JeremySaid's Blog for Startups and Lead Generation

How to Implement Urgency and Scarcity to Improve Conversions

Posted by Jeremy Smith on Sep 24, 2015 3:15:01 PM

Everybody wants everything right away. We’re a culture of “Now!” Heck, you don’t even have to wait a week for the next episode of your favorite TV show – the whole season is waiting for you to binge on it now.

You need to instill a sense of “now” in your web marketing program. But it’s different for a seller. Your buyers want to have it now, but they don’t necessarily want to let loose of it now (i.e., spend their money). Therefore, along with “now” (urgency), you have to imply “... but not for long!” (scarcity).

Instilling urgency and scarcity is a tried-and-true marketing technique. You’ve heard it a million times: Act Now! Hurry! A Once in a Lifetime Opportunity! Only Two Days Left! Get ’em While They’re Hot!

And then there’s that old, somehow recurring, chesnut: Going Out of Business Sale!

You can increase your website conversions by persuading potential customers that the time to buy is now before it’s too late.

And I’m going to show you how to do it – right now.

What are Urgency and Scarcity?

The guys at the Unbounce blog define “urgency” in a marketing sense as: “The use of trigger words or scarcity tactics to increase your prospects’ sense of having to act immediately.” They call “scarcity” a “psychological tactic that taps into people’s fear of missing out to drive action.”

In Principles of Marketing Engineering by Gary L. Litten, et al., he says, “The urgency of a need refers to the perceived amount of time within which the consumer believes the need must be resolved.”

You’ll notice that Litten speaks of time, or the “temporal” aspects of urgency. Time is a friend of the marketer who wants to create urgency. We’ll introduce you in a moment.

“Scarcity” is usually seen as an economic term. The availability or scarcity of resources and determining how they will be used to meet society’s unending needs is the basic function of economics. As certain resources’ scarcity increases (or availability decreases) their value rises. It’s the ol’ “supply and demand.”

The link between urgency and scarcity is that as urgency increases (demand) pressure on supply also increases, which leads to scarcity and higher value. And people naturally want what’s valuable. If you increase the value of your product or service (and the cost does not rise out of reach), people want it more. And, hey, it’s only a mouse click or two away, so ...

Creating urgency and scarcity

Creating urgency and scarcity comes down to imposing limits on things of value.

photo of birds flying in the sky by Rowan Heuvel

(Photo By Rowan Heuvel)

First, what you’re selling must have value or importance to a prospective buyer. In part, value is imparted by the intrinsic characteristics of the product or service you offer. This should be clearly laid out in your product’s or service’s “unique selling proposition,” or USP, which is a statement or sales points used in some fashion in all your marketing material. But your product’s extrinsic value matters, too. Extrinsic value is imposed on a product or service, which basically is what marketing is all about.

Value is good, but limits are bad. Most people chafe at limits. Limits create a fear of missing out – FOMO. Missing out can cause sadness and even anger (which emotionally are very similar) about “what could have been.” Put a limit on someone, and watch how quickly they’ll move and how hard they’ll work to beat it. Limit something they want (value), and you’d better get out of the way.

Marketers create conversions and sales by offering something of value and then limiting:

  • Time (urgency). The one resource that grows scarcer for each of us with every passing day is time. Time is linear. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. There’s no going back. It’s foolproof: Time ran out and there’s nothing we can do about it. You don’t get one. No one wants that to happen to them.
  • Amount (scarcity). Though other resources may be renewable, in most cases they aren’t instantly renewable – even though you really, really want it now. For most things of value, there’s only so many or only so much to go around. This may be by choice, because they’re special limited editions or because it’s an “exclusive” sale. It may be a natural occurrence, such as with a rare gem, a one-time event or simply because everyone else has already bought theirs (demand limiting supply). Scarcity also inherently increases value, but it isn’t quite like time. If it sold out, you can bet they’ll make more. How many “farewell” tours has your favorite band made?

Here are 10 ways for you to create some urgency and scarcity that will beef up your conversion rate:

1. Deadlines.

Limited time only! This is scarcity driven by time. Did you know that “deadline” was originally a term from the Civil War? A “dead line” referred to a line drawn around military prisons beyond which prisoners were liable to be shot, according to Oxford Dictionaries. You’ve heard of the “drop dead” deadline? Deadlines signify the end. Imply an end, or define an absolute end, to whatever you’re offering, and people will clamor for it.

limited time offer ad

Men’s what? I’m not sure, but I want mine!

limited time offer ad for website hosting

But wait, Jeremy; if people are buying it, why would I want to stop selling it at some self-imposed deadline? Well, you wouldn’t, nor would you have to.back by popular demand

Simply shout (in text), “We’ve extended our deadline!” They’ll thank you. Or wait a day then cite “popular demand” and keep on rolling:

instantly save Note “instantly save.” Killer phrase.


back by popular demna ad for mcdonalds

2. Holiday sales.

It’s really another deadline, since a holiday is defined point in time that comes and goes, but a holiday sale provides an extra reason to buy. It’s a celebration! Everyone loves that. Why, it’s a patriotic celebration! Hooray!

guitar center presidents day sale

Njcpenney fourth of july saleotice they are not promising discounts.

With just the slightest hint of why you want new glasses for summer, guys.

And since it’s a self-imposed deadline …

memorial day extended sale

Do I need to explain Christmas sales? Didn’t think so.

3. Countdown clocks.

Show them that time is running out. This, of course, will include some kind of “hurry up” copy, such as “limited time only” or “going fast!” Groupon has nearly made the countdown clock a trademark. Time is a component of every deal they offer. You’d better jump on it now or you’ll be out in the cold.

groupon countdow trip sale

Groupon provides long lead times, but you can set yours to whatever fits your campaign.

product release countdown clockFree code for adding a countdown clock to a webpage, email or any web-based marketing material is easy to find.

Countdown clocks can also be used prior to release of a new product to create anticipation. But that, as they say, is another blog post.

4. “In stock” counts.

You could just say “Limited Number in Stock” or you can boost urgency further with a running tally of dwindling supply similar to a countdown clock. You may have noticed that Groupon uses an “in stock” stat along with its countdown clock. Saying you only have a few available or showing that others are buying your product documents its scarcity. Add “only” and “today” to the count for extra kick: Only 10 in stock today!

5. “Early bird” sales.

Being the first or among the first at anything confers status that only a limited number can claim. How nice you are to do this for your customers! There are also “early adopters” who have a strong desire to be among the first. Your early bird sale will be calling their names. And, of course, your customer knows that to be among the first he must act now.

Usually you’ll need to provide a discount to make your earlybird offer a “sale,” but not necessarily. A “preview sale” confers time-limited urgency and scarcity, as well as exclusivity (a form of scarcity), but doesn’t imply a discount.

6. High sales numbers.

This variation on a supply count creates the “everybody has one” or “everybody’s doing it” effect. Most folks won’t want to be left out. Besides, it must be pretty good if everyone else has already bought one. (McDonalds, movie/broadway show)

7. Limited editions.

Instead of just saying you have a limited supply, justify your scarcity by making the few you have special. A new report in Psychology & Marketing confirms that marketing limited edition, or LE, products with limited-time or limited-quantity messages influences consumers to see them as more special, unique, and valuable.

They don’t have to be that special. Is there a color, design change or another feature you’ve been talking about using but haven’t yet? Test it in a special, limited edition.

Anniversary editions make great limited-edition products. They not only confer a time-limited exclusivity, they create a sense of community. Buyers of anniversary editions feel like they are a part of your company’s history – or they want to be.

8. Deluxe editions.

A deluxe edition typically requires something extra, but not necessarily very much. Regardless of what’s new or extra, “deluxe edition,” “collector’s edition” or simply “special edition” in the ad (and on the package) implies value and scarcity. Issuing deluxe edition CDs is standard practice for what’s left of the music industry. Classic rock bands are selling the same old songs plus just a little bit more to fans who have already bought them once or even twice already. DVD marketers have also scored new and repeated sales with “deluxe” editions.

9. Members only.

This is another play on exclusivity / scarcity: You can’t have one unless you’re one of us. Now, there may be millions of members, but Joe User is not yet one of them and reaping the benefits. He’ll want to be once he recognizes the outstanding value of membership via the ad’s use of your unique selling proposition. The bar for becoming a member should be low if not nonexistent, and it absolutely must be foolproof easy to sign up.

10. VIP sales.

This takes membership exclusivity up a notch. Everyone wants the be seen as important. “Very important” is even better. And who’s very important to you? Your customers. All of them. Target a VIP sale to anyone who has ever bought from you before. (You are maintaining lists, right?) You can extend the concept with conceits like “gold” and “platinum” status, memberships, clubs, etc., that are awarded or are easy signups.

When’s the best time for implementing urgency and scarcity? Now!

Adding elements of urgency and scarcity to your marketing copy not only ramps up your customers’ desire, it gives you several different creative approaches to work with. I’ve shown you some in this article you can easily apply to your existing or next campaign.

I’ve haven’t talked much about testing these approaches, in part because you need to test everything. But you can do most of these with little or no added investment. Ads that appeal to the scarcity / exclusivity of membership or status have the added benefit of collecting customer data with an opt-in sign up.

But what I really want you to understand is that you need to get on this now, before it’s too late. The conversions you’re not making today are going somewhere else. Hurry!

Yeah. You get it.

Topics: Conversion Optimization, decision making, Landing Page Optimization, Unique Selling Proposition, Web Psychology

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