In the copy and marketing biz, we know that every sales message needs a CTA or “call to action”. This basically means you tell the reader what to do — usually to take the next step to buy your product. It’s the copywriting equivalent of asking for the sale.

You’d think that someone who is reading your sales page or watching your TV commercial would automatically know what they’re supposed to do next. But study after study shows that actually telling them to “order now!” or “click the blue button” sells way better than leaving it to them to figure it out for themselves.

The problem is, most of us — and even most big advertisers — don’t think of using a CTA unless we are actively selling something. This isn’t just bad manners, but it means countless missed opportunities.

What’s So Great About Calls To Action?

The fact is that every piece of communication you put out there should have a CTA, even when (especially when!) you are not selling anything. I’m thinking especially of every email you send out. (I talk a lot about this in the Email module of my 3-Step Copy to Cash Machine program.)

A non-sales CTA can be:

  • Join my Facebook group
  • Check out this selection of our most popular posts
  • Watch this video
  • Sign up for my free webinar
  • Follow me on Twitter
  • Subscribe to our podcast
  • Click “like”
  • And much more.

(See today’s free download for a handy reference with 50+ ideas! )

There are so many things you can get people to do with CTAs.

But now you may be thinking — why would I bother to do this? What’s so great inviting people to do stuff that doesn’t make me any money?

Answer: there are some powerful psychological factors and marketing advantages that make CTAs investments that pay off big over time. Here are five:

1. CTAs train people to follow your commands

People who never use a CTA except when they are asking for a sale are the ones who get accused of being salesy. But if you use CTAs to give (not just to get) and make small, inconsequential, low-commitment requests, you make it easy for your people to say yes and feel good about it. Then, when you do make a real (as in, paid) offer. it’s not the first time you’ve asked them to do something. They’ve gotten used to doing what you tell them to do, and they’ve become accustomed to a pleasant experience when they do.  

2. CTAs are rungs on the “yes ladder”:  Related to the above is the principle of commitment and consistency. When you see Amazon suggest “People who liked this also liked that” it feels like a self-betrayal not to check out the other offers. That’s because no one likes to contradict themselves, as author Robert Cialdini writes in his classic must-read Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.  We’re more likely to do something after we’ve agreed to it verbally or in writing, he says. People strive for consistency in their commitments. They also prefer to follow pre-existing attitudes, values and actions. So when you get people saying yes to your free offers, it’s harder for them to say no to your paid ones, especially if you say something like, “If you’ve enjoyed my free content, check out our xyz program. It’s what you’ve already loved, only bigger and better.”  Salespeople use this principle in the practice of “yes laddering,” where small agreements early in the conversation lead to progressively bigger ones.

3. CTAs Present You as The Authority

By giving them commands, even small ones like “follow me on Twitter” and they comply, you have established a leader-follower dynamic. You are someone to be obeyed. It’s a similar vibe to them seeing you speaking on stage or even on a video. You are in the spotlight, giving direction, and they are watching and listening, so obviously you are in the superior position, and people listen to their superiors. (Cialdini cites this in Influence when he talks about the principle of Authority.) This obviously comes in handy later when you want them to buy from you. Greater authority can also allow you charge premium prices.

4. CTAs Grow your Audience and Build Your Brand Platform

When you get people to take actions like downloading your freebie or joining your Facebook group, you are building a warm audience for your products and services later on. You’re also building an asset that will make you more attractive to joint venture partners, podcast hosts and even book publishers (who won’t even look at an author these days who does not already have a “platform”).

5. CTAs Help Identify Your Hottest Prospects and what They Care About

When you put out frequent CTAs, certain people are going to begin to stand out. They’re the ones who click everything, download a lot, and show up wherever you are. These people are serious fans and should be paid attention to: both as hot prospects who are more likely to buy, and as valuable voices for market research. Once you’ve identified your most enthusiastic action-takers, you can make them offers directly or contact them to request a chat where you can get a more intimate sense of what’s attractive to them and why.  

Action item: From now on, whenever you put out any piece of content (an email, a blog post, a tweet, a Facebook live video, etc.) get in the habit of putting a CTA in, even if it’s a very small “ask”.  

Comment below: What calls to action do you use, and what new ones can you add? (Did you notice? That was a CTA 🙂