A lot of people ask me about the marketing effectiveness of free offers. So today, I have a few ideas and a story to share, to help you make better use of them.
There’s a famous saying, which assures us that when it comes to business, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”.
We’ve been trained to believe that a free offer is seldom really free. That’s because there’s almost always a hidden cost attached.
Why should this matter to you? Allow me to explain.
Marketing with free offers: Scepticism
It matters because your prospective clients are looking for the hidden cost, whenever they see a free offer. And if they find it, they’re primed to wonder what else the provider could be concealing from them.
I was thinking of this yesterday, when I visited a new coffee shop. They had signs everywhere, offering free WiFi to customers. The guy next to me called one of the staff over. He explained that he wasn’t able to access their free WiFi. The owner explained that in order to access it, he would need to set up a free account, giving his name, email address and postal address.
The customer replied, “No way! I thought you said it was free? I already get more than enough spam”.
An awkward conversation followed, with the owner trying to defend her position and the customer saying her free WiFi offer was deliberately misleading. And of course, all this happened in front of the other customers.
That negative exchange will have totally changed the customer’s experience. It will also have changed the story he tells, when he shares his experience with his friends. Instead of his story being about great coffee, friendly service and a relaxing atmosphere, it will be about the argument and how the coffee shop misled him.
The impact of a fake free offer will vary from person to person and from situation to situation. But it will be there. And you need to be aware of it, if you refer to mutual exchanges as free offers.
Free offers and full disclosure
There is a way to partly mitigate the negative impact of the kind of free offer used by the coffee shop. It’s all about providing full disclosure. If you want people to take some kind of action in return for the free offer, make it clear. If you ask for contact details, let people know why – right there, in the same space where you offer the free service.
People respond way, way better, when you’re being open and honest with them. For example, if you ask for their details, tell them what you intend to do with that information. If you don’t plan to sell it on or send them ads from 3rd parties, tell them. Tell them that you respect their privacy.
When free offers are genuinely free
There’s another kind of free offer. One that’s all about building a positive, compelling narrative, for your clients or customers to share with their friends.
If you make a genuinely free offer, with no strings attached, nothing concealed, it creates a hugely positive impression. It also sets you apart from the masses. People will look for the usual, concealed exchange, but it won’t be there. They’ll quickly see that you’re being totally honest with them.
It will instantly improve how they feel about you, your business and the services you provide.
It will help you earn their trust.
And it will directly, dramatically improve the story they tell their friends.
As a business owner, you need to decide what you want to achieve from your free offers. If you’re seeking to earn trust, generate powerful word of mouth referrals and increase your profits, it’s worth seriously considering a genuinely free approach to free offers. Or at least, consider providing people with full disclosure.
Important: Here’s why you should never offer your time for free – Stop offering freebies. Seriously. Stop it!