FOMO Marketing vs. Kindness Toward Your Audience

"There are only TWO spots left in the program. Sign up now!"

…is the sort of marketing message we might receive from a conventional marketer.

It seems to me that they haven’t taken the care to consider how the audience feels. They're doing it because it "works" to get those few openings filled.

When they offer only 2 spots left, and yet the campaign is being sent to thousands of people, what are the rest of those people supposed to do? 

They’re supposed to feel left out.

This is the main ethical problem in marketing—doing things that are expedient, that "work" to achieve a short-term profit, without caring how the rest of the audience feels.

Of course, this harms the business in the long-term: If the majority of the audience can’t buy at the moment (literally, there are not enough spots for them), yet the marketing makes them feel left out, this erodes the relationship.

Sometimes, this is deliberately done because they are training (or controlling) the audience to feel like they must always do what the marketer says ASAP, or otherwise they'll feel bad.

Conventional marketing exacerbates:

  • Anxiety / scarcity / limitation
  • Fear of missing out / being excluded
  • Guru-ship (trusting external authority over one’s inner voice)

With these kinds of tactics, everybody loses. The business owner loses because they are feeding their hungry ghost of desperation and need for control. The audience loses because they’re being controlled and weakening their free will.

Sadly, even heart-based people will sometimes use these tactics, because they don’t know there’s a better way.

If someone you follow/subscribe to is doing this, it would be kind of you to reach out and let them know: “Although I appreciate your content and services, there is no need to use FOMO or inauthentic marketing tactics, because if the offer is aligned with your audience and you explain it properly, they will buy it at their own best time. And they’ll appreciate the authenticity and gentleness in your marketing. You’ll have a longer term relationship that leads to more sales from your audience over time.” 

In other words, you’re encouraging them to motivate the audience not from fear, but from love.

If they respond with unkindness, or think it's required to motivate from fear, then maybe it's time to unsubscribe, and instead support businesses that are putting more kindness and wisdom into the world, instead of fear and doubt.

When there’s real scarcity, how to market that? 

When I have only a few spots left for something, I don't email my list. And I don't post it on social media. Instead, I reach out to a few people that I believe would be glad to know about those specific openings. (I ask them to kindly respond in the next 1-3 days – depending on the urgency of the program’s start – if they are interested, so I can otherwise share the opportunity with others.)

If you have something that is timely, e.g. a course or workshop, or the start of a program, then let people know the start date. Also let them know that if they can't participate, whether the recordings will be available. Respect people enough to allow them to make that choice. The ones who are excited will want to engage sooner rather than later. They won't want to wait.

Recently, I decided not to post a "Last Chance" type of ad on FB/IG because I felt my audience had already seen the offering enough. I had sent 2 emails to my list, and had already done an ad. I noticed the sales were initially good, but had trickled to a halt.

I could "squeeze" out a few more sales by doing more promotions. Or, I could prioritize the connection and friendship with my audience.

It’s like popping corn

When an offer is right for the audience, the sales come in strong, shortly after the marketing begins. Then, kind of like cooking popcorn, the sales will slow to a trickle.

And just like cooking popcorn, it's not worth popping 2 more kernels yet burning a bunch more. If you keep promoting your offer to try to get 2 more sales, you risk burning the whole pot. In other words, avoid annoying your whole list by sending too many promotional emails.

This is why so many email lists have become useless over time… the marketers were not conscious of how their messages made the audience feel. 

You might want to compare your own email list’s open and click rates with the industry averages according to Mailchimp. (Gratefully, my email list has 2-3 times my industry’s open and click rates: evidence that my email “marketing” is truly working. It’s trusted more than the industry average.)

For any offer, I limit promotions to 2 emails—and even so, such promotional emails are sent only to my promotions email list (those who specifically want to hear about my promotions).  

For example, to promote an upcoming course, 1 email is sent announcing the prelaunch discount, and a 2nd email is sent 1-3 days before the course starts. That's it. 

On social media (particularly my Facebook business page) I post 3 times about the offer (1 link post, 1 event, and 1 text-only post), boosting them as Ads.

In regards to my weekly/monthly content email list, I do not send specific promotional emails. I only mention the upcoming offer at the bottom of each content email. I don’t enjoy the content emails I get where they promote their thing first before giving the content we signed up for. To see some of my actual emails, go here: George Kao Monthly Newsletter Archive.

The exception—if I notice that sales are strong and steady with each post or promotion, then I might keep going a bit longer, but again, you can tell when the popcorn is slowing down and in danger of burning.

The Golden Rule is applicable to marketing

Do the kind of marketing that you enjoy receiving.

Don’t do any marketing action that you don’t enjoy being done to you.

In other words, what feels “off” to you? Be sure not to do it. What feels great and earns your respect and trust? Do that kind of marketing as well.

Rather than fostering more fear via conventional marketing, let’s uplift humanity with kind and authentic marketing.We can move our audience towards action, from a spirit of love and respect. Trust that the ones who can respond, and truly wish to, will take the action you are offering, even with your gentle marketing.

(Originally written Oct 2018, updated Sept 2022.)