An article on my Twitter timeline last week pressed some buttons. I didn’t even realize how deep it cut until I started my response. It made sense, after a few minutes, to shut the heck up, think about WHY it caused such a heated response on my part, and set out my argument.
It was an article on having various “calls to action” in newsletters, content, etc. “Calls to action” is another marketspeak term that’s getting overused and overdone, in my opinion, although it makes sense — you’re enlarging your audience and potential customer base and you want them to take the action of buying your product or service.
But one of the CTA points that worked my last nerve was “create a sense of scarcity and urgency.”
As a customer, when I am targeted that way, it angers me, and is more likely to turn me off the product and service than engage me. It makes me feel manipulated in a way I don’t like.
Because, quite frankly, my buying is not decided, for the most part, on missing a trend. If I feel a company is trying to manipulate me into buying something this second or missing it — I’d rather miss it.
Even the word “scarcity” has “scare” in it – a scare tactic. You try to intimidate me into parting with my hard-earned cash, and I’m going to push back.
Obviously, when a store is having a sale or an airline is having one of their special deals, scarcity and urgency are part of the deal. A store can’t have an endless sale, or it becomes the regular price. There has to be a start date and an end date. You don’t shop within that time frame, and you miss it. You wait too long, and they’ve sold through.
Another time that works is with one of my favorite shops, a soap maker who does small batch soaps using natural ingredients. When the batch is sold through, it’s done, and there’s no guarantee it will be made again. She’s up front about that, is good about posting when something is sold out, and that’s that. I don’t feel manipulated. If I miss it, for whatever reason — whether I didn’t see the email in time or forgot or can’t afford it this month — no problem. Her emphasis is on the new products and new batch, not into shaming her customers for missing something. The way she presents her materials — positive, engaging, inviting — means I am more likely to buy as soon as something new comes up, because she INVITES me instead of BERATING or trying to SCARE me.
Some of the struggling chain stores around here seem to think that they can recover by having constant sales in finite hours. You run in and buy something on your way somewhere else. They give you a slip stating you’ll get 20% off your next purchase, but only if you shop between 9-11 AM on Friday, or, even worse, only if you come back and shop again that very day.
No. Just no.
Where I live, people are either retired living on independent income, or struggling with three or four part-time jobs. Few people have the time or the inclination to build their day around a two-hour sale.
As one woman pointed out, “I’ll plan my life around Black Friday, but that’s only once a year.”
Another woman said, “It would cost me more to take off work to attend the sale than I’d save on the sale.”
A third person said, “Sales tactics like this are why I order online from Amazon.”
In other words, the stores are not listening to the people who live here and would shop here. The manipulative “scarcity and urgency” they’re promoting are actually driving customers away from them and to Amazon.
It also speaks to a deeper issue often called “prosperity consciousness” and “poverty consciousness.”
Scarcity is often manipulated in order for specific individuals to profit. If you’re always scrambling because you feel you don’t have “enough” — and many of us, living paycheck to paycheck are scrambling all the time just to pay our bills and survive — you wind up in a downward spiral of panic. You’re afraid the deal will never exist again, so you better buy it at this price at this moment or you’ll lose out forever. Sometimes, you’ll plunge yourself further into poverty in order to get this “deal.”
But do you really need it? What is the worst thing that will happen if you miss the sale and it’s not part of your life?
Part of a marketing campaign is to create the desire for whatever the company is selling. That’s part of the encouragement, of the manipulation — give me your money for this product or service, and your life will be better.
With the subtext being, if you don’t GIVE ME YOUR MONEY for this product or service, your life will be worse.
But is that true?
Or will it keep you in the cycle of poverty consciousness?
This article, by Dawn Demers, talks about developing prosperity consciousness, and how our words have meaning, and how we become what we think about. I don’t agree with everything in this article (“tithing” has a negative religious connotation for me), but I do agree that if we are going to live a healthier life, we have to deal with the fear of not having enough. When you’re working three jobs at minimum wage with no benefits, it’s a very real fear. So when companies try to prey on those fears in order to get you to spend your money ON THEM, you have to be careful.
People talk about living in “prosperity consciousness” or with a sense of abundance or a balanced life. Does missing this sale really mean you won’t achieve it? If you really mean to live your life with the belief that there is enough for all of us, we don’t need to be greedy, we don’t need to hoard, in fact, we can get rid of many of the things we’ve accumulated that we no longer need — do we need to add in this particular thing within these two hours? If you claim you want to live an abundant life, is your definition of “abundance” and “prosperity” the accumulation of items that OTHER PEOPLE judge you need, or things and experiences that actually make you happy? And why would you buy based on being provoked and manipulated by such negativity?
I bet you can count on your fingers the amount of things you bought on sale that actually improved your life beyond a few days.
Yes, they exist. They are different for everyone. But missing most sales isn’t going to damage your life in the long term. You might be disappointed for a few days. You might miss the adrenalin rush that those purchases give us. But it’s rare it will ruin your life.
Further, if you claim you want to live an ethical, balanced life based on prosperity consciousness rather than poverty consciousness, how can you, in all good conscience, create materials that promote “scarcity and urgency” and manipulate people to buy out of panic? Does the money offset any tears on your integrity? Or do you believe it’s not your problem or your business? You’re simply there to create effective materials. If the customer buys, you’ve succeeded.
Where is that line for you?
It’s something to think about and work on. It’s something each of us has to define for ourselves.
I am more and more aware of it as a consumer, and less and less likely to respond to such a “call for action.” My action, more and more often, is to turn away from the company.
As a writer, I am also aware of it. If I feel the materials I’m tasked to create are too predatory, I will fight to rework the materials and word them so they come from a more positive place that still engages and encourages the customer to purchase. And, there are times when I refuse the gig when the client wants predatory or panicky materials created to manipulate the customer with negativity and fear.
I have to define those lines constantly. It’s not easy. But, for me, it’s a necessity.
How do you set your lines? Do you have different boundaries in the work you do for others than the way you live your own life? How do you integrate the two?