Building a brand using the Scarcity principle?

One of the most important levers which we marketers use is the principle of scarcity which encourages people to make a purchase decision on the basis of perceived scarcity of a product or service. It is a well-known fact that people will respond differently when they know that something is scarce and in short supply. A superb example of this is when British Airways announced in 2003 that they would no longer be operating the twice-daily London—New York Concorde flight because it had become uneconomical to run. The ticket sales very next day took off and all tickets were sold out despite the high prices. Suddenly unwanted expensive jet travel becomes attractive to a host of people because they sensed that it will be an experience which will no longer be available.

There are many instances where this has been used very effectively in the marketing campaigns but can someone build a brand out of the principle of scarcity. Many brands use the principle of scarcity to gain initial traction and attention to branch off later. One of the most prominent brands which used the principle of scarcity to get initial traction is OnePlus which was initially launched via the flash sale model. But can one design and build a brand on the basis of scarcity alone and if such a brand can be built what would make it tick?

Franklin’s Barbecue – Brand built on the scarcity principle

Franklin’s Barbecue which started off as a food trailer in 2009 and soon branched out into its own restaurant. It became famous for its barbecued brisket(a type of beef cut) and has sold out on this item every day since it opened. But what makes this restaurant famous is that the brisket and other barbecued meats only opens for sale at 11:00 am and the shop closes when the stock for the day is over. Due to this people line up in the store as early as 6:00 am on a weekend to be sure that they are in front of the line and are sure to get their share of brisket. The average waiting time during the weekday is two hours. There is a legendary story of how a cottage industry has sprung up overnight to service people who are waiting in the line. It is common for people to get their own chairs and books to read during their wait time. In fact, this restaurant which makes some of the best barbecue meats was also awarded the best barbecue restaurant by Bon Appétit. But the question is do they really make the best barbecue in the town? No one has tried all the joints to pass a judgement into whether this is really the best one but still the restaurant has been receiving 100s of visitors who line up in the morning. This is because this place has leveraged the principle of scarcity to their own advantage by doing two things, one is that open at 11:00 am and the second is that they make a limited number of briskets per day. They claim that this is due to their 15 hour cooking time is what limits the supply, but any constraint can be easily overcome. The restaurant has decided to keep the amount  of brisket at fixed value daily. This means that on any given day consumers are not sure if they can get the brisket and this is what triggered people to make a line even before the store opens. Over time this acts as a positive flywheel where more crowd waiting to get the briskets will encourage others to wait in the line and this is how the legend of the store has got built over the years.

What makes it the best barbecue in the US?

The success is this store is based on the scarcity principle but I think there is more to its success than just scarcity. This place has been voted as the best barbecue because I think that the waiting plays a very big part in the final taste perception of the food. It is a well-known fact that we as humans value the anticipation of an event more than the actual event. This is why we tend to enjoy the planning and anticipation of a trip than the actual experience of a trip.This is because we are able to daydream and fantasise about what will happen on a trip and there is no limits on imagination.  Basically, we are spending more time thinking about it than the actual experience. My sense is that the waiting time (average of 2 hours during the weekday) plays a crucial role in heightening the perceived taste of the barbecue. At the end of the wait when the get to taste the barbecue, the patrons value it more than just the taste. This is why people call this the best barbecue in the country!

Though I have taken an American example of a brand leveraging the principle of scarcity am sure there is will be plenty more examples in India too which I may not be aware of. Do you know any brand which has built and scaled itself on the basis of the principle of scarcity? Would love to know more in the comments.

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