10 - Optimize for Urgency

Urgency is the degree to which a person needs to take action quickly, based on their motivation to solve a problem. It is not the same as importance.

The author describes an occasion when he was self-conscious about his breath after a lunch that was heavy on the garlic and bought a pack of gum. It was a low-effort decision, and he didn't care that they didn't have his preferred brand - anything minty would suffice - and wasn't looking to get a great deal. That is to say, it was an urgent need (for a quick solution) but not an important one.

He also remarks that purchasing a pack of gum is an unimpressive example - but the vast majority of life's decisions are not taken as momentous, and are made with much less deliberation than merchants seem to expect.

Internal Urgency

Every user has some level of internal urgency that motivates him to undertake a task, and to take action now rather than putting it off. In general, consumers with a high level of urgency will make very bad buying decisions, failing to consider alternatives or pricing when they have a need that absolutely must be addressed this instant.

In other instances, customers act in ways to mitigate urgency - shopping now for something that they will not need to buy until later so that they can proceed at a comfortable pace. (EN: It's worth noting that in developed markets where people have a relatively high amount of wealth, few decisions are made with genuine urgency. No-one at the grocery store is perishing of famine, but stocking supplies for future needs.)

While the internal urgency of prospects are generally beyond the ability of suppliers to influence, they should at least predict the level of urgency and interact appropriately: a vendor who behaves as if there is significantly more or less urgency than the customer feels can be frustrating to deal with.

The author briefly mentions seasonality, as certain needs have higher urgency at different times. The need for a barbecue grill is significantly less urgent in winter than in summer, and is significantly higher before holidays in summer. There can also be differing levels of urgency at a given time of day. That's not to say that every customer who seeks to purchase an item will be desperate to have it, but it is to say that most customers will be feeling greater urgency during periods of peak demand.

From the vendor's perspective, money now is better than money later, leading to the desire of the business to motivate customers to buy sooner rather than later and imagining that there is a shared sense of urgency, but this is not often so. (EN: In fact, a business that seems desperate to sell often finds itself in a disadvantaged negotiating position against customers who can afford to wait - hence customers are aware that they can haggle for even deeper discounts at clearance sales and often win. This is also the reason that many luxury goods are never on sale - to maintain the esteem of the brand, the firm must never seem to be excited about getting rid of inventory.)

One tactic to stoke a sense of urgency is to appeal to the emotions - a strong enough "emotional need" overwhelms the rational reasons to buy, and may lead customers to act in the heat of the moment rather than waiting until they are in a less agitated mood. (EN: This is an area in which a short-term win becomes a long-term loss when a customer cools off and realizes they have been taken advantage of - so beware.)

Some of the tactics to instill urgency in a mark include:

An emotional appeal such as this cannot often stand alone, but must be backed by a supporting rational argument.

External Urgency

The author suggests that pressure can be placed on prospects to act quickly by external sources.

(EN: Again, all of these sleazy tactics can do long-term damage to the reputation of a brand, indicating a need to do more than short-term optimization testing to determine if they will be beneficial in the long run.)

Respond with Urgency

Of particular importance: if you instill in your mark the sense he must act quickly, then you should be prepared to respond quickly as well. In fact, a quick response is more effective even if the mark is not showing a sense of urgency because it indicates that you are attentive to their needs.

The author mentions a study (Oldroyd) that found a 100X decrease in the ability to contact a lead by telephone after 30 minutes compared to contacting them within five minutes. The author concedes the number seems a bit incredible - but take into account that within five minutes of submitting an online form, the prospect is still likely at your desk and thinking about your product, whereas thirty minutes later they have likely wandered off or become engaged in something else.

(EN: I also think the methodology might be a bit hinky, in that anyone who responds after five minutes isn't going to be called again at the thirty-minute mark so the relationship between the numbers is a bit screwy.)