screaming at me. This is so long, ho-hum, I wonder what’s for dinner… This is so short, they must not have much to say.

It’s very easy when we’re extremely close to a subject or passionate about it, to assume that others are, too. Nothing could be further from true.

As a viewer, it’s incredibly annoying being led down one path only to be sent in another direction by a presenter who digresses.  So map out an outline, and fill it with logical transitions.  Imagine this scenario: “So, this is what I wanted to say, but before I do, let me introduce this other thing, then get back to what I said in the beginning.” Haven’t we all been there? The joy of a presentation tool like Powerpoint is that it lets you move things around, so if you haven’t gone from A to B to C, you can re-order the elements. Good advice: keep it all moving in the same direction.

Presentations are an example where “Less is  More.” Just because a logo looks good on a page, you don’t need three of them, but by the same token, it’s smart to have a consistent repeating footer or template element that will remind viewers who you are.

Infographics can help, but please resist replicating the rainbow. An illustration that is clean, clear, and uncluttered – yes, minimal – usually works best. And while computer programs offer a wide array of interesting fonts, it’s wise not to use all of them on one screen. Ditto with background colors, bursts, and arrows. Use them discreetly… for relevance, not for show.

This is no place for iffy images. Do the legwork! Face it. You can’t enlarge a low res thumbnail or pull something off the web and expect it to hold up at wall-size. Take your own photos, secure source files, or buy a quality stock photo. (I’m a big fan of iStock, but there are numerous suppliers.) Make sure permissions are cleared when you take your own. Use a photo release.

Cut your words ruthlessly.  Sure, this is true: “Our location is the best around because it is easy to find and appeals to a wide range of affluent people in the area.” Better would be: Company Name followed by 3 bullets: * premium location, * high demographics, * travel hub.

Similarly, when talking about benefits, this would not be wrong: “We help sell your goods and services because we work hard and advertise them to groups that are interested in them, and we can reach prospects in many ways.” Better would be: Product Name followed by three bullets: * Target advertising, * Multimedia, * Proven Results.

Fine to recap your points at the end, but wrap it up fast with an easy response mechanism. Don’t unsell your audience. Leave people feeling smart and ready to buy…. or as some colleagues say, “Are you in?”