You’ve seen it in countless movies and TV shows. A guy speeding down the highway sees the flashing lights of a police car behind him and pulls over. The traffic cop inevitably asks something along the lines of, “Okay, buddy, where’s the fire?” If the guy doesn’t have a “fire” worth pitching to the office, then he ends up with a ticket. If, on the other hand, he’s speeding to the hospital because of a genuine emergency, the officer just might give him a high-speed escort the rest of the way.
Sometimes urgency makes all the difference — whether you’re begging a cop for mercy or compelling your target audience to do something for you. For example, I remember being asked by a non-profit organization to evaluate their direct mail marketing content. It simply wasn’t producing donations, and I soon figured out why. The piece went on at very pleasant length describing the organization’s good works, popularity and past success, then asked the reader to support its continuing efforts by giving generously. So the message readers got from it was, “We’re doing great, and you can help us do even better.” Well, sure, I might feel all warm inside by making a donation under those conditions — but on the other hand, everything sounds like it’s rolling along pretty well even without me. Maybe next year.
If you’re asking me for donations, I need to know why I need to open my heart and my wallet right now, not next year or someday. “Where’s the fire, buddy?” Is your organization on the ropes financially? I’ve written for educational fundraising organizations, and they always make sure their schools and parents understand exactly how cuts in the state education budget can impact their children’s futures. What need does your organization fulfill, how important is that need, and what would happen if you had to shut down? And what about a ticking clock? Is there a limited amount of time for you to raise that money? Do your readers need to ACT NOW?
Public television and radio stations have got urgency down to an art. Their pledge drives (a) remind you of what marvelous and unique programming you receive only from them, (b) warn you that this beloved programming could go away without your help, and (c) urge you to make your pledge within a limited window of time. And of course urgency works just as well when you’re selling a for-profit product or service. That’s why we put expiration dates on coupons and run one-day sales, right?
So the next time you’re preparing a marketing campaign, ask yourself: “Where’s the fire?” Then express that urgency in a way that ignites your response rate.
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