Creating Effective Call To Actions

This is a story about creating the best Call To Action (CTA), and why it works so well.

In my decade of marketing experience, if there is just one truism I’ve learned – it’s that some of the best marketing ideas that are first proposed are a lark. A joke.

They are the crazy, out of the blue concepts that someone works up the courage to present with the group. The last minute swings that come in the last hour of brainstorming. The flash of a half-cocked inspiration. 

Why is this? Because a good marketer requires fearlessness.

The willingness to veer left towards the rocky road of unknown when the rest of the world is taking the right smooth road – that takes cojones. And that itself is inherently risky. So it’s safer to serve up an idea when it’s followed by a “oh, haha I was just kidding”.

“Same is lame” and “Excepted gets overlooked” – So how does one get the to the sweet spot of the audience’s attention?

When I look at some of the best marketing examples, I try and imagine the person behind it – that person that shoved the idea into the spotlight.

That willingness – that umption in their gumption to push for a crazy idea, fearlessness – is part of why marketing is so appealing. It’s the thrill of when that crazy idea hurls itself off that rocky cliff and makes the landing. 

When you go to Eckerd College’s page, you see a few different call to actions. Most of which are standard – but there is one that is extraordinary.

Let me rephrase:

The “Call Mary” CTA would be extraordinary for almost any company. But this Mary button is extraordinarily extraordinary. Why? Because this is a liberal arts college website we are talking about. And Mary is Mary Stienbeck, Eckerd’s Dean of Admissions. 

“It’s a sea of sameness in that category – pretty much every municipality talks about ‘quality of life,’ their outstanding educational workforce, and the great things a campus has to offer to get students in,” says Brandt Barker, who runs the marketing department at Eckerd College.

Brandt worked with Mary on their new site launch, and the idea was, you guessed it, suggested as a joke. (idea met cliff.)

In order for this to work though, the person on the other end has to actually pick up – so I called, and guess who answered. Not a receptionist or an automated voice – Mary Answered.

She told me that she gets about 20-30 calls a month from people, unlike myself who aren’t just randos. Mary’s last call was from a prospective student asking about how she could differentiate herself from others in her personal statement.

“I’m happy to talk with anyone,” she said. “Even if it’s not actual campus business, I enjoy helping and learning who our future students are.”

So why would Eckerd’s CTA and Mary matter to you and your business? Let’s break it up.

The Copy. Look, you can read through every blessed blog post the internet has to offer about best practices in copywriting and call to action buttons. No one is going to tell you to write “Call Mary” on your CTAs. Not. One. Soul.

The most effective copy reflects who you are, not just what you sell.

That A in CTA. It says “call.” It doesn’t say “contact”. Nor “text.” or “fax.” (is that even a thing still lol). Theres no robo-voice on the other end.

But dude, no one calls anymore – it’s too old-school. Takes time and is random, way too interruptive. Right? Not true.

You know who wants to be interrupted – Mary.

In part, phone calls build trust and affinity. According to Mary “People know what you do and offer- you have to sell them on who you are”.

The CTA copy does nothing in solitary confinement. The “Call Mary” button in isolation would come across as weird, out of place. It works because it’s implicitly expressed across all that the school does.

The back of her business cards read “Call Mary.” The schools collateral and display ads feature the same copy and approach. The newsletters are (you guessed it) a literal letter from Mary.

No one thrives in isolation. Eckerd College, the “Call Mary” and “think Outside” brand is one of the high-traffic websites compared to its local competitors.

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