Read Time: 18 min. ‘Say hello to tights that don’t suck.’ I’ve been obsessed with a new tights brand on Instagram. They’re not just any tights, they’re tights that don’t run, don’t snag, and would basically alleviate me from ever having to wear pants. (The ultimate goal of any writer. Alternatively, wearing pajamas 24/7.) Now I work in copywriting, an industry based on using words as a form of advertisement, so I really should know better than to be suckered into another glossy Instagram ad. So how did this company selling something as every day and innocuous as nylons draw me in and other users like me?
They Built Trust.
They Alluded to Problem Solving.
They Were Brief & Beautiful.
We all know the anatomy of a good CTA: It must be short (retaining our audience’s attention), it must be emotive (we’re all humans and we’re emotionally driven creatures!), and it must use action words, e.g. Donate, Support, Subscribe, etc.. The most successful ones include visual design and illustration work that complement the copywriting. (For smaller projects, we like recommending Canva, and using Unsplash or Burst for free stock images that are representative of your audience.) But the secret sauce to creating CTAs from scratch lies in the anatomy of a kickass CTA.
You certainly don’t have to use all of them at once, in fact, I recommend using one or two to start since we should always aim for clarity in our copywriting first. When in doubt, I like referencing this article from Nielsen Norman Group dives further into the importance of microcopy and guiding your user through their online journey in a way that is clear and concise. Their article on improving descriptive labels and ‘Learn More’ links are helpful as well.
The Anatomy of a CTA
Here I will break down exactly how we can connect with our potential audience and shared community members, and how you create a CTA sequence as seamless as those Insta-worthy stockings.
Breaking Down a Call to Action
No Good Story Starts With A Salad | Your Drop-In Point
I saw this on a woodblock at a friend’s house and until I see more novels written about vegan protagonists, I believe this holds true. Every good story needs a good beginning and that’s true of CTAs as well. Short as they may be, a drop-in point a.k.a a hook (a phrase, sentence, or word that compels your audience to read further) is designed to connect folks who have already been searching for what you’re offering (whatever is on the other side of your CTA rainbow). I say what they’ve already been searching for because it’s a common belief that advertising is selling people things they don’t want. Now there are many companies and individuals who are doing that, but if we want to start connecting with audiences who authentically resonate with us (and therefore will ideally stay with us longer because the connection is authentic) it is key to prioritize the ideal audience who would already want what you have to offer.
|Desired Outcome||Drop-In Point (Hook)||Why This Works|
|Spread awareness via email||Be the first to know about our movement issues. Sign up for emails today.||The reader who wants to know about movement issues feels that they are important because they get priority access to information before other people.|
|Reach $1,500 in donations||Your donation could be the one to reach our goal.||The reader who wants to be in community with the organization feels special and that they’re making a meaningful contribution by contributing to the org’s goal.|
|Get enough gala volunteers||Your Free Ticket Awaits! Volunteer at the gala today.||The reader who wants to attend the gala at no monetary cost is intrigued by the prospect of a problem (attending the gala for free) being solved (volunteering at the gala) which is clearly stated.|
Nuanced Empathy | Your Reasoning
When it comes to pain points, people already know them. They know the shape and breadth of their problems and it’s up to you as the writer to identify these points in a way that if empathetic and nuanced. When someone is effectively empathetic with you, it feels like they’ve been in your shoes—they know every edge and curve to how that problem feels and which parts of it are the most painful or irksome. As Project Inkblot’s founders poignantly put in their article on How to Begin Designing for Diversity, we need to determine who we are writing for as much as who we are, as both will greatly influence our writing process and end-goal messaging. We also aren’t repeating the user’s ailments back to them (that’d be too general), we’re being specific (while choosing common issues or traits that build trust), and we’re much like empathetic listening, we are viewing our audience in the best light.
Alluding to Problem Solving
Features With Benefits | Your Connection
To quote Beauty & The Beast, connecting features and benefits is a tale as old as time in the advertising world. (Disney, don’t sue me.) Your features are things that are tangible and typically, quantitative. For example, an organization that focuses on sustainably sourced wool from grass-fed rainbow alpacas would have the features of being: sustainably sourced, using wool, grass-fed, and having rainbow alpacas. Now features alone don’t mean anything to the average audience member and it’s up to the writer to offer an educational bridge connecting why your organization thinks rainbow alpacas are off the chain and why this audience member if they are interested in rainbow alpaca, might benefit. Benefits are more qualitative and subjective. For our made-up alpaca farm, connecting our features to benefits would look something like this:
- Sustainably Sourced (Feature) | Because it’s sustainably sourced, you’re reducing environmental planets on your planet.
- Wool (Feature) | Because wool is an excellent insulator, you’ll be warm. (Benefit)
- Grass-Fed (Feature) | Because the rainbow alpacas are grass-fed, they produce higher quality wool for you.
- Rainbow Alpacas (Feature) | Because the alpacas are rainbow and no other alpacas are rainbow, this is a unique quality that may resonate with people who also seek uniqueness. (Benefit)
Benefits Gone Bad
This is where we can get the idea that advertising can be a sleazy activity. Take the diamond industry for example. People had absolutely no reason to go ham for diamonds, and yet, one of the most prominent copywriters, Mary Frances Gerety, became famous for her campaign slogan ‘A Diamond Is Forever’ in which she positioned the benefits of a diamond as a gateway to marriage and living the good life. (You can listen to the NPR podcast on her work and film portrayal here. She’s also the real-life inspiration for Peggy Olson in the fictional TV series about a 1960s advertising firm, Mad Men.) Your task as a writer is one that most of us in movement spaces already do: move from integrity.
It is up to us to write in ways that do not lie to our readers, that do not give false promises to our readers and to write in ways that deepen our connection with our future community. Moving from integrity and writing with integrity means that we are not going to write about the communities we serve and are in partnership with from a victim standpoint, as writers we must write about these folks in a way that upholds their dignity and recognizes their agency. If we jump back to my tights debacle, that company was never going to reach the person who never wears tights, and if we think about our rainbow alpaca example, the person who doesn’t prefer clothing made from alpacas wasn’t going to give rainbow wool a second thought. That company also wasn’t ragging on me for not having their product and their copywriting was conversational enough that it gave the impression of speaking to their users as if they were equals. Our goal is to connect with people who are already in our shared community and people who are in already in the middle of our hypothetical Venn Diagram of who we want to reach and who we already know. So the person who loves skirts or the person who is always on the lookout for the latest fashion brands is the person who is already looking for that tights brand—that’s who they drop-in with, empathize, and connect features and benefits for.
Be Brief & Beautiful
Once we’ve got our drop-in point, our empathetic reasoning, and have connected our features and benefits it is time to put it all together with a final call to action. This is usually the ‘Submit’ or ‘Donate’ button at the bottom of the page, which are both excellent choices for button copy once the above messaging has been established. If your offer or donation page is a long-form sales page or a higher cost item, your CTA button can be a place to reaffirm a benefit (e.g. Connecting the benefit of warm wool to a button could be: ‘Yes, I love being cozy!’) tied with an emotional response such as enthusiasm, supportiveness, or even outrage, (e.g. ‘Let’s Do This,’ ‘I Support Going Paperless,’ or ‘End Toxic Fumes Now’) and lastly, your CTA button copy should be brief since we do want your audience to make that last click. Finally, the end of your CTA funnel should lead somewhere whether it is the actual donation page, the form to sign up for emails or the RSVP invite—because that’s what Call-to-Actions are, they call folks to action!
Tying It All Together
Now that you’ve got the tools to make a kickass CTA, here is our Story 2 Cheat Sheet on incorporating copywriting as an everyday practice:
*Craft a compelling email subject line or two for your next event or fundraiser
*Add your donation or offerings CTA to all of your email signatures. (e.g. ‘Like local movement spaces? Support us here.’ or ‘Want a food forest in your own backyard? Check out our home systems here.’)
*Make a T-chart of the features and their respective benefits for one aspect and/or offering from your organization. (If you’re a small business just starting out, this can be a great exercise for creating USP copy or product copy.)
*Brainstorm donation group names that aren’t determined by how much folks donate like Vu Le author of NonprofitAF writes here.
*Practice copywriting for social media pages such as sharing an event or posting about a sale if that’s one of your offerings. One of my favorite resources on copywriting for Instagram is this guide from Copyhackers which goes into greater detail on this topic.
*Write 10 practice headlines and 10 practice button CTAs that would go with them. Feeling stuck? Dedicate 5 of each of those to being ‘bad first drafts’ and the 5 in each category to be ‘semi-better drafts.’
*Taking the same exercise with the 10 practice headlines, try writing 5 ‘if only what I could say what was on my mind’ headlines and using those 5 headlines as a starting point, create a second draft of each headline in your organization’s brand voice.
You’ve got the info, you’ve got the tools, now get on out there and make this rainbow alpaca proud! If you have any feedback or additional tips on writing CTAs, please share them with us an we’ll circulate them to our community. You might even find your writing tips featured in our newsletter!
Don’t know your organization’s brand voice? Never fear! We offer Brand Identity Workshops and copywriting support services to help you and your organization suss out the brand voice that resonates with your current team and community.