The Art of Persuasion

Call to Action is the Anchor of Your Messaging

Call to Action

Whenever you are trying to change someone’s behavior, you are trying to persuade them.  Selling products, recruiting volunteers, direct marketing, advertisements, etc. are all examples of persuasive requests.  The classic persuasive request is divided into four main steps:

  1. Get the target’s Attention
  2. Develop their Interest
  3. Create a Desire
  4. Include a Call to Action

Keep this classic process in mind whenever you are trying to convince someone to do something.  It can be used universally.  Letters, e-mail marketing (especially important), literature, ads, conversations, etc.  Let’s walk through each step and explore the role each plays in the process.

It all starts with Attention.  This is your intro.   It can be your subject line in an e-mail, the headline of an ad, etc.  If you don’t have a good “attention getter” it is game over.  You need to quickly gain control of the target’s undivided attention.  You will commonly hear there are key buzzwords to include in the intro – words like “Now”, “Save” and “Free” .  This may be the case in general, but ideally you want something that “moves” the target.  Make it count – and make it enticing or the rest of your communication is irrelevant.

Next comes the Interest part.  Assuming you succeeded in getting the target’s attention, you have stay on your game with a good followup.  After the “wow” of getting their attention, you have to develop it with some specifics.  You want the target to think “I can do that”.  Give them a little flavor as to why this is a good thing for them.  Keep them moving through your communication.  If they are a “maybe” at this point, you are on track!

Here comes the crescendo – create their Desire.  Something compelling that makes them think, I WANT THAT, or even better I NEED THAT.  At this point the target has to picture themselves doing what you want them to do.  Think of:  “The Ultimate Driving Machine”, “Just Do It”, etc.  Another appeal:  A happy family enjoying themselves in a Disney World commercial really tugs at a parent’s heartstrings.

This is where it stops for many poorly-constructed communications.  Many good messages are left incomplete without the critical Call to Action.   Without the Call to Action, you have just done an FYI.  You did not CLOSE!  Your target will think to themselves “I’ll have to remember that”.  And then promptly forget it forever.  The Call to Action takes the fuel of desire you created and ignites it!  “Act Now! only three days left.”  “Save 50% on overstock – while supplies last”.

Crafting effective messages is definitely an art.  The more you do it, the better you will get at it.  This is a good starting point.  If you follow this classic formula, you are on your way to effective messaging.

Act Now!



2 thoughts on “The Art of Persuasion”

  1. As a fundraiser, I’m particularly interested in that last step of the persuasive request – the call to action and how to actually improve the chances that the target will heed the call to action (and make their gift). More on that please!!


  2. Rebekah:

    This is a great question, and probably will be the subject of a separate post. I wish I had the “magic answer” and could provide you with the perfect call to action. I don’t think I am that good – nor is anyone else unfortunately.

    I do recommend an approach for you, but it will take a little work but will provide you with two benefits. I would recommend contacting several of your donors, and tell them you respect their opinion and you need their advice. You can say that you are on a campaign to attract more generous contributors like them, and you are curious as to what was it that “pushed their button” and took them from “interested” to becoming a contributor. If you have your donors segmented into different groups (see the personas post) you may be able to develop some triggers by segment and use that in your targeted campaigns. Your call to action can vary widely from segment to segment.

    And the second benefit: You had a good reason to reach out and contact your donor base. In addition, you asked them to provide their advice on an important initiative for you. People generally love to help, and they get the satisfaction of advancing the cause.

    I hope this helps Rebekah!

    Mike McMahon

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