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Can scarcity make your communications more compelling?

Can scarcity make your communications more compelling?

In the second of our series on the principles of persuasion, we’re looking at scarcity. If you want to catch up, take a look at our first post on reciprocity.

The principle of scarcity relates to our tendency to want the things we can’t have. And when resources are limited, we feel compelled to act quickly to secure those resources for ourselves. Perhaps this is caused by some remnant of our hunter-gatherer instincts, but it’s a feeling that most people can relate to; a little time pressure, or a sense that time is running out, often encourages us to act urgently.

This principle may connect with our deep-seated fears of losing our freedoms. If a product, service or opportunity evades us, we have effectively lost the freedom to choose. And nobody likes to be restricted.

Using the principle of scarcity in your communications

There are several ways to employ this principle in your communications.

Deadlines create a sense of urgency

Let’s be honest. We all like to defer decisions. How many of us take action immediately, and how many wait until the last minute? When a decision has no time limit, it’s easy to ignore.

Whenever we need people to act, a deadline is essential. If we want people to respond to offers or requests, deadlines encourage people to act.

As with all the principles of persuasion, it’s worth noting that this is not a form of mind control. If your offer is unappealing, people will not be persuaded just because you set a deadline and make the resource seem scarce. Your marketing must still do the heavy lifting and convince people that your products and services are worth their interest.

Limited offers

If you’re offering customers a special deal, does it have any limits? Do you have a limit to the number of products available at the special rate – or a limit to the number of subscribers you can accept? If you do, make sure this is part of the communication. Be clear about the limitations because they can have a positive impact on conversions.


Many retail websites are now including information about how many products are sold in an hour – or how many people are looking at a holiday, for example. This creates a sense of urgency as people naturally conclude that they could lose out if they don’t click ‘buy’ soon. Incidentally, this tactic taps into another principle of persuasion – social proof – which we will look at next month.

If you send more than one communication about a particular deal, consider updating the quantity of offers remaining, or talk about how many customers have subscribed.

Seasonal deals

If you restrict offers to particular days, weeks or months, make sure you build up excitement about the approaching deal, and then reinforce the time-limited nature of the deal.

False scarcity erodes trust

While a sense of scarcity can compel people to act, that doesn’t mean it makes sense for every communication or campaign. And whenever used, the scarcity must be genuine. If you have an open-ended offer or an unlimited stock of a product, then don’t pretend that you’re running low. Your customers will see through these lies and you will only manage to erode your customer’s trust. Scarcity must be genuine – and it must be believable.

Next month we’re looking at the principle of authority.

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