“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst” - William Penn

Time Pressure in Digital Marketing

by: Joely Donovan

Imagine two scenarios.

1. Sarah, a young grad student enjoying her weekend off, is snuggled blissfully on her couch as she searches casually on her phone for a restaurant to take-out lunch.

2. Hannah, a hard-working, single mom, is probing furiously for a lunch spot before she has to take her son to his soccer game within the hour.

Hannah and Sarah are both being affected by the thralls of digital marketing as they hunt for their next meal online, but Hannah faces something much more influential: time pressure.

What is time pressure?

Time pressure arises when the amount of time we need exceeds the amount of time we have. It constrains what we as humans pay attention to, making us focus in on the fastest, most effective way to achieve our goal. We narrow our focus onto the main task in order to manage the stress of a time limited situation.

Think about Sarah. She has all the time in the world. She has the ability to get distracted, to wander onto another subject during her search for lunch, or to maybe discover a new spot farther away. Hannah, on the other hand, needs lunch and she needs it now. This time pressure forces her to hone in on finding a close restaurant with fast service, filtering out all other cues in the process.

“Time pressure narrows the consumer’s focus, giving the marketer only a brief moment to grab their attention and direct their choices” — Dan Ariely, Behavioral Economist

Why does time pressure matter for marketers?

Consider again the cases of Hannah and Sarah. Both parties are looking for somewhere to get lunch.

Sarah is sitting comfortably in her home taking her time on her decision and considering all the aspects of her choice: distance, price, menu, etc. She browses through numerous sites on her phone, checking reviews, and thinking about what she might get at each restaurant. As the time passes, Sarah is gathering a plethora of cues and information that will be reflected in her final decision. This decision is deliberate, intentional, reliable, and, probably, her best option.

Hannah remains rushed, helping her son assemble all his soccer gear, getting the car ready, and letting out the dogs before they leave. She only has brief moments of time to check her phone for a lunch place. As the time she has decreases, Hannah continues to narrow her focus onto a Panera and McDonalds nearby. While both options provide fast service, Sarah chooses Panera given its higher quality. Once she begins to settle on a decision, there is almost no chance she changes her mind.

Marketers main focus is on their audience. They have to be able to put themselves in their customers shoes and consider all aspects of a potential sale, so that they can create the most effective campaigns. Time-pressure has become increasingly important in their considerations as people shift to the mobile world of technology. Now more than ever, people are multitasking; Phone in one hand, and pretty much anything else in the other. Therefore, companies only have a moment to grab the attention of a time-pressed, potential customer; Once they have it, it’s theirs.

Marketers must find ways to be clear, simple, and readily available.

How can marketers work around time pressure constraints?

There is no magic cure to time pressure. While it affects everyone, no one person will react the same given differing contexts of their situations. However, in the world of marketing, there are ways for organizations to fight back against time.

1. Be clear, concise, and visually appealing. The simpler an ad or site, the easier it is for the stressed consumer to digest your product. Visual appeal is very important, as well, because it is what initially grabs the attention of the potential customer.

2. Understand the context of your customer’s journeys. The more you know about your customer base and where, when, and why they are searching for your product, the better you can target them (Davis, 2021).

3. Stress high quality. When making choices under time pressure, it’s been found that people choose higher-quality brands over lower-quality brands (Nowlis, 1995). Also, as time pressure increases, consumers assess quality to be higher (Mitomi, 2017).


Davis, P. (n.d.). What is Time Pressure and Why Does it Matter? Retrieved June 11, 2021, from https://www.towerdata.com/blog/what-is-time-pressure

Mitomi, Y. (2017). What is Marketing Time Pressure? Retrieved June 10, 2021, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/320648917_What_is_Marketing_Time_Pressure

Nowlis, S.M. (1995). The effect of time pressure on the choice between brands that differ in quality, price, and product features. Retrieved June 10, 2021, from https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00996192




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Joely Donovan

Joely Donovan

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