Using FOMO to Beat Your Competition

Consumers and humans in general are often in a state of frenzy, taken down by the fear of missing out on something someone else has, is doing, is experiencing, and thus falling behind in our conscious and even more unconscious need to be better, stronger, faster and more poised to survive than others in the world around us.

Voo Doo Donuts
“Voo Doo Donuts” | Credit: Jeanette McMurtry

It’s a real and paralyzing psychological state of mind that drives much of what your customers think, buy and do. And for that matter, you too!

Consumers and humans in general are often in a state of frenzy, taken down by the fear of missing out on something someone else has, is doing, is experiencing, and thus falling behind in our conscious and even more unconscious need to be better, stronger, faster and more poised to survive than others in the world around us.

Scientists, psychologists, sociologists and now us marketers call this it FOMO — the Fear of Missing Out, which drives us to addictions of always being connected, always watching others, and following paths to make sure we are not left out of opportunities others have that would benefit us somehow, or that we never make bad choices that would set us back somehow.

Per an in-depth-article posted by ABC Online, “FOMO can be described as the feeling that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you.”

And this fear can lead to high levels of anxiety, frenetic behavior and stress that our lives are not all they should be, that we will not reach the potential promoted through poetic social tiles on so many “friends” Facebook pages, or find the levels of self-actualization and joy we see in others promoted all over the Web.

FOMO can either paralyze us into a state of indecision or retreat to deal with deep feelings of failure, or it can invigorate us to get going and get doing what everyone else is doing. For businesses in B2B and B2C, there is a lot of good here we can tap.

My favorite example is illustrated by the line you see in the photo associated with this post. This line is about one hour, maybe two, in a remote part of Portland, Ore., a couple of miles from the mainstream attractions of downtown. Yet day and night, the line wraps around the block — as you see in the photo. It is nothing more than a doughnut store. And when I took this photo, it was raining.

People would ask me what the line was for, and more often than not, when I told them it was for doughnuts, they’d think for a moment and then jump in. And when people came out of the store with their precious doughnuts in hand, those still in line would stretch and strain to get a glimpse of this doughnut that they simply could not miss out on trying and being able to post and tweet about if it was indeed as cool as the long line implied it would be.

This is not just related to the force that social proof has over our thoughts and actions, but to our fears of not having what others have that in the end elevates their chance of survival over ours — be it a social, physical, financial, emotional or materialistic advantage. We can promote how in-demand our products and services are, and how far consumers will go to get what we offer. We can also offer some intrigue, like the doughnut store does by using interesting curious names for the doughnuts, to which they add bacon, whipped crème, sprinkles, pretzels and other novel toppings. If something is different from the norm, the FOMO often kicks in, even for things we don’t really need or know we want at the time.

The reality for marketers to note is that our FOMO has reached epic levels, as we are constantly exposed to new opportunities, events, experiences, products and opportunities to increase our personal cool factor scores with our smartphones, to which we are addicted 24/7. We check our phones and social pages constantly to make sure we are not missing out on the latest news, information, sales, events and so on.

How can we ethically tap into FOMO to build our brand and sales? Well, we’ve been doing it for years, as inspired by Lester Wunderman and other pioneers in direct response marketing. Those CTAs or calls to action that shout, “Act now, while supplies last,” or “Limited time only” or “Only three left in stock” propel us to act before someone else gets what we want and leaves us empty-handed, all appeal to  FOMO and provide us a way to avoid it. This appeal has always worked, and always will. So don’t drop it just because everyone has been using it for decades. Human nature, when it comes to psychological triggers, doesn’t change and never will.

Essentially, overcoming FOMO addresses our survival DNA, and helps us feel superior and capable of surviving over others. Therefore, if brands can create opportunities that make us feel exceptional, exclusive and superior in some way, we are more likely to capture their attention and better engage them in conversations and events that lead to purchases, repeat purchases, referrals and increased lifetime value.

Ways to do this that could cost you nothing or cost you a lot, depending on how you intend to execute, include:

  • Customer VIP Events. This works for B2B and B2C. Host an event that is more meaningful and valuable for customers than your brand, and send them away with much more than they expected. They will feel appreciated, grateful and that they have something others don’t. Your brand!
  • Create Special Offers for customers that have chosen to align with you. Offer discounts, early-bird pricing, free gifts and other perks for customers and members of your loyalty team only. Offer perks frequently enough to remind them that they are part of something exclusive that gives them that edge over others.
  • Offer Exclusive Products to “members only.” Costco is starting to do this more and more, because it works and it can work for your small or large brand, as well. Find a product that reflects the values of your customers and helps elevate their status in business or personal circle, and offer it exclusively to people that have chosen to align with your brand. Make it worth staying aligned with your brand and worth opening up your future emails to see what’s next in your offerings.

Regardless of what business you are in, make customers feel like they are getting something from you; be it service, products, insights, content and so on, that they can’t get elsewhere, and that others not in your “fold” can’t get. Again, something as simple as an event invitation or content like a checklist to success, can be the difference that takes FOMO out of your customers’ minds and puts your brand in for life!

Author: Jeanette McMurtry

Jeanette McMurtry is a psychology-based marketing expert providing strategy, campaign development, and sales and marketing training to brands in all industries on how to achieve psychological relevance for all aspects of a customer's experience. She is the author of the recently released edition of “Marketing for Dummies” (Fifth Edition, Wiley) and “Big Business Marketing for Small Business Budgets” (McGraw Hill). She is a popular and engaging keynote speaker and workshop instructor on marketing psychology worldwide. Her blog will share insights and tactics for engaging B2B and B2C purchasers' unconscious minds which drive 90 percent of our thoughts, attitudes and behavior, and provide actionable and affordable tips for upping sales and ROI through emotional selling propositions. Her blog will share insights and tactics for engaging consumers' unconscious minds, which drive 90 percent of our thoughts and purchasing attitudes and behavior. She'll explore how color, images and social influences like scarcity, peer pressure and even religion affect consumers' interest in engaging with your brand, your message and buying from you. Reach her at

5 thoughts on “Using FOMO to Beat Your Competition”

  1. Great article Jeanette. FOMO is not a topic we marketers think about on a regular basis but as you suggest, it can and should be a strong component of messaging. Also appreciate your thoughts on how to implement FOMO.

    1. Thanks Chris! Given your expertise in B2B marketing, what suggestions do you have for using FOMO to nurture warm leads through the sales funnel?

      1. Jeanette, I think you hit the high points of how to use FOMO to move prospects along the buyer’s journey, especially in regards to special offers and exclusive products. A recognition of what makes the prospect special or unique is always helpful.

      2. I encourage clients to give prospects and customers a “peek behind the curtain.” The Georgia Aquarium has done this by offering “behind the scenes tours” for $15 that generates incremental revenue while enhancing customer engagement and building an emotional connection with the brand.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *