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Read this now! How to use urgency in copywriting

Urgency in copywriting motivates people, as this hurrying cyclist and sale sign humourously suggests
"I hear you... have a sale on" (Photo by Braxton Apana on Unsplash)

No offence to everyone reading this, but humans are totally irrational. But if we know this, we know how to use urgency in copywriting.

Because urgency is a powerful tool. But it relies on human irrationality to work on us as depressingly often as it does.

I know it's worked on me. Can you think of a time it's worked on you?

Any time you saw a sale counter ticking down. Or a deadline on a special offer. Whenever something encouraged you to “Act now before you lose X!”

It's all copywriting that generated a sense of urgency. It encourages us to do something (e.g. buy the thing) that we might otherwise have hesitated to do.

Here's how we're going to weaponise that. Politely.

The power of loss aversion (the feelings part)

The human brain “likes” to avoid losing something roughly twice as much as it “likes” to gain something. This is sometimes called “loss aversion”.

It sounds a little weird. But scientists have said it, so it must be true (by which I mean, many studies have demonstrated it).

And it feels true as well. Picture an imaginary situation:

You've found a £20 note blowing along the pavement. Someone's lost it. But the roads are empty. It's yours! You pick it up.

Now picture the same situation in reverse. You're walking along and realise that £20 note you did have has fallen out of your pocket. Nooo! You've lost it.

Weigh the situations. How nice is it to gain that £20? Pretty good, right? But does it feel more impactful to have lost your £20?

Studies seem to show yes. Most people think it feels about two-and-a-bit times worse to lose something than it feels good to gain something.

How does loss aversion work? (the brain science part)

Loss aversion is a well-recognised phenomenon. However, there is some debate about why we humans are so affected by it.

The most popular one is evolution. Being loss-averse means you are less likely to risk the resources you have (or, at least, you may lose them more slowly).

Thus, you are more likely to survive. Lovely stuff.

Apparently, the same parts of the brain that deal with fear – and, worryingly, disgust – are the same parts that get all glowy when we're faced with the prospect of losing something.

Why is loss aversion helpful?

On top of the aforementioned “not dying out as a species” advantage, loss aversion often comes into play in a helpful manner in our everyday lives.

It nags at most of us all the time, encouraging us not to:

  • Take crazy risks or gamble to excess

  • Indulge in too much retail therapy

  • Eat out when we already have food in the fridge

Of course, the system isn't perfect. Most of us will still occasionally do at least one of the above every so often.

But on a broader species level, loss aversion is part of an evolutionary “wiring” that seems to have been broadly beneficial on a survival level.

Sometimes, it continues to be so.

The negative side of loss aversion

On the downside, the fear of loss is a major factor in almost every aspect of human life.

We will spend more money than we need to. We will suffer more in all sorts of unhappy situations...

Simply because we are so averse to losing what we already have.

You can see this play out in all kinds of everyday situations:

  1. Your friend who never leaves their terrible partner – because they may later miss something about their obnoxious beau.

  2. Whenever you've stayed in a job that makes you unhappy – because you could lose that steady paycheck and the next job could be even worse.

  3. When you bought insurance for a new gadget – you fear your new toy breaking down. Even if the manufacturer is likely to cover you anyway.

Injecting a bit of nuance into the theory of loss aversion

Of course, more recent studies seem to show it's not all as black and white as “me human no like lose things”.

For example, we tend to indulge in more risky behaviour when there's a possibility we might lose altogether (like a gambler on an unlucky streak making increasingly larger bets).

Equally, if we make a gain we tend to start becoming less risky. That's because we want to keep what we've won (we attach irrational added value to something that's ours).

There are also numerous studies that seem to show loss aversion works differently in different situations. And that our brains don't even apply it to every situation.

All of that said, when it comes to copywriting for websites, emails, and more, employing the idea of loss aversion to produce a sense of urgency is definitely a tactic we can use.

How to create a sense of urgency in copywriting

Of course, we want to be ethical about the way we do this. The old mantra that “fear sells” is pretty dark when we get right down to it.

However, we can encourage someone to act faster by injecting a little bit of urgency into what we're writing or offering.

Here are some simple ways we can do it:

1) Run flash sales

If you've ever received an email that lets you know that a sale is ending in an hour or two, it's this tactic at work.

Who can argue with it? It's just your nice friendly neighbourhood company helpfully letting you know that you could be missing out on some discounts.

Most people don't get irritated by this sort of thing even if they don't take you up on it.

Just make sure your copywriting isn't too pushy. The time limit on the sale should do all your work for you.

Surprising numbers will take you up on it though. Even – and especially – in the final seconds of your sale. You could also:

  1. Try running super-short sales – even for a single day.

  2. Mix things up by offering staple products that don't often get much love at a discount or as part of larger sale packages.

2) Point to scarcity

There's a reason why you've started seeing little signs that show low stock counters on websites. You know the ones:

  • “Only 2 left at this price!”

  • “Only 3 left in stock!”

  • “4 seats remaining”

It's designed to give the impression that there is limited availability of the thing you want to buy.

Again, this is pretty simple to implement. Just be sure that it is actually the case. Don't be quoting “three left!” when you've got five thousand out back.

That is of the Dark Side.

You might also consider pricing options similar to the cheaper “early bird” tickets you get at music gigs and other events.

This might take the form of saying the first few customers to email you or contact you on social media will get a discounted rate.

3) Leverage loyalty points

Loyalty points are one of the greatest inventions for motivating people to stick with you and buy from your business.

If you don't already offer a loyalty scheme of some kind, it's well worth considering putting one in place.

Now, these points might not even be worth very much in the scheme of things. But the idea of losing them?

You better believe that your clients' irrational lizard brains aren't going to like it. To take advantage of this, your copywriting should:

  1. Draw attention to the “loss” – it might be as simple as saying “act now to not lose your points!” before a deadline.

  2. Make it easy to use them – a direct link to checking their points and showing them how to use them before any deadline is vital.

Urgent copywriting for the web or email

When we humans are presented with the possibility of losing something, we will go to great lengths to avoid it.

We can gently leverage this urgency in our copywriting for the web and email. As long as we aren't too on the nose about it.

The Maiden Standard has been providing the copywriter services business in Bristol and far beyond have needed to do just that for over ten years.

Reach out to for a cost and commitment-free quote.

Hurry, while stocks last!

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