One of the best ways to ruin a truly great sales letter is to not ask for action. The second best way is to include a call to action without a penalty.
Indeed, not all calls to action are the same, but a strong call to action is typically:
- clear about what happens next
- brimming with trust elements
It also has:
- a distinct button to click
- a trial period
- a guarantee
When it comes to getting people to do what you want them to do, there are two ways to ensure this will happen.
First, make the offer so irresistible your prospect feels like a fool for saying no.
Second, make your prospect fear missing out on an opportunity by using a call to action penalty.
What is a “call to action penalty?”
The call to action is an important element in any promotional copy — whether you want people to buy, subscribe, donate, or share your idea. It’s the anchor that grounds the copy.
The penalty is a device that clamps down on the prospect and refuses to let her go until she places the order.
See, prospects will only read your copy if there is a return on their investment. And that return has to outweigh every single objection they might have. The reward must build value so price sensitivity slips away.
Your copy builds value by amplifying a single dominant need your customer has (without repeating yourself).
You move towards a climax — the call to action.
But a call to action alone may not be enough. Your prospect may think to herself, “I like what I’m hearing. I’m definitely going to consider this.”
But a consideration doesn’t pay the bills. What you need to do is add a penalty.
Here are five ways to position a call to action penalty.
1. Price goes up at a deadline
The most natural way to strike fear of losing out is to simply state that the price of an offer will go up at a certain date.
For example, with the launch of a new product, you give prospects two weeks to buy at a reduced rate.
After a specific date, that price jumps to a more painful price point.
2. Limited supply
Scarcity is a type of penalty. Limited supply could mean you only sell 100 seats to a conference. Or you only allow 100 people into your membership site. Whatever the supply, give the exact quantity.
With digital products, like training courses and ebooks, it’s difficult to justify a limited supply, so you simply limit the time you will make these items available. This is not unlike the Disney Vault.
We all know that Disney could easily manufacture a million copies of Sleeping Beauty every week. But they choose not to since we pillage the stores when they do make a limited set of copies available. Because we fear missing out.
3. Offer ends if certain requirements aren’t met
You can also simply end the offer at a specific date if a stated criterion isn’t met.
Groupon email offers are typically cast this way. Say, 80 people have to buy a $1,000 horseback tour of Los Angeles for only $25 by the following Tuesday. If 80 people don’t sign up, the deal is pulled.
This technique does something else, too. People who are interested want to make it happen, so naturally they email all their friends screaming, “Let’s ride horses around Los Angeles for only $25!!!”
Thus, the offer goes viral. Sort of.
4. Missed opportunities
Almost 20 years ago, I messed up a chance to work at UPS. Granted, only as a loader, but UPS has a reputation for taking care of their employees. Great benefits, great pay, and opportunities for advancement.
I really wanted to work there because it would have been a perfect job for a college student. All I had to do was show up at 3:00 a.m. on a Friday. Just show up and the job was probably mine.
I did show up. At what turned out to be 3:00 a.m. on Saturday morning.
The following Monday, I begged them to let me interview again, but they said “no.” That was my chance.
Here’s the lesson for you: if you’re offering something extra special, tell your prospects that this is the day — and this day only.
After that, it’s too late.
5. Remind prospects of their competition
I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating: if you offer a limited supply of your product or service, tell the recipients of your offer how many other people are also receiving this offer:
- “24,566 other people are getting this email.”
- “More than 20,000 other podcast listeners are hearing this offer.”
- “More than 10,000 people visit this website each month.”
Again, be as specific as possible. And couple each message with this: “If you wait until tomorrow, you’ll probably be too late.”
In addition (only say this if it is true), tell them what happened last time: “Last time, this sold out in 23 hours. Wait until tomorrow morning and it might be gone.”
Don’t dilute your penalties
Let me close by saying this: you can erode the power of the penalty by using it too often.
For example, if you have a “this day only” sale for the same product (or suite of products) every month, people will figure you out and just respond when it’s convenient for them.
You haven’t conveyed any sense of urgency.
Finally, remember that penalties are meaningless if the promise you offer in your copy sucks. A great call to action penalty will never save bad copy because it’s doubtful people will even make it to the offer.
Let me know if and how you’ve used penalties. Share your examples, questions, and comments. We look forward to hearing from you.