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Why do 20,000 fans want this t-shirt?

Last weekend, I took my 12-year-old daughter to a Chicago Bulls game. As we approached the stadium, I asked if she wanted me to buy her a t-shirt with the Bulls logo on it. She wasn’t interested. She is loyal to another team and she didn’t want me to spend the money on a shirt she would never wear. So we walked past the t-shirt vendors, bought some food and found our seats.

bulls-gameAbout 30 minutes into the game, her desire for a t-shirt changed. During one of the time-outs, t-shirts with the Bulls logo on the front and the name of a car brand on the back floated gently down from the rafters attached to little plastic parachutes. She didn’t want one of the expensive shirts that anyone could buy. She wanted to be one of the few people at the game who “won” a free t-shirt.

And she wasn’t the only one.

Everyone in the stadium stopped what they were doing to see if they could catch a free t-shirt. Fortunately, one parachute drifted our way. But as soon as I grabbed it a young boy sitting next to me took it out of my hands. I turned to my daughter and asked if the boy could keep the shirt. His mother encouraged him to give it back. But I figured that my daughter wouldn’t mind if we gave it to the boy. She isn’t a Bulls fan and wasn’t interested in a getting a shirt before the game. She agreed to let the boy have the shirt, but the look on her face showed her disappointment.

Winning a prize, even one that holds little monetary value, is exciting. It creates a unique experience and a feeling that you have received something that is priceless, especially if the item is something that isn’t sold in a store.

It turns out that in our society, where most basic items and even many luxury items can easily be purchased, exclusivity and uniqueness matter more now than ever before. Instead of creating another version of programs, products and services that already exist – create something unique. And make it a limited edition or available only to a select group. I’m not talking about members-only benefits. I’m talking about unique gifts, rewards or products that only a select group of members can obtain.

Sheri Jacobs, CAE is the author of The Art of Membership: How to Attract, Retain and Cement Member Loyalty (ASAE Series) published by ASAE and Jossey-Bass (January 2014).