Call to Action (CTA)

DEFINITION of 'Call to Action (CTA)'

Call to action (CTA) is a marketing term that refers to the next step a marketer wants its audience to take. The call to action can have a direct link to sales as in clicking the buy button to complete a sale. Or it can simply move the audience further along towards becoming a consumer for a company's goods or services like subscribing to a newsletter that contains product updates. To be effective, a call to action should be obvious and should immediately follow the marketing message.

BREAKING DOWN 'Call to Action (CTA)'

The nature of the call to action varies by the advertising medium. For example, a television ad for a charity organization may end with a call to action that directs people to call a 1-800 number or go to a webpage, whereas their monthly e-newsletter may just have a “donate now” button in the body.

CTAs and AB Testing

Advertisers have found that the call to action is a prime area for AB testing. Wording and appearance can make a big difference when it comes to conversions. People who shy away from “free trial” sometimes react differently to “give it a try” or “access now.” In digital marketing in particular, it is possible to run tests in near real-time, tweaking the call to action as data on click through rates coming in.

A call to action can be the culmination of an advertisement or merely a step in the process. Sales filters where leads are collected, cultivated and converted will have multiple calls to action. For example, the process may start with a call to action for the prospect to try the trial subscription and then continue with several midpoint CTAs encouraging the upgrade. This could be followed with a “final” CTA to maintain access if the lead hasn't been converted. Then there may be an additional call to action sent within an amount of time after the “last” one with a discount or other enticement for the prospect. Each call to action can be worded differently based both on the last CTA the prospect ignored and the results coming back from all potential customers through AB tests.

Digital marketing uses analytical feedback to adjust both the appearance and frequency of the calls to action. Print and other traditional media don’t have a feedback mechanism that can match that immediacy, but there are still audiences that can best be reached in these traditional media compared to digital media. Whether digital or traditional, it is difficult to turn the audience into customers if an advertisement lacks a clear call to action.