Remember the old legend of Dr Faustus? The one where Faust unwittingly sells his soul to the charming and smooth-talking Mephistopheles (the Devil in disguise) in exchange for fame, fortune, knowledge and worldly pleasures? The problem for Faust was, of course, that Mephistopheles’ products were a ‘limited time offer’. Eventually Faust had to pay the ultimate price.
This tale has been retold in many forms on stage, film and in literature. But in many ways, it’s analogous to the relationship many consumers have with marketing, especially Internet marketing. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), most ‘typical’ Internet marketers lack the suavity and subtly of Mephistopheles. Nonetheless, what they often share is a similar propensity for using ‘fine print’ and seducing the consumer before they know what they’re really getting into.
The Fine Print in a Typical Call to Action
Let’s take the example of the formulaic sales page. You know the ones I mean. They drag out their pitches for what feels like forever, showing benefit after benefit, testimonial after testimonial, bonus after bonus, until you practically get trigger-finger from scrolling all the way d-o-w-n the page until you finally see the price of whatever it is they happen to be selling.
But then…you’ll see something that looks like this (a screenshot of an actual sales page I came across this week):
I hope your eyes are good enough to catch the teeny, tiny fine print at the bottom? I don’t understand why they can’t just SAY ‘This product costs $67 a month but you can take a 1 month test drive of it for $4.95’. At least then, we’d know what we’re getting into (even if the product itself were an ‘ethical’ one).
If you analyse this ‘call to action’ (CTA), you’ll see it’s guilty of several of the 7 Deadly Sins of marketing:
- Disconnection – They are treating the customer as ‘prey’ needing to be ‘trapped’ rather than intelligent human beings who are entitled to make up their own minds.
- Persuasion – The CTA comes after a ridiculously long and pushy sales letter.
- Invasion – Just the size of the fonts alone is enough to feel like someone is shouting at you. It makes me want to give them a good slap.
- Deception – The overblown ‘supposed’ price. The comparatively ridiculous small price of $4.95. The teeny tiny small print that says the actual price is $67 a month.
- Scarcity – Saying this is a limited time offer. I mean really!
The Social Damage of Deceptive Calls to Action
These kinds of clichéd CTAs are so predictable they’ve become boring. But they’re also extremely damaging. Why?
First of all, they’re damaging because many of these products are just out-and-out rip offs. People spend more money than the product would be worth even if it worked, and then they don’t get what they expected.
And even in the case of ‘free’ offers, so many Internet marketers exploit the good intentions of their readers by invading them every day with email after they have signed up to receive the offer. If the ‘price’ they paid was their email address, that’s also not getting what they paid for.
While these would be problems for any of us at an individual level, what’s worse is its social impact. Because of the lack of ethical standards so many Internet marketers practice, we as consumers are becoming increasingly suspicious and cynical. While that might be a good thing because it protects us from being deceived by such manipulative pitches, it also means we are becoming a less trusting society. And when trust erodes, it’s really bad for everyone.
But even more subtle (and equally destructive) than these effects is the damage the ‘sinful’ CTA has upon the HONEST business owner. I’ve been paying a lot of attention lately to people in our 7 Graces community and to our company’s marketing clients. It’s astonishing to see how many of them resist the idea of a CTA altogether. I see them put great effort into writing excellent articles or making informative videos and then failing to ask for what they want at the end. What they often fail to realise is:
If you don’t ask for what you want,
no one will think to give it to you.
I think this rule applies to life as well as to business. Whether you’re in need of time, space, ideas, help, nourishment, fun, sleep, support or anything else, if you cannot communicate this to your friends, family and colleagues, you’re unlikely to get it. I’ve seen many a person burn out because they didn’t know how to ask for what they wanted.
The Damage for Honest Marketers
I’ve spent many hours this week wondering why so many sensitive, ethical and honest business owners leave out CTAs in their online materials. A lot of business coaches have made niches out of convincing people the problem is a lack of self-worth. They say their business problems are caused by a mind-set where they don’t believe what they do is worth any money. They charge them money to take courses that teach them how to ‘charge what you’re worth’.
But IS this the reason?
I believe if you are recoiling from putting a CTA in your (ethical) online content because of genuine distaste for it, it has much less to do with your self-worth than it does with your relationship with marketing (one of the 7 Key Relationships in The 7 Graces of Marketing). Maybe, even though you’re a business owner, you are responding to your OWN marketing the same way you respond as a consumer—with scepticism and mistrust. You see any mention of sales or prices and you recoil and tighten up. You imagine if anyone reading your article or watching your video hears you mention anything about your services or products, they’ll see you as manipulative, greedy or dishonest.
If you don’t like to use CTAs, what you might not be realising is this: your readers often want to engage with you. They want to know more about you. They might even want to know whether they can get ‘a piece of you’ in the form of products and services. By not including a CTA, you’re actually not giving them a chance to know what valuable products or services you might have that are relevant to what they just read or viewed. You can wax lyrical for hours and never tell them anything that establishes your relationship with them. You might not realise it, but this is how the softly-softly approach might actually make them feel:
Moving from Dis-grace to Grace-full Integrity
If our only model has been a dis-graceful one, then of course we are going to reject it. But the fact remains, if you fail to include a CTA in your online content, you’re not asking for what you want. And if you don’t ask for what you want, you’ll end up getting what you asked for: no customers; no money; no business.
And so, we have a problem. Ironically, we find ourselves in a situation where our integrity is actually working against us. But no one wants to (or should) give up their integrity. Integrity is what is holding the world together amidst the chaos. And because we have such integrity, it’s also clear that the problem is NOT about our self-worth. It is not even about the CTA itself. The real problem is that we haven’t been given a different model for creating a Call to Action with Grace.
Talk to Me!
So I’m going to try to model my own CTA for today. Talk to me! I want to hear from you. I want comments. LOTS of comments. Use the Facebook comments. Use the WordPress comments. Let’s start a dialogue about CTAs.
- Tell me what you hate about them.
- Tell me what you like about them.
- Tell me how hard or easy they are for you to include.
- Tell me your creative solutions and innovations for them.
- Tell me what would make you trust or mistrust one.
- Tell me ANYTHING you want about calls to action.
Let’s get a dialogue going all weekend. I’m sure your comments will give me some great raw material for future articles.
THIS is how we create the new paradigm together. Please be part of it.
How’s that for a Friday Call to Action?
19th July 2013
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The 7 Graces of Marketing: how to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell, by Lynn Serafinn, where you can learn how the 7 Deadly Sins and the 7 Graces impact the world through media and marketing.
Brit Writers Awards Finalist
eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian & Ecological Social Issues
Tweep-e-licious: 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market Their Business Ethically, by Lynn Serafinn, which can help you learn how to create meaningful collaborations through Twitter and other social media.
eLit Book Awards Bronze Medal in Business and Sales
Get instant access to a free 90-minute Twitter marketing class at http://tweepelicious.com
LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales.
Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors. Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.
(not just for Londoners, as we meet also on Skype)