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Marketing Watchdog Journal
  February 2010, Issue 72

Katie Walsh  
Behind the Scenes BtoB E-mail Marketing
Are Your Calls to Action
Compelling—or Cannibals?

By Katie Walsh, Media Strategist, Bulldog Solutions

When planning promotions for a multi-asset campaign, it's always a challenge to design an e-mail invitation that puts all of the available content at the recipients' fingertips—without overwhelming them with too many choices. Call-to-action overload can handicap an otherwise powerful message. But if you have a lot to offer—perhaps a multi-Webinar series or several resources you want to share with prospects—streamlining calls to action can be painful, but necessary.

Testing Solutions: Are Your Calls to Action Cannibals?

About a year back, as I was settling into my (then) new role as Bulldog Solutions' media strategist, we created a cross-departmental "E-mail Best Practices Task Force" to serve as an open forum and R&D lab for staying abreast of e-mail marketing trends, such as the aforementioned call-to-action challenge, and putting possible solutions to the test.

We've tried a few different approaches—breaking up multiple offers in sidebars or modules; messaging a series one event at a time; and positioning additional content as an incentive or nurturing piece. The one element that consistently brings in the highest levels of engagement is a single, clear and compelling call to action.

This was confirmed recently when our marketing team came back from the MarketingSherpa E-mail Marketing Essentials 101 seminar with some research on calls to action in e-mails. One chart highlighted in the presentation, from NextStage Evolution (see below), illustrated the exponential drop-off in clickthrough rate for every additional call to action that you ask your e-mail readers to take.


A clickthrough rate (CTR) analysis of one call to action versus multiple Source: NextStage Evolution, February 2008


Competing links or assets within the same promotional piece inevitably cannibalize each other, as users have to choose which prompt to respond to. If you're measuring success in terms of registration conversion on a Webinar event, your design and message should drive readers to the registration page first and foremost. If the campaign's most important KPI is downloads of a whitepaper or hits on a microsite, make sure those are the most prominent calls to action.

The Landing Page: Spreading the Love

This can get tricky when you're working with a limited promotional budget—it's not always realistic to assume that you'll have enough ad units or deployments to push to each component of a multi-asset campaign one at a time. Nor do you want to sacrifice the narrative thread of an integrated campaign or event series by focusing too exclusively on only one piece of content or another.

The best solution we've found to consolidating a robust set of offers into one call to action and spreading the love across all of the campaign's assets is to leverage an easily navigated landing page. The promotional message then becomes centered around the overarching theme or business problem, and then drives prospects to one destination where they'll then be offered a variety of relevant content.

To maximize this strategy's effectiveness, it's still important that you highlight one particular action once they arrive—otherwise you've only shifted the barrage of choices from the e-mail to the landing page. You may have gotten them one step closer, but make sure that the action you really want them to take is in clear view.

Theory in Action: Our Call-to-Action Laboratory

One of the best-performing Webinar series campaigns I worked on utilized a bait-and-hook strategy that included event-specific promotional e-mails paired with a series landing page broken out into clean, topic-specific modules for each event in the series. The e-mail invitations included one primary call to action—"Register Now"—and then fostered additional interest in the series with the secondary prompt, "Learn More," which redirected to the landing page.

This e-mail promotion offered readers a primary call to action, indicated by placement, design and language: "Register" for the Webinar. A secondary call to action, "Learn More," linked to the series landing page.


This series landing page clearly broke out each event by topic and streamlined calls to action for each ("Register" first, "Learn More" second, "Read White Paper" third).


Because recipients were exposed to information on all of the events during the registration process, they often ended up registering for more than what they originally came for. All of the choices on the landing page were prioritized equally design-wise; next time around we'll put a bit more emphasis on the most important action and analyze how that affects conversion. We might also try adding a link to related content on the confirmation page, once someone's registered for or downloaded the primary asset.

Whether you're working in e-mail or other promotional channels, the bottom line is to give your prospects one clear path; to focus all of your real-estate on encouraging one action. Position additional choices or options as secondary—that way, you'll ensure your audience raises a hand and takes that initial action instead of throwing both hands in the air and taking none at all.

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Katie Walsh is media strategist at Bulldog Solutions.

Marketing Watchdog Journal is a monthly newsletter from Bulldog Solutions, an online marketing agency that changes the way BtoB companies define demand-generation strategy, engage prospects and convert leads to customers. We welcome your feedback on this newsletter's content and design, and encourage you to share your ideas for topics you would like us to cover in future issues. Please send your comments or questions about Bulldog Solutions to Amy Bills, director of Field Marketing.


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