Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Your mother was probably fond of the saying “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”.  Mine certainly was.  She usually trotted it out when she wanted one of us to go on a trip where we would have to leave the current boyfriend or girlfriend home for a week or so.

I was reminded of this when I read the book Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive on vacation. In the book, the authors use scientific studies to validate ways that people can be persuaded to do something.  Some of the ways involved differing methods of getting people to reuse hotel towels.  But what prompted this post was the idea that scarcity of a product can increase its demand.  Not absence, scarcity.  The idea is that if there is a hope of getting a scarce product, then consumers will desire it more.

They used the case of the Oldsmobile.  In 2004 GM discontinued the manufacture of the Oldsmobile line due to low sales.  The ironic thing is that the sales of Oldsmobiles in 2003 were their highest ever.  People were induced to buy because of the scarcity of the brand.

I am convinced that the popularity of the Wii gaming system from Nintendo was also a case of the scarcity inducing purchase envy.  Nintendo released the Wii with only a few systems available.  If you knew of someone who got one of the first ones, they raved about the user interface and the general fun factor of the games.  This just stoked the purchasing flames, when people could not get one.  Those folks staked out the Best Buys and the Costcos just waiting for the next shipment to arrive, so that they might get their hands on one of the 25 just arrived systems.

However, scarce does not mean late.  Note that Boeing has upset more customers with a late delivery for their 787 Dreamliner than made potential clients excited.  You have to make your dates.

Scarce also does not mean boring.  Something that is scarce and boring does not make people excited.  See any number of cell phones that are released for use on one cellular network and has me-too features.  Who really cares?

And despite what my mom said, absence won’t really get you talked about.  You need to have something there for people to get excited about and envision themselves owning.  Nintendo and Oldsmobile (probably inadvertently) got the mixture right.  This same story was critical in the Tickle Me Elmo, iPhone and Cabbage Patch Kids.

Find a way to make your product good and scarce.  It has to be both. And you just might have the next remarkable product in the land.

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