The fear of being left out on something that others are experiencing is genuine. Black sheep explains the FOMO and how to use it.

Sometimes it seems to me that my phone and its constant notifications play against me. About a month ago I had a week so tired that on Friday I decided to stay at home.

I prepared a simple dinner, put on the most comfortable clothes I found. And settled in the armchair with a book that I bought some time ago. And had not had a chance to read.

Almost instantly, I could hear my phone. It was twitter indicating that several of my friends were tweeting about the same thing. A concert they had been to, one of those “once in a lifetime.”

When I unlocked my phone, the Instagram app was open and showed me the photo. A friend was eating at a restaurant I have wanted to go to for a long time.

My book, my armchair, and my comfortable clothes turned pale. I began to feel irritated, and I had poorly chosen in what to occupy my time, I was missing out on experiences that others enjoyed. Irritation is the first symptom of FOMO because the grass is always greener in the neighbor’s land.

The origin of the FOMO (fear of being left out)

FOMO stands for fear of missing out or fear of being left out or missing out on something. Dr. Dan Herman coined this term in the late 1990s. Since then, he has studied it as a sociocultural phenomenon, motivation, and personality characteristic. And considering it extremely significant in the development of consumer psychology.

It all starts with the growing knowledge of the virtually infinite options available for the consumer to choose. It develops further with the ability that the consumer believes he has to exhaust as many options as he would like. Of course, this is a matter of perception.

If the consumer considers that his ability to deplete the options is low compared to the existing (increasing) amount. Then his brain begins to work to build a perception of what is needed, of what is being lost.

“FOMO’s experience is based on fear. The fear of: ‘What am I going to miss because I don’t have the time or the money. Or because I have another barrier of some kind? It is an experience that feels a bit like being a child in a beautiful candy store, with only four in your pocket”- Dr. Dan Herman.

Basically, it is that anxiety caused by the countdown, the ads that indicate exclusive offers, or for a limited time, the reminder that the episode of that series that everyone will be talking about tomorrow will start.

We have all been victims sometimes. I started watching The Walking Dead when my friends didn’t talk about anything else, they made jokes and sent memes in the WhatsApp group that I didn’t understand at all.

While the term FOMO as such, was coined a couple of decades ago, the feeling is much older. The background lies in cognitive biases.

Fear of being left out as cognitive bias

Cognitive biases are a tendency to think in some way that deviates from logical or rational thinking. In other words, it is to launch us to make judgments or make decisions without passing or taking analytical thinking into account.

Although sometimes it is beneficial to skip analytical thinking, as explained in the article, “What are somatic markers and how to use them? ” On the other hand, they can become wrong and go against logic. 

Then comes the marketing industry, which studies consumer psychology and, with the help of some research, begins to unravel the secrets that the consumer’s brain keeps. Cognitive biases and other principles of behavioral science are used to improve sales.

There are three of these principles that are closely related to FOMO, and feed and complement it.

  • The scarcity principle: it is a predisposition that makes us want to buy a product because it is scarce. The opportunity to acquire it seems more valuable, even if it is not, because it could end.
  • Social proof: is to do something because peers or individuals around are doing it. If most do, the individual feels that he should or wants to do it too. The typical teenager who tells his parents, “is that everyone has / will go/do.”
  • Loss aversion: people prefer to avoid losing something over winning something. It is not just about products or money; they include popularity, social image, sexual attractiveness, health, among many others. 

Probably the root and foundation of the FOMO is loss aversion. Losses, on a psychological level, are twice as powerful as the effect that a profit produces. Our brain will do whatever it takes not to lose, even if that means missing the chance to win.

Take advantage of the FOMO

From the point of view of sales it is possible to point to this fear in consumers to enhance the increase in sales:

  • Limit availability: if a product or service will not be available for a long time or is expected to run out, this will be a strong motivation. Nobody wants to be “the only one” who won’t have it. Tactics such as lightning deals, presales, use the phrase “for a limited time” are recommendations.
  • Create social experiences: consumers no longer want to buy products, but skills, get on the wave of trends. If social conversations, exclusive events, etc. are generated around the product. 
  • Publish exceptional content: just as nobody likes to see the photos of friends on the beach and know that they are missing it. If a fan page or blog of a brand publishes exceptional content that nobody wants to lose. Brand loyalty will be seen as benefited. 

What kind of FOMO do you experience? Join the Black Sheep community to share.


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