Scarcity well done

Offering a positive, brand-enriching experience that's far-removed from conventional misuse, UK-based Honest Burgers show us how to 'do scarcity' well

It's time to reclaim the concept of Scarcity!

For too long, we've seen example upon example of how it's been misused for short-term conversion, triggering panic-buying in some and reactance in others. So much so that it's even becoming boring to talk about them in any detail.

But I don't want to spend too much time going over the bad.

Instead, by highlighting positive, creative and industry-leading examples of scarcity in the wild, I want us to steer ourselves away from a 'race to the behavioural bottom'.

Scarcity needn't be a bad word any longer; let me introduce you to Honest Burgers.

A great meating of mouth and mind

First up, 'Honest' are leading the way here in the UK with an unquestionably-great product: delicious brioche burgers (meat sourced from their own butchery) with triple-cooked rosemary chips.

Here's one I ate earlier:

But beyond doing the basics incredibly well, it's how they use Scarcity that I want to discuss. They do so in two brilliant ways which work perfectly together.

1. Restricting some products by store

Honest have 45 locations, and each store has its own burger that you can't get in any other. It was formulated by that store's staff and from the ingredients sourced from that location's food suppliers.

So, there's the London Bridge burger that's only available there, with added nduja from a local curing house. Similarly, there's one for Brighton with smoked cheese and Korean spicy sauce that, if you want to try it, you'll just have to take a trip down to the seaside.

This sort of 'positive scarcity' just encourages deeper customer exploration and loyal attachment to the brand. One day, I'd love an Honest Pass that inspires me to go to all shops and collect all the local specials.

Incidentally, other great companies offer this sort of creative restriction too: top perfumer Le Labo has city-exclusive scents that you can only get in that location.

2. Restricting some products to a month only

Second is the fact that the burgers are always changing at Honest. Sure, the classics remain, but each month, there's a rotating burger that's only available for that time. When the month's up, goodbye burger.

Naturally, I've been a little sad when, upon looking at the menu at the start of a month, the special I loved is no longer there. But any pain of loss is quickly forgotten when I try the new one.

This secondary form of scarcity further encourages customer exploration and loyalty by always offering brand new reasons to return, as well as positioning Honest as a creative eatery that's willing to take risks, have fun and bring you along for the ride.

Behavioural insights aren't a substitute for quality

Like any delicious burger, it's the ingredients working well together that makes Honest work: a great product, the uniqueness of each physical location, and the consistent opportunities for innovation created with limited time windows.

I'll say again that this artful use of scarcity assumes that you have a great foundational product on which to play and explore. These uses of scarcity wouldn't work if the burgers were forgettable.

Thoughts from Honest's Founder

I caught up with Philip Eeles, co-founder of Honest, for his take on why they're doing this:

"Local for us is so important. We want every restaurant we open to feel part of the community - not some boring cookie cutter chain. We wanted to create something special for our customers in their local HB - something just for them - which celebrates what they have on the doorstep."

Philip goes on to mention that Honest's use of scarcity isn't just good for its customers, but for its own staff as well, stating that:

"it’s also an amazing way of engaging our own guys and giving them some space to connect with their locals but also some freedom to play on our menu”.

So when it's done right, it's becomes a lovely win-win-win for the customer, the company and the staff.

How are you leaving people feeling?

There are many ways to use behavioural insights to build your business. But how is your use of them leaving people feeling? Anxiety, panic and a painful sense of loss needn't be on the menu.

Instead, ask yourself how you can use behavioural insights like scarcity creatively to excite, inspire customers and distinguish your products and your brand from the crowd. More broadly, given that there are so many examples of its misuse, if you really want to get noticed, now is the perfect time to use scarcity in new, positive and creative ways.

Let's reclaim scarcity as a tool to explore new concepts, take risks, excite and ultimately delight people, leaving them wanting more, especially once there is no more...


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