Sunday, September 13, 2009

Giving it Away For Free

Marketers have long known the strategy of giving something away for free to entice consumers to buy the product. Free trials are a great way to introduce a new product and gain exposure. But this strategy can backfire when you attach "strings." If your product is something consumers will find of value, giving it away for free will only entice people to come back for more while building positive  brand awareness.

But if you have to hook people in with a free giveaway facade and then turn a bait-and-switch tactic on them asking them to pay for their "free" product you are not building an affinity for your brand, just putting a bad taste in your consumers' mouths.

I am still trying to get rid of that bad taste from encounters with two brands this month. First, in a HARO post from Peter Shankman he announced that fitness "expert" Dustin Maher was giving away a free fitness CD to HARO subscribers. Trying to get rid of my pregnancy pounds and find a program that works, I clicked the link only to find that my "free" CD would cost me nearly $10 in shipping and handling fees and I would be automatically joined in a monthly DVD club that costs $39.95 per month. Gimme a Break! First of all in this digital age all he needed to do was offer a video download and incur no shipping and handling costs. Secondly, the USPS has a media mailer option that only costs $2.38 to ship a CD. Secondly, I have never heard of this guy so before I sign up for some monthly club I'd want some proof that he knows what he is talking about. So he had wasted my time with his false offer of a free CD and left a bad taste in my mouth about his business practices.

Next, I heard a radio ad for a free two week sample of some diet shakes from Right Size Smoothies. Again, when I called to see about the "free" offer I was told I needed to pay $18.95 in shipping and handling fees and if after the first week I decided I wanted to keep the cans, I would pay $100! If not, I simply ship the rest back at my expense. These shakes are supposed to curb hunger, but doesn't SlimFast make the same claim at about $5/week? When I told the sales person I was unsure, his response was even more offensive and brand damaging. He actually said "So I see you are not prepared to really make a change in your life and lose your unwanted weight. When you think you are able to commit to getting healthy, give us a call." You condescending little snit! I am not going to pay you $100 every two weeks for some worthless shakes, but that has nothing to do with how dedicated I am to being healthy.

Obviously, these snake oil salesmen know they need a gimmick. So if you use the free sample strategy in your marketing plans make sure what you are selling has value and then really give it away free. Seth Godin, author of  Ideavirus  distributed the first part of his manifesto as a free eBook with the permission to post, e-mail, print and pass it along at will. The book's success can confirm if you give it away and it is something people want, they will come back for more.