Calls to Action: Marketing Next Steps for Customers

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Building a Storybrand" by Donald Miller. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are calls to action in marketing? How can you incorporate them into your ads?

Calls to action in marketing are an important part of ads. This is the part of the marketing process that requires you to take the next step.

Read more about calls to action in marketing.

Calls to Action: Marketing Musts

The fifth of the seven story elements is to act. In a narrative, the guide pushes the hero to act. (Shortform example: In Lord of the Rings, Gandalf tells Frodo to take the ring to Mordor to destroy it.)

In branding, the brand calls the customer to action by providing a button on their website that allows the customer to buy or get more information about the brand’s products or services. (Shortform example: if you sell hand soap, you might create a button linking to a document called “How to Wash Your Hands Properly” that customers can download from your website for free.)

First, we’ll discuss the importance of using calls to action in marketing and learn about the two different types. Then, we’ll discuss how to employ them, and how to add them to your brandscript.

The Importance of Calls to Action in Marketing

Calls to action in marketing are critical because people don’t act unless something forces them to. For example, in Legally Blonde, Elle Woods decides to follow her boyfriend to law school only after he dumps her because he thinks she’s not “serious” enough to be his partner. If you want a customer to buy something, you need to take the initiative and push them to do so.

Additionally, what might seem obvious to a business owner isn’t necessarily clear to a customer. If we don’t clearly tell customers we want them to buy a product so it can solve their problem, they may not realize that’s what they’re supposed to do. It’s like asking a woman out by saying like “Do you like tea?” instead of “Will you go on a date with me to a teashop?” 

Two Types of Calls

There are two types of calls to action: direct and transitional.

Direct

Direct calls to action in marketing prompt a customer to take the first step towards buying a product. 

  • Example #1: A button on your website that says “Get a quote” is a direct call to action.
  • Example #2: The phrase “Call XXX-XXXX to buy today” on a print ad is a direct call to action.
Transitional

Transitional calls to action don’t ask your customers for a sale right away; instead, they interest a customer in your brand. When your customer does eventually need your product, ideally, she’ll remember your brand and go to you rather than a competitor.

  • For example, StoryBrand shared a free PDF about things a website should include and put an ad for their marketing workshop as the last page. Thousands of people viewed the PDF and over the next year, StoryBrand’s revenue doubled.

Transitional calls can do three things:

  • Create expert status. Designing a free PDF or webinar with information about your field shows that your brand is an industry expert. 
  • Encourage reciprocity. Giving out free information makes your brand look generous. If you give someone something for free, customers will be more inclined to give you something (an order) later.
  • Cast your brand as a guide. The guide’s role is to help the hero (customer) solve problems. If your call to action helps a customer solve a problem, you’re establishing your authority and competence, and the next time a problem comes up, the customer will be likely to turn to you again.

For more ideas on what to use as a transitional call, see Steps 2 and 3 in Chapter 11.

Use Both

Always include both types of calls in your marketing material. For those who aren’t ready to buy yet, the transitional call will strengthen their relationship with your brand. Imagine a direct call to action as asking someone to marry you and a transitional call as asking them out. It’s easier to get someone to marry you if you date them for a while first.

Place your call to action not only on your website but also on signs, radio ads, TV commercials, and email blasts. You can even put it in email signatures and business cards.

Balance

There is a point at which calls to action become annoying, but most companies never get anywhere near it. StoryBrand has never encountered a company that oversells, and what feels heavy-handed to a brand is often too subtle for a customer to even pick up on.

  • For example, some companies feel like it’s too much to include two call to action buttons on their website. In fact, two is the right amount—customers often don’t notice things the first time they see them.

Most brands severely underuse calls to action. Weak, or non-existent, calls imply that you don’t believe in your product. Customers don’t want debately useful products sold by brands that doubt themselves. They do want valuable products sold by brands that know their worth and believe they can change lives. 

For example, when the author was looking for a graphic design firm to create a presentation, he found two options. The first had a beautifully designed site but no obvious call to action. Because the author wasn’t clear on how he would do business with the firm, he moved on to the second option. This second site had both a transitional call(a PDF about how to make a great presentation) and direct call (a button to schedule an appointment). The author started with the transitional call, thought the PDF did a good job establishing the firm’s authority, and then clicked the direct call button.

Writing Your Brandscript

To write your brandscript:

  1. Return to your StoryBrand BrandScript or sheet of paper. 
  2. Come up with a direct call to action that you can use throughout your marketing material.
  3. Brainstorm possible transitional calls to action. Think about things that create expert status, encourage reciprocity, or cast your brand as a guide.
  4. Write your top ideas for calls on your script or sheet of paper.
Calls to Action: Marketing Next Steps for Customers

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Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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