The Embodied Internet: Using Scarcity to Scale
Let’s say, for the sake of the argument, that you are in the market for a coat. You find yourself in Soho and have two options. One, you can walk into REI, try on a few things, and walk out in under twenty minutes with a perfectly good coat. No muss, no fuss.
Or you could go to Supreme and stand in a long line to get what is, at the end of the day, just a coat. It serves the same same function as the REI coat, but it’s not just about that function. If clothes were purely functional, we’d all wear burlap sacks and get on with our days (to be fair, in Covid times, some of us have done this). But what sets brands like Supreme apart is not the look or the quality so much as the cache and the scarcity. And while this won’t work for every brand, and is in fact antithetical to the identity of some brands, for others it could be a powerful metaverse strategy.
Before Facebook became Meta, it was restricted to just one university, then a handful, then to anyone with a .edu address, before it became widely available. By creating this artificial scarcity, it made the platform an object of desire for those who couldn’t get in. When Gmail first launched, you needed a code from a current user to create an account, and it created a reward system and also a powerful evangelism tool — being cool enough to bestow codes on others was seen as a big deal in certain circles. Plenty of new apps advertise long waitlists just to up their cred. The oldest shop owner’s trick in the book is to find a low selling item, slap a “limit, two per customer” sign on it, and watch it fly off the shelves.
In many ways, the embodied internet comes with built in scarcity right now, at least when it comes to platforms that can only be accessed via a headset. But headsets, for whatever reason, haven’t achieved the same cultural weight as the first iPhones did back when they were released. The first iPhones cost twice as much as a headset and didn’t have anywhere near the utility they have now, but when you saw a “sent from my iPhone” message in 2007, it really meant something. Of course, scarcity alone isn’t a guarantee of success — Clubhouse was the hottest ticket in town last year, but failure to grow and iterate led to its demise.
It sounds very odd to advise people that the best way to create mass communities is to limit community, but hear me out: we all want to be members of clubs we can’t join. Tell someone they should check out the embodied internet and they’ll add it to a long list of other items; tell someone you are checking out the coolest virtual club but they didn’t make the cut for an invite, and all of a sudden they are dying to buy a headset.
By giving early access and creating great experiences for people with big audiences, you can instantly grow your brand, even if you’re not growing your user numbers. Get all the cool kids to hang at the virtual pool at the virtual Soho House, and it creates a huge amount of FOMO for those who didn’t make the cut. Of course, you can’t keep this exclusivity forever, and need a strategy and pathway to get more people in the door and keep them in. As with the Clubhouse example above, you need to keep improving and scaling the experience. But creating a sense of scarcity is a great way to start.