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If your last direct mail campaign was ignored by your target audience, one likely cause may be a weak call to action (CTA). If it isn’t compelling and doesn’t provide them with an immediate benefit, they will ignore it.

CTAs are the brief statements that tell your audience the action you want them to take. “Download our new report,” “Sign up today” and “Act now for a limited-time discount” are all examples of them. Often, marketers treat them as an afterthought or don’t know how to write CTAs that command the attention of their target audience. As a result, their costly direct mail campaigns achieve poor or mediocre results.

Why do CTAs even matter? Because your prospects are being bombarded with so many messages, in so many channels, that getting them to take any action – much less pay attention to YOUR message – is becoming next to impossible.

Along with an attention-getting creative design, a strong CTA is your best bet to persuade your prospects to engage with your messages and take action on your offers.

How to amplify the impact of your CTAs

How can you improve your direct mail CTAs so they cut through the clutter and achieve the results you need? Here are some best practices you should adopt:

The fundamentals:

  • What do you want them to do? It’s not enough just to make an offer in your direct marketing piece. You must tell your prospects what you want them to do next. Should they call someone? Visit a web page? Email you? Send something back by return mail? Use simple, demonstrative language to give easy instructions: “Call.” “Visit.” “Sign up.” “Register.”
  • Focus on a single goal: Before you write your call to action, have a clear goal in mind. Give your prospects one thing to do in your mailer, not several. For example, don’t confuse them by designing a prominent CTA but also display your phone number in a large font. Lack of clarity causes inaction.
  • Look for an emotional hook: What motivates your prospects? What is the “higher-order benefit,” the emotional reason they do business with you? Are they seeking peace of mind? A trusted partner? Strive to create curiosity and anticipation. What’s in it for them? If you can tap into emotional triggers with your CTA, you’ll increase your odds of motivating them to take action.
  • Use action words: Use as few words as possible and strong verbs to convey a sense of urgency and compel action. Ideally, your CTA should speak directly to the reader’s needs and should highlight a desirable outcome. Consider using words like “discover,” “join,” “profit” and “gain.” The word “now” is also a consistent attention-getter.
  • Avoid “friction words” in CTAs: These are words that imply that your prospect must give up something, such as time, money or energy. Examples include words such as “buy,” “sign up,” “submit,” “give,” “invest,” “donate” and “complete.” Low-friction words imply that your prospect can achieve gratification passively or with a minimum of work. Examples include: “Get,” “discover,” “reveal,” “earn” and “supercharge.”
  • Use industry-specific language: Customize your CTA to your target audience as much as possible. Make sure the wording and terminology of your copy speaks their language.
  • Draw the reader’s eyes to your CTA: When you’re designing the direct mail piece, pay careful attention to the visual hierarchy of text and images. Your design should naturally lead the reader’s eye to your call to action. You can do this via the use of contrasting colors and white space. Make the CTA big enough to command attention, but no so large that it becomes obnoxious.
  • Personalize your mailers – and even your CTAs, if possible – to increase their appeal to your prospects. It will help your campaigns to cut through the clutter.
  • Try using the first person in your CTA. Changing its text from the second person (“Start your free trial”) to the first person (“Start my free trial”) can often produce a lift in responses. It’s worth testing!

Offline/online integration

A frequent use of direct mail is to drive prospects to visit a landing page, a specialized type of web page that’s designed to promote a special report, offer registration for a webinar or give them access to other types of high-value content. This requires a specialized approach to CTAs, including these best practices:

  • Use a short, memorable, fun vanity URL (e.g., http://voodoodirectmail.com) that redirects prospects to a landing page on your website, where they can fill out a form and get access to your “gated” asset. This vanity URL must be easy for them to type.
  • If you’re communicating with a tech-savvy audience, you may want to consider incorporating a QR code into your direct mail piece. When the recipient scans it with his or her smartphone, the code opens the web page URL of your landing page.
  • Make sure the mailer and the landing page share a common visual theme. When the prospect arrives at your landing page, it should have a familiar look and feel.

Beyond the CTA

When you’re designing direct mail pieces with a call to action, always think about the next step you want your customer or prospect to take. For example, a downloadable eGuide shouldn’t be an end unto itself. It ought to have its own CTA, designed to move prospects one step closer to a sale.

For example, you could offer a 30-minute free consultation to prospective customers who have downloaded it or invite them to an exclusive event. The idea is to steadily draw them into a deeper level of engagement with your company, one step at a time.

Once you have their attention, don’t lose it!


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