You always want what you can’t have

So, did you make any changes to the way you do things after yesterday’s blog post?

Did you think anything like: “Hell yeah, I don’t have to answer the phone every single time it rings?” or “I really don’t like working with that person. Hey, I don’t have to!” or “I do believe I’m going to have Friday afternoons off.”

Super. Now take action and make it happen.

Last slice of pizza, many hands

Use the scarcity technique to attract customers.

Right, back to marketing and another of the great Cialdini’s weapons of influence: scarcity.

This is a technique you’ll see all the time, because it works a treat.

If you make something scarce, people want it more.

It’s an astonishing phenomenon. People will buy the most amazing crap if they think it’s about to become unattainable (see Pokemons and other such tat).

You may be familiar with this principle in affairs of the heart. I remember, as a teenager, lusting after The Boy Everyone Wanted. He was beautiful. Such hair! Such a voice! Such an arse… never mind.

Anyway. All the girls, and some of the boys, wanted him. He made his way through many of the girls (and, for all I know, some of the boys too) – but that didn’t make any difference.

I knew he was a cad and totally out of my league (he wasn’t, but that’s another topic) but I wanted him anyway.

Mostly because I couldn’t have him, it turned out.

Because eventually he got around to me and I discovered that he had amazing hair! A wonderful voice! A tight and pleasing arse! And… that’s it. He was really, really dull. So we went on one date, he had nothing interesting to say or discuss, attempted to get into my pants (for which he earned a slap) and we both went on our merry ways.

Honestly, if a man can’t discuss the complexities of quantum mechanics AND the trouble with jammy dodgers in the same conversation, I’m not interested.

Does this sound even at all familiar?

It works in marketing too. It’s why collectible things sell so well. Humans are avid collectors of stuff. I used to collect stamps, partly because the word philately pleases me. (True story.)

Collectors are keenly aware of the scarcity principle’s influence in deciding the worth of an item. It’s why antiques are so valuable – many of them are one-of-a-kind. Dodgy stamps – blurred ones or misprinted ones – are far more valuable than perfect specimens. I remember a thing with new 20p pieces fairly recently – they’d been minted without something or other printed on them – the date I think – and were worth about £50 a pop.

In terms of psychology, the power of scarcity comes from two major sources.

Like the other weapons of influence, the scarcity principle works because of evolutionary shortcuts. And, as before, it’s usually a good thing. It saves us time and energy.

In this case, it’s because you and I both know that things that are difficult to get hold of are typically better than things that are readily available. So we can often use an item or service’s availability to assess its quality.

By following the scarcity principle, by succumbing to it, we’re usually (and efficiently or profitably) right.

But there’s another reason the scarcity principle is so powerful. As opportunities become less available, we lose freedoms. We lose the freedom to choose what we want to buy, do or take part in.

And humans hate to lose freedoms.

So whenever free choice is limited or threatened, our need to retain our freedom makes us want whatever is limitedmore.

Before we go into how you can use the scarcity principle to your advantage, I want to say something important.

Don’t abuse it.

It’s all about trust, remember? Building a relationship with your clients. So don’t try and scam people. They will find out about it and they will punish you for it.

High-pressure sellers do this all the time, and it’s not nice. You might have experienced it – I have with double-glazing salesmen. They call, tell you all about it, then tell you that you have to sign RIGHT NOW RIGHT HERE if you want this deal because it’ll never happen again. They can be quite aggressive about it.

Also, don’t use fake sales like DFS used to do. If you have a sale all the time, nobody will believe it’s real (because it isn’t). As always, this is about honesty and trust.

That’s not what I’m talking about here.

Right, onto scarcity. How can you use it?

  1. Put a time limit on your offers – and stick to it.
  2. Put a number limit on your offers – and stick to it.
  3. Create a limited edition product.
  4. Make your club, service or product invite only (like my Inner Circle).
  5. Offer a discount for early reply.

I’m sure you can think of many more.

But honestly, the best way to use scarcity in your marketing? Make it a feature of your product or service, not a gimmick.

As I’ve done with my (excellent) critiques: people on my list always get a critique on something they’ve written for £257 + VAT if they book one. But I’m only offering it at that price to a limited number of people who are not on my list. If someone randomly booked one, the price would be £457 + VAT.

I have three reasons for doing this: first, I want to look after you. You’re investing time in my emails and you’ve given me access to you.

Second, I simply don’t have the time to conduct lots and lots of these things to a high quality. So by increasing the price I reduce the number of people who apply – deliberately.

Third, I don’t want people flinging a few quid at something they’re not invested in using. The people who invest in my critiques are more likely to act on the advice I give them. If it’s cheap, they won’t value it.

What can you do to use the scarcity principle in your business?


PS Time limits are useful things. You can’t always offer all your services to everyone all the time. But how to use them best? Contact people often. So often, that when I tell you how often, you’ll blanche and retreat. But if you embrace it, you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.



Vicky Fraser is a copywriter, author, and entrepreneur. She really did run away with the circus… but when she’s not swinging from a trapeze, she’s showing other copywriters and small business owners how to work with better clients, make more money, and stop missing bathtimes, first words, and dinners with angry partners. In fact, she wrote the book on it. Get your copy here.

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