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Every time you turn around, somebody’s offering “early bird pricing”. It’s ubiquitous. But is it necessary? Is it good? Are there downsides? (No, sometimes, and yes, respectively.) What actually IS early bird pricing, and is it a good idea for your next promotion?
In today’s episode, I’ll explain the upsides and the downsides, and I’ll give an easy to use protocol to decide if early bird pricing is right for you, your business, your launch, or your event. Give me 10 minutes, and I’ll explain… early bird pricing.
Just click play, and I'll meet you there.
Transcript & Shownotes
Welcome back to Naomi Explains Marketing, the show where I help coaches, consultants, experts, authors, and other associated nerds, geeks and misfits sell the contents of their brains for cash money. I am your host, Naomi, and today we’re talking about early bird pricing.
Let’s do this.
So, in our line of work, we tend to host things. Events. Workshops. Programs. When you’re in the events and workshops and programs business, inevitably, the question of early bird pricing comes up. Should you offer a big ol’ discount to early buyers, or should you not? Does it incentivize, or does it complicate? Will you make more money with it, or without it?
Excellent questions, all. Let’s take it from the top.
First, for my fellow autists and those for whom English is not a first language, what even is “early bird pricing”? It comes from the aphorism “the early bird gets the worm”, which means “those who get there early get good stuff that late arrivers don’t get.” In the case of early bird pricing, the good stuff is a discount, often a substantial one, on the full ticket price of the offering.
Now, where does this come from?
Early bird pricing originates in the world of live events.
Imagine you’re holding a gerbil care convention. You want a huge number of gerbil lovers to pay a huge sum of money for the privilege of showing up at your thing. Unfortunately, because you’re not God, you don’t know how many gerbil lovers are going to show up.
In the live event world, that’s a problem. Number of attendees informs every subsequent decision. Which room or rooms do you need to book? How much parking? How many hotel rooms? How many sandwiches? Permits! Waitstaff! Bathrooms! In order for your event to function, you need to get a decent idea of how many gerbil lovers are going to show up for this thing, and you need to do it well in advance.
Complicating matters further is a little issue we in the industry like to call “money”. All those rooms? All those sandwiches? All that waitstaff? All of them need deposits. You need to pay for all that crap before you’ve sold your tickets. This is a logistical and financial nightmare, and one of the main reasons most people don’t run gerbil conventions for a living.
So, what’s the solution to this logistical and financial nightmare?
Enter “early bird pricing”.
Instead of getting in touch with your potential attendees and saying, “Yo, we’re doing a gerbil thing in October”, you say, “Yo, we’re doing a gerbil thing in October and if you register really soon, we’ll give you a sweet discount.”
In an ideal world, a decent number of gerbil lovers take you up on your magnanimous offer. This gives you money that you can give the sandwich people, and if you’re experienced, it also gives you an estimate of how many people will ultimately show up, meaning you know which rooms to tentatively book, how much staff to hire, and so on. Happy days! Your gerbil convention can move forward.
That’s how we got here.
Now… raise your hand if this looks like your business.
Yeah, me neither. Most peoples’ businesses don’t look like this. And yet, we’re still inundated with early bird offers for everything from live training to coaching promotions to physical books.
So, should you do an early bird offer for your thing?
The short answer, in case you really need to pee, is “probably not”.
Here’s the slightly longer answer.
Except for a few exceptions which I’ll talk about in a moment, you probably don’t want early bird pricing for three reasons.
One, you’re going to overload people.
Two, you’re going to disorient people.
And three, you’re going to seriously harsh people’s mellow.
Compared to ye olden days when people printed things on paper and had their gerbil conventions in convention centers, most of our promotions are relatively short. Launch windows are a week, two weeks, a month at most. We tend to concentrate attention in a very short window of time.
So, these days, if you’re hosting an online gerbil husbandry intensive, the odds are pretty good that you’re going to send a teaser communication on the first, open registration on the eighth, close registration on the 20th, all for a start date of the 22nd.
There’s not really any room for early bird pricing. If you’re going to have early bird pricing communications and normal pricing communications, they’re all going to have to get shoved in between the eighth and the 20th. You’re going to have to open early bird, warn them that early bird is closing, no-seriously-I-mean-it-this-time warn them that it’s closing, open regular pricing, warn them that’s closing, no-seriously-I-mean-it-this-time warn them that it’s closing, and possibly reopen for some kind of last call if you’re into that sort of thing.
That’s a lot of email. That’s more email than I send, and that’s saying something.
So, yeah. You’re going to overload them.
As tragic as it is, people have more going on in their lives than counting down to your gerbil husbandry intensive. There are a lot of demands on their attention. Inboxes! DMs! Social media! The collapse of civilization! Naked people on the internet! Now more than ever, we need to be very clear and very simple in our communications.
All those communications about early bird opening and last call and regular price opening and regular price last call and wait-I-thought-that-thing-was-over-already wait-what-I’m-confused maybe I should just go watch attractive 20-somethings get high on TikTok.
Too many details to keep track of and people tend to bail. Bailing is very bad for business.
Last, and most important, the harshing of the mellow.
Pay attention to this bit. It’s important.
So, you know FOMO? Fear of missing out? That’s what sells most things with dates attached. You say, hey, I have this thing, and if you give me some money by a certain date, you can have the thing, but if you don’t give me money by a certain date, you can’t have the thing, and then you’ll be bummed.
That’s kinda how early bird pricing works. We say, “Yo, wouldn’t you like a sweet deal? If you get off your ass in a timely manner, you can have one!” Those who are inclined to get off their ass do, and they get their discount.
News flash: Not many people get off their ass.
Most of us sit around like sloths, watching TikTok videos and waiting until the last possible moment.
Therefore, the majority of people will not get the early bird pricing. We wait until the last minute like the sloths we are.
So here’s me, slothing away, and I see your offer for early bird pricing. I let it pass, because sloth.
SIXTEEN HOURS LATER I get an email saying, “Yo, do you want the thing for this new, crappier price?” And I remember that I could have had it at a discount but I didn’t do it because I’m a sloth.
How do I feel? Like a moron. Now I don’t have FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out. I have SIAMOMAWGUAC, which is Shit, I Already Missed Out, May As Well Give Up And Cry.
Do I buy a now seemingly overpriced ticket to your gerbil husbandry intensive? No, I do not, because I hate myself, and I also hate you, which is illogical, but there you go.
It is for these three reasons that you probably don’t want to run early bird pricing. It overwhelms people. It disorients people. And it gives them SIAMOMAWGUAC.
However, I promised you exceptions, and exceptions I will give you.
There are two common times people like us might want to run an early bird discount. They are as follows:
One, if there is a huge gap of time between the early bird window closing and the next time you plan to communicate about the event. So, if you’re holding your annual gerbil husbandry intensive in October, and it’s February? Sure, offer early bird pricing until the end of March. Then shut your fool mouth until May at the earliest.
If there is a MINIMUM of one month between the end of early bird and the next time you mention this thing? You have my permission to offer early bird pricing. (But don’t get your hopes up – most people are sloths. The greatest actual benefit you’ll receive is letting people know it’s coming in advance of your real promotion, so more sloths will ultimately buy in September.)
Second exception, anything involving an expensive print run. So, you’re making your gerbil tarot deck, and it’s going to cost a fortune. You figure it will be a slow burn seller later, but right now you need to pay for the print run. In this case, give early bird pricing to your fans and lovers, ideally FAR in advance of when the deck goes up for real sale. Give them extra goodies, too. They’re your 1000 true fans after all.
This concludes your gerbil-heavy lesson on early bird pricing. If your thing involves somebody else’s printer or it’s several months away, have at ‘er. Otherwise, keep it the way it is.
On our next episode of Naomi Explains Marketing, we’re going to talk about AIDA, the original and, yeah, probably best framework for the customer’s journey. I’ll see you soon.
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