The fear of missing out affects us far more than we dare to admit or acknowledge.
We will wait in line for days to be a part of a launch, we will replicate and share tips on Twitter that were originally shared at conferences we didn’t attend, or an article we didn’t read. We will pre-order a product before we even know how good it is — all because we’re scared of not being “in the know” or “ahead of the curve.”
What is the compulsion behind this new societal norm? Is it to be deemed intelligent? To be part of a group? To always have something to talk about? Or to simply feel connected to a larger body?
Regardless of the why, FOMO (the fear of missing out) is being used by companies looking to market their products in a big way.
I would even make the claim that FOMO has quickly become the largest emotional driver to high-end consumer product purchases. I say “high-end” because the tactics and the emotional driver behind them are most commonly targeting high income purchasers with expendable income.
People with higher incomes don’t worry as much about their purchases and thus will throw more money at something simply to be a part of something bigger, to feel a higher social status, or to “buy relevance” in one way or another (most of the time not consciously but in a sort of sub-conscious reaction).
Think designer clothing, luxurious sports, exotic cars, and then think about the other companies that try to break into the fold using these tactics to be recognized as “elite” in some way.
Marketing specifically to people with expendable income using FOMO as the emotional driver for their marketing events and creating a narrative around a “bigger picture” for technology to be married to higher design principles, all coupled with a high price that warrants a large barrier to entry led to Apple becoming the #1 most valuable company in the world. Of course there’s a lot of technical innovation in there too, but the narrative was always formed for purchasers that through owning their products that they themselves are part of that innovation and success.
That’s an extreme example though, let’s look at some other tactics that companies are using to enthrall boat-loads of customers, having them frothing at the bit to purchase their way into a movement:
1. Pre-orders — it’s a meme at this point how much people hate and love pre-orders, specifically in the gaming market. For any new game release you see people on Reddit scream “don’t pre-order anything you idiots” whilst every game that surfaces with a pre-order seems to break the sales records of the last.
It’s not enough though that people who pre-order can say “I already bought it” — in a hoity-toity accent with a cigar in one hand and a saucer of caviar in the other — publishers have to compound the effect by giving exclusive perks for pre-orders:
- Exclusive in-game cosmetic upgrades: Destiny offers unique shaders, emotes, and sparrows to pre-orderers of their new expansions and DLCs, as well as offering in-game purchases for emotes that are being purchased in the millions.
- Early access to later-game items such as weapons and skills: Star Wars Battlefront recently did this, giving beta purchasers blasters, anti-vehicle weapons, and grenades that they would otherwise get at later levels.
- Early access to exclusive beta servers: Black Ops 3 allowed people to play their beta up until the launch night of the official game long past the point that their stress tests were complete, as a clear marketing move.
All of these exclusives have people lining up to buy pre-orders before they even know what the finished product looks like, giving the company developing said products the cushion to ramp up production, to invest more in their paid acquisition, and to even get started on the next version or release. Think Kickstarter-esk “pledges” but on products that are already going to be released regardless of pre order involvement.
This isn’t limited to video games though, Star Wars; The Force Awakens just shattered every movie ticket pre-sale record in history (previously held by The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1) literally three months before the movie’s actual release date. It is almost guaranteed to break every launch record in history, in no small part due to FOMO. Everyone wants to be a part of these new movies, despite the fact that our hopeful last venture to galaxies far away left us sad and annoyed at a floppy eared f#%* for hours on end, we’re still stoked because we are fans and it’s a marque moment in new generation’s lives as the old movies were for older generations before them. And who knows, that floppy eared gungan could potentially be a Sith Lord, that would be worth $14 (If you can’t tell, I did pre-order tickets the day they were released, I’m not missing this).
2. Lines — you might think I’m about to break into another Apple reference, and I totally could here but the concept of people hopping in line for something they are excited about is (wildly) not exclusive to Apple. Look back to when Mailbox (acquired by Dropbox) first launched, they had a public waiting list for their app — marketing it as a new concept of email — and people jumped in line, raved to their friends about it, and their friends joined in and told their friends until Mailbox had a waiting list of over a million users before launch.
That movement, fueled by a common gripe and the fear of missing out on a huge milestone in technology created one of the best pre-launch marketing initiatives I’ve ever seen from any startup.
3. Announcements — *cough* keynote *cough* .. But really, anything that is uttered, or seen, or sometimes not seen at an Apple keynote is blasted through the megaphone that is the social web.
It’s so apparent that many companies have now made these kind of announcements a standard procedure — Tesla, Microsoft, Google, Sony, Facebook, even (slightly) smaller startups like Spotify — have turned to their respective events to bombard the general public with their updates and explorations.
Tesla announced their Powerpack at a conference and before the conference ended the pre-sales were booked for years in advance. The same goes with the MX, their newest model vehicle.
Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo have lately turned the gaming conference E3 into a public game of fisticuffs seeing who can out-box the other’s lineup of games and innovations.
All of this comes months and even years before launches, but has significant effect in the aforementioned pre-sale, and pre-order involvement from the public. We are so wrapped up in the announcements, then the pre-sale content, then the actual pre-order becomes available, we bite, and by the time the product is actually released we are frothing at the bit so much to have the product that we should really just be hoping it lives up to 50% of our hopes, because often times it doesn’t.
4. Betas — I touched on this a bit earlier but it can go a bit deeper. Black Ops 3 had millions of people playing their beta, the same goes with Star Wars Battlefront. And for better or for worse they brought an insane amount of viewership and attraction to the games. Even though the one encounter in the Battlefront beta was so highly lop-sided that you had an 80%+ win to loss favor depending on what side you simply spawned in on. This caused a lot of negative reviews up front but ultimately caused so much press and mentions of the game that the sales numbers weren’t adversely affected, but the opposite, despite the fact that most people two weeks after getting the full game say it’s lacking in overall content.
Blizzard, a company well known for their ability to market their products and listen to their customers have opened a beta for their newest upcoming game, Overwatch in an effort to not only gain valuable pre-launch user data, but also in an obvious effort to ramp up initial engagement from their current community right where they call home, on Twitch. Overwatch (which is still in beta) has been sitting at the top 10 games on Twitch for the past month above games like Destiny (which has 25 million+ users) and has been out for over a year.
Overwatch has had over 8 million beta signup inquiries, with no small part of that coming from the exposure of professional Team Fortress 2 players and even world renown musicians like Joel Zimmerman (deadmau5) streaming the ecstatically fun looking game on Twitch, day and night.
Even though betas are probably best being utilized from a marketing standpoint in the gaming industry, I’ve been using the beta for Mailbox’s desktop mac app as my primary mail application for the past year, and you better bet if they release a paid version I’ll be on it the first day.
In an effort to wrap it up, people want to be involved, they want something to tell their friends about, they want to feel like part of a movement, they want the social entitlement that comes with certain brands and knowledge, and you can give all of that to them and have them sounding off as your brand advocates if you use the fear of missing out effectively in your overall marketing strategy.
You’ll be even more successful, of course, if it is the entire bedrock of your strategy. Build a brand that no competitor can compete with from a psychological level and you won’t ever need mass paid acquisition again.