Hurry! While stocks last: Applying the scarcity principle to your content marketing

October 9, 2015Uncategorized
Uncooked chocolate chip cookies

By Lieu Pham – Content Strategist

Last week, my neighbour told me about Joey, a guy who sells lasagne on his Facebook page: 1800-Lasagne. It’s legendary – at least in the neighbourhood sense. Why? Scarcity. In this on-demand, always-on digital age, people can’t have Joey’s lasagne whenever they want it.

Joey makes lasagne whenever the mood strikes, in small [read: exclusive] batches, and he’ll put a call-out on his Facebook page when it’s available. It’s a case of first in, first served.

Joey’s business model is reminiscent of a 1975 behavioural study in which researchers presented two jars of cookies to group participants, one jar with significantly fewer cookies than the other.

The jar with fewer cookies was perceived to be of a higher value than the jar with more, despite the cookies being identical. It’s the scarcity principle in full effect.

What is the scarcity principle?

As evidenced by Joey’s limited-run lasagnes, scarcity signals something about the product. It’s classic economics of supply and demand – we place higher value on an object that is scarce and lower value on what is abundant. The thought that we, as humans, want something we cannot have drives us to desire the object even more. You can see this idea being popularised by late-night infomercials, eBay auctions, Groupon deals (social-proofing plus limited offers) or when booking flights to Bali and you’re told time is almost up to secure that cheap fare. Applied effectively, scarcity will inspire consumer action.

It’s Robert Cialdini’s version of FOMO

As outlined in Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, the scarcity principle is, in modern terms, FOMO (fear of missing out). In evolutionary terms, perceiving that others are enjoying life more than us sends signals to the brain that we should feel threatened. But FOMO can be leveraged in a number of honest ways – in particular, finding ways to encourage people to share your content. When people like or share a piece of content, their friends are likely to read that same piece of content, thereby achieving reach.

Create exclusive content

Not all content is created equal. Consider gating your most valuable content, accessible only via lead-capture forms (hello, acquisition!).

To paraphrase Jay Baer, this content is so valuable that people will pay for it with their information. And if your company releases industry reports, why not embargo the information “for a limited time” to journalists to attract some influencer and earned media? You could then release the report to the general public at a later date. If you’re producing webinars, direct people to a landing page and communicate what the visitor will stand to lose if they don’t attend.

Use scarcity in a launch

Earlier this year, Drake released a teaser on social networks that read: “If you’re reading this, it’s too late.” This obviously got his fans excited about his latest album, driving many people to download it. While the album was freely available to consumers, it did signal to the public that it would only be available temporarily. It was clever marketing by the rapper, especially considering how ubiquitous music downloads are today.

If you’re involved in a product or site launch, consider limiting the invitations to VIPs only. While it’s not actually a scarcity product, it uses the principle in a fresh, creative approach.

When scarcity doesn’t apply

Scarcity isn’t going to work for every brand and business. Whether or not to apply scarcity to your marketing will depend on what your content marketing strategy entails (strategy always comes first). Abundance and ubiquity can be good things, particularly when you’re an FMCG. In this market category, it’s about moving as many units as possible.Coca-Cola is the perfect example of this – their mission is to have its product “within arm’s reach of desire”. For this beverage giant, being out of stock means losing sales. Probably to Pepsi.

Proof is in the lasagne

So next time you need to fuel demand or encourage consumers to act, think about how you can bring the scarcity principle into your marketing mix. Just a cautionary tale: whatever techniques you decide to use, be true to your brand and your audience’s wants and needs. Don’t mess with consumer trust and ensure your content marketing uses scarcity in an authentic way.

1800-Lasagne is humble proof that scarcity marketing works. Joey, when are you cooking again?

Have any questions? Ask our strategists here.