Every marketing effort has (or should have) a specific call to action. This is what you want the reader to do when they have read your message. Usually it is to click on a link, pick up the phone and make a call, or at least just consider a specific brand or topic in a certain way. If the reader isn’t inspired or encouraged to do anything, then you have wasted your marketing dollars.

But in planning your marketing campaign, you can’t stop at defining your call to action. Let’s say you send out an email to 100 prospective customers and succeed in getting them to click a link that goes to your web page or to call your office. What then? What happens next?

Here’s a real-world example: I received a letter from my local cable company telling me about their product and how there are many packages available. I’ve been thinking lately about changing cable carriers, so this came at an opportune time: I was an ideal target for their marketing campaign. The letter included a toll-free number and invited me to call to learn more. I was ready to switch! I responded to their well-crafted letter by doing exactly what their call to action suggested: I picked up the phone and called the number, ready to invest my time to investigate their product.

That’s when the process fell apart. The call was answered by an automated system that requested my account number, giving me no other options. I didn’t have an account with this company, so I tried pressing zero. After several minutes of trying to reach a human or anything in their automated menu that resembled a sales division, I finally hung up. A prospective customer no longer.

This letter was from a very large company. They must have sent out thousands, if not tens of thousands of these letters. Imagine the cost of this full-color print job, the envelopes and postage, and the people to put it all together – completely wasted because they hadn’t planned what would happen next. That’s a lot of marketing dollars down the drain.

So how do you avoid needlessly flushing your marketing budget?

Plan the entire path to your goal

When you plan your campaign, don’t start with what you want the reader to do. Start with what you want the end result of the campaign to be–your goal. Then decide on a call to action that will realize that goal. Once you decide on a call to action, you must plan out the results of that action. What do you want to have happen? Not only do you need to craft a message that will convince or inspire your readers to act, you need to make sure that once they do act, your website, phone system, and staff are ready to respond to turn that action into a response that will fulfill your goal.

Your goal is probably to increase sales, collect leads, inform people about your products or services, solicit donations to your campaign, or something else that will further your business. Your call to action is not your goal—it is merely the step you need your targets to take to reach your goal. Your goal isn’t to get people to look at your cool website then go away, or to call your phone number only to wander aimlessly through your telephone menu system until they hang up.

Clicks to your website or calls to your office will have no impact on your bottom line if you don’t plan what should happen next. In fact, it could have a negative impact if all you end up doing is exasperating people, turning them from prospective customers into unimpressed visitors who will tell others about your lackluster performance.

Putting the back end in place

Once you have a goal and a call to action, next you need to put the back end in place. For example, if your goal is to increase web sales, plan the entire web experience. Your call to action should include a URL that will direct the visitor to the exact webpage they need. It’s not enough to dump the visitor on your home page. Take them to a page where the product is presented with links to all the information they might need to make a purchase decision, and a button or other clear path to make the purchase. (You can even put up a micro-site specifically for this campaign.)

If you can’t provide a direct funnel on your website, then use a toll-free phone number in your call to action. If you can, set up a number directly for this campaign and have it answered by a human or at least set up an automated system prepared for those who respond to your campaign. If you can’t get a dedicated number, then make sure the caller will know exactly what to do to take the steps toward your goal.

The moral of the story

Especially in these not-so-rosy economic times, marketing budgets must get as much return as possible. Don’t end your marketing planning with the call to action. Follow it through to the point where your goal is achieved. Anything less and you risk wasting your marketing budget, not mention annoying prospective customers.

Not only do you need to craft a message that will convince or inspire your readers to act, you need to make sure that once they do act, your website, phone system, and staff ready to respond to turn that action into a response that will fulfill your goal.
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