You’ve probably experienced scarcity and urgency when marketers are attempting to persuade you to make a purchase ‘right now’. These tactics are well-known in the online business world. Furthermore, they are quite accepted by customers, clients, and potential clients. There’s nothing wrong with introducing a little scarcity and urgency in your business, as long as you use them ethically.

There are three primary circumstances in which scarcity and urgency may often be used by membership website managers. 1) in marketing, 2) as an engagement strategy, and 3) to tempt purchases through the offer of exclusivity. Let’s look at the pro’s and con’s of each.

The use of scarcity and urgency in marketing

Urgency: doors ‘open’ for specific time period

A good example of creating a sense of urgency in your membership website is to have a period of time when the “doors” are “open” to enrolment, after which time enrolment is closed. This can be very effective in persuading prospective members to click the “join” button right away. But there is a risk. The time limit might be reached before you are able to sign up enough people to make the membership financially viable. At that point, you may be tempted to “extend” the time limit, which really negates the entire effect of the urgency you originally created. It’s also not fair to those who did jump on the opportunity to sign up right away – they now feel like they didn’t need to.  

Urgency: limited time discount

Another possibility is to keep the doors open all the time, but offer a discount for a limited period. But again, you have the potential problem of annoying those who signed up at the regular price. A better strategy there might be to keep the price the same for a limited period, promising to raise prices at the end of the time period. You still get the effect of urgency without alienating anyone who is already signed up. Just be sure to make the price increase applicable only to new sign-ups. Those who are already members should continue to pay the same price as always.

Scarcity: limited number of enrolments

Scarcity can work by announcing that you only have room for x number of members. A common explanation for this is that the business owner wants to offer the most value to each person individually as possible. Prospective members will understand there are limited spots, and they should potentially hurry to submit their application in case the limit on enrolments is soon reached. The downside? None, as long as your business model is suited to a limited number of members.

An example would be the top tier membership in your business, which includes substantial access to you or your high-level coaching team. It would make sense that you only have so many human resources to offer, so the number of recipients would need to be limited. Trouble can come though, if you decide to exceed the number of members, or raise it later on without increasing the resources available. Then original members are going to feel cheated, since they signed up for more exclusive access than you are now able to provide.

Using scarcity and urgency to increase engagement

Restricting content availability

You may be tempted to force members to consume your content within a certain period of time to ensure you have participation, which certainly can foster engagement. The downside is that it can be difficult to pull off technically, and has the makings of frustrating members. A better strategy might be a contest or draw among members, the prize for which is a free session with you or some other kind of access to one-on-one attention. In order to enter the draw, members must participate and engage during the time parameters you set.

Restrict new-member access to content

Another tactic is to  restrict content access to new members. For example, let’s say a member signs up to a monthly membership in June. That member can only have access to June content or newer. Any content that was created prior is off limits. The trouble is that’s not the industry standard. Again, it can be difficult to set it up on the technical side without custom development. The other downside is that you would be running the risk of comments and community forum discussions referring to the content that only some members are privy to because of when they signed up.  

Here is an idea to encourage engagement and has the added bonus of “something in it for everyone.” Let’s say you are planning to offer a course in the near future but haven’t yet worked out the content. You could offer your members the opportunity to help you create the content in a group setting. You would be creating a new course, but the participants would gain the benefit of the inevitable discussions that would take place while the content is being planned. Then once the course is finished, participants can purchase it at a discount. That’s a win-win, for you, the participants in the course, and future course-takers.

Using scarcity and urgency to promote exclusivity

There is very little downside to offering exclusive access or content to top tier membership levels. It’s basically expected in today’s membership models. An example is to force sign-up to get a bonus of a one on one strategy call with the coach. Another might be FOMO (fear of missing out). You might create the need to sign up ‘now’ or else the member misses out on all kinds of bonuses or exclusive invitations to events.

The only caveat here is to make sure you aren’t saving all the good content & access for the VIP group. Remember, you still need to service all your members. And don’t make the price differential too great. Best to make it a ‘no-brainer’ if you can. If the regular membership is $49, make the vip $99. If you try to go for $199 or $299, it’s too big a jump. Or better still, make your VIP membership available for a finite period of time – scarcity – for the $99 price point. After that, you can go up to $149 or even $199.

What this all boils down to is how well you know your audience. All these tactics can be used in a membership website to raise cash, increase long-term income, encourage new membership through marketing, and more. To do it all ethically, simply be cognizant of the downsides, and above all, always continue to keep what’s best for your members as your top priority.

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