How to maintain exclusivity in online events and why 49 is the new magic number

By Jim James,

Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast

Exclusivity is a very useful strategy to gain, to buy, to change the way that people view your company, and ultimately, to use some relatively simple psychology to get you noticed. If you didn’t know, the number 49 may possibly be a magic number now when it comes to webinars, and here we’ll find out why. 

Exclusivity is about being available to only a small number of people who are somehow qualified by the value of what they are worth, the information they’ve got, or any other qualification that deems them qualified to get exclusive access to something. Exclusion challenges people’s fundamental need to belong, to believe that they are good enough, and it causes a number of dysfunctional reactions and can actually lead to chemical releases, which can lead to lower self-esteem, to anxiety, to anger, to the inability to reason well. Exclusivity is used by many people, especially by luxury brands, but it’s also something that you can use in running your own marketing campaigns to give people the sense that there’s a limited amount and it’s going to cost them to do it. Premium pricing can be used not only in marketing strategy but in public relations as well, because information, as the old adage goes, is power. The control of information, therefore, is going to be power as well.

Information asymmetry

Premium strategies rely on a couple of different aspects. One of these is called information asymmetry. This is when one group of people don’t have an independent way of testing the claim that this information is somehow exclusive. When EASTWEST PR helped launch BlackBerry in Singapore over a decade ago, there were only a few models brought into Singapore, and EASTWEST PR was able to get great media coverage, because the local media were informed that there were only going to be 10 of these phones available in Singapore for trial. Everybody wanted to try the BlackBerry phone at the time, and so the leverage was that if the media took the phone, they would have to agree to give EASTWEST PR coverage. In some cases, it was even an opportunity to extract the front cover in those days when we had printed media.

Another example is an extended interview. The media are always delighted to get their hands on something that would position them as having more than others. The social phenomenon in exclusivity is that the person who receives that information or that product is somehow better than everybody else. When EASTWEST PR launched Morgan Cars in China, it was a deliberate decision not to have too many cars in stock so that prospective buyers could be told that if they didn’t buy one now, they’d have to wait 6-12 months to receive one. And because no one could talk to the factory about when the next cars would be available, there was this phenomenon of information asymmetry. In other words, it’s having more information than the customers and the media. So, if you’re looking at creating an opportunity of exclusivity, ask yourself whether you have control over the information and whether you have some way of controlling access to information on behalf of those people who are going to need to be motivated by this sense of exclusivity.

Information asymmetry (Photo from Investopedia)

A high-class offering

Another aspect of exclusivity is that the good, service or, in PR terms, the information like access to a spokesperson, to a trial product, the first sit down, or the first review is that this product or service is a luxury, that it’s an aspirational service or good, and that it’s superior. No one’s worried about exclusivity over something that’s low-grade, so there must be some perceived status of well-being, of some higher quality. The other element is that in the market, there is a sense of competition and also an entry barrier. With the Blackberry example, while the competition was in and amongst the media, the entry barrier was that there were only going to be 10 of these phones in Singapore, and so if you were not part of the first tranche of media who took the opportunity to write up reviews, you wouldn’t get one. That’s one way to control the supply. If you’re going to offer an exclusivity deal to the media just as you would to a potential customer, think about whether you can control the supply. 

In a Harvard Business Review report, it was said that how customers perceive a price is as important as the price itself. Basically, the scarcity value of something can be generated through public relations, and that creates, certainly in the eyes of the media, a sense that it has a perceived scarcity, and thus, it has a perceived value to it. The perception of price amongst consumers is as important as the price itself. That’s why people have all these issues with cognitive dissonance, which is the the anxiety that people have after they’ve made a purchase and what almost half of all advertising is there to address. The same can be said for public relations. A lot of public relations is there in order to reassure people that they’ve made the right purchase or the right decision. 

In public relations, one can create the perception of value of information that will be made available, like time available to speak with the CEO or the product expert. Scarcity and exclusivity trigger an emotional response, because people find it hard to resist wanting things that are scarce. Scarcity creates an anxiety that you might be missing out on something. This is just as true of the media as it is of a consumer. If you think about your public relations and the media you’re trying to deal with, if your information is freely and readily available everywhere, then there is no scarcity. So, is there some way that you can create information that has a rarity value, like access to a customer, access to a product, access to a person that is limited in supply, that there are only a certain number of copies or moments when this is available?

At the same time, exclusivity gives people membership in some way. Exclusivity and creating emotional loyalty between the media and the company is a fundamental part of public relations. If you have a room of 30-40 media, especially in China and India where you can get such large groups, one has very little ability to leverage, because all the media in the room basically have the same story, and they could even physically come and go without any controls. This leads to the the third part of managing scarcity and exclusivity which is the deadline. 

Scarcity and deadlines encourage buyers

Photo from Sundora

So many posts or signages say, "Hurry now! Offer ends soon." It’s this idea that there’s a fast approaching date when a product will be withdrawn or the price will be raised is another psychological tactic. When sending out press releases or invitations to interview somebody, it’s best to not make it open-ended. When issuing quotes to clients, always set a deadline by which the offer will expire, because giving people a deadline is also a really important part, not just of media relations, but of psychology. There’s an idiosyncrasy that says that scarce items can be seen as more valuable when they’ve recently become scarce, rather than if they’ve always been in short supply; in other words, that something’s running out and there’s a deadline, not that it’s always been hard to come by. 

It’s necessary to look at all these aspects in terms of public relations and how to manage the availability of the information, the spokespeople, and the products. Perception beats reality and pricing, and perception can also be reality in public relations. Exclusivity is a tool of practice that can be used both in public relations and in selling products. It’s important now because of all the large virtual events taking place, and the overall impact now of these large group gatherings is that there’s no sense of exclusivity. The sense of confidentiality and most importantly, from a public relations perspective, the exclusivity which leads to loyalty and consequently to the journalist taking action are getting lost too. 

EASTWEST PR is working with a client on building an exclusive invitation-only event, and the magic number in terms of attendees is 49. That is because that’s the number of screens that can be seen in the gallery view on Zoom. You can have 49 faces looking at you and looking at each other on Zoom, and that’s going to become the new magic number for exclusivity in social media. Exclusivity is a currency that business owners can use to great effect. You have to invite people into these virtual events. You have to manage them while they’re there. You need to make sure that when they’re there, they feel that they are part of a special cohort for that short duration that they’re at that Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Hangout call. 

Exclusivity and creating exclusivity in the digital environment during digital press events is not going to be a walk in the park. Think about the exclusivity of the information and the invitations. Consider creating limited quantities of opportunities for those people whom you want to take attention to what you’re doing and create deadlines. The irony of this is that you’re going to want to spread your information far and wide for maximum coverage, but you’re also going to need limit how you distribute it. You need to make it seem as though it’s more valuable in order for more people to want to cover it. Also, think about the positioning of your event. If it’s an event for everybody, is it functional? Is it emotional? Is it life-changing? Does it have a social impact? What dimension of your story is going to be precious? This is all so that the perceived value of the information you’re giving is greater than the information that anyone else is giving, so that the media and all the audiences that you’re reaching out to will pay attention to you.

This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.

Cover Photo from Huthwaite International

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