Editor's Note: As part of Marketing Month, we're revisiting some of our best, and most importantly timeless, articles of marketing advice.

In a meeting with a client, a remodeling company near Philadelphia, the owner was eager to show me new print ads that just arrived. The ads were full of colorful images of their work, the services they provide, and a description of her business. I looked over each advertisement and asked, “If I’m a potential customer, and I see one of these, what am I supposed to do next?”

She looked at me with surprise, “I want you to call me!” I held up the ad to her and asked, “Where does it say that?” The missing ingredient in all of her marketing materials was the Call to Action (also known as the CTA). For your ads to be effective, you must include two things: a compelling offer and a command to act.

What is a compelling offer? It’s anything of value you provide to a potential customer. It’s a coupon, a discount, or a “Buy One, Get One Free” offer. And it doesn’t have to be a financial incentive. Your offer could be a free guide on how to winterize a home, a free trial, or a no-cost design consultation. The call to action is the next step in the process to closing more sales.

What is the CTA? The call is where you tell the homeowner what to do. You’ve seen them in advertising many times but, surprisingly, not every time. They are usually command words that skimp on politeness in order to get you to respond:

•Call Now
•Download This
•E-mail for a Quote
•Get a Free Estimate
•Sign up for our Newsletter

Calls to action are important because they let people know what to do next. Are these commands rude? Not at all — most want to be told what to do. When you provide something of value or a compelling offer, the CTA simplifies the homeowner’s thought process — they no longer need to figure it out. You’ve just told them. Your goal is to get them to become a customer or, at least, capture their information so you can stay connected.

Here are a few tips to get the most from your calls to action:

• Limit the number of calls in an ad or on your website to one. Don’t confuse your message. “Call for an estimate” and “Download our Energy Savings Calculator!” will dilute the urgency and confuse the potential customer.

• Test, test, test. You don’t need to use the same CTA every time. Try a new one and see if it performs better. For example, on our website, we changed a call to action from “Get your free demo” to “Get my free demo” and saw an increase in the number of sign-ups by 24% in just one month. The pronoun personalization had a positive effect!

• Put your CTA in multiple locations. Have it on every page of your website. Include it at the top and bottom (and even the middle) of your e-mail campaigns. Give homeowners multiple chances, at various stages, to make the right choice.

• Make your call big, colorful, easy to see, “above the fold” on your website, and easy to read. Don’t make people work and don’t make them think — they’re bombarded by too many marketing messages as it is.

No matter your marketing campaign, always include the call to action. You’ll see better results and get more for your money. And don’t forget to thank them after they’ve filled out your form, downloaded your guide, or e-mailed to request a free estimate.

Tim Clark is the director of communications with Improve it 360, the complete business management system for remodelers, replacement contractors, and home service pros. 

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