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What you should know about urgency marketing

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Scrolling around a website, you click on a link for a program.

On the program sales page, you notice three things:

Thing #1: There’s a taunting ticking timer in the right-hand corner counting down.

Thing #2: The program is only on sale/available for the next x number of hours.

Thing #3: There’s a ton of copy reminding you:

…that you only have so much time… you must act now or you’ll miss out… and your life will never get better…. and that once this offer goes away….you’ll regret it…not just today but you’ll live a life of regrets….and one day, on your poor, cold, lonely deathbed, your biggest regret will be that you didn’t buy that program you knew you should’ve …and so you missed out…on everything…what did you do with your life?

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating. Slightly.

But you know the urgency mumbo jumbo I’m referring to.

Of course you do, you’ve seen it a million times. We all have. You sell products or services online yourself, so maybe you’ve done this, too.

The countdowns.

The tiresome text trumpeting: time is limited!

The 10th (back-to-back) email reminder rushing readers to click and buy now or they’ll miss out on purchasing.

Sometimes this is done ethically. There are a limited amount of products in stock. Or the coach/consultant/trainer does only have so many spots open for new clients. Or a course/program has a live start date. This is fair. Obviously.

But a lot of what we see online is false scarcity. And that’s because it’s been hailed as an effective way to get more sales.

But how effective is it?

Let’s break down why it’s so hideous, how it actually hurts your business, and, of course, how we can do better.

*Disclaimer: As with all my articles, this isn’t about shaming. If you’ve employed this tactic before, don’t beat yourself up about it. Many of us have. This is the way we were taught to market ourselves. I’m not here to shame, I’ simply to help us break the code and write new healthier, uplifting marketing norms.

Is the false urgency tactic wrong?

Yes, because it’s fake.

I wish I could just end this article there. But let me explain.

When, for example, there’s a 24-hour timer on a product, you come back 3 days later, and it’s still there on sale for the same price, it’s wrong.

Barring the product creator forgot to adjust the page (that does happen, but it’s rare). The intention with many of these ‘urgent’ tactics was never to take the product down or set the ‘real’ price. There was no limited time. It was simply a sales tactic.

They just wanted to trigger people into FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) anxiety. Anxiety, like any heightened state, often pushes people to do something. To make a decision, and probably not from the best frame of mind.

Guilt, shame, and urgency are pervasive in mainstream marketing. They usually make you feel so bad, so low, so desperate, that you neeeeeeed whatever’s being sold. And not just do you need it, but you have to make that decision 10 minutes ago. See that timer? It’s ticking…down.

There’s no time to consider if this will leave you struggling to pay your car payment or drain your emergency fund down to near zero or cause you to have to live on cucumbers and carrots for a month. Don’t think about any of that. In fact, don’t think at all. Do not wait to discuss this with your spouse. Do not consult your budget. Just do it! Do it now! Hurry!

But, it works, doesn’t it? And isn’t that the point of business? Aren’t we here to sell things? A lot of things?

Do urgency and scarcity *really* work? Let’s dissect

Yes and no.

We have a natural tendency to fear missing out. And so when we think we’re about to miss out on something, especially on a promotion or deal, it increases our chances of wanting it. Even if normally we’d never want this item. The FOMO effect alone can trigger us to quickly purchase.

Or, at least, that’s what the marketing gurus will have you believe. And maybe their split tests and data even reflect this.

But their data doesn’t tell the whole story.

If you’re in this for one-off quick sales, then, yes, you’re in a cash-and-grab mindset and you want to close as many sales as you can instantly. But if you’re in this for the long haul. If profit matters, but customer retention, loyalty, and ethics matter even more, then the fake urgency tactic isn’t so appealing. In fact, it’s downright hurtful to your brand.

A research study published by Scientific Journal Publishers found that “when consumers interpreted scarcity claims as a sales tactic, the positive effect of scarcity claims on product evaluation would be diluted.” So, when people realized the scarcity was not real, they weren’t as interested in the product because it lost value in their minds.

That’s not a good thing.


And that’s not the only consequence.

Here’s how it erodes customer loyalty and trust

Let’s say you did click on a page with a 24-hour promotional timer. You didn’t purchase, but came back a week later and the timer was still there. A month later, the same thing. How much would you trust that seller?

And what if they did it over and over again? If you notice this was part of their overall business strategy, to use this tactic to get as many sales as possible. By any means necessary, right? Wrong.

So, does that mean we never sell a limited amount of things? Or we never run limited-time promotions? Not so fast. There is such a thing as true urgency.

How to use true urgency (ethically)

My motto is: first we decode, then we rewrite!

We’ve decoded the slime (so you can recognize it when you see it) and now we rewrite.

(When you know better, you do better)

So, let’s get to how we do this ethically. Non-sleazily. And this is quite simple. In fact, you already know what to do. Only write about scarcity if there really are a limited number of your products for sale.

Don’t use timers and countdowns unless you really do plan to stick to your word about when the price changes. Also, resist the urge to use text copy focused on all the pain the reader will encounter if they don’t buy this product…now!

Quite simple, right?

Sometimes in our funnel scheming and money dreaming, we forget that our clients and customers are real people. They aren’t just numbers on the screen. They’re moms, dads, sisters, daughters, and sons. Let’s treat them like people, not numbers.

As a people, we’re triggered every day. Just turn on the news and there’s another story triggering some negative emotion. Anger. Shame. Guilt.


Why, oh why would we choose to bring triggering tactics to our work, our business, our missions online?

Most of us have worked for scummy people at one point. That was the past. Now. we’re setting the rules. Not them. Us. You! Your business is an opportunity to operate from a place of integrity.

It’s a privilege to hang a virtual shingle and sell to people via this magical world wide web.

We are the first generation of online business owners.

Let. That. Sink. In.

We hold the honor of ushering in a new way of doing business. We are the stewards of a paradigm shift. Let’s do this with dignity.

We all want to make coins. But let’s do it without the manipulation and triggering. There’s another way. There’s a way that informs customers, without triggering them. A way that builds long-term trust and loyalty. It may not be mainstream, but it still works.

And most of all, it feels better. For you and your customers.

First, we decode, then we rewrite!




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Filed under: breaking the code, Let's decode, unconventional


  1. Great post! I completely agree and thanks for having the courage to write this. I find it very supportive as a “first-generation online entrepreneur’ (love that.)
    You know one thing marketers don’t keep in mind with the ever-annoying count-down clocks is …inauthenticity in marketing pisses off women clients in particular. Here is an interesting podcast interview with Wendi Schenkel who wrote a research-based article on the difference between male and female customers. Women can sniff out the hard sell and annoys us more than it annoys men. This is something to keep in mind if you market to a lot of women.

    • Thank you, Thea, for your kind words. And for the podcast link. What a great point about the difference in male and female customers. The thing is, as you know, when we know we’re being manipulated with the hard-selling, all trust is lost. Immediately. Not a smart way to build business. I’m going to have a listen to that podcast.

      Thanks again!


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