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How Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) Impacts What Consumers are Buying

How Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) Impacts What Consumers are Buying

The acronym “FOMO” — fear of missing out — is most often associated with social media and refers to the anxiety caused by reading other people’s posts about where they are and what they’re doing. For marketers, FOMO can be an asset — and is not limited to social media. A message on your website, for example — “Only 3 left in stock!” — can trigger an immediate purchase. In this article, we will discuss how FOMO can affect shopping behaviors.

How does FOMO affect shopping behavior?

The term “FOMO” was coined in 1996, before social media took over our lives, by consumer behavior expert Dan Herman. FOMO is the psychological stress people experience when they believe they are missing out or being excluded from enjoyable experiences that others are having. Thanks to social media, we are now exposed to large numbers of people who are checking in at restaurants, posting vacation photos, and posting status updates raving about the great party they attended or the newest smartphone they just purchased.

For marketers, the phenomenon holds enormous possibilities and shouldn’t be ignored. More than half of social media users say they worry about missing something — breaking news, an event, or an important status update — and they take steps to ensure  they don’t miss out. Leveraging FOMO in your marketing plan requires a nuanced approach to avoid creating resentment among consumers, but it can be a powerful tool for brands and retailers to increase offline and online sales and drive purchase intent.

While FOMO is often related to social media, it also plays a part in shopping behaviors in other ways. FOMO is closely connected with social proof, which is human tendency to look to others for examples of how to behave. We are more likely to buy a product when there’s only a few of that product left on the shelf, because we feel reassured by the fact that others have decided to buy that product. Also at work is the “supplies are running out” effect. Consumers don’t want to miss out on getting a product that is popular among others. The implications of this for brands is also apparent: 60% of millennial consumers said they make a reactive purchase after experiencing FOMO, most often within 24 hours. In addition, consumers often make purchasing decisions after observing a positive experience by others who have purchased a product. A survey by the PR firm Citizens Relations found the purchase intent of parents is often linked to FOMO when they see a positive impact of the product on other families.

Capitalize on the Power of FOMO

To capitalize on the power of FOMO, brands should be active on social media. Take advantage of opportunities to broadcast live on Facebook. Encourage consumers to engage with your brand by offering them an opportunity to gain exclusive access to an event. Bud Light had tremendous success with their “Up For Whatever” campaign, where they asked people to post videos to explain why they should be chosen to participate in an event. The result was 37,000 pieces of user-generated content — one of the most popular forms of social proof — and over 600 million impressions.

Creating an impression of exclusivity with the use of wait lists, limited supply, and time limits is a highly effective method for harnessing the power of FOMO. The idea that gaining entrance to a nightclub or a school is reserved for a select few makes it more desirable. Social media can enhance the impact of FOMO when supplies are limited — “Just scored a Cronut!” A sense of urgency can cause a consumer to purchase a winter coat in July if it’s advertised on sale with a warning of “only 4 days left” to purchase at a particular price.

In relation to social influencer marketing, FOMO can also be a factor. When users begin engaging with your brand, other people want in on the action. Leveraging user-generated content, such as photos and videos posted on social media, is an effective way to avoid creating resentment among people who are unable to attend. Pepsi and Hersheypark recently teamed up with a group of bloggers and their families to document their experience at the opening of the park. They received hundreds of comments on their posts, many of them from people expressing an interest in visiting the park.

When using FOMO in a marketing campaign, remember that it’s important to strike a balance. Overdoing it can create consumer resentment, while doing too little is not likely to be effective. If executed properly, FOMO in marketing can create excitement and anticipation, and cause consumers to take action, helping you grow your brand, increase sales, and boost profitability.