Content’s Age of Exclusivity

The value of applying the scarcity principle to content marketing strategy

January 16, 2017

A month or so ago I received a piece of content that blew my socks off. I hadn’t requested it or given permission for somebody to send it to me. I hadn’t ticked a box online to allow it to be sent. I had no idea it was coming.

None of that mattered to me, because the content in question made me feel extraordinarily special – and genuinely lucky. It was packed with original thought-leadership that was hugely relevant to me personally, and which I hadn’t already encountered on my various feeds and favourite sites before. It got me thinking that there are more ways to an effective content marketing strategy than we sometimes assume.

There’s only one problem. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to tell you about it.

The content was a newsletter. It told me that I was a member of an exclusive group chosen to receive it, and informed me that I could choose one other person to add to this group. I can’t tell you what the content of the newsletter was, what form it arrived in, whom I chose to add to the group of people receiving it. I most definitely can’t tell you how I ever came to be added to the list myself – because I don’t know. All of this information is top secret. All of it is exclusive.

That very deliberate, very tangible sense of exclusivity had a big impact on me – and that’s why I’m writing this post. It captured my attention, played with my sense of curiosity – and then absolutely delivered on its promise. In other words, it delivered on all of the key objectives that you have for an effective content marketing strategy – but it did so in a way that most content marketers would never consider.

The scarcity principle in action

Now that I’m in possession of this content and I’ve been promised that there’s more on the way, I’m suddenly obsessed with the idea of losing it. Will the person who added me to the exclusive list decide I’m giving too much away by writing this post and strike me off? How would I ever get back on if they do? The net result of this fear of exclusion is that I am absolutely guaranteed to read every word of the newsletter the next time it arrives. You really can’t buy attention and engagement like that.

The scarcity principle is a well-established element in sales, marketing – and any other activity that involves influencing how others behave. We know, and we’ve had it confirmed by repeated neuroscientific experiments, that human beings value something a lot more when there is far less of it available.

Luxury brands build every element of their experience around the scarcity principle – your willingness to pay a premium for something that you know very few people can ever own. It’s why high-end carmakers from Bugati to Tesla make so very few models – and have people order and wait for them for months on end. Sales people have been using it to increase people’s enthusiasm for buying since long before Robert B. Cialdini described them doing so in his marketing classic Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Interestingly, Cialdini also realised that people are far more motivated by the prospect of losing something of value than they are of gaining it in the first place. It wouldn’t surprise me if the person who came up with my Secret Newsletter had read up on their Cialdini.

The scarcity principle is a great play when you need to persuade people of the value of anything. I came across it again in a blog post that one of our LinkedIn Sales Solutions clients wrote the other day. Their task was to roll out social selling across their organisation, supplying sales teams with the right software and embedding behaviours that would make the most of it. The first time around, the roll-out didn’t go so well. People were supplied with the software they needed – but they didn’t use it properly. Second time around, the client did things very differently. They only handed out social selling software licenses only to around a quarter of their sales reps. They made getting one conditional on achieving certain standards of social selling behaviour. They told people they would lose their new social selling tools if they didn’t keep these standards up. Guess what? Adoption levels soared.

The scarcity principle and content marketing strategy

The scarcity principle works. However, there’s one area of marketing where it’s rare to find it at work – and that’s content marketing.

As content marketers, we’ve got a natural instinct to chase as much reach as possible. We’ve invested in the content we create – and we want to maximise the value that it can deliver back to us. We do this through paid media, by ensuring that our working spend (the content distribution budget) matches or exceeds the non-working spend (the money that we spent on creating content in the first place). We hope to expand the value of our content through earned media – encouraging organic sharing that both increases reach and provides social proof of our content’s value.

It’s a much harder sell to the CMO to invest time and money in producing something of real value, and then go out of your way not to promote it too widely – distributing that content to a very restricted list of people and then encouraging them to keep it to themselves.

Why the time could be right for exclusivity in content marketing

However, having felt the full force of the scarcity principle, I think exclusivity in content marketing is an alternative approach that’s well worth considering. It feels risky, but it can definitely deliver results – and in many ways, it’s very timely.

No member of any target audience is short of content at the moment. What they need is more relevant, value-adding content – and what you need as a content marketer is the ability to be able to communicate that relevance and value forcefully. Restricting access to your content – and then planning a customer experience that turns that restricted access into evidence of value – could prove a very efficient and effective approach. You’ll be sacrificing eyeballs – but if you are confident you’re trading broader reach for heightened influence amongst those that matter most, then it’s worth it.

If you know exactly whom you want to reach, why not make a virtue of the fact that you only want to reach them? Plenty of the most effective examples of Sponsored Content on LinkedIn certainly do so. You have to have confidence in the value that your content can unlock from that audience – but if you have the courage, it’s a strategy definitely worth considering. There’s certainly a natural alignment with the growing importance of account based marketing for B2B marketers. After all when you are tailoring your marketing approach to individual influencers within key accounts, it makes every sense to stress that exclusivity in your creative approach.

My secret newsletter is truly innovative content marketing. It bends the traditional model with an eye on a different set of objectives. Its aim is to build a very specific subscriber base of content marketing influencers, to reach people that it might struggle to capture the attention of otherwise, and to build their absolute enthusiasm and loyalty for that content. It takes a leaf directly out of Joe Pulizzi’s Content Inc. strategy, which focuses on the value of building a loyal, relevant audience and then seeking to monetise that audience later. I don’t yet know what the authors of my newsletter want from me. But I can tell you this – when they’re ready to ask, I’ll be ready to listen.