Scarcity Marketing: Use the Fear of Shortage to Sell More

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Scarcity marketing involves motivating people to buy something by telling them there is a shortage in what is available and a limited time to act. The goal is to create a sense of urgency through an aggressive call to action; to make people scared that they will not be able to acquire something that they want if they don’t act fast. it is one kind of marketing strategy that you can use in your marketing plans.

Scarcity Marketing Background

It’s difficult to pinpoint the first instance of scarcity marketing, but companies have used the technique for many years. One of the most notable examples of scarcity marketing – the Disney Vault – started during the 1980s. Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment began to reissue limited editions of their films and urge consumers to purchase these films before they went back into the “Disney Vault.” Because each Disney film is only for a limited time before it is put in the vault and not made available for several years until it is released again, consumers are driven to act fast when a new video is released. Apple is another company that clearly understands and uses scarcity marketing. And the Cabbage Patch Kids craze makes a poignant example of scarcity marketing from my own childhood.

Benefits of Scarcity Marketing

The primary benefit of using scarcity marketing in your business is being able to position your products as services as a commodity. This drives up the perceived value of what you’re selling, and the fear that it has limited availability makes people act fast to purchase. Scarcity can also present an opportunity to engage your audience in a new way. By creating an interesting background that shares the reason for the scarcity (such as a one-of-a-kind product or special edition that has significant meaning), you can capture and keep the customer’s attention. Lastly, when it’s done effectively, scarcity marketing can also create a cult following. Going back to the example of Cabbage Patch Kids, every kid wanted one and all of the “cool” kids had one. It can create a powerful loyalty among your audience.

Potential Drawbacks

There are a number of ways that scarcity marketing can backfire. Here are some examples of disadvantages to using this marketing technique:
  • Using scarcity for products or services with low value can severely hurt your reputation
  • Creating an illusion of scarcity can come off as a form of trickery
  • Building a sense of exclusivity can actually make you lose potential customers
And of course, there is the possibility that the fear the scarcity creates will turn off and push clients away.

Scarcity Marketing In Your Business

One way to apply scarcity marketing in a service-oriented business is by launching a campaign that aims to find a limited number of clients. You can position this as having only X projects slots available in your business before your client base is full and you are closed to incoming work. This can be especially effective if you have a large mailing list or audience you frequently reach out to. You can also offer a limited time special service or discount for new clients. The key is to make it limited in time or quantity and market it aggressively at regular intervals before that time or quantity runs out. Another technique can be as simple as including an expiration date on proposals you send out to potential clients. For example, if the client doesn’t act by a certain date, the quote will be invalid. There are a lot of ways you can apply scarcity marketing, if you’re willing to be creative. Have you used it to market your services? What are some examples of ways you’ve accomplished this? Other articles in this series:

Frequently Asked Questions on Scarcity Marketing

What are some effective scarcity marketing techniques?

There are several effective scarcity marketing techniques that businesses can use to drive sales. Limited-time offers create a sense of urgency, encouraging customers to make a purchase before the offer ends. Limited quantity offers, on the other hand, create a fear of missing out, as customers rush to buy before the product runs out. Exclusive offers, such as members-only deals, can also create a sense of scarcity, making customers feel special and privileged. Flash sales, countdown timers, and waitlists are other effective techniques that can be used to create a sense of scarcity and urgency.

How can I implement scarcity marketing in my business?

Implementing scarcity marketing in your business involves careful planning and strategy. First, identify which products or services you can offer on a limited basis. Then, decide on the type of scarcity you want to create – time-based or quantity-based. Use clear and compelling language to communicate the scarcity to your customers. You can also use visual cues, such as countdown timers or “only X left” indicators, to enhance the sense of urgency. Remember to always be honest and transparent with your customers to maintain trust and credibility.

Can scarcity marketing backfire?

Yes, scarcity marketing can backfire if not used correctly. If customers perceive the scarcity as a sales tactic rather than a genuine shortage, they may lose trust in your brand. Similarly, if you frequently use scarcity marketing, customers may become desensitized to it and it may lose its effectiveness. Therefore, it’s important to use scarcity marketing sparingly and honestly.

What are the psychological principles behind scarcity marketing?

Scarcity marketing leverages two key psychological principles – the fear of missing out (FOMO) and the scarcity principle. FOMO drives people to take action to avoid feeling left out or missing out on something. The scarcity principle, on the other hand, states that people value things more when they are rare or hard to obtain. By creating a sense of scarcity, businesses can tap into these psychological principles to drive sales.

How can I measure the success of my scarcity marketing campaign?

The success of a scarcity marketing campaign can be measured using various metrics. Sales figures are the most direct indicator of success. If your sales increase during the campaign, it’s a good sign that the campaign is working. You can also track metrics like website traffic, conversion rates, and customer engagement to gauge the success of your campaign. Customer feedback can also provide valuable insights into the effectiveness of your campaign.

Can scarcity marketing be used in online businesses?

Absolutely, scarcity marketing can be very effective in online businesses. Online businesses can use techniques like limited-time offers, flash sales, and countdown timers to create a sense of urgency. They can also use “only X left” indicators to create a sense of scarcity. Additionally, online businesses can leverage technology to personalize scarcity marketing messages, making them more effective.

Is scarcity marketing ethical?

Scarcity marketing is ethical as long as it is used honestly and transparently. It becomes unethical when businesses create artificial scarcity or deceive customers about the availability of products or services. Therefore, it’s important for businesses to use scarcity marketing responsibly and maintain transparency with their customers.

Can scarcity marketing be used in service-based businesses?

Yes, scarcity marketing can be used in service-based businesses. For example, a salon could offer a limited number of appointments for a special discount. A consulting firm could offer a limited number of slots for a free consultation. By creating a sense of scarcity, service-based businesses can drive demand and increase bookings.

How can I use scarcity marketing without damaging my brand image?

To use scarcity marketing without damaging your brand image, it’s important to be honest and transparent with your customers. Don’t create artificial scarcity or deceive customers about the availability of products or services. Use scarcity marketing sparingly to avoid desensitizing your customers. And always deliver on your promises to maintain trust and credibility.

What are some examples of successful scarcity marketing campaigns?

There are many examples of successful scarcity marketing campaigns. For instance, Amazon’s Prime Day is a limited-time event that creates a sense of urgency and drives massive sales. Apple’s product launches often involve limited initial stock, creating a sense of scarcity and driving demand. Starbucks’ limited-edition holiday drinks create a sense of scarcity and exclusivity, driving sales and customer engagement.

Alyssa GregoryAlyssa Gregory
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Alyssa Gregory is a digital and content marketer, small business consultant, and the founder of the Small Business Bonfire — a social, educational and collaborative community for entrepreneurs.

Marketingmarketing strategy
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