As a phrase, a “sense of urgency” has many different connotations. The correct meaning depends on the context. In the business context, “a sense of urgency” generally refers to communicating to an individual or team that it’s imperative to act promptly, decisively and without delay. The phrase can be applied in the context of leadership and management, or in the field of marketing and sales. In both cases, the term describes a positive state of mind that smart marketers, managers and business leaders should learn how to evoke in those they market to, manage and lead.

A Sense of Urgency Definition

While a sense of urgency can sometimes be thrown out as a vague or even meaningless term at performance reviews and meetings, this phrase has an important role in the corporate world. While there are two possible contexts in which the phrase can apply, overall, the phrase refers to an internally-derived sense of direction, motivation and compulsion to move or act in some way.

For example, when an employee thinks about an idea or upcoming project and concludes “I’ll get to that someday,” they are lacking a sense of urgency. Similarly, when a customer sees an ad for a product they are considering for purchase and concludes, “I’ll look into it later,” they are also lacking a sense of urgency.

A sense of urgency helps turn “someday” and “later” into “today” and “now.” It creates results or conversions in a retail environment more quickly, and can even enhance motivation and commitment in employees.

Why a Sense of Urgency Matters

Performance experts, productivity consultants, human resources professionals and experienced marketers all know that if you can’t persuade someone to act at the moment information is received, chances are the individual won’t act at all. There’s significant power in employees and customers acting at the moment or right “now.” Complacency, after all, is the enemy of progress. A failure to act promptly means that opportunities may be lost, and ultimately this will negatively affect the financial health of the company.

Businesses today must be responsive, flexible and nimble in their ability to evaluate and make decisions about new challenges and opportunities. The inability or failure to foster this corporate culture can both, directly and indirectly, translate into lost customers and profits.

Moreover, a lack of a sense of urgency often leads to important issues being placed on the back burner continually, whether in daily business operations or consumer purchasing decisions. The result for business is that innovation takes a back seat to constant “busy work.”

The Sense of Urgency in Business

According to a 2016 Gallup report on the State of the American Workplace, the majority of workers are either treading water or actively disengaged, while only one-third are positively motivated and committed to their work.

Engaged employees are those who help fuel organizational development, change and leadership. Slightly over half of all workers are not engaged – they may “punch a clock” and do their jobs, but that's it. And 16 percent are actively disengaged, which can thwart whatever progress the company and its engaged employees may be trying to accomplish.

Engaged employees with a sense of urgency can help their companies and coworkers achieve positive, long-lasting change and improvement. Systems, processes and workflows can all stagnate if not improved and refined over time. Experienced employees are best suited to make those improvements within their spheres of influence.

However, as with most meaningful change, workplace improvements tend to be placed on a back burner and not prioritized, especially when other, more immediate tasks are demanding attention. Smart managers and business leaders know how to motivate their employees and themselves by creating a sense of urgency.

An example of how a sense of urgency impacts motivation and change is the popularity of a meditation form known as "mindfulness." In the context of the workplace, mindfulness meditation helps instill in people a sense of comfort and peace with an acceptance of things as they are. Acceptance of the status quo, however, seems to demotivate workers to make positive changes and improvements in the workplace and decreases their output. It also engenders a disregard for the business as a whole. Behavioral scientists Vohs and Hafenbrack conducted five studies to test this premise and found that this form of meditation makes workers less motivated and less likely to complete ordinary work tasks promptly as well.

While mindfulness meditation has many proven mental health benefits, in the workplace, it works against the interests of businesses and managers by reducing or eliminating workers' sense of urgency.

Regarding customers, a lack of a sense of urgency can also impact the successful resolution of customer complaints, which can lead to lost customers. If customers who call in for assistance feel that the customer service department does not value their needs and interests, then the business’s customer retention rates will plummet. Because it is more expensive to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one, the company may eventually suffer and perhaps even fail as a result.

Ways to Increase Urgency in Colleagues and Employees

To foster a sense of urgency, start with yourself. When you understand the “why” behind a particular goal or objective, and more specifically the “why now,” the challenge is to communicate that concept to your staff. Many successful managers and leaders find that increasing a sense of urgency around a particular project or goal is much easier when you get the employees' buy-in on the project from the start. Fostering a feeling of ownership and investment in the project makes a huge difference for participants. When your team members feel personal involvement, they naturally are more eager to see it come to fruition.

Another proven strategy to help increase a sense of urgency is to emphasize outcome-based results wherever possible. Focusing on observable, measurable results helps employees identify a successful outcome. This, in turn, means employees develop an internal sense of reward and satisfaction for completing a task, which helps increase their motivation level for the next project.

Finally, work to identify the reasons behind complacency in your team or workforce. Most people seek fulfillment and satisfaction in their work. If they’re losing their motivation and their sense of pride in a job well-done as a group, there’s something that's contributing to their complacency and diminishing their all-important sense of urgency.

Creating a Sense of Urgency in Marketing

If you want to understand how urgency works in regard to prospects and employees alike, consider your company’s sales department. Sales team members generally feel a sense of urgency in their work, due in part to commission-based sales structures. For sales employees, a sense of urgency is built into their work.

Compare this to the marketing department. In marketing, both the team creating the ad, for example, as well as the prospect who’s viewing the ad may feel somewhat removed from the urgency concept. This may diminish their sense of urgency which could lead to fewer sales and less profitability over time.

If you can persuade customers to “buy now,” it creates an initial rush of customers and sales that help drive future sales. This is partially a result of the concept of social proof. Behavioral scientists say that individuals frequently choose a specific course of action based on what their friends and colleagues decided to do. People tend to assume that there is wisdom in a crowd’s consensus. If a lot of people are buying a particular product, and other shoppers know that other buyers are satisfied with their purchasing decisions, through reviews or ratings, for example, new shoppers tend to trust the opinions of previous shoppers.

A sense of urgency infused into every point of contact your company has with prospects and leads helps stretch the usefulness of your marketing budget and increase sales. Here, urgency means that the prospective customer feels compelled to buy now for some reason. Marketing can help create and emphasize that need to buy now through smart copy and creative tactics in advertising and more.

For example, marketing professionals suggest product scarcity in their ads as a ploy to create a sense of urgency in consumers. The threat of scarcity compels the prospective customer to buy now because the company may run out of the product or service. For example, "there are only 100 prints available, and no more will be made." This form of advertising suggests that if the customer doesn’t act fast, the opportunity to own one of these prints may be lost forever.

How to Instill a Sense of Urgency in Calls to Action

A sense of urgency is typically achieved by including specific words or phrases in the "call to action," or CTA. This crucial part of the advertisement tells the prospect or lead what to do next, and encourages them to take that action. Examples of a call to action include phrases such as “sign up for your free trial now,” “add to cart,” or “buy now.” Online, the CTA is repeated in both the written copy as well as in button format with sharply defined visual elements, accompanied by text that explains what the prospect should do next.

A well-crafted CTA can transform a passive reader into an actively committed customer and is influential in online paid ads, such as those displayed with Google results, on other websites and social media platforms such as Facebook. Moreover, the digital format provides simple, direct ways to access that “next action” through clickable links that direct the prospect to an opt-in form, landing page or e-commerce site product page.

A call to action is also crucial for offline advertisements and marketing tactics, such as radio and television commercials.

Instilling a sense of urgency into advertising copy and calls to action, in particular, will help improve your conversion rate, which is the percentage of all prospects who see your ad and act on it. In a call to action, you are persuading prospects to act now, before the impulse to purchase diminishes.

Creating a sense of urgency with a call to action or an ad can be as simple as offering a bonus or a significant discount for a specific number of customers who are the first to redeem the offer. For example, “the first 50 customers get 25 percent off”. Another option is to limit the number of products or slots available, such as, “available only to the first 100 that call our hotline.”

You can calso reate urgency by introducing a time limitation. Your ad can inform prospects when the offer ends. For example, you can include a statement like “this offer is only good until Friday, June 3.” The ad could include a graphic element depicting a countdown clock, to help reinforce for prospects that this offer will only last for a specified period, thus creating a sense of urgency.