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How to Write Compelling Call-to-Action Messages Without the Fear Factor

Glad woman with cat writing in planner while using laptop
Photo by Sam Lion |

Writing effective call-to-action (CTA) messages is crucial for any business to attract more paying customers. Using fear-based tactics to do this is tempting. But they can also turn potential customers away.

So, how can we create compelling CTAs without resorting to fear tactics?

It took me a while to figure it out and I realised it isn’t about using another “technique”. Rather, it’s about shifting our approach to writing CTA messages. When I first tried this, I realised I was able to tap deeper into my creativity and focus on the values and benefits of my clients’ offerings.

I don’t have all the answers yet. But researching this topic and writing this journal article has opened my imagination to craft better, more compelling and kinder words for marketing purposes.

And if you have been, like me, searching for better ways to market your brand, I hope this article will steer you towards the right direction as well.

Let’s get started.

What’s a Call to Action Message?

CTA (call-to-action) messages are, according to Hubspot, “a brief message that asks the reader to engage in some way.”

So, whether your copy appears on your website, banner ad, marketing email or social media caption, CTA messages are the phrases or sentences we use to entice our customers to click a link, fill in a form, make a purchase, interact with our content and more.

But don’t underestimate these short messages. They actually play a vital role in motivating and guiding our audiences to take the desired action, and consequently help drive conversion and achieve specific goals through our website and marketing materials.

Here are some of my favourite CTA messages that I’ve seen in the wild:

A screen shot of a website pop-up window by Earth Hero. The image is a vertical image. In the image is the cropped view of a woman holding a delivery box of goodies she ordered from Earth Hero. Below the image is the text "Put your money where your mindfulness is. Discover 150+ brands and thousands of eco-friendly products, all made for the modern shopper (and with carbon neutral shipping!) Treat yourself to 10% off" followed by the symbol of an arrow pointing downwards
Earth Hero website pop-up

This image shows a bus advertisement with a mint grey background with the words "I Googled My Symptoms...Turns out I need a holiday to the Maldives". This ad is produced for a travel company called Travelbag
Travelbag bus ad

This is a screen shot of a Facebook advertisement by Guardian Jobs. It starts with the caption "The National Gallery, Curator of Later Italian, Spanish and French Paintings, £63,654 per annum, central London." Below the caption is an image with a pink background; on the right are two fingerprints with hands and feet high-fiving each other; on the left is the text "Find a job where you can be you".
Guardian Jobs Facebook ad

The Problem with Fear-based Call to Action Messages

There’s an art to crafting compelling CTA messages that entices us to subscribe, to buy, to join an offering in a specific way. Persuasion, psychological and sales tactics are used to compel us to perform certain actions. But oftentimes, these tactics lean into our fears.

Using fear-based techniques is an age-old concept in marketing and copywriting, which was derived from advertising strategies. Sounds terrible, but why does fear work so well? Because when we feel threatened, scared or worried, it motivates us to take action, to feel safe, to find a solution.

This is how Konrad Sanders, CEO of The Creative Copywriter Agency, describes it:

“Fears of missing out. Fears of not being successful. Fears of not looking our best at the party of the year. These fears are palpable. They're real. And they motivate us to make decisions to rectify that intense fearful feeling”.

In 2022 alone, we are exposed to 4,000 to 10,000 ads in a single day according to Red Crow Marketing. This means we see thousands of carefully crafted messages. Day after day. Messages that sell and convince us of our fears.

These marketing messages, writes Jean Kilbourne, writer and activist on the image of women in advertising, “sell a great deal more than just products. They sell values, images, and concepts of success and worth, love and sexuality, popularity, and normalcy. They tell us who we are and who we should be.”

Over time, these messages become so ingrained in our subconscious that we start to believe that we are not enough. Without a doubt, fear-based techniques work very well to help us drive traffic, increase sales and hit our business goals. But at what cost to our long-term well-being?

Benefits of Ditching Fear Tactics for Good

Fear-based CTA messages are crafted by just focusing on the negative side of what we’re missing out on, the fear of not being enough. But with the rise of conscious consumerism, there’s a quiet revolution happening across the world. Purpose-driven brands are now advocating for a better way of doing things. And that also includes a better way to market our offering and craft marketing messages and copy.

If we can lean into the negative side of things in order to write compelling CTA copy, we can also flip things around and focus on the positive benefits and values just as well. And in return, we are achieving more than just targets and business and marketing goals.

We are also:

  • Building trust and authenticity

  • Establishing long-term relationships

  • Enhancing audience’s satisfaction

  • Inspiring informed and conscious decisions

  • Creating positive brand perception

Whether you want your customers to buy a product, join an event, download an e-book or follow you on social media…clearly communicating the value and benefits of your offering is what gets customers to take action. To tap that button and complete the desired behaviour. And having a compelling CTA copy is truly the icing on the cake. It’s what gets your customers to take action.

So, how can we write better and more compelling CTA messages without fear?

Focus on Values and Ditch the Fear

Instead of thinking “What can we do to write more compelling CTAs”, think “How can we shift our approach to writing more consciously”.

One approach that I love using is shifting from a "call to action" to a "call to value". I discovered this term through the content of the email marketing mastermind Chase Dimond. And I love it because it involves focusing less on what your audience should do and more on what they stand to gain.

This approach allows me to emphasize the values or benefits that come with taking a particular action. It’s a wonderful way to tap into our audience's desires and motivations without leaning into their fears. And I find this approach much more effective in crafting more engaging, compelling CTA copy.

Here are some simple examples to point us towards the right direction (courtesy of Chase):

  • “Get Started” → “Create Your Website”

  • “Find a Job for You” → “Get Hired Today”

  • “Start a Free Trial” → “Try It at No Cost”

So, instead of simply telling your audience to "subscribe now" or "buy today," focus on the value they will receive from doing so. Maybe it's access to exclusive content or an opportunity to improve their lives in some way.

I also love using this approach because it helps me write in a much more approachable way that can ultimately inspire my target audience to take action. And inspiration here is the keyword – because inspiration is what gives us that spark of joy to make a move.

Wrapping Up

Many CTAs use fear-based tactics. But following the crowd doesn’t guarantee success. Instead, we can tap into our creativity and redirect the words we choose in our CTAs to focus on the positive aspects of our offerings. This can also help us better differentiate ourselves and show our audience that we care.

Wanna learn more about crafting effective and compelling CTAs that align with your brand values? Reach out to me to continue the conversation.


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