Even identical cookies taste better when …
The baking of cookies has been documented as early as the 7th century CE in Persia. When the Muslims occupied Spain in the 8th century they brought these treats to the kitchens of Europe, and by the 14th century most everyone in Europe were eating them. Because almost everyone likes cookies, they were the perfect product to conduct a psychological experiment on increasing the demand for an item by increasing its scarcity.
Key Persuasion Principle: Scarcity Increases an Item’s Value
We all know that desirable products that are scarce are more valuable. Here’s a short list of examples:
- Water in the desert
- Large, perfect, diamonds
- T-Rex skeletons
- A pair of front row tickets to the next Beatles concert (this isn’t going to happen, but if it did…)
However, researchers have found that being scarce alone may not be as important as how that scarcity occurred in the first place.
Stephen Worchel, Jerry Lee, and Akanbi Adewole conducted the following experiment with 146 students from an introductory psychology class at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The students were brought individually into a testing room where they were asked to rate their preferences for a set of consumer goods. The first item to be rated was a glass jar containing several chocolate chip cookies.
The researchers conducted four variations of this experiment:
In the scarce change version, just before the subject was going to rate the taste of the cookies another researcher walked in and stated one of the two following scenarios:
- that his experiment in the next room was running low of cookies because the subjects had eaten them. He then asks whether he could exchange his jar of 2 cookies for the jar containing 10 cookies on the table.
– OR –
- that he had accidentally received the first researcher’s jar and that he just wanted to give it back to him.
The jars are then exchanged and the 2 cookie jar is left on the table with the second researcher taking away the original 10 cookie jar. In other words, the number of cookies dramatically DECREASED either by accident or by social demand!
In the abundant change version, the situation was above but the original jar only contained 2 cookies and when the second researcher walked in he either said:
- that his students weren’t eating as many cookies
– OR –
- that he had accidentally received the first researcher’s cookie jar and just wanted to give it back to him
In both cases he left a jar containing 10 cookies and took away the jar containing only 2. In other words, the number of cookies dramatically INCREASED, either by accident or LACK of social demand!
In the final stage of the experiment, the researcher turns to the student and asks them to taste a cookie and rate it on a 9 point scale.
What were the results?
The highest rated cookies were the ones that were scarce, but the highest rated of these were the ones that were scarce because of social demand. i.e. OTHER PEOPLE WANTED THOSE COOKIES, which directly caused the scarcity!
How can you use this knowledge to increase your persuasion ability?
Here are some examples:
- Show clear evidence that your product is selling. Online shopping channels do this by showing how many items are left to purchase, with a countdown timer showing how much time is left to act.
- Have a solidly booked professional calendar. If it’s Monday, offer your new client a meeting time slot on Thursday, Friday, or next week. If they insist on seeing you sooner, tell them you will get back to them after you “move a couple of other meetings around”.
- Sell out! Concert promoters do this by restricting the number of seats available, allowing them to announce a sold out show. However, the next day they are able to miraculously open another section of seats or add a show date, much to the relief of those who initially MISSED OUT.