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Calls-to-Action (CTAs): Breaking Email's Golden Rule

by Jordan Walsh - August 29, 2017

One aspect of marketing which fascinates me involves what I call “interaction psychology”. How and why someone engages or doesn’t engage with content consumes a lot of my campaign prep work. This mental noodling lead me to examine how I’m using Calls-to-Action (CTAs) in email programs.

Email’s CTA Golden Rule

A long-standing rule of email is to use one CTA only.  Many a blog has been written about this subject. The thought behind one CTA per email stems from providing the recipient just one simple decision to click – therefore making an engagement decision easier. With only one button to choose from, the better the chances of the button is clicked. The least amount of mental brainpower needed to act is preferred. Sound advice for sure.

Below is an example of providing one CTA. It’s clear Toms wants you to press the green “Join the Movement” button.

toms-sign-up-form-cta

Rethinking the CTA Rule

Over the past couple of years, I’ve come to morph my thoughts on one CTA per email. It all started when I noticed web page exit intent pop-ups displaying two choices – one positive and one negative. The only way to get rid of the pesky pop-up is to select an answer – yes or no. A “yes” click typically gets you to subscribe to something or get more awesome content and a “no” click confirms you don’t want the goodness that comes with getting a subscription or more helpful content.

Notice in the example below from a marketing website on its free ebook offer. That’s a nicely worded take-away and makes the person clicking on it admit wanting a negative outcome.

CTA Social-Triggers-BX-800x519

These types of pop-ups got me thinking about how this approach relates to email campaign efforts.  What if I could offer up related CTAs – each putting the other in context.  Could engagement be affected by having one positive choice and one negative choice? Could the psychology of losing out on something affect decisions? Certainly, this is what exit intent pop-ups are designed to do. I had a new mission.

Behind My CTAs

My psychological hypothesis of using multiple and related CTAs centers around how people make choices. If I ask you a question like, “Do you want to go to the movies tonight?”, you have a simple yes or no choice to make.  The same is true when offering up one CTA. You are asking someone to click on a button or don’t click on a button. However, if I ask you, “Do you want to go see a movie, go to dinner or go to a comedy show tonight?”, the likelihood of you choosing the fourth option – declining all suggestions – is less obvious. And hopefully less likely too.

My first attempt at multiple and related CTAs was in a post-secondary school open house invite.  I added related CTAs with one as a positive and one as a negative. The two choices looked something like this:

CTA Save My Seat

CTA Give My Seat Away

The CTA “Give My Spot Away” infers the recipient owns the spot until forfeited. You have something and can give it away if you like. Having both options gives some context and value to the open house offer.  Similar to the “no thanks, I don’t want free traffic” link mentioned earlier, the second CTA in my email offers up a conscience choice to part with something. Even if the open house spot is free, who wants to give something they already have?  The psychology of decision making in action.

To my delight, engagement did go up with two CTA open house email. I received more click-throughs than in previous emails with a “Save My Spot” only CTA. The two CTA email produced both positive and negative engagements. The engagement went up even if the amount of positive engagement did not. Either way, getting engagement is better than not getting engagement. A small and important win.

CTAs for Now, Later and Never

As a former salesperson, my mission was always to push leads into one of three buckets – Now, Later or Never. Having too many leads in an “Unknown” bucket gives way to missing monthly sales goals, chasing unqualified leads, and using less than desired sales tactics. I’ve left my fair share of voicemail messages riddled with desperation. Please call me back. It will get my sales manager off my back.

When I knew which “buy bucket” leads fell into, I knew exactly which follow-up strategy to deploy. “Nows” were closed immediately, “Laters” were given regular communication edging them closer to becoming “Nows” and “Nevers” were pushed aside so more attention could be given to leads that were at the very least – “close-able”

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with other multiple and related CTAs arrangements. The CTAs in Example 1 and 2 are included in a campaign for a client with heavy industry competition. Speed to lead is paramount because leads are purchased through an affiliate, a third-party lead generator selling leads to multiple and usually competing companies. The campaign needs to get as many leads as possible into the three buy buckets quickly.

Example 1: Talk now or talk later. This CTA combo has a 2.6% click-through rate against 2.2% for this industry according to Constant Contact:

EX. 1

CTA-Call Now-Schedule Call

Example 2: A true Now, Later, Never CTA combination. The email pushes leads to revealing employment readiness. 35% of the leads who opened this email, clicked a link.

Ex. 2

CTA Now Later Never

Example 3: Included in a campaign for a service industry client with aging potential clients holding unsigned proposals. After an offer to reduce the proposal price by 15%, the CTAs are constructed to easily let the lead tell our client how to move forward. The emails with this CTA strategy are yielding a 12.9 % open to click-through rate against 11.8% for this industry according to Constant Contact.

Ex. 3

CTA Schedule

CTA remind me

CTA schedule

More Results: 39% of the clicks came from the green button. 51% of the clicks came from the yellow and red buttons. Half the clicks are telling the client there will not be an immediate sale. However, prospects have revealed how best to move forward with communication.  Green (the “Now”) responses go to the sales team for immediate follow up. Yellow responses (the “Laters”) are placed into a regular nurture campaign. Red (in this B2C case, the “Much Laters”) are placed into a nurture campaign with less delivery frequency.

CTAs for Everyone

I feel the job of an email marketer is to get engagement, even if that engagement doesn’t lead to a sale. As I’m writing the last sentence, I realize that may sound counterproductive to an agency/client relationship. The goal is engagement.  A CTA click is always a win.  Especially when the click helps reveals whether a lead is a Now, Later or Never/Much Later.

When leads reveal themselves it’s a win for the client. Knowing what follow-up strategy to use is a win for the agency as engagement tracking can be used to adjust lead gen efforts – allowing campaign optimization to leads who buy products and services from our clients, not just leads who inquire about them. A win and a win.

As with Colling Media’s Test, Analyze and Test (TAO) methodology, one can end up having endless CTA pieces to test – total CTA buttons, colors, wording, order, etc. So far anyway, breaking the Golden Rule email marketing – one CTA per email – is helping clients get more leads to reveal themselves.

If you’re curious about “interaction psychology”, I recommend experimenting with CTAs in your emails and see what happens with engagement.  Maybe it’s the CTA you’ve been looking for.

Colling Media is a Phoenix-based full-service advertising agency providing email marketing and marketing automation services.

Photo by Hans Gustafsson on Unsplash

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