Creative Ways to Write an Effective Call to Action

June 19th, 2012 Stephen Smith Posted in Workflow, guest post No Comments »

This week we feature a guest post from Rich Gorman:

In business, as in life, all progress is made by getting someone to take action. Inevitably, you make an invitation — what’s known in marketing circles as a call to action. Someone responds — or not. One thing is more or less indisputable, though. Whether it’s getting people to enlist in a marketing program, sign a purchase order, take ownership of a task, or get your beloved spouse to take out the garbage, it usually doesn’t happen until you ask for it to happen!

When it comes to getting the trash taken out, you’re pretty much on your own; for all the others, however, a strong and strategic call to action can make all the difference between failure and success.

Calls to action are a dime a dozen, perhaps, but there are certainly some time-tested techniques you can use to use them compellingly, creatively, and, above all, effectively.

  1. Remember the parts of speech! You learned these in grade school — you know, like subjects and verbs. Think carefully about your use of these parts of speech as you write your call to action. Remember that verbs are the most important; these are action words, after all, so naturally they’re crucial for any content that’s meant to call people to action!

    Something else worth noting: Statistically, verbs get the most shares on Twitter and other social networks.

    But it’s not just a matter of making sure you have the right words on the page. You also need to have them in the right places. Remember how people read, at least those of us who speak English — we read from the left side of the page to the right. If someone is trying to very quickly glean information from your writing, then, where do you think they’re going to look first? It’s imperative to have your subject and your verb at the beginning of each sentence (i.e., on the left side of the page).

  2. Numbers are not the enemy of creativity. This is a way of thinking that many creative people fall into, however — this assumption that using precise facts and figures robs a piece of writing of its creative merits.

    This isn’t true, and when it comes to writing a good call to action, it can prove deadly. The Internet is rife with “creative” writing that uses vague phrasing or fudged numbers to lend the appearance of real data. And by and large, people can see right through it.

    Quoting some real data, some hard facts and figures, can go a long way toward helping your call to action get to the point. It’s like you’re saying, I know what I’m talking about. I know what I’m doing. I know what you need. Here’s the proof — now sign on the dotted line.

  3. Keep things practical. Practical, in this instance, is the opposite of technical. Your call to action is not the place to outline all of your techniques and practices and insider tips. The call to action isn’t where you tell people how you’re going to do it, but why they need to sign up for it. It’s the place where you outline the practical, real-world benefits of whatever it is you’re offering.
  4. On a related note… use words that add value to your content. What you want, in the end, is for someone to respond to your call to action. And there’s just no way they’re going to respond to it if they don’t read it first.

    So what you need to do is make it clear that they need to read it — and that if they do, they’ll receive some kind of benefit, right here and right now.

    For a good, creative, compelling call to action, then, you need to make it clear that there is advantage to be had not just when the reader purchases your product or service. You need to convince them that they’ll be better off just for having read your call to action!

    Think about using some words like tips, advice, insights, secrets or analysis in your call to action. Also think about using words like best or most — because as spammy as they may sound, they are always effective in getting hits on blogs and e-mails.

    And finally, try using a word like why. Asking a question — and providing an answer — is a great way to generate some intrigue and get people reading.

  5. Finally… keep it brief. Nobody wants to read paragraph after paragraph of text in order to find out why they should invest in your product or service. Keep things concise.

    How concise? See if you can do it in the span of a tweet. That’s just 140 characters. If you don’t think you can get your writing that brief, joining Twitter for some practice is actually not a bad idea.

A good call to action is one that is enticing and creative — but also one that presents immediate benefits. Remembering these tips will help you master the art of the truly engaging, effective call to action.

Rich Gorman is involved with multiple companies and is an expert in personal reputation management. He helps individuals, small businesses and large corporations with not only reputation management, but also brand protection and problems related to the damage that can be caused by Internet spam like bad suggestions in google auto complete.

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In Search of Simplicity and RSS Feeds

August 11th, 2009 Brad Blackman Posted in Attention, Digital Lifestyle, Lifestyle, Workflow No Comments »

Recently I’ve been inspired by our own Patrick Rhone’s new Minimal Mac project, wherein he (and a host of contributors) post about different ways to simplify your Macintosh experience as well as how easy it is to simplify that experience. I’ve taken steps to simplify things on my own Mac, things like eliminating Widgets, menubar icons, Dock icons, and the like.

One thing that has bugged me over the past year or two is the volume of RSS feeds that keeps piling up. If you’re like me, you add more and more feeds to your feed reader (mine is Google Reader). And eventually the volume of feeds gets to be too much. I know some people get as many in one day as I get in one week and are fine with that, so I can’t say there’s a “magic number” for the maximum or minimum number of posts that can be read without it becoming unwieldy. The bottom line is, you have to be aware of your own limits, and know where stress sets in for you.

I know some people go so far as to divide up their RSS Feeds into different categories based on topic. Personally, I divide mine up into six folders:

  • 1st Tier: Things I really want to read
  • 2nd Tier: Things I want to read, but not as badly as the top tier. Strangely enough, this is the shortest list.
  • 3rd Tier: Things I want to read, but not as badly as the previous two.
  • people: Friends and family members’ blogs
  • personal: blogs I run or otherwise have a stake in
  • read when time permits: Stuff I can live without reading, and usually view in list mode, after which I usually hit “Mark all as read” after skimming the headines. Many of these post way more often than I’d like.

As I typically read my feeds about once a week in one one-or two-hour session, I’m thinking about changing how I go about my RSS feed consumption. So, over the past few weeks, I have begun pruning ruthlessly, eliminating items from Google Reader that I know I don’t have much interest in reading anymore. It’s like when you realize you no longer read a particular magazine you subscribe to: you may feel a little sad that you’re parting with a dear old friend, but relieved that you’re letting go of something you no longer really pay attention to, thus freeing up more attention to devote to what you really care about. You lose that “Ugh, one more thing I have to read” mentality when it crosses your mental threshold one more time.

So, in the forums, I have 3 questions for you:

  1. What’s your strategy for dealing with RSS feed overload?
  2. How often do you review your RSS feeds (if you do that sort of thing), and how long does it take you?
  3. Finally, how do you decide when to let those feeds go?

Fire away.

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Creating a Lo-Fi Ritual

May 30th, 2009 Nathan Hale Posted in Habits, Lo-Fi, Workflow No Comments »

An important part of my productivity system is taking a little time at the end of each day to do a quick review of my tasks, brain dump whatever is on my mind, and plan the next day. I’ve found that best time for me to do this is about 10:30pm, right before I hit the sack at 11. The problem is, I’ve found that when the last thing I do right before I go to bed is stare at a computer screen for half an hour, I’m usually not very relaxed, my mind is often racing, and I have a little trouble getting to sleep.

In contrast, I’ve noticed that when I take some time to “unplug” before bed, I tend feel less stressed and quite a bit more calm when I go to sleep. So I’ve decided to take my task list completely offline for a while, and do my daily review/planning not in my office at my computer, but in the living room while resting in a nice, comfy chair.

I’ve already started implementing my daily “lo-fi ritual” and I’m already seeing some key benefits:

  • It’s more social. I usually plan while my wife reads. While we’re not having a fully interactive discussion, it’s nice to just sit in the same room, listening to the same music together as we wind down our day.
  • I’m learning how to better use paper tools. I recently invested in a whole slew of Circa stuff from Levenger, along with a Shirt Pocket Briefcase, and I’m enjoying learning how to best use these new tools. I’m rediscovering a love for hand-writing things that I thought was long gone. Paper may or may not be the most efficient process for me (I’m still learning) but for some reason I’m finding it satisfying and stress relieving to physically write down my tasks and thoughts.
  • It’s more focused. Even when using my to do list & note applications full-screen, there’s always this temptation to check Twitter or my email. With just a pen and paper, I can really zero in on what I’m intending to think about.
  • It’s easier on my eyes. I do most of my work each day at the computer. I do a lot of my “for-fun” activities (StarCraft, ftw) staring at a screen as well. By the end of the day, my eyes are tired, so taking a break is a welcome relief.

I’m sure I’ll discover even more advantages to making lo-fi notetaking and tasking part of regular routine and productivity system. Do you have a lo-fi ritual? Why not share in the forums?

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Which is better? A long todo list or a short one?

May 18th, 2009 Brad Blackman Posted in Productivity, Time, Workflow No Comments »

I know it’s absurd, but I think there are times when a long list of todos might motivate more than a short one. Why? Well, if you have a long list, you have more motivation to get everything finished on that list. If it’s short, you might say, “Eh, that won’t take long. I’ll do it later.”

Maybe it’s a form of procrastination, since I don’t think it’ll work in the long run to let your list build up till you have enough stress to go and do it all at once.

On the other hand, as anecdotal evidence, I offer you the friends I had in high school who made their best grades during basketball season. I think the increased workload and limited amount of time to study forced them to be more disciplined.

So what’s the best way to do it? Have a short list with a few things to do, or a long list with a lot of things on it?

Of course, I think the ideal way to handle your list is to keep a short, effective list, with things appropriately delegated or deleted, plus high motivation and discipline to accomplish what needs to be done. Be conscious of your own energy level and tolerance for the right list length. I think it requires a bit of experimentation as only you can know what the right “workload” is for you.

If your list is too short, you’ll get bored. Or you’ll get lazy and not do anything. If it is too long, you’ll get discouraged and give up.

Just remember, if you have to put “shave” on your todo list, you’re probably taking it way too seriously.

So what do you think? Discuss amongst yourselves over in the forum.

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“Working the Dash” Worked For Me!

April 6th, 2009 Brad Blackman Posted in Workflow No Comments »

Working the dash is not a new concept. Merlin has written about dashes a few times, and our very own James Mallinson wrote about it last week in a roundabout way. But I’ve recently discovered for myself how well it works, especially with stuff I’ve been putting off.

Now, I don’t go so far as to set up an elaborate forumula for it like the ['(10+2)*5'] technique, but the whole concept of working within a small window of time has proved effective for me. I can’t really say much about it that hasn’t been said before, but I can share my own experiences and examples.

The other night, my computer warned me that it’s scheduled shutdown was in ten minutes. So, I went ahead and quickly read some articles and dashed off a couple of e-mails that I had been putting off. I was surprised how much I had gotten done in just a short time. It was pretty exciting.

Also, my wife and I like to watch TV on DVD. We tend to watch several episodes at once, usually a disc at a time. Between episodes or during random breaks when the phone rings, we’ll take a break for about 15 minutes to aggressively clean up around the house. This lets us have fun watching TV AND get stuff accomplished.

I’ve put this to work on my lunch hour, too, blazing through a lot of stuff (usually think-y brainstorming-type things, or running several errands) very quickly. There have been times I’ve felt I accomplished more on my lunch break than the rest of the day.

I’ve found the motivational power of a quick deadline and an intense burst of (productive) energy is satisfying. It increases my energy and heightens my awareness. What’s been your experience with working the dash? Share it over in the forums!

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Figuring out what to do first

March 22nd, 2009 Brad Blackman Posted in Workflow No Comments »

I typically have a lot of projects in play. They’re generally pretty similar, have a similar scope, and require about the same amount of time. I’d say there are three main areas (or broad contexts or categories): design projects, church-related projects, blogging projects (personal and otherwise), household maintenance, auto maintenance, and fine art. Most of these can be done anywhere since they tend to involve writing, sketching, or otherwise thinking.

So here’s the problem: I want to do all of them at once, and have relatively the same amount of enthusiasm for each project or task. I get overwhelmed since I can’t decide which to do first. Then I end up doing nothing, which leaves me frustrated since there’s all this stuff I want to do that I haven’t even done.

I can’t really prioritize these tasks, since they all carry about the same amount of importance (to me, at least). “Importance” can be interpreted as another word for “anxiety.” The main problem is that I don’t know what to do first.

I had this exact problem Saturday morning. My wife was at a training conference, and I was in the hotel room with about an hour of time to kill before checking out of the hotel and meeting up with her for the rest of the conference. So I decided to try to tackle some of my projects. I reviewed my list and updated it, and looked at everything there. Sure enough, they all had about equal importance to me. Some things I couldn’t really do at the moment, such as put some finishing touches on a painting I started last summer since I was 200 miles from home.

But some think-y stuff, like brainstorm topics to blog about for work.life.creativity, I could do. Thumbnail sketches for a project for an old friend, I could do.

So I just started at the top of my list, and worked my way down.

Boom, boom, boom, boom. I was ticking things off my list, like little tin ducks at the shooting gallery at a county fair.

It’s not particularly clever, but sometimes that’s what it takes to make a dent in your to-do list.

So how do you determine what to work on first? Sound off in the forums.

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