Creating Urgency Without Being a Slimeball

Creating a sense of urgency has a direct and tangible impact on your conversion rates. But how do you leverage it without sounding like a slimy used car salesman? Wield the mighty power of urgency using these (ethical) marketing tactics.

!!! BUY NOW !!!!


You see it all the time in advertising—attempts to manufacture a sense of urgency and separate would-be buyers from their hard-earned cash. There’s a reason businesses do their best to make you feel like the sky is falling. They’re trying to tap into that innate human “Fight or Flight” urge and pushing the buttons that take you from apathetic observer to frantic-clicking buying machine.

And boy, does it ever feel greasy sometimes.

From eye-roll inducing timers ticking  down to never-ending sales deadlines (y’know, those “Sale Ends Tomorrow!” counters that reset every time they hit zero) to faux-scarcity (“Only 10 copies left!”… a number that never decreases), attempts to induce a sense of urgency can be downright nauseating, accomplishing the opposite of what was intended:

Destroying trust and costing you the sale.

But urgency is important—and there are numbers to prove it.

Big hat-tip to Brian Clark of Copyblogger who made me aware of this study by Marketing Experiments on leveraging urgency in landing pages. Now granted, these are isolated studies, but some of the results among their findings are startling:

  • A time-sensitive $100 savings incentive with an actual deadline increased enrollment in an online course by 992 percent in the three days following the promotion.
  • “Implied urgency” by using a date-stamp on the page of a “lowest price” deal increased sales by 10 percent for 48 hours after the page was shared via email.
  • Mentioning the quantity of product available (even without any mention that further stock would not be available) increased conversion rates by 508 percent.

Part of this is because of the evil power of the word “soon” (as shared by James Chartrand). People might love what you’re offering, but if they tell themselves they’ll get on it “soon,” they’re likely to forget or never really take action. (After all, you promised yourself you’d get in shape “soon,” right?)

So if we know that urgency has a direct and tangible impact on conversion rates, but we don’t want to come across like a used salesman, how can we safely (and ethically) wield its mighty power?

Understand: They Know It’s a Promo Tactic


Even when it works, your audience can smell an attempt to manipulate them from a mile away. We’ve become used to deflecting manufactured urgency. What that means for you is an understanding that you’re not being covert. Your customers are playing chess with you, and they know the move you’re making. You’ve got to enter the relationship respecting the customer and knowing they need to be convinced—not deceived.

Here’s how you counteract that instinctual urge to ignore:

Urgency ≠ persuasion

No amount of urgency will sell an awful product or win over an apathetic audience. If you want to use urgency the right way, your product has to hit on a real need and the rest of your pitch has to do persuasion’s heavy lifting.

Winning a conversion takes two things: A feeling of desire (“I’ve got to have this thing!”) and a nudge that refuses to allow the lead to procrastinate (“But I’ll get it later”). Your sales copy is the hook, and urgency is the tug on the reel.

In other words, just slapping big “Buy Now!” and “Limited Quantity!” stickers all over your landing page ain’t gonna do a darn thing especially if the copy that makes up the body of your pitch is a wet noodle. But likewise, belief in your product or solution doesn’t guarantee you’ll get a sale.

Belief ≠ Buy

Once they believe, they need to be spurred on to action. Urgency works because people feel it’s very important to act immediately on an offer they already believe in. That means that before you go to town introducing urgency, you need to make sure that you:

  • Have an offer that aligns with what the user needs
  • Demonstrate that you have a solution for the pain points they are experiencing
  • Establish the unique sales proposition (the specific benefit to the customer that leads to the outcome they desire)
  • Have done all of the above in a format that doesn’t ramble or lose the interest of the reader

Got that stuff in check? Then let’s close the deal.

Give Them an authentic “Why” Behind the Urgency

“Why should I buy now? What’s in it for me?”

We’re trying to get the lead to stop resting on their laurels, so we need to give ’em a real good reason to do so. Here are some ways to do that:

Appeal to Specific Deadlines (And stick to them).

“This deal won’t last long!” is compelling but not nearly as compelling as “Offer expires April 25th” or “Sale ends in 3 hours!”

You want to give people a finite time limit with which to act. Don’t leave it open-ended; slam home the fact that the urgency is real, the clock is actually ticking and the deadline is really looming. Be very careful with this. As we talked about earlier, being disingenuous with deadlines (resetting them constantly, manufacturing them) costs you trust and may actually lose you the sale.

Offer an added incentive or bonus.

Give the person an added benefit if they move fastFor example, Mozcon, a massive digital marketing conference, offers people a steep discount if they register within a predefined window (well ahead of the conference for the next year). Anyone who is debating whether or not they will attend now has the opportunity to save themselves a bundle by moving quickly.

Added incentives can take other formats, like thrown-in additions. We’ve all seen these on infomercials:
Buy now and you’ll get not one, not two, but THREE robotic potato peelers for the price of one! 

Buy today, and we’ll give you FREE shipping!


As is implicit in the examples I shared above, added incentives work well when tied to specific deadlines.

Refer to legitimate scarcity.

What do you do when you know there are only 30 tickets left for that concert you’re desperate to attend? You wake up at 5:00 a.m., camp out by your computer and buy, buy, buy! If you’re selling something with an intuitive limitation (like seats at an event, copies of a limited edition, etc.), listing these is a way to drive action.

You can use this to your advantage in multiple ways:

  • Notify customers of the outset from the very beginning
  • Update at critical limits (e.g., 3,000 tickets left have turned into 300)
  • Imply scarcity with a limit on purchase numbers (e.g., only two per customer implies the deal is so hot you can’t afford to let then take more than that)
  • If the sale is recurring (e.g., seasonal, quarterly, etc.), make note that it sold out when doing future promotions. This is implied urgency in that people will expect future sales to do the same.

Gently Poke A Finger in the Wound.

Sorry for the ugly visual there, but it’s a good metaphor. Urgency can take the form of a reminder: A reminder life is and will continue to be incomplete without “X.”

This is one to be handled with caution. The goal is to create a sense of ownership in an outcome: “Imagine how great you’ll feel fitting into those jeans again!” Then, gently remind leads that they’re currently deprived of that outcome. (You need to make the change today.)

You want to reintroduce the underlying pain point, pair it with an outcome the lead deeply desires, and tie all that up to immediate action. The urgency comes from within; the deadline becomes intrinsic to feeling relief. (Do you want to feel better NOW, or a year from now?)

Don’t be slimy

Slimy businesses slap fake deadlines, faux-scarcity and hard-selling coercions onto products without looking after the user. They make urgency the focal point of the transaction instead of demonstrating that they’ve got a solution worth getting up and moving for.

Smart businesses coach the lead away from apathy and toward taking an immediate action, playing off of the sense of desire they’ve created and providing a compelling, legitimate reason to make that call and make it now. 

If the difference sounds subtle, it’s certainly not to the people buying from you!

responses to “Creating Urgency Without Being a Slimeball”

  1. […] Create a sense of urgency. It’s our natural inclination to want to sit back and evaluate. That’s bad news, because the longer a buyer sits and rationally analyzes the situation, the more the ever-so-important role of emotions in purchase behavior has a chance to subside. Your content needs to prime the lead to act NOW, without sounding like a used car salesman. […]

  2. Walter says:

    Very strong Joel. I’ll be contacting you soon.

  3. intouchcrm says:

    Excellent post! Will be trying those out. Looking forward to the results!

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