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Applied Reading: Oversubscribed by Daniel Priestley (2015)

Oversubscribed by Daniel Priestley is a masterclass in creating buzz and desirability. Priestley’s big idea is that you can’t take more clients than you can service, so instead of the usual approach to marketing – indefinite growth – just be open about that.

Techniques for creating buzz

Priestley’s experience is mostly in event and knowledge marketing. I’ve also used this approach to market events and to market myself through word of mouth with success. It takes a little courage as it’s not usual to “turn a potential client away”, especially in Asia, but I’ve used it effectively.

Here a few things you can try tomorrow to see if this works for you:

  1. Get people to signal interest: This is lower commitment than signing up so you can get a clearer idea of who might be interested, regardless of availability. That means that, even if that person can’t come to that specific event you’ve still identified a lead. The benefit is that you can then move swiftly into business development conversations and customise a service or product offering
  2. Send out an oversubscribed message: When you have more interest than seats, go back to those who have signaled interest and let them know that you now have more interest than seats and to book quickly. Then go back and ask people if they’d be willing to give up their seat. Priestley has gone back to ticket purchasers before and offered to buy back the ticket for twice the price with successful results. People have loss aversion and this technique generates fear of missing out. The transparency also makes your event or product seem desirable. People are used to the consumer having the power, so rebalancing the power by acknowledging the scarcity value can have a surprising effect. Of course, it has to be true.
  3. Create a waiting list: Get clear on how many clients you can take, or products you can sell each month, and be transparent about it. If someone wants your attention this month, let them know that you are currently at capacity, but that you can take them on at a later date. They will understand that you are in demand and will take that as a sign that you know what you are doing. Of course, this also has to be true.
  4. Get comfortable with polarising people: Your solution may be everything that one group of people are looking for and not at all desired by another group of people. This is ok. If you have a market of 5,000 to 10,000 people for your service then you have what you need to create a healthy sustainable business. Technology means that these people can be geographically distributed across the world. Think of your marketing process as a filtering mechanism and get comfortable with some people just not making the cut to be your client. This will give you the courage to tell people you are oversubscribed.

Good marketing campaigns to experiment with

It can feel a bit daunting to apply this technique to your entire business, so try this with a few smaller projects first.

Events are a great one to start with because one event will not impact the entire course of your business, so it’s lower risk. You also have 3-4 months of campaigning so you can course-correct if you find it doesn’t work as you’d hoped.

Kickstarter campaigns can also use this technique well, it's actually built into the platform with “backer limits” (limited numbers) for certain “reward levels” (product offerings). So if you’re running a Kickstarter campaign then you can try embracing the scarcity and using it as a marketing tactic.

The technique also works for other product or knowledge-product campaigns. If you are selling knowledge packaged as a 10-week video course delivered by email and teleconference, then you can limit class sizes. If you try this oversubscribed technique for one of your classes then, again, you’ll get a good sense of how effective it is. It’s fairly low risk to pilot.


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