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5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using Scarcity in Marketing

In the blog post last week, I established how effective and powerful scarcity is. When scarcity is used correctly in advertising, it encourages consumers to act in ways they wouldn’t otherwise. It increases the buyers' sense of urgency, leading to quicker decision-making and sales.


Validating scarcity is essential for ensuring its effectiveness in capturing the attention and actions of individuals. When it comes to scarcity, the person on the receiving end must be presented with signals that prove the existence of limited availability. These signals serve as a tangible confirmation, creating a sense of urgency and driving desired behaviors.


Human psychology plays a significant role in the success of scarcity tactics. The fear of missing out (FOMO) is a powerful motivator that triggers a sense of urgency in individuals. However, without proper validation, this urgency can quickly dissipate. By providing signals that prove limited availability, such as a countdown timer, limited stock notifications, or exclusive access codes, businesses can sustain the sense of urgency and tap into the FOMO phenomenon.


Validating scarcity not only instills a sense of urgency but also builds trust and credibility. When businesses deliver on their promises and provide clear signals of limited availability, they establish credibility with their audience. By consistently validating scarcity, they demonstrate transparency and integrity, which enhances the trust customers place in the brand. This trust is invaluable for building long-term relationships with customers and fostering brand loyalty.


However, scarcity is an extremely fragile force, and if used inappropriately, can have the opposite effect of what you were aiming for. These are common mistakes that organizations have made that end up backfiring on their original intent.


Mistake #1: Limited-Time Sale with no expiration date

Imagine a retail store advertises “50% Off Shoes for a Limited Time Only” but doesn’t include when the deal expires. Won’t you catch yourself doubting if the deal ever expires? It seems like you clearly have time to participate in the sale, and it's not a priority ranking very high on your to-do list.


In this case, the organization failed to create a sense of urgency and validate the scarcity of the sale. By not specifying an expiration date, customers may perceive the offer as always available, undermining the desired urgency. Instead, the company should have clearly communicated a specific end date for the sale, accompanied by countdown timers or reminders to emphasize the limited-time nature. This approach would have generated a genuine sense of scarcity and encouraged customers to take immediate action to secure discounted prices.


Mistake #2: Item is clearly not “nearly sold out”

In this scenario, you are researching whether or not you should buy a product, and though its advertised as almost out of stock, you find the opposite to be true when you do a quick google search and find the product all over the Internet.


In this case, the organization in question made a false claim regarding the scarcity of a product, and consumers quickly discovered the opposite to be true through online searches. This lack of validation undermines the credibility and trustworthiness of this company.


To avoid such a situation, it's important that you use scarcity carefully. If this product is nearly out of stock, and that can be verified by a Google search, by all means, mark it as such! But if the product can be found elsewhere, you will have to create urgency in the situation by differentiating the product. Special editions could be a great tactic in making this product unique in the minds of consumers.


Mistake #3: Ads announce product quantities are low, but shelves are fully stocked

Ever seen a coupon that implies an item is almost out of stock, but when you walk into the store, the fully stocked shelves look untouched? Don’t risk invalidating the scarcity of products this way. This disconnect erodes consumer trust and may lead to skepticism about the store's credibility.


To rectify this situation, the store should have adjusted its inventory display to reflect the limited availability accurately. For instance, they could have designated a specific area for scarce products or utilized signage to clearly indicate low stock levels. Validating scarcity through visible and accurate representations would have ensured consistency between the store's messaging and its actual inventory situation.


Mistake #4: The exclusive club is crowded

The illusion of exclusivity can be quickly shattered when you find out that just about everyone can get in. A membership isn’t as valuable if it doesn’t offer a special status. An exclusive club that is always crowded undermines the perceived value of the membership and diminishes the desire for exclusivity.


To address this issue, management can control the number of members admitted to the club more carefully. By limiting membership or implementing a reservation system, they could maintain a sense of exclusivity, ensure a more desirable experience for members, and validate the scarcity of the club's access.


Mistake #5: Everyone has the new jacket that is available in “limited quantities”

When a fashion brand advertises a new jacket as being available in limited quantities but it seems to be owned by many, it raises doubts about the scarcity claim. Especially in industries where originality and unlikeness are key, scarcity needs to be handled carefully.


To avoid this discrepancy, brands should either genuinely limit the production of the jacket or adjust their messaging to focus on the exclusivity of the design rather than its limited quantity. By emphasizing the unique features, craftsmanship, or collectible nature of the jacket, the brand could have maintained its allure and validated the scarcity perception in a more credible way.


In summary, several instances of failed scarcity marketing strategies highlight the importance of properly validating scarcity claims. Validating scarcity in these scenarios would have ensured credibility, trust, and a genuine sense of urgency among consumers.


To read more about how you can use scarcity to drive up sales in your business, click here to get your copy of The Power of Scarcity.


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