The Power of the CTA in Direct Response Marketing Online


Direct response marketing is a favorite tool of marketing experts, largely because of how highly measureable it is.

Knowing exactly how well your market is responding to your requests that they “click here,” “email now” or “call today” can allow you to quickly respond when an ad campaign isn’t going quite the way you expected, yet so many marketers are still not taking advantage of direct response online, and instead are waiting for their visitors to make the first move.

The Power of the Call to Action

There’s no one single vehicle in the marketing game that can create as much response as the simple call to action, but too many marketers overlook the power of the CTA.

In fact, a 2013 survey of online businesses performed by Small Business Trends showed that up to 70 percent of small businesses surveyed had no clear calls to action on their homepages, and up to 72 percent lacked CTAs on their interior pages — 27 percent don’t even include contact phone numbers!

Unfortunately, even if these companies are only hoping to build brand awareness with their sites, it’s impossible to know if potential customers are responding without giving a clearly defined CTA to motivate them further to click, call or find out more. CTAs are measureable metrics for direct response online, but beyond that, they speak to the animal brain that’s a part of all of us.

The Psychology of CTAs

The CTA is more than just an enthusiastic encouragement for lookers to become buyers, it’s a marketing tool with deep roots in human psychology. It may seem to be too obvious to be so complex, but the CTA actually functions using a variety of psychological principles, including:

Expectation. We’re designed to expect certain things will happen based on our life experiences and the current conditions surrounding us. Psychologists call these groups “sets”, and the two we’re most concerned with in marketing are the perceptual set and the mental set. The mental set is composed of all the things we have experienced and learned along our journey to that buying point. The perceptual set involves the stimulus that we’re focusing on when we’re making the buying decision.

These two sets combine to help us form expectations, such as the expectation of what will happen next – such as seeing a CTA after a marketing presentation. When a customer views a presentation and has decided that they’re interested enough to pursue the product further, they expect they’ll see a CTA so they can get more information or buy the product. This is why it’s so important to ask buyers to do something specific about their interest, instead of just leaving them to their own devices.

Curiosity. Humans are innately curious and love the idea of pursuing the novel, there’s no doubt about it. When you introduce a product that they’ve never seen before, or somehow improves significantly on older models, customers naturally wonder if it will be the solution to the problems they have. You can arouse curiosity by giving a presentation that promises more than is on the surface (movie trailers are a great example of this), and use the CTA to satisfy that curiosity.

Anticipation. We spend a large part of our mental energy anticipating everything, from when the toast will pop out of the toaster to how our spouse will feel about a surprise purchase. Because we’re natural anticipators, and seem to actually derive some pleasure from certain types of anticipation, it can be a powerful marketing tool. Building up your product with a positively-charged story creates rising anticipation that can be relieved with a simple CTA.

Reward. The online world has taught us to expect a swift reward for doing an action, shortening the time we have to wait for gratification. If a buyer has a lot of positive associations with direct response online, they’ll be more likely to click in order to get a new reward for their efforts. This reward might be the satisfaction of the psychological states above, or it could be receiving a bonus by taking advantage of a short-term offer.

CTAs are still among the most powerful ways to catch the attention of potential customers, both online and off. Taking advantage of the easy measurability of direct response online only makes sense, especially when you understand the forces driving the call to action’s success.


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