What Is a Call to Action?

Imagine that you have a chance encounter on the street with an old friend. You’re delighted to see her. It’s lunchtime, and you start talking about a marvelous restaurant you happen to know that’s just around the corner. You rhapsodize about the delicious delicacies you’ve enjoyed there. You paint such a vivid picture that your friend’s mouth actually starts to water. Then you say, “Well, we must do lunch sometime” and you walk away.

What went wrong? You omitted the call to action. You didn’t say, “I’m hungry. Come on, let’s go have lunch there right now.”

It’s exactly the same with promotional writing of any kind, whether for the Web, direct mail, radio, email, television, or any medium you care to name. If you want your reader to do something specific, like place an order, make a phone call, or send for more information, you must include a clear call to action.

For a truly effective call to action you must prepare your reader with language that engages the senses and the emotions, just as you did in the imaginary scene about the restaurant. Then you must follow through by giving an emphatic, clear imperative to take a specific action at a specific time. The best calls to action include a sense of urgency (“I’m hungry”), a command (“Come on, let’s go have lunch”), and a timeframe (“right now”).

Next time you’re writing a promotional piece designed to elicit action from the reader, remember that all the engaging preparation in the world won’t get the desired result if you neglect to include a clear call to action.

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