I got a message from my mom this week that I have received every year for as long as I can remember.
“Do you want any Girl Scout cookies?”
Yes. Yes, I do. Why? Because, besides the fact that those cookies are flippin’ amazing, the Girl Scouts are brilliant masters of making me want them.
Realizing that, the marketer in my took over and I started thinking about how they manage to be the one treat I will never, not once in my life, say no to. Turns out, those Girls Scouts are on to something.
Girl Scout cookies are delicious. But would they be quite as tasty if you could have them whenever you wanted? Honestly, I don’t think so.
Knowing that we can only have them at a certain time each year makes us even more irresistible to us. We don’t want to miss out, and we know if we hesitate too long they’ll be gone. The time has to be now, so we follow the desire to have something special without the usual hesitation that might accompany the purchase.
The Girl Scouts aren’t the only ones who have caught on to the psychological power of scarcity in marketing. Amazon shows you when items are nearly out of stock. Across the country on Black Friday, stores offer special deals on items that are in short supply. And people are willing to spend a night sleeping on cold, hard pavement in order to get those deals.
In other words: Scarcity. It’s powerful stuff. You have to use it right, though, or it can backfire. If you have a truly limited edition product, market it as limited edition. But if you have warehouses full of a product that you want to market as limited edition, think twice. People will realize that they’ve been duped, and you will end up looking bad. Instead of creating false scarcity, think about ways you can approach new ideas from a perspective of true scarcity. It still has to be the right fit, but if you find that fit, your customers are pretty much guaranteed to love it.
When people get a chance to bring the past to the present, they are likely to do it because the only thing better than looking back fondly at something is getting to experience it again.
Think about how this might apply to you, and you’ll see what I mean. I sincerely contemplated attending the New Kids on the Block reunion tour when I was not just pregnant, but due to give birth any day. I had such a strong memory of going to an NKOTB concert was I was 9 and I wanted to relive it, even though I was over 30 and motherhood was knocking on my door.
Some varieties of Girl Scout cookies have been around since the 1950s, so there are generations of people with fond memories of cookies. And yes, it’s possible to have fond memories of something as seemingly mundane as cookies. Whether you used to be a Girl Scout, or your sister was, or your mom always bought them for you, there is something so classic and even idyllic about them.
Keebler makes a Grasshopper cookie that looks and tastes like a Girl Scout Thin Mint (and it’s available 365 days a year). But it’s not, and never will be, a Thin Mint. This play on nostalgia might be why Girl Scout cookie flavors don’t get discontinued very often. But that doesn’t mean the cookie masters are stuck back in the days of poodle skirts.
In other words: People like the good ol’ days. If you have an impressive history, bring that out in your content. The chance to connect with the past might be irresistible to your customers. This might mean finding out more about the memories customers associate with your brand, sharing insight about your company or both.
What we expect from our food—even our cookies—changes over time. Given the good thing they have going on with the nostalgia factor, it would be easy for the Girl Scouts to lean entirely on that. But they don’t.
Recent years have seen the introduction of cookies with whole grains, no high-fructose corn syrup and no artificial colors. At the end of 2014, the Girl Scouts announced a pair of gluten-free flavors. The old classics are still there, but the new flavors meet the desires of today’s cookie consumer.
In other words: Don’t rest on prior successes. Appreciate your loyal followers, but realize that you have to continue to earn them. Innovation and evolution don’t mean you have to ditch the past, just that you have to acknowledge the present in order to ensure a place in your audience’s future. Uncover your customers’ wants and needs, then think about how you can address them—all while remaining true to your core business.
The carefully crafted balance of scarcity, nostalgia and today’s trends works for the ultimate cookies, and can work for your brand, too. Just proceed with a careful approach, and do your research first (I recommend the Samoas).