Remember the last time you stood in line to get into a hot new club or eagerly searched the Web for a rare, prized collectible? Scarcity and exclusivity drive demand. They make us long for what seems hardest to possess, and we'll move mountains-and spend fortunes-to acquire the objects of our desire.
About 14 years ago, a Japanese collector purchased Van Gogh's "Portrait of Dr. Gachet"-a rare and unique work by an artist who sold only one painting in his entire lifetime-for $82.5 million. Today, that remains the highest price ever paid for a piece of art at auction. And in 1999, a one and only item, Lou Gehrig's last glove from his final game on April 30, 1939, set world records by selling for the astonishing price of $389,500.
What Customers Crave
Just as scarcity ignites passion in collectors, exclusivity fans the flame for a wide range of consumers. Building that special aura around your own products or services requires deft handling of a carefully crafted marketing program. The challenge is to successfully walk the line between enticing customers and raising barriers that turn them off.
Here are five proven ways to use scarcity and exclusivity to fuel sales:
1. Woo affluent customers. Exclusivity is a key element when persuading wealthy consumers to buy certain products. Individuals in households with annual incomes of $100,000-plus are more inclined to purchase products that set them apart and make them feel special, so limiting your production volume or access to your products can equal sales success. Jaguar, for example, has introduced lower-cost luxury models, yet maintains its appeal by selling only about 200,000 of them annually worldwide. The typical Jag buyer doesn't want to see a similar car in every garage.
2. Tout your roots. Often, a product's heritage or origins can provide an aura of exclusivity. Consider the cachet the word "cashmere" carries, or how consumers willingly pay a premium for an alcoholic beverage that's "aged 30 years in oak casks." Entire marketing campaigns can be successfully created around these single points of differentiation. In a campaign designed to make its wines more uniquely prized, Chablis, an appellation within the Burgundy region of France, uses full-page ads to explain why Chablis can only come from Chablis.
3. Create excitement based on scarcity. Advance reviews in key publications and on relevant Web sites when a new product is in limited supply can build substantial demand prior to a full rollout. You can also use the element of scarcity to generate excitement among your existing customer base. For instance, a fine furniture showroom with an overstock of antiques could have an invitation-only private sale for select customers to offer a limited inventory of one-of-a-kind items.
4. Entice teen trendsetters. Eager to embrace new products and ideas, teens are willing trendsetters who respond well to the words "soon to be released" and "in limited supply." Tremor, a marketing unit for Procter & Gamble and outside clients, builds buzz among trend-spreading teens it terms "connectors." They're sent advance invitations to VIP store openings, asked to vote on music selections for snack commercials, and given advance scripts of new TV shows aimed at teens-all with the expectation that they'll initiate buzz and, consequently, sales.
5. Design an exclusive environment. Upscale fashion retailers are transforming their stores into high-concept "experiences" that sell the lifestyle of the artistic elite. Prada hired experimental architect Rem Koolhaas, Helmut Lang brought in conceptual artist Jenny Holzer, and designer Issey Miyake teamed with renowned architect Frank Gehry. While you may not have the budget to bring in a world-famous architect, you can work with a locally known artist or designer to create an exclusive shopping experience.