Free is Never Free

Free is a popular piece of many different business models these days. If I gave you 60 seconds to name as many brands that use “Free” as a part of their marketing, you could probably get a pretty sizable list going.

From freemium models - which offer a free version and a paid version of a product, to services that are completely free with money made on advertising, to free apps with in-app purchases, “free” dominates the marketplace. We offer free shipping, free trials, buy one get one free.

Dan Areily argues that “free” makes people act irrationally. And he’s right. Free shipping offers that save consumers $20 regularly outperform discounts of greater value.

But businesses must consider the hidden cost of “free”. Because in most cases, it really isn’t free.

If I am a free Spotify user, I have to live with the absence of certain features and the intrusiveness of ads. If I sign up for a free trial, I have to remember to cancel before my credit card is automatically charged when the trial concludes. If I sign up for free information, I have to give up my email address and submit to unwanted promotions.

Free is never truly free. There is a price we pay, as consumers, for everything we get from companies.

And so, as marketers, we must reassess our value proposition. How does our version of “free” impact our customers’ lives?

Is Your Business a Scam?

You know the answer to that question is “No”. At least I hope you do.

But your customers don’t know that. And if this is the first time someone is considering buying something from you, they are asking themselves that question before making that decision.

Acknowledging the fact that they are asking that question is the first step to helping them answer it. Too often we are so locked into our own perspective of the companies we manage or market, that we refuse to see things from the customer’s perspective.

So how do you help them answer that question?

  1. Social Proof – yesterday’s post on social proof explains how companies can use the actions of others to influence prospective customers. If others are doing it and enjoying it, it must not be a scam.
     
  2. Third Party Trust – the Better Business Bureau is a great example of a third party organization that can let people know you are a legitimate business.
     
  3. Press – getting positive media coverage is a great way to tell people that you are who you say you are.
     
  4. Free Trials – get rid of the fear entirely by letting them “try before they buy”.

Everyone in the world knows what it feels like to get ripped off. And if they have never bought from your company before, they worry that you just might rip them off. The 4 solutions above are just a few of the ways that you can help them overcome that fear, leading to more sales.

Free Marketing Ideas Part 17 – Free Advertising Offers

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Welcome to the latest edition of my new weekly blog series, “Free Marketing Ideas”. Each week I will identify and explain a simple marketing idea that you can employ at low or no cost. Last week’s topic was Groupon and Living Social.

This Week’s Topic = Free Advertising Offers

You are a potential advertiser. If you’re not already spending money on paid advertising, that is how the companies that profit off of paid advertising see you.

And because they see you as a potential advertiser, aka customer of theirs, they will make an effort to win your business. Companies like Facebook, Google, Bing, and others want you to spend money advertising through their medium, and they will entice you with free trials. So take advantage of them.

Google and Facebook frequently make these free trial offers, by giving you what amounts to free money to spend. They want you to spend this money, find that it creates new customers for you, and then continue to spend your own money with success. And they know that if the money you spend does not produce any returns, you will likely not spend money with them. So they’re willing to help you make the advertising work.

Take advantage of this opportunity by signing up for their services. Create an account, but don’t necessarily start spending right away. They may contact you, but if they don’t you should not hesitate to contact them first. Let them know you are interested in testing out their advertising platforms, but that you are not completely sure it will work for you. You can even go so far as to ask for help and a free trial. Big companies like these won’t hesitate to work with you, because they are chock full of resources and eager to win your business.

But it’s not only the big companies that have these kinds of offers. You just have to keep your eyes open. Chances are, if there is an advertising opportunity that interests you, you can test it at a discount, if not for free.

Share your thoughts on this idea, and other free marketing ideas in the comments section below and keep the conversation going!

Free Marketing Ideas Part 12 – Offer Free Trials

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Welcome to the latest edition of my new weekly blog series, “Free Marketing Ideas”. Each week I will identify and explain a simple marketing idea that you can employ at low or no cost. Last week’s topic was Keywords and Copy.

This Week’s Topic = Offer Free Trials

When selling a product or service, the most important thing you must do is alleviate people of their fears. Consumers are afraid of spending money, of getting ripped off or tricked, of not getting their needs met. And marketing is all about getting over those fears.

Few things can work better to alleviate the fears of your consumers than a free trial. Now depending on what you offer, a free trial may cost you a little bit of money, but the payoff is worth it.

When you can offer the ability for your customers to try you out for free, they don’t have to worry about getting ripped off. They can actual use your product, see how it meets their needs, and then make a more informed decision.

Of course the key is that you need a product that will actually work for people the way they need it to. A free trial won’t work if people use it and realize it is worthless.

When you launch your free trial, you can make the announcement on your social media pages you have set up. You can reach out to the people on your press list. And you can promote it heavily to your email database that you’ve set up.

And the secret to any successful free trial offer is the sale at the end of the free trial period. Maybe you have a free offering with limited features and you want people to upgrade to the paid version, like a Pandora or Spotify. Maybe you offer the full product for free for a limited time and then start charging, like a Netflix. Or maybe you offer a limited quantity of items of items with an opportunity to buy more, like the free samples in the supermarket.

Whatever your plan is, you need to encourage the sale. Continue to market to your free trial customers in order to make sure their experience is strong, and make it easy for them to take the next step and become a paying customer. You’ve already gotten their attention, now all that’s left is to close the deal.

Share your thoughts on this idea, and other free marketing ideas in the comments section below and keep the conversation going!

Steal This #7 – Movie Trailers

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Welcome to the latest edition of my new weekly blog series, Steal This. Each week I’ll highlight a marketing activity that a company is using and suggest ways that you can model it and make it work for you. Last week’s topic was – Quiznos Lunchtime Email.

Today’s topic is: Movie Trailers

Movie trailers are a unique form of marketing for one specific industry. It’s essentially a sneak preview, where potential customers get to see small pieces of a movie and decide whether or not they think they’d like to see it.

They showcase the characters, important scenes, and key plot lines, without giving it away. It’s a “wet your whistle” type of advertising that is meant to leave you wanting more.

So how can you steal it?

You may not be in the movie business, but you have something that you want people to want. So make your own movie trailer for your product or service.

Figure out how to let people get a sneak preview of your offering. For some companies, this may mean free samples. For others, it might mean a limited access to certain goods or services that expires after a certain amount of time. It could even just be a video showcasing real customers using the product and talking about it.

Anything that let’s potential customers “experience” your offering before they buy it, to get their attention and boost their interest in what you’re selling.

As always, tell me what you think of this week’s idea and suggest other marketing programs to “Steal” in the comments below.