The Power of Scarcity in Marketing: Real-Life Examples and Best Practices

Most customers ignore marketing because marketing ignores most people.

It's no secret that customers often turn a blind eye to marketing messages, leaving brands frustrated with their ineffective campaigns.

If you're familiar with the StoryBrand Framework, you know it's a proven process for clarifying your marketing message so more customers engage. But, how can you further elevate your StoryBrand message? 

You strategically apply the insights of behavior science to improve your marketing.

Why Behavior Science is a Must for Businesses? 

If you're in business, you are in the business of behavior.

At any given time, your marketing efforts are trying to persuade your ideal customers to:

  • Buy a product
  • Choose your firm over another competitor
  • Click on your ad vs your competitor
  • Sign up to your newsletter
  • Refer your service or products
  • Sign up to a class or webinar

If you can't influence their behavior, you will not succeed as a brand.

It's clear that businesses sometimes ignore how people actually behave, focusing instead on changing perceptions or attitudes. This approach can be misguided, as actions often differ from stated intentions.

Behavioral science teaches us that decisions are influenced by subconscious or external factors. Ignoring this, businesses risk wasting their marketing efforts.

Over the next few weeks, we'll be exploring powerful behavioral science principles that every business should be incorporating as part of their marketing strategy.

  • The Scarcity Effect
  • The Anchoring Effect
  • Social Proof
  • Loss Aversion
  • The Decoy Effect
  • The Authority Principle
  • The Friction Principle
  • And more to come

We begin by diving into the scarcity principle.

This article took me well over four hours to write, including research, design, and edits. I hope you find it valuable.

The Scarcity Principle

The scarcity principle describes the phenomenon where people perceive scarce items as more valuable.

In marketing, we create a sense of urgency by offering limited-time deals or exclusive products.

Richard Shotton, author of The Choice Factory and The Illusion of Choice (two of my favorite books on Behavior Science for Marketers) suggests that brands can leverage this bias by emphasizing the unique aspects of their offering and the limited availability of their products or services.

Here a few examples of the Scarcity Effect from well known Brands.

Amazon's X left in stock and order within x minutes to get it by tomorrow

You've certainly experienced this at Amazon. You find the product you want but you weren't 100% certain about it, until you saw the warning "only x left in stock" or "want it by tomorrow? Order within 22 minutes...".

Netflix's Limited-Time Shows and "Last Day to Watch" Notifications

Netflix's content library is continuously changing, with some titles being added and others removed at various times. When a show or movie is about to be removed from the platform, Netflix often informs its users of the limited time remaining to watch that specific title. They may do this by adding a "last day to watch" label, sending personalized notifications, or including the title in their "Leaving Soon" category.

Netflix example scarcity's Limited Room Availability Notifications

When users browse hotels or accommodations on, they often encounter notifications such as "Only X rooms left" or "X people are looking at this property right now." These messages create a sense of urgency and scarcity, suggesting that the rooms are in high demand and may not be available for long.

Limit the Number of items a customer can buy during a sales event

In one particular study, researchers set up a soup sale at a grocery store. At first, there was no limit to the number of cans of soup that people could purchase at the discounted price. The result? The average number of cans sold was 3.3. But when the researchers introduced a limit of 12 cans per person, the average sale increased to 7 cans. (Wansink et al, 1998)

This study combines scarcity + anchoring principle (more on anchoring on a future post)
  • Use countdown timers in emails or on your landing pages and websites. In our own case study with email marketing for a client in the social gaming space, countdown timer yielded a 28.5% increase in engagement (click through rate) vs the same email campaign without.
  • If you have something that is truly time-sensitive, limited time offer, then countdowns are a good way to add urgency to the campaign
  • Add urgency to your marketing messages by using words that reference time
  • Experiment by inserting emoji's that reference time, urgency.

Key Takeaways

  • Remember, people want what they can't have.
  • Things that are scarce are perceived more valuable and desirable.
  • Urgency, through limited time and quantity, prompts action.
  • Create urgency in your marketing message by using deadlines, countdown clocks, and restrict quantities
  • Above all, test, run A/B tests, and repeat

Additional Resources

More StoryBrand Insights.