The ins and outs of the call-to-actionSep 13, 2022
The ins and outs of the call-to-action
Ah, The Call-To-Action. Or the ‘CTA’ as those in the know refer to it. It’s quite possibly one of my favourite parts of the video-making process. Namely, because it’s where I ask my audience to get involved and be part of the story.
When I began producing impact films over a decade ago, I wasn’t familiar with using a CTA. It wasn’t as common. Passively viewing entertainment was the absolute norm. So I really had to think about what would be effective when asking the audience to do something. Audience's weren’t used to being asked to do something.
And, how effective your call-to-action is can honestly make or break your video. I know that sounds a tad dramatic but it really is true. Especially if you’re in the business of making impact films.. If I didn’t include a call-to-action at the end of my videos – long, short or micro – I’d probably be quietly banging my head against a wall right now, wondering why on earth my film didn’t drive the action I’d expected it to.
The thing is, it does’t matter how great your video is. Even if you have an incredible storyline. Amazing on-screen talent. Beautiful cinematography. A title so catchy it becomes part of the everyday lexicon. Because all of that won’t matter if your audience gets to the end credits and simply thinks, ‘Gee, that was an excellent film. What’s for dinner?’’ So, if you want your audience to do more than watch, you need to tell them to do something. It might seem obvious to you what folks should do once they see your film but you’d be surprised by how direct, tactful and persuasive you have be to make sure they actually follow through and do the thing you’ve asked them to do.
In this post, I’m taking a close look at the call-to-action. I’m going to unpack what it is, why you need one and how to craft one that will get your audience to do whatever it is you want them to do.
Ok, let’s go.
Keep reading! (Yes, that was a call-to-action I just dropped in, sneaky ha!).
What is a CTA and why are they so important?
A call-to-action is marketing speak for getting a reader, viewer or listener to do something. It’s designed to trigger an immediate response – like buying a product, watching another episode of a TV series or subscribing to a podcast.
If you haven’t thought about it before, you’ll start to notice CTAs peppered into every bit of content you consume – Netflix shows, radio ads, YouTube videos. Almost all of them end with some kind of message asking you to stay engaged or take a next step.
One of the most common examples of a CTA is “buy now!” You probably get pummelled with this type of message every single day (if not hour) via Google ads, Instagram and Facebook. Companies far and wide use the good ‘ol “buy now” CTA to push you through their sales funnel.
But filmmakers will need to take a different approach because you’re usually not selling something. Unless, of course, you’re making a video to sell your product or service. But sales videos aren’t my specialist area, so it’s not what I’m focusing on today. Usually a film has to engage the viewer through effective storytelling that connects and resonates with the audience, and inspires them to want to take an action. And then you give them a way to act on that inspiration. With…drum roll… you guessed it: a call-to-action.
As a filmmaker, I tend to include CTAs that encourage my audience to keep watching my videos and stay engaged with my content. Take the weekly Moonshine Moonshot series for example. My co-host Mike Hill and I release new episodes every Tuesday and at the end of each one, we always encourage viewers to ‘subscribe to the channel’.
This is important because it helps Mike and I know that viewers are enjoying the content we’re producing and it means we can continue to make more of what they like. We tend to use this same CTA at the end of every episode because we know that new viewers are unlikely to subscribe straight away. But once they’ve sat through a few eps and have gotten a feel for what we’re all about, we’ve built some rapport and they’re more likely to click that shiny red subscribe button.
When it comes to a call-to-action, don’t be afraid of repeating yourself. It’s actually one of the best ways to ensure follow through.
Can I include more than one CTA in my content?
This is a question that comes up a lot and it’s something I used to get stumped by in the early days of my career. Because nine times out 10, if you’re making a video (particularly if you’re making a video series for a platform like YouTube), you do want your audience to do more than one thing.
You want them to watch another episode. To subscribe to your channel. To leave a comment and share the episode with their friends. If you have a presence on social media you likely want them to follow you there too. Oh! And maybe you’d quite like them to join your email list. Download that eBook you just created and listen to the podcast series you produce as well.
On and on it goes, right?
But honestly? I think one of the biggest mistakes filmmakers can succumb to is adding too many calls-to-action at the end of their videos. As a general rule, one is better than many. People only need one thing to do.
If you give your audience to many options, they’ll likely just end up feeling overwhelmed and end up doing nothing at all. So pick the one thing, the most important thing that can drive your mission forward. Ask them to do that right there and then. Once they’re part of your community and really invested in your content, then you can ask them to do something else.
And look, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. If you’re making a one-off feature length film or documentary, there may be room to ask your audience to do more than one thing. When we premiered our impact film Take Heart: Deadly Heart, we asked audience members to do two things:
- Host their own event
- Write a letter to their local MP
In this instance, the delivery was little more tangible. We handed out physical postcards with these two requests clearly outlined, inclusive of QR codes that linked through to the webpages that would enable them to take the step.
While many took action on the night, the audience could also take the postcards home with them and complete the action in their own time (and there’s been more than 150 event screening of Take Heart: Deadly Heart since March 2022, so yes – many did! ).
Do I always need to add the CTA at the end of my content?
The placement of your call-to-action is certainly something you can play with but traditionally they are positioned right at the end. In my opinion, this is something you should stick with – someone who’s made the effort to watch your content all the way to the end is highly engaged and in a prime position to take that desired action.
That being said, platforms like YouTube are notorious for seeing drop offs. Meaning, it’s pretty common for people to only watch the start of your video, so having a call-to-action placed at the beginning of your video can also be really effective.
If you do go down this route, you could actually toy with two calls-to-action. For example, right at the start, you might say ‘keep watching to learn x’ and then at the end you might say ‘subscribe to the channel so you don’t miss an episode’.
The real key is ensuring your CTA is active and persuasive
As I mentioned at the top of this post, your call-to-action is critical to the overall success of your video. You might be creating a video to increase funding to your organisation. In this instance, you would ask your audience to “donate now”. Or maybe you want your audience to screen your film for their friends and family. If that’s the case, you might say “host a screening”.
All in all, the words you use must be short, punchy and spell out exactly what you want your audience to do. This is definitely not the time to be subtle or coy.
Of course, the right language to use will be determined by who you’re actually speaking to. Which means getting super familiar with your audience. If you need support with this, my online course Define Your Ideal Audience is a great place to start. You find out more and enrol over here. I’m giving away a few bonus courses this month too, so if you’ve been thinking about signing up for a while, now’s the time!
I hope this has helped you understand what a call-to-action is and how to apply one to your project. If you have any questions, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below or get in touch by emailing me at [email protected]
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