If anyone has cracked the code of timing, it may be the team at Gilt.com, one of the most popular ecommerce sites launched over the past five years. Gilt is a luxury retailer that sells high-end products at discounted (but not ridiculous must-be-fake) rates. The pressure in the experience comes from an interesting twist. Once you add any item to your shopping cart, you only have 10 minutes to complete your purchase. Deals are announced daily through e-mails that are sent to members at noon, exactly, and many products sell out within minutes. Fifty percent of Gilt’s deal revenue is generated in the first hour after a sale starts.
On mobile devices, the performance is even better. Many consumers launch the mobile app just seconds after getting a notification from Gilt of a new sale. From 2009 to 2010, Gilt’s revenue rose from $170 million to $425 million, according to Internet Retailer magazine.
Why does Gilt’s high-pressure sales tactic work where it would backfire in so many other industries? What they have uncovered is that there is an emotional thrill that comes along with finding the right product immediately. They are one of the few retailers that have managed to capture the thrill of an impulse buy with higher priced luxury items. More importantly, the site is a living example of how powerful a motivator timing can be in the right context.
Why Timing Is So Tough
There are only a few examples like Gilt.com where the timing is perfect and the whole system works. In most cases, timing is hard to get right for four important reasons:
- Audiences can require different timing: Sometimes when you are trying to influence people to believe something, the timing can vary from person to person. This makes it very hard to deliver a message or a point of view that will influence multiple people at the right moment.
- Timing is hard to estimate in the moment: There is a reason why people say hindsight is 20/20, and it is because of timing. It is very hard sometimes to understand whether you are in the right moment to make something happen or if you need to wait, because you don’t have the benefit of perspective or time to analyze the situation. As a result, most of us make snap judgments and do the best we can with what we’ve got.
- Sometimes timing can change instantly: Related to the last point, sometimes the right moment can come up quickly and without warning. It means that you need to be flexible enough to act in an unexpected moment, before an opportunity is quickly lost.
- Obvious timing creates more competition: Planning for the right moment can be relatively obvious, and therefore create more competition. Every politician is going to advertise in the 48 hours before a vote. It doesn’t make it the wrong timing, but sometimes the ideal timing for your message will also be the ideal timing for your competition--making it tougher to stand out.
More than anything else, having the right timing can often be a matter of experience or instinct to be able to spot the right moment to make something happen. This doesn’t mean that you need to resign yourself to hoping you get lucky, though. There is a way to think about timing that can help you find the right moments more consistently than your competition.
When it comes to timing, having a built-in sense of urgency is crucial as the first element, because it lets people know that something is important in the moment when you are trying to influence them to care.
- Necessary urgency: The first element in getting timing right is having a built-in sense of urgency so it is clear that someone needs to act or pay attention in the moment that matters.
- Habitiual connection: The best timing will connect your message or idea to a habit that the people you are trying to influence already have.
- Current events: There are plenty of external factors that can influence getting timing right, so linking something to current events can only help with relevance.
The value of having the right timing is that it can help to make needing something urgent. Harvard Professor John Kotter is widely known in business circles as the change guru. His 18 books and career of writing and thinking have influenced how companies of all sizes manage the process of change. In 1996, he published his most well-known book, Leading Change. In it, he first described his signature eight-step process for implementing successful transformations. Step one in that process was always to create a sense of urgency. ‘‘Without a sense of urgency,’’ he shared, ‘‘people won’t give that extra effort that is often essential.’’
But urgency alone is not enough. In order to build on having a sense of urgency, you also need to get as close as you can to a quality that may seem impossible to plan for: luck. Often, when people describe having the right timing for realizing an opportunity or just being in the right place at the right time, they use the word luck to describe the effect. As much as I might wish for a magic button to be able to predict and create luck, the probability of that ever occurring is unlikely.
Instead, you can put yourself in situations where you are more likely to have luck happen to you, which leads to the second element of timing: creating a habitual connection. Habit is a powerful force that explains much of what we do on a subconscious level without even thinking about it. Great timing means connecting with the habits people already have.
The final element has everything to do with the world around you, and the current events in it. It is a common lens that PR people use when they consider how to pitch a story to a reporter. In 2011, PR guru David Meerman Scott coined the term newsjacking to describe a method of PR where you pay attention to the largest stories in the news media and then find a way to hijack that story by adding another on top of it.
While it may seem opportunistic--this is ultimately the point. Sometimes having the right timing means taking the chance when it comes. Ultimately, though, timing is so important to whether you are able to be believable or not that it can easily mean the difference between success and failure.
Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Likeonomics: The Unexpected Truth Behind Earning Trust, Influencing Behavior, and Inspiring Action by Rohit Bhargava. (c) 2012 by Rohit Bhargava.
Rohit Bhargava is senior vice president at Ogilvy, where he is a founding member of the Ogilvy 360 Digital Influence team. A professor of global marketing at Georgetown University, he is also the award-winning author of his previous book,Personality Not Included. Follow Rohit on twitter @rohitbhargava and read his personal blog.
[Image: Flickr user Mark Shaiken]