Marketing and psychology are intrinsically linked. We need to know how prospects are going to react to certain stimuli to maximise our chances of a sale.
For those of us with a passing interest in marketing psychology and language, you may have heard the term “FOMO”. It was only added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013, but it describes an innate human reaction that has been a part of our psychological make up since time immemorial.
FOMO provides an incredibly powerful impetus for action, so it was only a matter of time before us marketers got our grubby mitts on it. But how can small businesses leverage it to drive interest and sales? Let’s investigate…
What is FOMO?
FOMO stands for the “fear of missing out”, and is basically what it says on the tin. If you’re presented with an event you can’t go to or something that is just out of your reach, it pushes a little anxious button in your brain that says “what if this experience turns out to be way better than my intended plans? I might be missing out on something valuable here!”.
Understandably, FOMO rears its ugly head a lot on social media. If we see that a lot of our friends are going to a certain meet-up or buying a certain thing, our natural reaction is to go “wait, what am I missing out on?” We get very literal anxiety over what we’ll miss if we don’t join in.
Drawing on a more specific example from social media, any sole operator or small business owner is probably aware of “laptop lifestyle” posts from “digital nomads” chilling on the beach, working on a brand new MacBook, lounging in a hammock. These posts are usually selling something that they claim will put you in the same position, the natural reaction is to think “Why isn’t that me? I need this product in my life so I can sit on a beach too!”.
Just find me a laptop insurance plan that covers accidental USB port sand and I’ll be sold.
But why do we experience such anxiety over missing out? The psychology behind it is likely quite straightforward. Clinical psychologist Anita Sanz hypothesises that it stems from when our fledgling species was fighting for survival in small tribal groups. We had to know about threats to our safety and opportunities for hunting and gathering. Not knowing about a new, abundant food source or a smart defensive advantage could literally mean the difference between life and death. Hence, our natural tendency towards FOMO was born.
Why Use FOMO in Marketing?
Marketers are generally a pleasant bunch, but we do have a habit of psychologically manipulating people through our work. Much like appealing to our innate snap decision making and self-preservation instincts, marketers also love to use FOMO – in fact, it’s all over the internet.
Visit any online retailer during a key sales period like Black Friday weekend or the New Year sales; chances are you’ll be presented with a countdown or time-bound offer. This is FOMO in action. The seller is trying to get you to feel a sense of urgency; that ineffable sensation that you’re letting yourself down if you don’t act now.
But smaller businesses can totally use FOMO in their marketing too – including B2Bs and non-retailers. So let’s look at a few examples.
3 Ways Small Businesses Can Use FOMO
Can You Beat the Clock?
As with our above example, a countdown timer or time-bound offer instils a sense of urgency, hurrying the prospect to make a decision. Our FOMO alarm goes off when we see that the doors are closing on a given offer or an exclusive price because not only could we miss out, but we could potentially miss out FOREVER!
This is the mentality behind flash sales and offers of “buy before [date] to get a free [whatever] with your order!”. Our aversion to missed opportunities is a strong one, hence why we see these offers popping up every day, both online and offline… and they still work!
”If you’re not on the list, you’re not getting in.”
Another thing that sets our FOMO alarm blaring is exclusivity. When not just anybody can buy a given thing, we naturally want it more. So if you have “just 4 consulting slots left available” or “only space for 20 people in our course”, don’t be afraid to lead with that. If you sell a physical product, you can highlight the exclusivity of supply, stating “only 3 left, we’re not sure when we’re getting more in” – as long as that’s truthful of course.
If you provide a service, you could trial an application to work with you, as opposed to automatically providing your service “off the shelf”. Some readers may remember when Gmail first came out. You had to be invited by another member – you couldn’t just sign up like today. This made an “@gmail.com” address an exclusive badge of honour for a while!
Peer Pressure Social Proof
For many of us, the destructive peer pressure of the playground is far behind us, but social pressures can also be found in online marketing. We’ve talked about social proof and herd mentality on the blog before now; when we perceive that others are enjoying something or we see our friends’ lives made easier with a certain gizmo, we naturally want in.
When done well, marketing prods the parts of the brain that want to be part of an “in-group” and don’t want to be left behind. Creating a harmless sense of “us and them” may be advantageous here; copy along the lines of “join over 10,000 satisfied customers” can start to get the FOMO juices flowing.
As with any psychological marketing “hacks”, FOMO needs to be tempered with common sense, ethical practices, and good taste. Never use FOMO to be manipulative or pushy in a way that could leave your customer worse-off.
Don’t shoehorn FOMO into all of your marketing; when you lean too heavily on using anxiety to generate sales, your customers will either burn out or get wise pretty quickly. A light dusting of FOMO here and there is great for a quick boost and impulse buys, but not as a longstanding strategy, lest you risk a “boy who cried wolf” situation.
Similarly, don’t state that an offer is closing or a price is going up without following through on that change at the end of the offer. Those who took the offer won’t feel like they got the mega-exclusive deal you promised, and you won’t be seen as a company that keeps its word. Just don’t do it.
But above all, every marketing activity you carry out needs to come from a genuine knowledge and appreciation of your average client, their need for your offering, and what generally makes them open their wallets. If you don’t listen to your prospects, how do you expect them to listen to you – FOMO or no FOMO?The term may be new, but the #psychology behind it is ancient. So why do marketers love #FOMO? Click To Tweet
Do you use FOMO in your marketing at all? Have you spotted any examples of FOMO out in the wilds of the web that appeal to you? Have you seen any examples you don’t like? Be a part of the in-group and share your thoughts in the comments – don’t miss it!