How to create urgency

When you know as many people in copywriting and marketing as I do, you get a lot of really great email pitches.

Most of these pitches don't work on me anymore, and they probably wouldn't work on you. You can see right through the ploy – sure, sure, the price is going to go up tomorrow. Yes, it's a limited time offer. Well, of course there are only so many seats available.

Yawn. You've heard it before and so have I.

And yet – and I'm not making this up – I just bought a $1,300 product from a woman I've known for ten years.

Let me repeat that: I know this woman. We're friends. We've hung out together. We have history. In all likelihood, I could pick up the phone right now and ask her to comp me a copy of this product, and she'd probably say sure, no problem.

But I bought it, late at night on a Wednesday, because she sent me an email that just clicked so perfectly.

I wanted this product. I didn't want to miss out on it. I needed it.

I didn't even think calling my friend and asking for a free copy – and let me remind you: I've been in this business for a very long time. I'm over it. I'm cynical. I'm jaded. I've seen it all before.

And damned if I didn’t hit that buy button despite all this.

What did my friend do to make me lose all my common sense?

She appealed to my senses of need and urgency.

What Is Urgency?

When something has urgency, you understand that a) it's really important and b) you have to act immediately. That's an accurate definition, but urgency has much deeper roots than this description implies.

Urgency appeals directly to an animal sensibility we all have within us. Urgency tells us that we have to fight for those scarce resources. Urgency tells us to run like hell to escape an immediate danger. Urgency gets our heart rates up, makes our focus razor-sharp, and shunts all other possible distractions aside to focus on this single, uber-important decision.

Urgency is the animal inside you that's doing everything it can to help you survive.

It's a powerful tool, and one that should never be used lightly in copy. Over-use urgency and you risk coming off as insane, or obnoxious. You're the guy running down the street shouting that the sky is falling.

Urgency works best in short, direct statements at the end of a longer persuasive argument. Once you’ve demonstrated that you understand your audiences' needs, argued for your product's ability to solve their problems, and laid out the features and the benefits, use one of these techniques to drive the sale home.   

1. Authoritative Commands

When I'm writing a sales page, I find I often wind up using language of an intervention:

This is important to your wellbeing. Without this, you will continue to be miserable. If you just make this change, you can have the life you imagined for yourself.

That language is persuasive. It creates a valid argument for the reader to do what I want him or her to do. It’s good language for creating a mindset that agrees with my position.

But it doesn't create urgency.

Once you've set up your audience with a persuasive argument, they believe in you. They believe that buying what you're selling would be a good idea. But believing it's a good idea doesn't necessarily give them the push they need to hit the buy-now button.

Direct, authoritative commands give them that push:

You have to do this.

Make the change.

Take the first step.

Click that button.

Change your life.

Urgency is different than persuasion. If persuasion is the caring friend intervening on your behalf and working gently to convince you, urgency is the coach that pushes you hard to eke out just one more step, to keep running one more minute, to do this now.

2. This Sale Ends at Midnight

One of the words people associate – wrongly – with urgency is "soon". For example, "This deal ends soon."

"Soon" doesn’t create urgency. "Soon" is one of the laziest words in the English language. Think about it: When you’re procrastinating tackling a particular task, when do you tell yourself you’ll get to it?

Soon.  

If you want to create urgency, you have to give your readers a specific time and date when the clock runs out. They have to feel the time ticking, they have to glance at their cell phone (because seriously, who wears watches anymore), do the math, and realize, "Oh no. There's only two hours left."

You have to get specific to create that urgency:

We're closing the doors at midnight tonight.

Tuesday at 12pm, you'll miss your chance to get in on this deal.

There are only 5 hours left to snap up My Awesome Product at this sale price.

You don’t want readers thinking they’ll come back to your amazing sale "soon". You want them thinking, "I have to go hit this button at 11:30 pm tonight, because otherwise I miss my chance."

Give them a specific day and time when the clock will run out, pair it with a last-minute warning, and I promise you that you'll have sales coming in right under the wire.

That's urgency at work.

3. The Last One

The last one. The only one left. After this, there will be no more.

However you phrase it, this concept creates urgency. If you want to see the power of "the last one" in action, go to the grocery store sometime. Whenever you see only one item left on a shelf, you'll likely feel a strange compulsion to pick it up, even if it is not an item you normally buy.

It's the last one.

That means it must be important. It must be valuable. And you feel like you'd better grab it before someone else does.

When you use this idea, you're triggering a sense of urgency.

This is one of the few techniques on this list that makes no rational sense. It shouldn’t matter if there's only one left, considering you weren’t planning on buying it in the first place.

But human beings are wired to think that if everyone else has already grabbed one (and since there's only one left, of course everyone else snatched up the others), then we have to have it.

Again, it's unwise to pull this one out if you’re not actually down to the wire on stock, but you can use the words "last one" without having only one seat left or one item in inventory.  For example, you can use this in an email subject:  

This is the last one.

When your reader opens up the email (and he or she will), you can easily turn this into a warning that this is the last email they’ll receive before your sale is over. You don't have to be referring to the last item of whatever it is you're selling.

All you need to do is plant the concept of "the last one" in their heads. They'll be scrambling to get theirs before they fully realize what it is.

Now, if I've done my job right, your heart should be moving a little faster right now. You might be a little more aware of your pulse, and you might actually be holding your breath a bit. That’s not an accident – that's the language of urgency taking hold.

I've been using urgent language throughout this post, and right now, you should be itching to do something – anything – because you have the sense that it's important to take action.

So here we go - this is the last bit of urgency I have to give you:

Go put these techniques to use in your copy. Right now. 

Author: James Chartrand
is the renowned leading copywriter and founder of Men with Pens, a world-class website company providing its clients with strategic design and influential content. James also teaches business owners better writing skills at one of the best online writing courses today, Damn Fine Words.