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What TV can learn about scarcity from the wine industry

I just returned from a few days wine tasting in Napa/Sonoma, and it struck me that the wine industry’s approach to scarcity-based marketing offers lessons for the social TV space. The best wineries elevate scarcity to an art form, convincing you that something must be spectacular simply because it’s hard to get. Everything they do and say is based on this principle, from wine clubs and special allocations to appointment-only tastings — not to mention the pricing and bundling strategies. Of course, you have to have something great to offer in the first place, but scarcity techniques can create loyal niche communities and drive higher sales and margins across the board.

For example, we visited Larkmead (above), a small Napa winery that fashioned our entire tasting experience around scarcity. As we sat in a beautiful scene among the vines, a salesman told us stories of Larkmead’s history — including one story of a rich New Yorker who drove up wanting to buy a case of Larkmead’s best wine at any price. The salesman explains, the intimidating New Yorker was repeatedly denied until he offered to buy several more cases of lesser-quality wine. We were allowed to taste it — a special event, we were told — and the salesman left us alone “to let the wine seduce you.”

A bit much, certainly, but the language of scarcity permeates the customer experience at wineries. Similar to the TV business, wineries are facing fragmentation — there are 7,000 of them in the U.S. and still growing every year, not to mention all the brands and varietals and vintages. Differentiation and community-building are key to survival.

TV operates on scale, not scarcity. But in a fragmenting marketplace, scale is increasingly redefined as reaching the “right audiences” that match advertiser targets. Call it “niche scale,” but TV still approaches marketing from a mass scale approach. But combining mass marketing with scarcity techniques may yield better results — in fact, we’re already seeing some examples:

TBS show premieres to Klout crowd

A couple weeks ago, I received an email from Klout with a “perk” for an exclusive first look at TBS’ newest comedy, “Men At Work.” If you’re not familiar with Klout, it calculates your influence score by looking at your social accounts and examining how people have responded to your social updates. Since I’ve connected my personal accounts — and I have a decent score — I receive occasional perks like this one, which explained that “all perks are available on a first come, first serve basis, so grab yours before they run out!”

So I clicked the link about 30 minutes after I received it, and I was surprised to learn it had already expired. Talk about scarcity: not only was the premiere only available for social influencers, but for influencers who reacted quickly. The idea is to generate excitement among those with the best ability to spread it to others, creating anticipation for the TV premiere.

“Our social media word of mouth campaigns with television partners have been very successful, so we’re very excited about expanding our work with that community,” Klout’s Ashley Jacober told Lost Remote.

TNT builds the “Dallas Roundup Network”

A company called SocialChorus reached out to Lost Remote this week, offering us an exclusive membership in the “Dallas Roundup Network.” It’s working with the TNT show, Dallas, which premieres on June 13th. As a member of the fan network, you can download content extras — for example, you can download the trailer and funny animated .gif’s of the cast, adding your own captions for the opportunity to be featured on the Dallas Tumblr. But that’s not the scarcity angle here.

The first 75 influencers to sign up for the network will be able to watch the first two shows before the premiere as well as receive eight more episodes on two DVDs as the season progresses. In essence, these influencers will get to watch most (if not all) of the season before it airs. There’s also the opportunity to compete for the “Baddest Prize” to win a VIP trip to Southfork to see where all the drama takes place during season 2 production.

PBS invites “Sherlock” fans to special event

Last month thousands of fans of the PBS hit show Sherlock lined up outside a New York theater for the chance to snag one of a few hundred seats. Inside, they were encouraged to ask the show creators and leading actor anything they want. A few weeks earlier, PBS selected a few superfans — out of 10,000 who applied — for an exclusive screening. PBS displayed tweets with the hashtag #SherlockPBS for all in attendance.

“It was fun watching people standing in front of the monitors waiting for their tweet to enter the Twitter-stream with all the others, or taking pictures of their tweet on the screens (which they then, of course, tweeted out),” explained Kevin Dando, Director of Digital Marketing & Communications for PBS.

These are just a few growing examples of efforts to leverage scarcity to create niche communities around TV shows. The approaches are similar: 1) exclusivity among influencers 2) limited quantity available 3) limited time to participate and 4) a meaningful-enough reward to spark excited social sharing, creating anticipation among those in the community.

That last point is important: just adding a few content extras isn’t enough anymore. It’s like giving away your $100 bottle of wine and asking people to join a club for your $10 bottles. Just like the wine industry, scarcity hinges on exclusive access to something great. Today, that’s offering early premieres and VIP trips. Tomorrow, it will involve compelling content produced exclusively for — and with the help of — a show’s biggest fans.

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