In Will new app Rook be a useful pawn in the publishing game? Anna Baddeley says this.
Experiencing something for nothing, or next to nothing, can be the start of a fruitful relationship between consumer and producer.
Yes, it can. Sometimes. But in my experience, “free” is a dangerous thing that can easily misfire. “Free” can be a useful part of your marketing strategy, but you have to be careful with it. It can go wrong in many ways. Here are five.
1. It’s free because it has no value
Remember when a cup of coffee was 50 cents? Then Starbucks decided that coffee should be $1.50, and people said, “Gee, okay. I guess it must be better then.”
Now we’re paying more for coffee everywhere.
Obviously there’s more to the story than that. Starbucks stores are very nice places, and a lot of people think their coffee is better. But there’s still an underlying message in the Starbucks story, which is that a large component of price is expectation.
Raise expectations, raise your price. And vice versa.
Given that, what happens when you give something away for free? Some people will think it has less value.
There are ways to make a free offer that get around that problem, but it is something you need to consider.
2. Free gets you the wrong customers
I don’t read Sports Illustrated. It doesn’t interest me. But if somebody is handing them out on the street, I’ll take one.
That’s good, right? Sports Illustrated might possibly hook me and I might subscribe. They’re reaching someone they wouldn’t otherwise have reached.
It’s at least possible that I’ll subscribe, but it’s also possible that I’ll toss it in the trash, which, aside from being a wasted copy, broadcasts “no value” to other people. And what if I post a negative review online, or make fun of the writing, or ….
I don’t mean to diss Sports Illustrated. I’m sure it’s a very good publication. The point is that it’s not a good publication for me, and there are risks in getting it into the hands of the wrong people.
3. Free offers clutter up your list with unqualified prospects
Imagine that you want to start a business selling NBA jerseys. The Sports Illustrated subscriber list might be good group for you.
Unless I’m on it.
Many publishing models rely on their ability to monetize their customer names — by renting lists, by cross- and up-selling to the people on the list, or by selling access to their customers to advertisers.
If it’s too easy to get on the list, the list loses value. Or, IOW, free offers get less qualified prospects.
4. Customers you get with free offers are less likely to be brand ambassadors
A good customer has a lot more value than the revenue you get from that customer. A good customer can give you feedback on your product or service, and can even promote your brand to friends, colleagues, or on online reviews.
An unqualified prospect who got your product for free is less likely to give you a good review.
Someone who doesn’t like tea isn’t going to buy tea, but if it’s being given away for free they might take it just to try it. Do you want that person reviewing your tea on Amazon, or telling his friends what he thought of it?
Self-published authors struggle with this issue when they consider offering their books for free on Amazon. It might be a way to introduce new people to the author’s work, or it might be a way to attract unqualified people and get bad reviews. IOW, a person who wouldn’t buy a book in a particular genre might download it for free, not like it and give the book a bad name.
5. Some “free” people are just cheap
Some people simply love to get things for free. It’s like a game. It’s not that they like the things, or value them. They just like to get a good deal.
These people are not interested in buying any of your products. Not only are they cluttering up your lists, but you’re wasting marketing resources to try to get them to buy.
The bottom line is that free can work for you or against you. It breaks down barriers and can get your foot in the door, but sometimes barriers are a good thing. You might even say that another word for “barrier” is “qualification.”
Free customers are not as qualified as paying customers, so they’re not as valuable to your business.