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Don't Ask, Tell

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As the Queen B asserted in her book, The New Marketing Conversation (co-authored with Donna Baier Stein), direct marketing — regardless of medium — should always strive to be a dialogue. Ask about their problems, let them relate whatever you're selling to their real life. Give them multiple ways to learn more if they're undecided.

The best direct marketing is a two-way conversation. Except, in one place ...

The call-to-action.

Whether you're creating direct mail, a website, email, print ads, video, radio, or out of home advertising, by the time you get to the call-to-action, the conversation should be one-sided. Don't ask questions anymore, tell them what you want them to do. Tell them exactly what you want them to do.

First of all, we're going to assume that the rest of your piece has given your audience solid reasons to respond. Even the best call-to-action can't succeed if you haven't interested, intrigued, educated, or entertained someone. You've set up a solution to a problem, showcased benefits rather than just features, highlighted testimonials or third-party endorsements (assuming you have them — if you don't, you should). The call-to-action is only as strong as the case you've made.

And, then you can make sure that call-to-action is as strong as it can be.

Here are some tips to help ...

1. Personalize it
Use the recipient or viewer's name if you can. So, rather than write "Call us today for a free estimate," try writing "Jim, call us today for a free estimate." (But, only do this if the person's name is Jim. Capiche?)

2. Design it
Choose "hot spots" for your call-to-action so it gets noticed. For example, on a postcard, it's a great idea to put the offer right above the recipient's name and address. Make the most of margins, Johnson boxes, P.S.s, headers, footers, and corner cuts. (And don't forget the old direct mail adage: "If you can't make it big, make it red.")

3. Benefitize it
Remind them of the benefits you've already promoted. "Act now so you too can save every time you make a long-distance call."

4. Incentivize it
Make sure the offer is quantifiably compelling. "Bring this card to your local GAP and save 25% on your entire purchase."

5. Liberate it
"Free" may be overused, but there's good reason. It's still the most powerful word in a direct marketer's toolkit. In fact, according to Worldata, using the word "Free" in a subject line increases open rates by 33%.

6. Rush it
Is there a deadline? Highlight it! Create a sense of urgency in your call-to-action. "Visit www.freething.com today. Offer ends August 15th."

7. Direct it
Use commands and tell the person exactly what you want them to do. "Call ...," "Visit ...," "Download ...," "Click ...," "Buy ...," "Shop ...," "Order ..."

8. Rinse and repeat it
Make sure your offer appears in multiple places, on every page of a website, and on every piece in a package. Repetition is your friend when it comes to calls-to-action.

9. Test it
Test different calls-to-action, including what you offer and how you word it. Then, take what you learn and maximize your results.

You work hard to create, write, and design effective direct marketing campaigns. Don't neglect the call-to-action. That's the happy ending, how you seal the deal. It may only be a few words, but choose those words carefully. Be direct.

Or, as say, B Direct.

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