The Digital Signage Insider

Video: Get Viewers Moving With a Compelling Call-to-Action

Published on: 2013-09-11

As we continue to create short videos based on our making great digital signage content series, today's edition brings us to one of the most important topics of all: writing effective calls to action that make your viewers want to sit up and... well... take some kind of action. It's hard to understate the importance of a powerful call-to-action. But suffice it to say that I've never even heard of a piece of content that can perform its task (advertising a product, promoting an event, educating people about some particular topic, etc.) without one. So, without further ado, let's move on to the video.

Writing Great Copy: Compelling Calls to Action

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Here's a transcript of the video

Whether you use digital signage to advertise, educate or inform, the content on your screens needs to connect with your viewers and deliver a clean, clear message. But as critical as content is to making a digital signage project a success, many still struggle to produce attractive, efficient and effective segments to show on their screens.

Fortunately, making great digital signage content is as much science as it is art, and with a few simple tips and techniques you can supercharge bland, ineffective clips, making them into memorable, efficient delivery mechanisms for your messages.

And in these videos, we're going to show you how, one step at a time. Tip #5: Writing Great Copy: Compelling Calls to Action.

So, what is a call to action? Well, it's an offer or an opportunity for your viewer to perform some task in response to the content on your screen. A strong call to action is what separates an expensive but money-losing digital retailing project from a profitable one with a strong ROI. As any regular reader of the WireSpring blog knows, we are huge proponents of using a full-time call-to-action in digital signage content, whether in the form of a command, a declarative statement or even just a suggestion.

When writing calls to action, we recommend the copywriter consider the 3 C's: be clear, be concise, and be compelling. A compelling statement drives viewers to take action. And as for being clear and concise, the more quickly and easily the action can be completed, the greater your "conversion rate" will be. If the purpose of your sign is anything other than to sit there and look cool (which admittedly is the purpose of some installations), converting viewers into actors is a very important thing -- maybe the most important.

Because the call to action is so important, ideally it should remain on screen for the entire duration of your message. If that's not practical, consider showing it several times per spot so that casual viewers have a better opportunity to see it (assuming your spots are more than a few seconds long, of course).

Start the call-to-action with a verb, and keep the verb and subject close together. And of course, don't forget to follow the guidelines for using the serial position effect, chunking and coding, and contextual relevance! Everything that we've talked about regarding memory and recognition in those articles is even more applicable to your call to action statements, since they're the things you want to be most memorable.

Writing a short, polished and effective call-to-action is still something of an art form. But in the course of researching this, we found a great source of inspiration: Google AdWords. Do a search for any term that's related to what your content is promoting, and chances are that somebody has already thought long and hard about the few dozen or so characters that will best convince viewers to pay attention.

Since actions that can be taken immediately tend to convert best, focus on those -- just make sure you don't tell a viewer to do something that they can't or likely won't do.

While there is no sure-fire formula for writing a compelling call to action, we can focus in on a few more techniques to make our copy more memorable and actionable. For example...

Target common needs: Pulling a page directly out of Dr. Abraham Maslow's playbook, try focusing your text on some of humanity's most basic needs. Your audience and your content goals will help determine whether they should be "base" needs like those for food or shelter, or if they should appeal to our higher reasoning and emotive centers -- or maybe some combination of them. For example, if your campaign for the Carrot Grower's Association of America centers around the CTA "Buy Carrots", you might try changing it to "Stay fit. Eat healthy. Buy carrots." It's a bit longer, but it calls on physical and esteem needs to make the sale.

Next, use trigger words to grab your viewer's attention. Words like Money, Discovery, Save, Easy, New, Love, Health, Proven, You, Results, Guaranteed and Safety can make otherwise uncommitted viewers snap to attention.

Next, while often not critical, consider testing the "reading level" of the text. We sometimes use big or complex words in the name of brevity, but this can put a limit on the number of people who can actually read our signs. By testing your copy and simplifying it when appropriate, you can open your message up to a huge segment of the population that would have had trouble reading the more complex first version.

Next, use action words and be vivid. As copywriting guru Michael Fortin notes, "Don't stick with mere verbs. Use action words that help paint vivid pictures in the mind. The more vivid the picture is, the more compelling [and memorable] the headline will be. For example, a headline like 'zoom past the confusion' will be better than 'discover how to do it right'".

Finally, use commands. Tell your audience exactly what you want them to do, and provided it's easy enough (or has a big enough potential upside for them), they might just do it.

We've been talking mostly about the "DO's" of writing effective calls to action. But now let's add a DON'T. Specifically, don't fall into what marketing guru Seth Godin calls the "Dead Zone of Slick." In short, Godin describes this as a situation (or piece of content) that has "Not enough gloss to be slick, [but] too much to be real." In the digital signage world, this often translates simply to "eye candy."

If you keep your content "real" -- or authentic and useful -- by sticking to the fundamentals of making great content, chances are you'll see good results. However, properly applied "gloss" can attain even better results, as long as you manage to stay out of the "dead zone." When in doubt, leave it (the eye candy) out, I say. But if you're confident, or if you're already split testing your content (and you should be!), you might just want to give it a try.

Great copy is key to making digital signage content that converts. But even the most magnificent prose in the world won't help if no one can read it. That's why our next video will focus on that very topic: font size, shape and readability.

If you'd like to take a deeper dive into today's topic, or if you'd like to learn more tricks about making great digital signage content, visit and do a search for "Making great digital signage content."

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