Wednesday, March 29, 2017

You Get Better Results When You Tell Your Audience What To Do

We've all heard this age-old joke. A man is sitting on the couch, watching TV. His wife joins him. She turns to him, and says, "Well, we're out of toilet paper." He nods, acknowledging that her message was received. She waits a few moments, then says, "Yep, there is no more toilet paper in the entire house." Her husband nods, and this time adds a monosyllable that isn't quite a grunt to show that he got the message. After ten minutes or so goes by, she gets up, and storms out of the room. He is confused by her behavior, and left scratching his head.

We, the audience, understand that when the wife said, "We're out of toilet paper," what she meant was, "I would like you to go to the store, and bring back some toilet paper." Why didn't her husband do it? Well, because she didn't put her request into words that he would recognize as a call to action.

Wait... you wanted me to do what, now?
If you're a creative professional, you cannot be subtle when interacting with your audience. You need to tell them what you want them to do, when you want them to do it, and how to get it done.

Keep it simple, straightforward, and make sure there's no way to miss the directions you're giving.

Calls To Action, And You

In marketing, the term for telling your audience what to do is a call to action. It's why every commercial ends with something like, "Buy now!" or, "Call us today!" Even something as simple as, "Follow us on Facebook," is a clean, straightforward call to action because it's clear what the advertiser wants you to do for them.

Buy my book! Or at least check out the free sample.
Think of your marketing like getting a hit in baseball. You have good form, you swing, and you connect, but you need that follow-through. Without follow-through, a perfect hit loses all its potential, and plops right into the dirt. That's your call to action; the follow-through that turns a solid hit into a home run.

Where Does It Go?

There are a few different schools of thought on this one. For instance, some marketers say you should tell your audience to do the same thing three times throughout a piece of content, because by the time they reach the third one you'll catch everyone willing to do what you asked. Other people argue that telling your audience to do something more than once is just going to annoy them, and you should save your call to action for the end of your post. That way you'll only deliver it to audience members who were well and truly hooked by your content.

Seriously, did you go buy my book yet?
Where the schools of thought agree, though, is that you need to make your calls to action blatant, you need to explain what the audience gets out of it, and you need to ensure they can accomplish the action in as few steps as possible.

As a for-instance, if you wanted to support me, and get your hands on a collection of dark, steampunk noir stories, I'd tell you to go buy a copy of New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam.

In that single call to action, I laid out everything the audience needs to know. I told them I have a book for sale, what genre it fits into, and that they should go buy a copy if they want to support me as an author. That's the difference between saying, "Hey, my book is out there," and, "Hey, if you haven't read it yet, go get this specific book." Lastly, anyone who clicks that link will go right to the Amazon purchase page, so all they have to do is throw the book in their cart, and checkout. It can be done in a matter of minutes, and takes a minimum amount of effort on the part of the reader.

That final part is more important than most people think. Because no matter how much someone wants to help, or how little it costs them to do so, nothing will botch up your audience's follow-through more than making it inconvenient for them. You want them to click one link, or follow one social media page, or do something else equally simple. You don't want them to have to go through more than one loading screen.

Put another way, someone is usually more than happy to take a step to the right to support creators they care about. But if you ask them to step to the right, open the door, create a new account, fill in their credit card details, and then take a survey before they're allowed to help, they're going to quit somewhere around step three, leaving you high and dry.

Marketing is like writing, in that you should follow the K.I.S.S. method. Keep It Simple, Stupid.

That all for this week's Business of Writing post. Hopefully it helps folks out there who are trying to mobilize their audience, and herd them toward a particular goal. If you like this piece, show some love by stopping by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today! Pledging at least $1 a month buys you a free book, as well as my everlasting gratitude. Lastly, if you want to stay in the loop, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter to get all my latest posts.

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