The Call to Action: Beyond Marketing

Updated: May 14

You may have heard of the marketing "Call to Action," or CTA for short. It's a fairly well-known concept even among non-marketing people. However, what is not well-known about CTAs is how important they are to a business, not only for marketing but as a guiding star for all planning and operations. The importance of the CTA is clearly not well understood on average, because it is so poignantly missing from so many businesses' marketing materials.


Defining Your Key Action


The key to succeeding in business is actually quite simple: specific action. Not just action, but specific action, or what I like to call a key action. Just like there are many house keys in existence but only a single unique one that will open your house, there are many possible actions your customers can commit but only one specific one that will open up your organization to growth.


Quick, can you say what your business’s key action is? Here is how to identify it:


  • Step 1 is to realize that your customers’ key action is essentially to buy what you are selling. That applies no matter if you are selling product, services, or dreams.

  • Step 2 is to name the thing customers literally have to do in order to buy. “Add to Cart.” “Donate Now.” “Volunteer.” You want strong, unambiguous words that fit on a button.

You may think this doesn’t apply for you because you aren’t actually selling products. But whether you are selling a physical product, or a service, or are trying to get people to donate to your non-profit cause, in essence you are selling something to them. You may be selling them a set of tires for their truck, or you may be selling a dream of ending world hunger. The idea is, they pay, you deliver. You may even be asking your prospects to volunteer their time instead of money, but even then, they will still be giving you something and they will still expect to get something back out of it. Every organization is transactional and every employee is a sales person.


Now, back to your key action. Everyone who uses the internet is familiar with this key. It is called the “Call to Action,” or CTA for short. It is the tip of your spear, thrusting you into the heart of your target market. Here are some you may recognize from around the web:


Missing the Obvious


This concept may now seem obvious. And it kind of is. But how many websites do you see where the CTA isn’t prominent, or isn’t even there? How many company representatives, when asked to introduce their organization, blather on and on but don’t incite their audience to take specific action?


And another thing: how many of your employees are spending time on projects that don't have a role in helping drive customers to buy what you are selling? The problem is, when CTAs are not officially defined on paper by management, then the people executing the work don’t keep the main CTA in focus. Businesses, departments, and employees get so wrapped up in the details of daily operations that they lose sight of the most important thing.


Multiple CTAs


It should be noted that your organization may have multiple CTAs. If you must have multiple CTAs, they should be placed in a hierarchy. For example, a non-profit performing arts center may need to sell tickets, gather donations, and find volunteers. “Buy Tickets” should still be recognized as most important, but “Donate” and “Volunteer” also need to be in the mix.


The reason for the hierarchy is that having multiple CTAs complicates the choices you have to present for potential customers. You need to avoid complication in marketing materials because it's a killer for sales conversions. To deal with this challenge, your CTAs need to be defined up front and then carefully designed into your sales pitches, marketing materials, and internal priorities, all in their time and place. If your multiple CTAs are allowed to compete with each other ad hoc they will become a visual or aural mess.


Planning for Success


At the very start of your business plan you should not only define your key Call to Action, but recognize its primary importance in your business. A CTA is not just a marketing thing. It is the prime directive. It sets the priorities for your internal operations. It writes your sales teams’ pitches. It guides the design of your marketing pieces. It guides the design of your products. It is the guiding star for your customers to take action. Keeping it in focus will help you prioritize your annual budget. The CTA is the penultimate thing that’s going to make or break your organization.


You cannot afford to forget it, or to take it for granted.


Putting Yourself on Notice


Sometimes when you are buried in to-do lists the most obvious things are the easiest to forget. Your business’s key CTA is no exception. From now on, start looking for the call to action when you listen to or view communications from your own and other organizations. You’ll notice, lots of people are forgetting. What a loss! You will put yourself many steps ahead if you just understand the importance of the CTA and always keep it front-and-center, externally and internally.


In closing, there is no better way to wrap this article up than to leave you with this:


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