Creating a sense of urgency with your direct mailings is one of the oldest—and most effective—marketing approaches in the book. You’ve seen the approach hundreds of times. Store banners, newspaper ads, and direct mailers proclaim: “Limited Time Offer!” or “Limited Quantities!” or the ever-popular, “When They’re Gone, They’re Gone!
The truth, however, is that it’s a limited time offer—until the offer is made again next month. The limited quantity may mean that there is only one available and it’s simply a loss-leader to get customers to respond. And “when they’re gone” probably means they’ve gone to the warehouse until the company decides to try to sell them again.
So are these just ploys used by unscrupulous merchants? Not at all! There are times when both are legitimate calls to immediate action. But there is a subtle difference between the two. Mixing them up can be a big mistake. Let’s look briefly at both.
There are times when a request for an urgent response is appropriate. If you work for an aid agency trying to help in a time of emergency, time is of the essence. It’s appropriate to ask donors to contribute urgently to meet pressing needs. That’s legitimately urgent. However, not everything you mail should have that same sense of urgency. If it does, you lose the power of that word.
Bear in mind also, that there’s a difference between urgency and opportunity. It’s OK to mention that an opportunity has a limited timeframe. But if you overplay that—and call it urgent—you’re likely to come across as an arm-twister. People don’t like being manipulated. Pressuring people too hard to “act now” is uncomfortable.
When something is scarce, it creates a sense of urgency. Go to a grocery store right before a big winter storm and you can watch milk flying out of the coolers And the less milk there is in the coolers, the more desperate people are to buy it. They may not really need four gallons of milk, but the idea that they might not be able to get it later is a powerful motivator.
Some businesses use scarcity to generate a sense of urgency for their products. Sometimes that’s perfectly legitimate. If a developer is down to the last two lots in an area where he’s building there can be a genuine sense of urgency for a homebuyer who wants to live in that specific area.
Are urgency and scarcity good motivators? They certainly work. Some marketers would even suggest that your call to action isn’t complete without adding a penalty as an extra motivator (the price goes up after August 15, or this offer limited to the first 50 responders). Copyblogger has an interesting article on this you might want to check out.
Remember, however, that marketing today is about building trust and being transparent. If there’s a genuine scarcity or a real sense of urgency—by all means let people know. But think twice about manufacturing scarcity or urgency to manipulate people into action. You may fool them once, but they may not give you a second chance.
What are your thoughts about using urgency and scarcity? Leave me a note in the comments section.