You Have to Ask: 7 Ways to Use Actionable Language

There comes a moment in any marketing endeavour when it’s time to make “the ask.” You’ve gotten your audience’s attention, laid out your case, instilled the right emotions, and are ready to take the plunge and ask for something in return.

Do you ask subtly? Do you make a hard demand? What’s the most effective way to get your audience onboard? One of the keys of a strong ask, is actionable language– wording that prompts others to take action. Like most things in marketing there isn’t any one approach that works in all cases, but there are some basic tools at your disposal:

1. Use Verbs

If you want someone to do something, one of the most common pieces of advices is to use action words, namely verbs.

Strong calls to action (CTA) are succinct, unambiguous, and direct the user to make a simple choice. Terms like “Click Here,” “Download,” and “Call Us Now,” leave nothing to the imagination. The user knows what you are asking them to do and how to do it.

Phrases like “Learn More,” “Find out More,” or “Give us a Call” are more subtle. They have their uses for brands with an understated image, but are typically considered less persuasive overall. A study in the UK found that “Click Here for More Information” got 97% more clicks and 16% more pageviews than “Find out More.”

In some cases it’s possible to be both nuanced and convincing by directing readers to do something for someone else. For example, restaurant booking website OpenTable might not just ask you outright to make a reservation, but instead recommend you to “Take Mom to Brunch.”

2. Write in the Second Person

First person accounts are someone telling you their story. Third person writing is a fly on the wall account of an event, an outsider’s observation. But, second person language is handy for calls to action because it uses pronouns like “you,” “your,” and “yours” that direct others to do something.

It puts the focus on the audience. Take this sentence: “’Before you leave in the morning, remember to bring your jacket.’ It means you orient the copy towards the reader, not yourself.”

3. Make it Time Sensitive

A compelling request should also feel like a limited time offer. The reader should feel that if they delay they might miss a golden opportunity. Use words like “Today,” “Now,” and “Immediately” to indicate that this deal is a limited time engagement and time is of the essence. ”Take examples from sites such as Amazon where they create a sense of urgency with calls to action like ‘Buy now to get 50% off.’”

FOMO or “fear of missing out” is a strong motivator in today’s social media inundated world. We all get to see every interesting event our friends take part in, and it often leaves us feeling like we’re the only ones missing out on the fun.

Smart marketing often plays on these concerns. Ticketmaster doesn’t just tell you to “Buy Tickets,” they say “Don’t Miss Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.” The message is clear: this is your chance to see something great, and it’s going fast.

4. Get Right to the Point

Know ahead of time what it is you want from your audience so that you won’t waste their time meandering around the subject. Figure out your ask, then determine a concise and potent way to express it.

Then hone down even further. ”Reword and restructure until the action jumps out of the page. A great way to identify inactionable communication is when you struggle with what to do.” It should be absolutely clear what is being asked and what the next step is.

5. Personalize

Another important tip is to make sure you are directing your message to the right audience at the right time. In-app behavior, web cookies, and other identifiers can be used to dynamically tailor your language to your target market.

”According to a study by Direct Marketing Association, segmented and targeted emails generated 58% of all revenue for the marketers surveyed, and 36% of revenues were driven by emails sent to specific target selections.”

6. Be Confident

The reason it can be hard to ask for things is because we fear rejection. It’s a fundamental human trait. But, a persuasive call to action can’t let on that you are even considering failure. You are hoping to form a relationship (or strengthen an existing one) with your reader.

You can’t expect someone to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself. So, exude confidence in your language.

But, don’t confuse confidence for coercion: ”If you trick customers into giving over their information, you run the risk of ruffling a few feathers. People like to feel like the business that they’re dealing with is transparent and honest.” Being bold and direct is great, but don’t use that strength to deceive your audience.

7. Get Creative

Last, but certainly not least, don’t just rehash the same tired CTA over and over again. Actionable language is like any other stimuli, it loses potency with time. Novel stimuli will always be more effective than ones that are highly familiar. ”…you should also think about a unique or creative way you can package your ask so it stands out from the crowd.”

There’s a million ways to ask for something. So, iterate, experiment, A/B test, and continually look for new and innovative ways to activate your target market.


To sum up, use verbs, speak in the second person, make your audience feel a time crunch and play on their fear of missing out, don’t beat around the bush, individualize whenever possible, and be fearless and original.

If you can do all that, you drastically improve your chances of hearing that magic word: YES!