Why do people back crowdfunding campaigns and creators on sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Patreon? What makes them want to support creators they don’t know personally?
Two words: social triggers.
What is a social trigger?
In marketing psychology, a social trigger influences a person’s behavior by indirectly creating a need. For example, if you are compelled to run to the store before their sale ends, you have been influenced by the social trigger of urgency.
Social Trigger Trifecta: Black Friday
When urgency, scarcity, and popularity work together, we get the Black Friday phenomenon. People stay up all night to be first in line. They elbow each other to grab a limited product, and the frenzied crowd rushing from the same item tells us the product is popular! Everyone wants one, or so it seems.
We may not like the fact that we are so easily influenced on a subconscious level, but we can’t change it. Humans respond to social triggers. The only people who don’t are hyper-rational sociopaths, and they are not in the majority. Marketers must learn to dance with people the way they are, not how we wish they were.
To motivate people to back your campaign, you must understand what causes people to act and how you can use social triggers to propel them.
Why is urgency important?
Creating a sense of urgency in your campaign is more important than ever. The modern education system trains us to wait until the last minute to act. For example, most people cram for a test the night before rather than the week before.
We are chronic procrastinators, and we don’t act without a deadline. That’s why Kickstarter and Indiegogo have built urgency into their platforms via the countdown clock. The countdown is a powerful motivator. Every second that ticks away brings users one moment closer to losing their opportunity to get rewards.
As a creator, you can make a big deal about the deadline. Kickstarter’s all-or-nothing approach is better in this regard. On Kickstarter, if your campaign is not completely funded by the deadline, not one backer is charged, and you will not receive a dime. It creates a greater sense of urgency for you and your potential backers.
For most people, there has to be “blood in the water.” Consumers must buy on Black Friday, or they’ll miss the sale.
Urgency doesn’t have to mean a lower price. Apple uses urgency even though they don’t discount their products. Users who want to be the first to own the latest iPhone rush to be first in line on the day it releases.
Strategies for Creating Urgency
The reverse coupon offers a limited-time, low price that will increase at a certain point in the future. When I launched my course, The Five-Year Plan to Becoming a Bestselling Author, we priced it too low. We occasionally raise the price to remedy the problem, but we make a lot of noise about it before we do. We warn our subscribers, patrons, and listeners that the price will increase on a certain date. The only way to get it for a lower price is to buy it before the increase. The threat of missing out on the lower price provides urgency and causes people to purchase.
When Michael Hyatt launched his book Platform, he offered a bundle of related resources to everyone who bought the book within the first few weeks. His readers wanted to buy right away so they could get the extras he was offering. After the bonus buying window closed, readers could still purchase the book, but the bonuses were no longer available.
People go crazy when they know only a certain number of products are available. Creators tend to want to offer unlimited quantities, so this method of creating urgency can be difficult, but it’s possible.
Free for a Limited Time
You can offer your product or service for free for a limited time. Services like Kindle Unlimited allow authors to offer their ebooks for $0.00 for up to five days per year. The free offer increases your book’s visibility and drives other paying customers to your book even after the free promotion has ended.
On Patreon, creating urgency is difficult because there is no ticking countdown clock. However, it can still be done. You can offer a limited reward that patrons can receive by a certain deadline you create. For example, you could say, “Patrons who join this month will have their names mentioned in my next video.” Authors might consider saying, “Anyone who becomes a patron by a certain date will have their names listed in the acknowledgments of my book.” Musicians might offer the same perk on an album.
Our patrons get a discount whenever we offer a course at Novel Marketing. If you become a patron before you buy the course, you’ll get the discount.
Ye Ol’ Invisible Sniper Trick
Many of these techniques employ what I call Ye Ol’ Invisible Sniper Trick. The Invisible Sniper Trick came from old spy movies where the hero in control tells the criminal, “There’s a sniper behind that window with his gun trained on you. If you don’t comply, he’ll shoot.” The criminal can’t see the sniper, but the threat is enough to make the criminal comply.
For creators, the tactic is a bit less threatening but still effective. The creator asks their patrons, backers, or subscribers to present their receipts as proof of purchase in order to redeem the bonuses. When Michael Hyatt launched his book Platform, he asked readers to email him their receipts within the first two weeks, and he would automatically email the bonuses in return. Neither Michael nor his team checked the emails for receipts, but the fact that they could have kept people honest.
Scarcity creates value, and value is determined by supply and demand. To create scarcity, you must control the supply. Scarcity is a challenge with in digital products because they are ubiquitous. YouTube videos may have millions of views, and free ebooks may have millions of downloads. It’s hard to manufacture scarcity, but with a little creativity, it can be done.
Author Brandon Sanderson creates a set number of his special collector’s edition leatherbound hardbacks, and he prices them high. His fans have paid hundreds of dollars for a single book because they know that if they don’t get one now, they never will. His superfans are willing to pay a high price because the copies are scarce.
If you sell merch, you can apply the same principle to your online store. You can print 1,000 shirts and let your followers know that when they’re gone, they’re gone.
Limited quantities only work well with physical products since there is no good way to limit digital products.
Offer Signed Copies
Authors can create scarcity by offering signed copies. Your ebook may be ubiquitous, but your signed print copies can be scarce. By creating scarcity and ubiquity for the same book, you can take advantage of both social triggers at once. You can only sign so many books, so signed copies demand a premium.
First 100 People
Offer a variety of bonuses, extras, or bundles to the first 100 people to email you their receipts or the first 100 people who become patrons. This strategy uses scarcity in that the spots are limited to 100. Since it’s a race to get the bonuses before other people beat you to them, urgency is also at work.
Limited Number of Tickets
Consider limiting the number of tickets to your live launch party. Musicians who give live performances typically prefer to keep their tickets scarce, and scarcity is one reason ticket scalping is such a big business. Even if scalpers buy up tickets to resell, the musician still benefits because scalpers help their shows sell out.
Limit the Number of Backers for a Reward Level
When you limit your reward levels to a certain number of backers, the rewards of that level seem scarce. After the limited reward level is sold out, some aspect of it is no longer available. At Novel Marketing, our highest patronage level is limited. Each of those patrons is featured on our show on a rotating basis. We limit the level so that we’re not reading patron book blurbs for 20 minutes of each episode.
Limited Early Bird Levels
A limited early-bird level on Kickstarter and Indiegogo is both scarce and urgent. It’s a powerful technique because it combines two social triggers. However, early-bird levels can be a drag on your campaign later on. As people compare current prices to the early-bird price, the current price will feel expensive and may prevent people from supporting your campaign.
Early-bird pricing can make sense if you’re uncertain your campaign will fund 100%. You can use an early-bird pricing level to quickly get your campaign 60% funded since most campaigns that reach 60% funding go on to be fully funded.
On the other hand, if you already have a large audience and your campaign is likely to sell out quickly, offering an early-bird level can backfire. Backers get annoyed when the early-bird level sells out in 30 minutes.
Limited Edition Book Cover
James L. Rubart offered a limited-edition book cover for his book. The book wasn’t scarce, but the collector’s edition cover was.
Push for a Goal
Some authors create scarcity and urgency by offering a collective challenge, such as, “If everyone buys my book during the first week, we can hit the bestseller list!” YouTubers might challenge their viewers to view the newest video within the first hour after it goes live so they can hit a trending list.
Live Webinars with No Replay
Whenever I present to live audiences, I’m often asked for a copy of my slides or a recording of my presentation. I like to save certain information for my live presentations, so I don’t often offer recordings of my live presentations. However, have offered free live webinars with an option to purchase the replay. I think there’s something special about attending an event live.
Amazon Selling Out
If Amazon sells out of your book, it certainly creates a sense of scarcity for book buyers. However, it’s not a great strategy. When people are ready to buy, they don’t want to wait. If they have to wait for Amazon to restock, they are far less likely to return to your Amazon page days later to try again. Selling out on Amazon is fun, but it’s a major inconvenience for your readers.
People like to do what they see other people doing. They want social proof that they are making the best and most popular choice.
Consider your own behavior. At an amusement park, do you want to ride the roller coaster with no line or the one packed with people? Do you want to vote for a third-party candidate who aligns with your values or the candidate with the best chance of winning? If one restaurant is packed and the one next door is like a ghost town, where are you more likely to eat?
Some people are more influenced by popularity than others, but everyone takes popularity into consideration when making decisions.
Popularity on Display
Patreon, Kickstarter, and Indiegogo have popularity built into their platforms. Each one publicly displays the number of backers you have. While you can hide how much money you’re making on Patreon, you can’t hide how many backers you have. That’s by design. The more patrons you have, the more credibility you have, and credibility leads to more backers. To parody an oft-quoted saying by Jesus, “To him who has patrons, more patrons will be given. But to him who has no patrons, even the patrons he thinks he has…are really just his mom.”
Videos and Podcasts
YouTube displays each video’s popularity by showing how many times a video has been viewed. People prefer to watch videos with lots of views. Interestingly, podcast download counts are hidden. Only I know how popular the Novel Marketing podcast is. Podcast stats are not public nor transparent as they are on other platforms.
Social proof is demonstrated in the author world when you see a “New York Times Bestselling Author” sticker on a book cover. People are more likely to buy a book with a bestseller sticker because the book is popular, and the sticker is social proof.
When I’m shopping for a book on Amazon, I care far more about the number of reviews it has than the number of stars it has. I’d rather buy a product with 100 four-star reviews than 11 five-star reviews. I want to know the product is popular with more than five people.
But you don’t need to be a New York Times bestselling author to leverage the social trigger of popularity. Here are some other ideas.
- Show off any category or genre bestseller statuses you’ve earned.
- Feature endorsements from popular, famous, or credible people.
- Mention other books you’ve sold.
- Show social proof on social media.
- Mention the number of books in print.
- Mention the number of languages/countries where the book has been sold.
- Talk about awards your books have won.
Back when people went crazy for Black Friday, the discounts were large and limited, creating a sense of urgency, scarcity, and a sense of popularity since everyone was doing it. Those were the days of people fighting and franticly scrambling to get into stores.
Now that Black Friday has moved online, it’s not as scarce and urgent as it used to be. Amazon offers lightning deals for a couple of hours with only 500 units available, which is clever. Their big data tells them exactly how many units to offer so that the products sell out, but not so quickly that customers get angry. Amazon also goes out of its way to talk about how popular Black Friday is. The media often says, “This is the biggest Black Friday ever!” It’s a bit of a cheat. If inflation continues at 2% each year, every Black Friday will be the “biggest Black Friday ever” because the media never adjusts for inflation.
Still, the urgency, scarcity, and perceived popularity propagated by Amazon pull people away from brick-and-mortar stores. Moreover, retail stores offer less impressive deals than they used to. The TV advertised on Black Friday isn’t actually on sale. It’s a different and cheaper model with a lower list price. This practice undermines scarcity, urgency, and popularity, and the social triggers fall like dominos, one into the other. As a result, Black Friday isn’t nearly as popular as it used to be.
Now that you know more about the psychology of marketing, you can dance with how people are and not how you want them to be. That is the path to success.
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