Scarcity is an effective tactic often used in copywriting to create a sense of urgency in an effort to convince the undecided reader to make a purchasing decision.
After all, people procrastinate, and they do for a variety of reasons. It's simply human nature. So the goal of applying scarcity is to prevent prospects from procrastinating.
As online consumers become wise to these direct-response copywriting tactics, one question often arises:
“What about digital product downloads, like ebooks and software? How can you create a sense of urgency for something that, in itself, is limitless or perceived as such?”
Here's how to use scarcity selling effectively with digital products:
Limit The Offer
Many people use this strategy ineffectively. They say the offer will only last until midnight. However when a visitor returns to the website the next day, the offer is still up.
Another example of scarcity done badly is to follow through on the promise and the offer is no longer available on that particular website. However, it is still available on another website, through affiliates, or via another Internet marketer.
Consumers are more sophisticated than ever before, and nowadays they tend to easily notice this tactic, shun it, and even react hostilely to it. It lessens your credibility as a business person, and makes any other offer you promote suspect.
However, one of the ways to add scarcity to a digital download is not by actually limiting the quantity or time, which can be seen as irrelevant for a seemingly “unlimited” product, but rather by limiting the offer, its many components, or the promise of its availability.
For example, rather than placing a limit on the quantity or putting a deadline on the offer, you say the package, the price, the premiums, the guarantee, or any additional services (such as support, upgrades, consulting, etc) is only guaranteed through a specific date.
You continue by stating that, if they wait or return after that date, the offer may change and may even be no longer available. So they run the risk of losing out if they don't buy now. Of course, always give a believable, logical reason to justify your sense of urgency.
(This is important, so I'll come back to this with some examples.)
Now, here's how this tactic is different and why you don't lose credibility. Even if your product is still available after that date, you're not contradicting yourself because you only guaranteed that it would be available until then.
You didn't outright promise that it wouldn't be available after the limit or deadline has been reached. You only raised the potential risk of losing out on the offer, at least as it currently stands, if they procrastinated and failed to buy now.
For example, you can tell potential customers that the price is limited to the first 1,000. After 1,000 copies are sold, you may change the offer by raising the price or removing the premiums, or even stop offering it altogether…
… At any time, without warning or notice.
Update The Product
Take advantage of the features of digital products.
Digital products have something in common: they are constantly being updated. It's simply the nature of technology. Software keeps updating with new versions all the time. Ebooks, therefore, can operate in exactly the same manner.
So don't be afraid to put a version number on your digital product, just like you would on a piece of software. When a new version comes out, even if slightly edited, the older one no longer becomes available or becomes obsolete by default.
The good thing is that updating a book is as easy as editing or adding a few paragraphs, inserting an interview, attaching an updated chapter, including a guest contribution, injecting extra appendices, or upgrading the resource list — especially bookmarks.
(We all know how websites and links change all the time. Some URLs can change, redirect, move, or become unreachable. So by upgrading the bookmarked resource list, among others, your list stays fresh and your links remain valid.)
Let's not forget the ubiquitous “alpha” and “beta” stages most software products go through. These can be applicable to ebooks and digital information products as well.
Plus, they don't have to be applied to an entire product. They can be used with specific chapters, add-ons, premiums, tools, or even membership sites.
Additionally, they don't have to be called “alpha” and “beta.” Use your imagination. For example, call it a “pre-release version,” “launch edition,” “introductory version,” “2007 format,” “early bird deliverable,” “advanced copy,” “pre-market issue,” etc.
If you sell an ebook with “free updates,” then that is the element that's scarce. To add more scarcity to the offer, you limit the bonuses or the free updates for a specified quantity and/or time, and not the actual product itself.
Make It Time-Sensitive
The third tactic is to add a chapter or a bonus that's time-sensitive. I'm not talking about a deadline. I'm talking about content that's timely and more valuable based on its freshness rather than content that is released with a deadline.
This can be done practically with every information product out there.
For example, if you're selling a principled, evergreen, or theory-based ebook that, in itself, can't go out of style or become outdated, then add a few extra pages, like a list of resources or specific tactics, that are relevant at the time of writing the product.
However, the best way to do this is to include information that, directly or by implication, makes it scarce. It can be something tied to a specific event, activity, trend, or news item. If not, and if you wish to keep your product evergreen, then specify it in the copy.
Say you sell a book on how to grow bigger, redder tomatoes. Your book can have a chapter or a bonus report that talks about how to enter and win a certain annual, well-recognized, and popular “tomato-growing contest,” which has a set date each year.
This information therefore becomes time-sensitive, because, if they buy after the contest, then the book holds less value — at least in the way it's positioned in the copy.
Another way is if it relates to a season or period of the year, such as a book on how to coach youth basketball. The book will have a time-sensitive element a few months before basketball season starts, and little or no value once the season is over.
Ultimately, think of how you can add scarcity to the product itself by adding either content or add-ons (like premiums or bonuses), or by how you position it in the copy, to make it time-sensitive somehow — without having to limit the offer directly.
For instance, can the value or perceived value of the product depreciate over time or after a certain number of downloads? If not, how can you incorporate this element (whether it's through extra content, premiums, or add-ons)?
Use your creativity, here.
In my experience, practically every digital product, no matter how timeless or evergreen it may seem at first, can be made scarce or urgent in some way, or made to appear so, that's independent of any limits you otherwise impose.
Technological or Resource Limits
Done properly, this is a very compelling and clever use of scarcity, because you are essentially using technology or time against itself. Here's how it works…
An example that's also the easiest is where you tell prospects that the item is limited because you need to conserve or limit the bandwidth. Many hosts limit accounts by filesizes or allocate a certain number of bytes transferred per week, month, or year.
As a result, you may need to revise the offer or raise the price to cover your growing costs at a certain point in the future, as greater resources are consumed. Not only that, but maintenance and support costs proportionately grow, too.
“Of course,” you might say, “everyone knows that.” Yes, but they don't necessarily realize this may directly affect the offer, price, or availability of the product altogether.
So the idea is to specify it in your copy. Tell your readers that, as more and more people buy and download your product, the costlier it becomes to maintain.
Price increases are inevitable, and therefore they must act now to take advantage of such a “low price.” If they wait they might lose out on a great deal or on the product altogether as it may be taken off the market to conserve resources and control costs.
The trick is, you can specify a certain date or quantity sold by which you will revise your offer to ensure it appropriately reflects and covers your costs at that time.
That's why the scarcity, in this case, is not so much a promise that an increase in price is imminent, but the promise you will maintain the current offer as it stands for a predetermined period of time only. After that, anything can happen.
Now, while that might seem logical for software, sometimes this tactic might not be as convincing in the case of digital products. (Especially in the case of a very short ebook, among others.) In this case, try to make your digital book dynamic.
Again, this doesn't have to apply to an entire product or to the product itself. Certain parts, chapters, or bonus add-ons only can be made dynamic.
For example, some PDFs now have forms and quizzes. Some ebooks contain streaming audio and video. Others are compiled as standalone executables but pull content from the web. And let's not forget membership or password-protected websites.
Dynamic content obviously uses more resources than simple one-time downloads. And it may be common knowledge. But the goal is to communicate this to your prospects.
Nevertheless, aside from products themselves, there's the most scarcest resource of all.
And that, of course, is time.
There are only so many hours in the day or so many clients you can serve at any given time, right? Therefore, if your product comes with, say, free consulting or coaching, such as critiques, reviews, email consultations, etc, you could then say:
Due to the growing demand on my time, I can only accept a certain number of individuals. So I guarantee that the next 10 clients only who buy this product will get [add-on service].
Bottom line, and pardon the pun, but don't just limit yourself to the product proper. Look at the features or parts of your product, the delivery method, any add-ons or bonuses, the offer, the resources required, or the service-based components.
Digital scarcity works quite well, even when the product may seem to be limitless. Because the possibilities are only as finite as your creativity.
Michel Fortin is a senior marketing specialist, renowned copywriter, and digital marketing expert. For the better part of 30 years, he's produced countless successful marketing communications and profitable campaigns that generated in excess of $300 million in sales. He's broken many industry sales records, including being instrumental behind the first ever “million-dollar day” online marketing campaign in 2004. He's worked with thousands of businesses and entrepreneurs around the world in a wide variety of industries on building their businesses, improving their marketing, and increasing their profits. He's a published author and often speaks at industry events. To connect with him, visit his LinkedIn profile where he is most active.