Scarcity Branding & Its Cousins: Cults, Tribes, Local, Luxury, Handmade

At Nike the other day I saw the lines were out the wazoo.

It made me wonder what would happen if something bad happened G-d forbid and we were lining up for medical supplies rather than 30% off sneakers.

Since I can't handle that kind of reality all that well my thoughts turned of course to marketing. Which leads to this short post clarifying and classifying the variations of scarcity branding.

Just a few thoughts:

1. Most people don't understand when to use scarcity vs. saturation. Basically, you saturate the market to gain awareness and credibility - people "know" you so they trust you as a vendor. You make a product scarce when you have the promise of developing sufficient foothold that you can simply charge more per item. Scarcity is a quality strategy, saturation goes to volume.

2. There are lots of ways to do scarcity. But don't do it unless you can reliably get to influencers who will spread the word that you are scarce. You, the vendor, are not a reliable source of that information - you will need trusted, live ambassadors. (Old Rip Van Winkle bourbon).

3. Cult brands leverage scarcity, sometimes, but they're a different breed of product. They're built around a larger philosophy that can border on the religious. They feel extreme. They attract people who choose to live on the margins in some way - either in a rebellious sense (Harley-Davidson) or in an elite sense (the Mini).

4. Tribal brands are different than cults in that they refuse a larger philosophy and perhaps even the name "tribal." They are known to those within the tribe, but not to those without. (Bobbi Brown cosmetics are used by makeup artists; certain kosher brands.)

5. Luxury brands are not tribal and they do not require scarcity, except that they must be seen as premium and therefore inaccessible to all but the extremely financially elite. If too many people can get them, they lose their luxury status. (Prada - and the issue of controlling counterfeits)

6. Local brands simply build a reputation by aligning with a hyperlocal geographic area, then their reputation fans out through tourists and their word of mouth. (Ghirardelli chocolate)

7. Rare products can be brands, but are not necessarily. Those in the know will pay for them. (E.g. the painting "The Scream" sold for almost $120 million on auction.)

8. Experts as personal brands are scarce, but they may or may not be branded, depending on their level of visibility and mainstream acceptance. (Rachel Zoe's assistant "Brad" getting his own Bravo show does not signify that he is a brand; the "Millionaire Matchmaker" Patti Sanger has become one.)

A last point is that one should be careful to distinguish between branding, marketing, advertising and public relations as methods for developing an appropriate image. Branding is a long-term strategy in which one cultivates a certain appearance. Marketing is shorter-term and flexible depending on immediate need. Public relations involves obtaining credibility through trusted third parties. And of course advertising is what we're all familiar with - the "Mad Men" - like "campaign."

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!