Fear is a man’s best friend. “How do I sell more units?” asked Mr. Manufacturer Man. “Have you thought about a limited edition?” came my reply. “It could be as little as a different coloured case or as much as reworked internals – or both. Your call,” I continued. Manufacturer Man was left to ponder this matter whilst my thoughts firmed as follows…
I had just snap-purchased a newly-announced Surgeon 2LP but I’d done so with uncharacteristic haste. Why? News of a limited edition clear vinyl pressing had collided head on with my fear of missing out – FOMO.
An owners club is instantly born for each and every product that comes to market. It’s as true for white goods, cars and TVs as it is for audio gear, CDs and vinyl.
However, some clubs are more exclusive than others. The top tier pricing of luxury goods keeps some watch wearers and some sports car drivers breathing more rarified air than those getting about in a family saloon or keeping time with their smartphone. Exclusivity is not only conferred through price but its associated inaccessibility.
Flipping it around, affordability and its cousin, availability, erode the bragging rights associated with product ownership / club membership. Just ask anyone who dropped long green on an original pressing of Boards of Canada’s debut album Music Has The Right To Children before WARP’s 2012 re-issue programme.
How to lend exclusivity to products whose inherent pricing structure invites one and all?
Re/enter the limited edition. The music industry has been hip to this since forever: alternative packaging, coloured vinyl, picture discs, box sets, signed copies, free posters, double packs (with second disc ‘available separately’) and bonus tracks (a mainstay of the Japanese CD market).
Now owner club membership becomes not a matter of money but of time. Just like my own Surgeon vinyl purchase, the primary motivator helping consumers find their wallets is the pointy end of FOMO. Is this not the fuel in the engine of Record Store Day?
Back to hifi. Sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter might want us to believe that products coming to market via their crowdfunding model are imbued with a sense of philanthropy but ask yourself this: are you backing a project to help it off the ground or are you buying now because of a fear of missing out? Does a crowdfunding campaign’s staggered pricing not sharpen the FOMO-fuelled accounting pencil further?
Highly unlikely that Neil Young would have sold as many Pono players in the Spring of 2014 via a traditional web store without advance news of the portcullis coming down on availability after four weeks. The metal-sleeved ‘artist signature edition’ Pono Players made limited editions of a limited edition.
Faced with a crowdfunded product, consumer thinking generally tracks this path: failure to buy immediately means a more expensive purchase; procrastinate beyond the funding deadline and I risk missing out altogether. After all, there is no guarantee that the piece will make it to traditional retail outlets and if it does it will almost certainly arrive at a higher price point.
The term FOMO might be new but its exploitation isn’t. “Never to repeated offer!”, “Buy now and save!” and “Not available in stores!” were (and are) the catch-cries of television’s infomercials and shopping networks.
One audio manufacturer turning FOMO into YOLO last week was Santa Barbara’s Noble Audio. A limited edition run of their recently remodelled Kaiser 10U sold out within a matter of days.
“Inspired by the recent popularization of rose gold in wearable luxury accessories such as watches, Wizard is proud to present a limited edition K10U featuring a flat black bottom and genuine rose gold plated top. Limited to just 100 pieces worldwide, this edition expands on the successful K10U aluminium design first introduced last October,” went the sales pitch.
The price of admission to this 100-member club? A not insubstantial US$1850. Noble’s Brannan Mason confirmed via email that the supply limit was hard. Not 24 hours later Mason emailed again with news that all 100 pairs had been snapped up. Manufacturer-restricted supply had clearly impacted consumer demand.
Exploiting this fear of missing out can also help big ticket items across the counter.
Going gold at the back end of 2015 with a limited edition was France’s Devialet. The Original D’Atelier launched in Melbourne last November wasn’t just a cosmetic makeover but a slightly souped-up version of the dual mono Expert 800 in a rose gold finish. Production would be limited to 100 pieces worldwide. Yours for a cool 30,000 Euros. And yet despite its eye-watering sticker price, each and every L’Original D’Atelier was spoken for by the end of February.
Inverting this scenario, the consumer won’t buy today that which s/he can put off until tomorrow. And with that same consumer perceiving an endless supply of tomorrows, procrastination takes a firmer hold. Without timetabled expiration on availability there’s simply no urgency, ergo a FOMO-free zone.
The limited edition model short circuits this thinking, restores the need to act now and brings ‘add to cart’ into sharper focus. In other words, it’s an exploitation of FOMO. The reward for the consumer’s decisiveness is membership of a more exclusive owners club.
Manufacturers 1) not in possession of a classic that turns over irrespective of the economic climate and 2) wanting to shift more units might wanna take note: your customer base’s fear of missing out is ripe for the pluckin’.