Things we love: Buttons that call the shots

Why buttons make a believer (and a buyer) out of me

The Container Store's button is crisp, clean and, yes, clickable.

I had an epiphany not long ago, as I was checking email one minute and somehow shopping for “fridge solutions” the next. Did I think I had a fridge problem to solve before I opened this email? No. Did I somehow click the button anyway? Uh-huh.

So what happened? In fact, the email was so remarkably eye-catching and the button so effective that it lured me in. I think this idea of buttons as, well, bait is one worth exploring …

Button, button, who's got the button?

The purpose of a call-to-action (CTA) button is to give the audience something tangible to do -- or to have -- at a glance.

In short, a call-to-action button answers three questions for recipients:

  • What’s this?
  • What’s in it for me?
  • What am I supposed to do now?

Eye-catching buttons often appear when you’ve got an apparent marketing goal: Buy this or Sign up.

What surprises me is how rarely they’re done with audience goals top of mind. Your audience may want to get more information -- or find out how you’re going to help them solve a problem -- before they buy.

Here’s a simple exercise to get in the frame of mind of your audience:

  1. Write down the target audience and their challenges (as related to your industry or product).
  2. List all of the things that your audience must know, do or have in order for their challenges to be solved. (It might help to write down their goals from their perspective, using clear action verbs and outcomes.)
  3. Craft messages that’ll speak to those challenges and goals — and how you’ll help solve them. (Those messages may turn into your campaign themes, the content on your landing page or even the text on the call-to-action button. It all depends how you choose to complete this exercise.)
  4. Test your messages and call-to-action text on real audience members and ask for reactions and feedback.
  5. Repeat and refine!

Need more guidance as you’re crafting your messages? You might find these do’s and don’ts from MediaPost helpful.

The psychology of call-to-action buttons

Now that you’ve figured out some of the messages, it’s time to think more about the visual aspects of the button. Clicking requires a high degree of mental arousal, but very low commitment. Most people make up their mind the instant they spot a clear benefit, and yet are rarely conscious of deciding at all.

Typically, CTA buttons take a four-pronged approach:

  • Pop: The pop is provided by design characteristics that attract the eye and tell viewers what to do.
  • Promise: A promise gives the audience a sense of “what’s in it for me.”
  • Placement: Buttons need a conspicuous location or else they’re overlooked.
  • Push: Urgent, action-oriented words and graphics (like arrows) trigger an impulse to click.

In a nutshell, buttons appeal to the monkey part of our brain that likes shiny objects. Need recognition is key to clicks, and that’s where the promise comes in. People move fast from identifying a problem to acting on it, and there’s no time for seek-and-find in that moment. If items one, two and three are covered, the push can be soft as a feather. Pointing the way is a courtesy gesture by now. (For even more visual tips for buttons, check out this boagworld article.)

Analyze this

It’s time to apply what we’ve learned about buttons to a real example: lululemon’s call to action at right.

lululemon's (un)buttoned look really works.

  • Pop: Clickability is implied with three-dimensional embossed text to carve out a cool (un)buttoned look.
  • Promise: The image, copy and odd angle suggest a delightfully devil-may-care brand of fun in store.
  • Placement: “X” literally marks the spot; the rider is even about to run over the CTA — that builds momentum.
  • Push: The text is fun and unexpected (“Show me stuff to ride in”), and an arrow points out that it’s time to hit the road (and click).

Ultimately, marketers and their audiences share the same goals, otherwise we wouldn’t engage in the first place. At the end of the day, it’s simply a matter of creating buttons that make decisions easy so that everybody gets what they want.

Have you seen some stellar call-to-action buttons lately? We’d love to see other good examples. Share email or website links below, or tell us what makes a button compellingly clickable in your eyes.