Always Have Something To Do: Make It Actionable

A call to action is a necessary part of product marketing

What would you call a marketing message without a call-to-action?

I would call it an essay. Or a menu. Possibly a think piece. It certainly would not be an example of effective content.

It’s one of the most basic rules of marketing, and one that’s been noted many times. And it should be central to any material you create.

Be An Action Hero

The necessity of a call-to-action is probably obvious. It’s easy to end a website with a button to “learn more”, or a white paper with a phone number to “schedule a demo”. It’s much harder to make the call-to-action central to your content.

You want your prospects to follow the journey you’ve laid out for them, learning all the way along the path. You need them not to get lost. How can this be done?

  • Make the next step on the journey flow naturally from the last. Is your prospect in a position to pick up a phone? If not, don’t make the next step a phone call. Is your prospect likely to read a white paper but not to sit through a presentation? If so, don’t offer a webinar. You may only learn these characteristics of your market through trial and error, so be sure to look at the data your funnel is generating. Being consistent will reduce noise in the data.
  • Have the next step be a specific follow-up from the current step. If your prospect is reading your message about how your customers have improved their processes, she is wondering if you can do the same for her. The next step should involve an offer to evaluate her process. Anything else – particularly something more generic such as an offer to “learn more” – will not be specific enough. Try to imagine what question your content has raised, and offer to answer it.
  • Above all, present a single call-to-action, not a menu. If your customer wants to step off the path you have created, she will have the resources to do so. Your materials have already provided a phone number to call. If your customer wants to buy right now, she can pick up the phone and contact your sales team immediately.
  • Contact information alone is not a call-to-action.

Choose Your Customer’s Adventure

Creating great calls to action requires defining your marketing journey in advance. Start with the journey, and lay out each step you want your customer to follow on a whiteboard. Each step should involve a distinct piece of learning, which drives your customer to take the next step.

Once you have defined the journey, then you are ready to decide what materials you need to support each step. And only then are you ready to create the materials. If you start by producing the content, it will be difficult to craft a journey that makes sense.

What is the most compelling call to action you’ve ever seen?


Call to Action by Maria Elena  CC BY 2.0

Consistency: A Characteristic to Count On

Cal Ripken is consistent. Marketing content must be consistent also

A few months ago, I was researching B2B software vendors in a niche market. One of these companies (which will remain nameless) caught my eye with its highly uneven language.

This company sells a range of solutions that depend on a similar technology backbone. Most of these solutions are described using standard B2B jargon: “high-tech companies rely on” this to manage functions “from collaboration to management” or from “net to gross”. Everything was written in blocky paragraphs in the third person. I could imagine Siri reading these sentences to me while I sat in a conference room at the airport Hilton. It’s a common approach to storytelling.

Then I clicked on the company’s newest solution and encountered a totally different voice. Suddenly, everything was “we believe in simplicity” and “you’ll feel the power of our user-friendly administration!” Gone was the voice of authority, in was a first-person pitch with short sentences, contractions, and exclamation points. The materials provided the same type of detail, yet I was left with a wholly different impression. I felt as if I were listening to a junior sales rep speaking over the hubbub of happy hour at SXSW.

I’m purposefully making both of these tones sound unattractive – but not because either one is necessarily wrong. The problem was their juxtaposition. Seeing these two completely different voices together, I was unsure who the company was. Perhaps their products were equally inconsistent. Perhaps one of their product lines was recently acquired, and neither the marketing nor the software was integrated yet. Two approaches, each perfectly valid on its own, yet when seen together causing confusion and doubt.

My reaction crystallized for me the importance of being consistent across all product marketing materials. Inconsistency can make a prospective customer uncomfortable. You would not set up a website where each page used different styles – and your language must follow the same discipline.

In short, you want your language to be as reliable and steady as “The Iron Man” Cal Ripken Jr.

Play Your Role

There are several steps you can take to ensure consistency in your writing, whether you are solely responsible for your corporate voice or are part of a large content-generating organization.

  • Come up in advance with a strategy for tone and voice. Will you be formal? Chatty? Upbeat? Will you use an intimate first- and second-person voice, or a more authoritative third-person? Will you write at a college level or at an easier reading level? To answer these questions, start by thinking about your customer, and describe the characteristics of a person your customer would best respond to. Now, write as that person – it doesn’t have to be you!
  • Follow a common style guide and use common designs and templates. In addition to aiding consistency, this tip also makes it easier to be informative.
  • Use tropes, catchphrases, and other catchy elements as appropriate to your voice. You can go beyond your trademarks and your formal messaging. For example, uses a Hawaiian theme in some of its language, reflecting its corporate culture. This theme is outside the specific message for each product, and its use in various places ties together different product lines and becomes part of the personality of Salesforce’s communications.

The Same, Always Excellent

Ultimately, having consistent messaging is a mark of quality for your brand. Indeed this pillar of the MEDICAL method could just as easily be called “quality” (but then the acronym wouldn’t work!) Set a high standard for yourself, and then meet it every time.

You can tell you’ve done it if your readers are consistently engaged, and if you are finding it increasingly easy to produce good material as you internalize the persona you’ve created. Consistency will build loyalty. Your customers will know you by your voice, and be ready to hear what you have to tell them.

Have you encountered messaging that was inconsistent and left you confused? Leave a comment and tell us all about it.


Put Information at the Heart of Content

Make sure your marketing content is informative

I love the classic Simpsons episode in which Springfield is suddenly overrun with advertisements for something called Gabbo. Newspaper ads ask “Who is Gabbo?” while billboards scream “Gabbo is coming”. It’s a perfect send-up of a viral marketing campaign, beguiling and yet frustrating at the same time. The ads offer exactly zero information about who or what Gabbo is (a ventriloquist’s dummy, as it turns out).

This TV send-up offers a cautionary lesson for the real world. Viral marketing can build excitement, particularly for a consumer product. A tease can be effective for drawing potential customers to your website. But it is not the same as content marketing.

Eventually, you need to provide the information your prospects need. If you wait too long (maybe just a few seconds nowadays), your hard-earned eyeballs will go somewhere else. You must immediately begin to offer the information your prospects need. For better or worse, your customer is not Homer Simpson, endlessly staring at a newspaper trying to figure out what your attention grab is about.

Good content must be focused on enabling your customers to make a purchase decision, or take whatever other action you want your customers to take. You can introduce information with a viral pull – but don’t confuse “Gabbo is coming” with an effective pitch.

Data, Data, Data

The central purpose of great messaging is to provide the information your customers need to know about your product. After all, the “I” for “informative” is at the center of MEDICAL.

Providing useful facts is the best way to inform your customers: There is no substitute for hard data to prove your point. If data is not available, anecdotes and customer testimonials are better than nothing. Your customers need to know something important about you, and ideally something that is different from your competitors.

You want to be more informative than the fictional studio executives behind Gabbo. But you also don’t want to whack your customers over the head with details they don’t need and can’t prove.

So what’s a good balance for an informative message?

3-2-1 Contract

I think about a 3-2-1 guideline for the elements of information that should be in a brief piece, such as a two-page sell sheet.

  • Your reader won’t remember every detail you provide. While it may be important for you to list many points (such as specifications of your product), make sure you have no more than three facts you want your customer to remember about your product. These facts should focus on the value you are providing, a value superior to the competition or the status quo. Use data wherever possible and use whatever metrics are standard in your industry. (E.g., “according to Gartner, our product provides an ROI 70% faster than the industry average.”)
  • Whatever these facts are, drive them home by repeating them – if it’s important, say it two times. A summary or a call-to-action is a great place to provide your repetition. (E.g., “Contact us to find out more about the product with 70% faster ROI.”) Do not repeat yourself too often or without context. It’s been done and isn’t fun for anybody.
  • To get your customer to take action, your message must provide the one measure you want your customer to evaluate you on – the one most critical way in which you are better than the rest. You could win on price, performance, quality, reputation, or any other dimension. Without focusing on how you win, your message will fail to resonate. Your reader needs to know the one reason they are using your information in the first place. (E.g., “business executives seeking a faster ROI use our product.”)

The 3-2-1 approach makes it easier to remember the elements of an informative message. Adjust it as fits your specific needs, your medium, and the space you have to work with.

Be Informed

Your message is informative if prospects and customers are asking you the questions you want them to ask you. In the example above, the value proposition is a faster ROI. If your materials using this message are properly informative, you can expect prospective customers to ask how they will achieve this quick return.

Or suppose your message is about the superior quality of your product. Informative marketing materials will prompt your customers to ask you about quality – even better, to believe your product has higher quality without further proof! Market research can confirm if such impressions are catching on.

It may seem like only a dummy would neglect information – so don’t forget this critical part of your content.

Have you ever seen a business pitch that left you wondering what the product was, and why anyone would buy it? Tell us about your favorite head scratchers in the comments.