A Short Guide To Marketing Calls To Action (With Examples)

Let Customers Know What To Do Next
McDonald's billboard that reads "next exit"

Imagine you’re taking a family road trip. About halfway to your destination, the kids begin complaining, “We’re hungry!” You remind them you packed an entire cooler filled with snacks, but none of that will do.

You pass a roadside sign decorated with those familiar golden arches and the words next exit. The kids beg, “Please, please, please can we go to McDonald’s?” Not wanting to deal with irritable children for the next 75 miles (~120 km)—and realizing that you, too, could use a break—you take the next exit and enjoy a happy meal with your family.

Behold, the power of a well-placed call to action.

What is a call to action?

"In marketing, a call to action (CTA) is an instruction to the audience designed to provoke an immediate response” - Wikipedia

This is the part of your marketing where you give customers instructions on what to do next. A simple example would be a “book now” button on your website.

In our McDonald’s example, the call to action is “next exit,” as in “take the next exit and buy our food.”

But calls to action aren’t just for purchases. You can have a call to action inviting people to attend an event, join your mailing list, make a donation, or leave a review. You can and should use them:

  • on your website,
  • in social media posts,
  • in emails,
  • in your physical store,
  • and even during presentations.

Why your marketing needs a call to action

Some business owners are squeamish about adding CTAs to their marketing. They fear coming across as pushy or rude. But CTAs provide needed clarity and direction. Therefore, you should consider it rude NOT to provide a call to action.

Think of it this way, what if our McDonald’s sign hadn’t provided any direction on how to get there? Instead of immediately taking the next exit, you’d be forced to fumble with your GPS. You might ask Siri ,“Where’s the nearest McDonald’s?” only to have to repeat yourself...twice. By now you’ve missed your exit and in order to stop you’ll have to find a place to turn around in unfamiliar surroundings and head in the wrong direction. Would you bother? Or would you drive on?

That’s how your customers feel when you don’t provide a clear call to action. If you make them work to figure out how to buy from you, they’ll grow frustrated and move on.

How to write your call to action

There should be no ambiguity in your call to action. Take a moment to figure out exactly what it is you want customers to do.

CTAs like click here, learn more, and get in touch are weak because they lack specificity. Why is it that you want people to get in touch or learn more? Do you want them to schedule a flight? Book a tour? Register for an event? THAT is your CTA.

Since you are asking people to DO something, be sure to use action words. Start your CTA with a verb such as get, buy, shop, download, call, or sign up.

It’s OK to be creative with your CTA so long as your pun, joke, or clever turn of phrase doesn’t obscure what it is you’re asking people to do.

Finally, make sure your call to action is relevant to your audience. If someone is on your website reading about travel to Paris, then you wouldn’t want your CTA to be “Come, see the Statue of Liberty.”

Call to action examples

Here are a few examples of calls to action in different settings.

Shop sign that says "Specialty Desserts & Drinks Order Here"
Much like our McDonald’s billboard, this dessert shop’s “order here” sign offers physical directions in addition to a call to action. With just six words it lets customers know what and where to order.

Marriott Bonvoy ad with 2 calls to action
This Mariott banner uses two calls to action to address two different audiences:

  • Sign In for existing members
  • Join Now for new members.

Hawaiian Airlines offers an Island guide
This colorful call to action from Hawaiian Airlines offers an Island guide to draw people deeper into their website and provide useful information to prospective customers.

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