Urgency and Crying Wolf
January 22, 2024
Kevin Schulman, Founder, DonorVoice and DVCanvass
The Boy Who Cried Wolf, a cautionary tale of urgency messaging. If I’ve read it once, I’ve read it a million (ish) times. Urgency is critical to get donors to take action now. Is it really that simple? When might urgency messaging backfire? Or maybe there is just a better motivator than urgency to prompt action now?
Plenty of situations are objectively urgent like a natural disaster. People will likely find an urgency claim credible because it feels like common sense.
But what about the year-end bonanza? Does that naturally and organically connote urgent? I could conjure up reasons why there might be a hint of natural urgency but it’s a far cry from natural disaster level urgency.
We ran a head-to-head, year-end test with the control including these urgency messages:
- “Seize the opportunity to embrace giving before the year concludes!”
- “Time is Running Out: Grab your opportunity to impact change this year!”
- “Final Opportunity for Contributions as the Year Draws to a Close!”
The test had none of this language. Instead, the messaging was designed to speak to the values and goals of a very specific Identity, a person who sees themselves as part of a global, interconnected world.
- “Kindness links every part of our planet together.”
- “Compassion transcends all borders.”
- “Ring in the new year by nurturing hope worldwide.”
The control did well, delivering a solid 3 to 1 ROAS. The test, however, 6 to 1.
I’m not saying urgency has no place, ever. I am saying urgency as a blanket statement for required messaging is making the world and our jobs simpler than possible.
Urgency messaging that doesn’t very obviously meet the threshold can produce,
- Psychological reactance
- Tuning out
- Sea of sameness
- Reduced credibility
If you think urgency is your best or a critical message, ask yourself this first, “do we have messaging in our appeal that speaks to the reader’s values and goals in a specific way?” At bare minimum I’d want the urgency message as a tertiary band member in the orchestra of human connection.
High quality motivation does not come from urgency, it only comes from people feeling psychologically satisfied. Of course, helping someone whose got an urgent need can aid help my sense of satisfaction.
But chances are good that the situation, if truly urgent, will naturally and organically and quietly carry that message for you. Nudge a bit if you must but don’t bury the lead and whatever you do, don’t cry wolf.