In the past month, aside from working my ass off and dealing with momentary mental breakdowns, I was trying to sell a good chunk of my belongings.
Even as a minimalist, I was astonished to realize how many things I’ve gathered in 6.5 years of living in Berlin -
From big furniture like an impressive wooden desk, a queen-sized bed, a tall fridge, a washing machine and an antique couch, to small random knick knacks like a glass vase that my parents once sent me over along with some flowers for my birthday, to orphaned ceramic pots that I couldn't leave astray in the streets of Berlin (you can find real treasures around here sometimes!).
So when I was trying to sell the things I had no intention of keeping in my new 1.5 sqm storage space, my marketing knowledge kicked in big time.
Here are 5 marketing tactics that I used to sell/give away my belongings, how I used them ethically (yes, despite the massive pressure I was under) - and how you can use them too!
Show, don’t tell
It’s never about you
Let’s dive in…
Just before the last Black Friday madness, I wrote about “charm pricing” in my newsletter.
I could easily charm my pricing while selling my stuff, but I chose not to, mostly cause I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself.
Instead, I talked about the value of what I was selling, how much I bought it for originally and priced my items fairly.
I wasn’t selling my things to get rich.
I sold my things cause I had no use in them anymore, didn’t want to store them or disassemble them myself, and thought they could happily serve other people better.
When my leaving date was nearing and some of my items didn’t sell, I decided to discount some of them or give them away for free.
Two interesting things happened:
A. Some of the items were never even taken, not even for free.
Psychologically speaking, we attach value to things with a price, any price, but especially if it’s a high one.
Many times, if someone offers us something for free, we would instantly become suspicious -
“Why is it for free?”
“Could it be dangerous?”
“Is something wrong with it?”
We value items that are sold to us at a higher price point, even when it comes to similar offers:
Two lipsticks could be manufactured at the same factory and sold under two different brands; one is a house brand of a pharma company, and one is branded as a luxury lipstick. Even when put one next to the other with no apparent differences aside from the exterior packaging, most of us would still pick the “luxury” one. If it costs more, it must be of better quality, right?
Plus, free things create what I call “a commitment gap”: we see no point in traveling across the city or walking around the block (regardless of the weather) for something that is given to us for free, even if we really need this item. It’s not worth the hassle. When an item costs anything, even a fiver, we commit to making the effort.
B. Some items sold even quicker, thanks to visual psychological tactics.
Of course, I wasn’t in charge of how the prices were presented.
Amazon and Facebook use those tactics very frequently, and they work:
A strikethrough across the old price presented alongside the new one, or the use of different colors are highly effective.
So when I discounted some items, even in 5 or 10 euros, it became easier to sell them, thanks to those tactics.
How you can apply pricing tactics to your own marketing: Keep in mind that those tactics exist, then use them thoughtfully when showing your own pricing. Those tactics work for a reason, but if you use them too generously, your customers would easily see through them.
“No reservations, and please don’t DM me”, I wrote, “here’s the address, just come and get it.”
On the very last night in my (now old) apartment, I had a bunch of different items that I didn’t manage to sell after all.
My own fear of not managing to clear everything out on time made me feel physically itchy.
I went ahead and posted a few photos on a Facebook group called “Free Your Stuff Berlin”.
I’ve never seen anything like it.
In Berlin, so many people give away such high-quality items all the time. It’s no wonder that Berliners lurk and wait around for things not to sell out and eventually be given away for free.
So when I posted those posts with those photos, within 3 hours, I had 5 people coming over to take more than half of what I still had left.
Of course, with only as many items available and no reservations, people were in a hurry to come and get whatever they saw in the pictures.
How you can apply scarcity to your own marketing: Don’t lie about your stock and don’t overpromise.
If you have a physical store/stock, it’s easier to share how many items you have left.
If you have a digital product, you can’t run out of stock, period. What you can do instead, in the case of group cohorts (like my Email Muscles), is open the doors for a limited time. If you decide to no longer run that cohort/not open the doors again for a long period, or ever, mention that, explain the reasoning behind it, and stick to your word. But if you’re planning on launching again, there’s no need for you to use unethical scarcity.
The harsh truth was that I was moving out on February 1st, and no matter what, I needed to leave a shockingly empty apartment.
When I said that everything had to go until January 31st, I meant it -
The deadline was not up to me.
(Okay okay, I was the one giving the notice to the management company, but as soon as I sent it, the deadline was set and that’s that.)
Urgency was a miracle worker, especially in the last 3 or so days, when I specifically wrote in my ads: “Pickup until Jan 31st only.”
A specific deadline helps us plan in advance, set expectations, and entices us to take action.
How you can apply urgency to your own marketing: You set a deadline? Great - why did you set it to that date? What’s behind the decision to set this deadline? What happens beyond it?
And please, for the love of pasta, don’t “surprise, we’ve extended the sale for you”. It’s so transparently desperate that it hurts.
Show, don’t tell
When we decide to invest in anything, we want to know that our time, money and attention will go to a great cause that could serve us well.
So if someone just tells you “hey, I have this great product, you must give it a try!”, we would be suspicious, at the very least.
In the case of a moving-out sale, this part was easy - all I needed to do was take a gazillion pictures of everything I sold and upload those.
I could’ve easily said “a fridge, new condition, 180 cm tall”. But no one would believe that (I sure wouldn’t!).
Instead, I took pictures of the front, side, and insides, alongside photos of the measurements.
I let the (social) proof work for me.
How you can apply “show, don’t tell” to your own marketing: as social creatures, we naturally want to see and feel what we’re buying first before paying for it. When it comes to shopping online, things can get a little more complicated.
Any (social) proof can be useful here: testimonials, video testimonials, reviews, brand photos, photos of users/customers with your product - anything that could indicate how your product or service could benefit your new customer/user.
It’s never about you
It doesn’t matter if you produce the best product in the world.
It didn’t matter that I took really good care of my things.
At the end of the day, we all care about one thing - ourselves.
When you sell something, anything, your consumer will never care about your credentials or how trustworthy you claim to be. All they care about is how this item/product/service can benefit them.
In my case, I got more inquiries for “a set of 4 bowls, perfect for hosting your cozy winter dinner parties” than for “a set of bowls, 26 inches, great condition”.
(I ended up giving those to a friend, many people inquired about those but never showed up.)
How you can apply “it’s never about you” to your own marketing: don’t only put yourself in your customers’ shoes - ask them what their experience is like and why they like (or dislike) your product/service. Then use that feedback (we call that “Voice of Customer” in the copywriting jargon) to both improve your offer, and also use it wisely in your copy.
And for the love of pasta, make it about your consumer and how they could benefit from your offer. They only care about themselves, understandably, and you didn’t come up with your solution just to boost your own ego, am I right?
There are many psychological tactics used in marketing and sales, and if you pay close attention, you can see them prevalent in your day-to-day life all the time.
The real greatness is being aware of those “best practices” and using those only when they’re truthful and beneficial for everyone involved.
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