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Three FOMO Marketing Failures

We are all familiar with FOMO marketing – playing on the consumer’s Fear Of Missing Out to quickly move them to purchase. This might be your standard sale – “buy now or wait until next year to get a good price,” or it might be the even more effective “one time only special.”  When you see an ending soon sale you have the impulse to buy before the deadline, but I’ve also seen FOMO marketing that erodes trust or does the opposite of its intent, and makes me pause the buy impulse.

I’m a fan of well crafted promotions and sales. The traditional “ending soon” sale and the one time only promotion are effective marketing tools. They can be a two way win for both parties. I get something I want or need and the vendor gets a sale. Introductory sales at product launch also make sense. The product is not widely known, perhaps there are rough edges to work out, or the documentation is still being written. The FOMO marketing pitch is “Grab the new product at the introductory price or pay full freight later after it has been polished.”

For every well executed FOMO promotion hitting my in-box, there are several fails. Failure is a result of not thinking the promotion through. In this post I discuss three common FOMO failures and suggest some ways to fix them.

FOMO Fail One – The Always On Sale

A few  years ago I began building lists of WordPress themes and plugins with lifetime deals. This led to my “Ultimate List” of themes and plugins with a lifetime license.  During Black Friday I checked the prices in order to catch a good sale.

There was a shop with great themes and plugins I was following. One of their plugins is often touted as best in class. I noticed the company had sales running almost continually and when the “big announcement” came promoting their Black Friday special, it wasn’t much different from their regular sale. So, I didn’t buy. There was no FOMO.

I imagine this company was trying to set a high “anchor” price so they could run sales to get the price they actually wanted. Perhaps an A/B test would confirm this works, but my evaluation was that the non-sale price was fake and the sale price was the real price.  Imagine if someone purchased at the full price and later saw the full price was a ploy? They might feel cheated. Now, this is otherwise a great company and their products are solid, but they aren’t getting the “sale” concept. I ended up buying a different plugin at a much lower cost, but I would have purchased theirs if they had offered a real sale.

FOMO Fail Two – Lack of Clarity

I recently got an offer for a new training course. I am deeply interested in the topic and had been researching online training options. Great timing. The offer was a limited time 24 hour launch price. The course was new and this was a “soft launch,” meaning there might be rough edges to deal with as things got underway. Reading the copy on the landing page I noticed it said new content would be added to the course as it went along. Great! But reading further it said perhaps there would be a version two of the course that would need to be purchased separately. No so great. I literally had the credit card in hand until I read that.  I then started cycling through the other online training options to see if they would cover what I needed, dinner was called, the dog got walked, a movie watched, and 24 hours came and went.

The trainer is solid and I imagine the course is worth the price, but there is a lot of competition in the online training space. Here the FOMO was negated by uncertainty of what was included and a fear I would have to pay again.

FOMO Fail Three – Evergreen or Ever Rotten?

I’ve seen a new kind of FOMO promotion that has become popular, the “evergreen” countdown timer. In this type of promotion, the vendor tries to create FOMO by showing you a countdown timer. Tick, tick, tick … yikes, I must decide right now because the clock is counting down. When done well, this is an emotional prod added to the limited time special. When done poorly it feels scummy.

I heard about the launch of a new SASS offering.  For a limited time you could get a lifetime license for a low price that equaled just three months of the regular subscription. I visited the landing page to learn about it. It was an interesting and creative marketing service and I have seen nothing similar, but because it was a new approach, I was cautious. Would it be effective or would it turn people off?

Prominent on the landing page was a large countdown timer. “This offer is only available for a few more hours. Act fast before it deadline.”  The problem was that if you refreshed the page, or visited again later, you’d see that the timer starts over. What?  Yes, it was totally fake. If I can, I like to reward creativity and innovation, but in this case the way they tried to create FOMO sent me running.

Going For The Win

There are companies who only have a sale once or twice a year. When I look at their pricing, I think its real and that those companies know what they are doing. If you want to generate FOMO, make a sale special. On the other hand, a sale that is almost alway on makes you question the pricing model and ask, “how much is this product really worth?”   Instead, have a clear sense of the value of your product and use sales to create buzz and excitement.

A lack of clarity about an offer undermines the effectiveness of a limited time offer by raising questions that should be clear from the marketing copy. A confused shopper is less likely to buy.

An evergreen timer that resets with each visit is a lie. How can you trust a company when your first encounter is a huge manipulation? Countdown timers can be effective. Evergreen timers should be avoided.

WordPress is a very fertile market for business opportunities on almost all levels. There are a lot of home-grown startups that have had to learn the ropes as they go along. Pricing, sales, marketing, it’s hard to figure out. There may be a tendency to push revenue by trying marketing gimmicks. Our first interaction with a company is often the purchase process. You want the purchase process to be frictionless and easy. That is why so much attention to making the checkout experience smooth and seamless. When done well, FOMO marketing can be an effective technique, but a poorly executed marketing plan can stymy sales and erode trust and confidence, which is a bad way to start the relationship.