Let’s get something counterintuitive and controversial out of the way right now…

Fear works. More specifically, fear sells.

As a business owner, fear is one of the most powerful, persuasive things you can use to sell more of your product or service. Even if you think that a fear-based incentive doesn’t make sense for your value proposition, don’t worry! There’s one kind that fits any business.

We are talking, of course, about the fear of missing out (FOMO).


There’s a tiny voice inside of every customer’s head that tells them, “Get all the things, don’t miss out on anything! If you do, we might get screwed down the line, all because we didn’t buy X!”

When you’re crafting a persuasive sales message, all you need to do is give that fear something to work with. And that’s exactly where scarcity and urgency, two crazy effective sales triggers, shine.

Today, we’ll look at how to do them right.

How to Use Scarcity

We (meaning every human being) always want something more if we know there’s a limited supply. It’s how we are wired. If your product or service isn’t easy to come by, and there’s a finite supply, make sure your customers know it. And think long and hard about passing up an opportunity like this!

If your offer doesn’t yield well to a message of scarcity, you can always create it. Just don’t be sleazy and fake about it – saying something’s in limited supply when it actually isn’t will land you in hot water with customers. And you’d totally deserve it, too! Always be honest with your customers.

Examples: Scarcity-based marketing messages are all around us. If you’ve ever booked a hotel on Booking.com, you’ve seen the bright red “Only X rooms left!” on hotel pages. You can also see notifications popping up in real time when someone makes a recent booking for a hotel you’re looking at. This is a textbook case.

There are lots of other ways to enhance your message with scarcity, besides arbitrarily limiting the number of sales. Here are some of them:

  • Create and launch a special, limited version of your product or service (think limited-edition festive beers, holiday-themed menus, out-of-print t-shirts etc.) that you sell on a first come, first serve basis.
  • Run a special, more expensive tier of your product or service. A good example would be an online course with limited spots available for 1-on-1 mentoring and coaching.
  • Incentivize early buyers by throwing in some valuable bonuses that matter to your target market. Anything and everything that could make them happy, from mugs to books and gift cards, is fair game here. The gesture is what matters.

How to Use Urgency

More often than not, urgency is simply a time limit you place to make sure people hesitate as little as possible, and invest in the offer as soon as it’s presented to them. Scarcity breeds urgency, but it can stand alone just as well.

Urgency is especially useful if your business model relies on periodic huge spikes of revenue. For example, if you’re a seasonal business and make 90% of your revenue from November to the end of December, there’s not much for you in the ‘long tail.’ Hence, you need to live and breathe urgency.

In much the same way, overusing urgency-based messages is a surefire recipe to make your customers hate you. So please use it sparingly.

Examples: Think back (with horror, or maybe fondness) to all the ridiculous Black Friday sales you’ve ever witnessed or participated in. They’re built around urgency. Everywhere you go, advertising messages urge you to call now, book now, buy now, lest you stop and think, “Wait, do I actually need this?”

Let’s look at some sleaze-free ways to incorporate urgency-based messages in your marketing:

  • Embrace timed sales or discounts on your products or services. For example, if a customer forgets some items in their cart, you could send them a discount code valid for 24 hours only. That oughta get them moving! Again, use sparingly.
  • Raise your prices – and give your customers a heads-up before you do it. It’s a wonder to behold how fast a customer can go from “Nah, I’m not looking to buy right now” to “Holy crap give me this before the price goes up!”
  • Another ingenious example we’ve seen was with selling tickets to an online event. The first ticket cost $1, every next one cost just $1 more… That move worked customers into a genuine panic (the kind where they trip all over themselves to buy).
  • For any timed offers you put online, make liberal use of countdowns – on webpages, in emails, etc. They make a world of difference.


And that’s how you can use scarcity and urgency when selling! There are tons of other ways to do it, but hopefully these will at least get you started. It’s perfect timing, too – you’ll be able to get plenty of practice during the holiday season. Enjoy!