Can the Principle of Scarcity Help You Influence?

Many people feel that using the principle of scarcity to influence is manipulative. Lisa B. Marshall, The Public Speaker, explains how scarcity may be viewed in a different light.  

Lisa B. Marshall
3-minute read

Here’s a recent email from a reader: 

Dear Lisa,

I've been listening to your podcasts for a while, and just decided to buy Smart Talk through Audible and the Influence: Maximize Your Impact course too. I just noticed that the Smart Talk has a chapter on Influence —is it the same material?  

I'm a pastor trying to influence my congregation to make some changes and wanting to be more effective. I am pondering the use of scarcity to influence people. Surely the marketing culture has been using this for a long time - but in the field of Christian faith we are wanting to foster generosity and abundance and see scarcity mentality as working against this. 

I appreciate your work.


Although Sarah didn’t directly ask a question about scarcity, I did want to address her concerns. 

Here’s my response: 


First, thanks for listening and thanks for buying my materials. Regarding the Influence course, it is much more detailed than the chapter in the book. The book covers that topic in a cursory manner, while the course explains the evidence-based science in more detail and provides many ideas for using the techniques in an ultra-practical manner. Rest assured the materials only overlap in a very small way. In the book, I mention each of the principles, define each, and then suggest how to protect yourself. In the video, I do offer the same definitions for each principle, but then the video course goes into much more depth. You'll see when you view the course. 

Regarding scarcity, I understand your point. I agree we want to come from abundance. However, I don't always see scarcity in direct odds with abundance. It might help to view scarcity instead as "an aversion to loss." Allow me to explain ...

Sometimes it is important to help understand what is at risk—what will be lost if a certain decision is made. Sometimes we make decisions without evaluating the consequences. For example, if you were a health practitioner, you might use the principle of scarcity to talk about what can happen if you don't do regular breast exams. You could say doing monthly breast exams is the recommended guideline by the AMA, or you could argue instead that not doing monthly breast exams can lead to cancer and death. Research shows that the second argument is much stronger. Again, we are more motivated to act when we understand what might be lost. 

Applying this to ministry, let's say you are working with a couple that is in danger of splitting up. And the one person who wants to leave the marriage is focusing on what will be gained by leaving.  By helping that person to understand what may be lost, you may have an opportunity to keep the marriage together or at least make the break-up less difficult by focusing on what is ALSO there in addition to the difficulties. Again, the idea is to focus on what might be lost.  

(By the way, I also think it doesn't hurt to use scarcity to sell more tickets to the church's annual auction. You could use a big countdown timer to the big event.)

For me, the key to all influence is to come from a position of positive persuasion —that is, you are sincerely trying to help the person to reach the best possible decision to achieve agreed upon  (and perhaps even mutually shared) goals. You are not trying to manipulate; instead you are trying to help people get what they want by sharing the most influential information—and at times that may be a clear explanation of what may be lost.  


This is Lisa B. Marshall moving you from mediocre to memorable, from information to influence, and from worker to leader! I invite you to read my best-selling books, Smart Talk and Ace Your Interview, listen to my other podcast, Smart Talk, and invest in your professional development via my online courses Powerful Presenter, Expert Presenter, or Influence: Maximize Your Impact.    As always your success is my business


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.