Does a Commanding Call to Action Send Customers Running Away?

How Well Will This Call to Action Work?

We’ve all seen it. And heard it.

Call Now! Buy Now! Like us on Facebook!

The ads order us to take action. But do we obey?

Even worse: does that type of call to action do the opposite of what marketers think it does?

According to University of Alberta Marketing Professor Sarah Moore, it just might.

Even worse: the customers who get turned off by it are your best customers.

Your loyalists. Those who are truly committed to your brand.

Enduring Love Versus a Fling

Dr. Moore’s research, along with many other studies, shows that there are many similarities between human relationships and human-brand relationships. There are the loyalists, who feel deeply committed to the brand, and those who have flings — temporary infatuation, maybe, but not an enduring commitment.

The way you talk to these different types of customers should not be the same.

Her research found that even in print advertising there are an average of 2 commands per ad, and I suspect that number is even higher online. Call now. Like our Facebook page. Buy today. Tell your friends.

You’d think that those who care about your company would be most likely to respond to such commands — they care about you after all, and would presumably want to help you — but it turns out that imperative statements actually get a very negative reaction from your committed customers.

Not only will they not do what you tell them, it is likely to weaken their sense of affiliation with your brand.

Intrinsic motivation works way better than an external order. Especially in a committed relationship.

I remember when I was a kid and was about to unload the dishwasher. Just as I was about to start, my mom called out, “Tema, unload the dishwasher.” It got my back up, big time. It made me want to NOT unload.

Same thing happens when you try to command your committed customers.

What If You Command Your Uncommitted Customers?

Turns out that commands don’t work well for them either.

It won’t make them angry, the way it can with your loyal customers, but nor will it make them more likely to act.

So why are commanding calls to action so common?

Mainly, I suspect, because if others are doing it, we think it must work. And, until this research, we had no idea that it was actually upsetting our most loyal customers.

Does Saying Please Help?

OK, so apparently this bit does vary a little from the human-to-human relationship. While my back will be up if my husband tries to order me to do something, I won’t be as upset if he asks nicely. He has to show that he respects me and my time. But Moore and her colleagues found that saying please didn’t make a difference.

Does a Command to Act Ever Work?

Surely the direct marketers have done their research? That’s one of the fields of marketing that was data driven long before “Big Data” became a thing.

Well, yes, they have.

Moore’s research found that even your loyal customers will respond positively if you offer a compelling reason for acting. Call now because the sale ends at midnight. Buy now because seats are almost sold out.

Direct marketers always give a reason (or several).

With loyal customers, offering the reason can actually be seen as a positive — you are giving them insider opportunities for benefiting. The rest of the world might not realize that the offer ends soon. You can get in there first.

And offering a reason will actually help get any audience to take action. Humans instinctively want to know why. Hang around any 4-year old and you’ll realize that!

Advice for a Good Call to Action

It is also possible that the pure command does work with people who are not yet customers; her research didn’t look at that. If so, that might explain the K-Tel effectiveness.

It also sticks in your head if you hear it enough. My husband and I, who lived in the Netherlands for a year in 1991-92, still joke about the line, “Bel Nu!” And why do I remember K-Tel?

So if you want to use a commanding call to action, I’d recommend:

  1. Segment your customers, so you don’t command your loyalists.
  2. Test what type of command works best with each segment.
  3. Always give a reason for action
  4. Don’t give a fake reason. Consumers today are too savvy to believe you. When somebody tries to tell me they only have 100 copies of their digital book to give away, I know that’s BS. Don’t insult our intelligence.