New research reported in The Wall Street Journal found that “assertive advertising” is a turnoff to the majority of consumers, especially when that assertiveness comes from brands they love. Most of the conclusions from the study, at least from my perspective after reading the WSJ article, were based on the call-to-action.
To be clear, assertive language doesn’t have to be aggressive and in your face. Everyone already knows that’s annoying. Assertive language simply creates the perception that you’re telling people what to do and what not to do.
For example, “buy now” doesn’t seem assertive, but people still associate it with being told what to do, which has a negative impact on ad effectiveness and brand perception.
According to one of the study’s authors, ““We have this innate need to feel like we are making our own choices. That’s a huge problem for marketers who tend to tell consumers what to do.”
Now, I realize “assertiveness” may be an ambiguous and subjective term. I realize some readers might say that people today are overly sensitive and look for things to complain about or find off-putting.
But if there’s a chance people are taking their business elsewhere based on the way you talk to them in your marketing content, are you willing to just let them go? Or will you make simple changes to your messaging to reduce the risk of losing that business?
Let’s not be too quick to dismiss this data. There are real lessons that can be learned and applied to not just advertising, but any online or offline marketing content – website content, blogs, emails, brochures – and even phone and face-to-face conversations.
The Job of the Call-to-Action
It’s one thing to clearly explain what exact steps someone should take to have a problem solved or a need filled, or to find more information. It’s another thing to create the perception that you’re barking orders.
Don’t think you’re barking? Well, it doesn’t matter what you think. It only matters what your audience perceives.
The job of a call-to-action is not to give orders. The job is to remind people of why they’ll benefit from taking action, and provide instructions for the action they need to take so they can realize those benefits.
The job of your content is to explain the reasons for following those instructions. If the content doesn’t do its job, the call-to-action won’t matter.
Instead of telling me what to do, tell me why to do it. Preview the result that I’ll get to experience by using your product or service.
If the reason is compelling enough, you won’t have to tell me what to do. You just have to point me in the right direction.
Let’s take the overused, cliché-like call-to-action, “Like us on Facebook.” According to the study, it made people react negatively to ads.
Why should I like your Facebook page? How will I benefit? What’s in it for me? If you don’t make these reasons clear, “Like us on Facebook” is nothing but an empty, self-serving order.
Stop Telling People to Do Something “Now”
Is there ever a reason for people to act now, buy now, click now, or do anything now? Right this minute? Or do you tell them to do something now because, in your perfect world, your ads and marketing content would deliver instant gratification?
Just give people instructions so they know what action to take when they’re ready. If you’re trying to create a sense of urgency for your a time-sensitive offer, just tell people exactly when it ends. For example, don’t tell me the offer ends soon. Tell me it ends tomorrow at 5 pm.
If there’s a legitimate reason why someone should take action immediately, or there’s a legitimate consequence for not acting immediately, that should be made clear in your content.
For example, if someone is showing warning signs of a disease and should get tested right away, explain that in your content.
Again, focus on providing people with reasons and instructions, not orders. If you want people to act immediately, make your message compelling enough to warrant immediate action. But you should accept the fact that, in most cases, people will act when they’re damn good and ready.
The Reality of Today’s Empowered Consumer
Because people have more options than ever and instant access to more information than ever, they can come up with more reasons than ever to choose not to buy from your company. Some of those reasons may be seemingly insignificant or even petty from your perspective.
Problem is, your perspective doesn’t matter.
Is there a chance someone might say “don’t tell me what to do”, or just scowl or roll their eyes, after reading, watching or listening to your content? If so, make the changes, both to your content and call-to-action, that remove an unnecessary obstacle to a sale.
In an odd coincidence, when I clicked the link for the WSJ article, an ad with a big ol’ “ACT NOW” button covered the content. I hope the marketing team reads the article.