Upping the Price of Free

Free as a marketing strategy has been around for some time.

As Dan Ariely states in the wonderful book, Predictably Irrational – “It’s no secret that getting something free feels very good. Zero is not just another price, it turns out. Zero is an emotional hot button – a source of irrational excitement.”

The Internet has taken this idea of giving it away to new heights. Free reports, free seminars, and free trials are everywhere you look. In fact, free services, with no apparent way to monetize them, have become a common Internet business model. (See Chris Anderson’s Wall Street Journal Article: The Economics of Giving It Away)

But, with the glut of so much free, albeit sometime suspect, information out there, how does a small business take advantage of the allure of free? As consumers and business owners look to maximize their spending during this economic downturn, free offerings are worth more than they used to be. More folks are turning to free services and information to replace things that they need and perhaps once paid for. In my opinion, this desire to replace things they use and need with free alternatives, creates a marketing opportunity, ups the value of free, and changes the dynamic of worth.

As such, smart marketers should be taking advantage of this shift by both increasing the value of what they give away and increasing what the recipient is asked to exchange to receive free.

Free, even online, is rarely free. Free is often an exchange of name and email and perhaps an agreement to receive future marketing offers in order to get something without monetary payment.

So, right now, marketers should be exploring ways to take advantage of the new demand for free by perhaps offering that same valuable webinar at no cost, but holding the audio archive in reserve for those who bring a friend to the party. If the information is valuable enough, and it must be, then subtly shifting free to something one earns is a powerful way to make it a stronger marketing play. (Key caveat: Free in this case doesn’t mean crappy, free must be as good as what others are charging for.)

There are some that will actually place a higher value on free information if they have to work a bit to get it. The totally free, no strings, no exclusivity, no nothing appeal has, well, lost it’s appeal under the flood of junk that comes by way of this offer. People will automatically place a higher value on something they earned, gained in an exclusive manner or paid for outright than something that all comers can take. Think about it, how many free webinars have you’ve signed up for, never attended, and never bothered to listen to the free audio.

I know this goes a bit against the trend of the frictionless, no barriers Internet world, but let’s face it, people are starting wonder if all that free stuff is even worth firing up the browser for. Free fatigue is setting in and the desire to get what you pay for is starting to bubble up in corners online.

Bill Doerr of Sell More Marketing shared a brilliant strategy for raising the price of free. He promoted a seminar filled with very valuable information, the kind that people pay hundreds for, at the low cost of $99. When attendees arrived, they were greeted with a crisp $100 bill at their seats. The $99 assured attendees were motivated to get and use the information being presented and the $100 give back, making the session more than free, so exceeded attendee’s expectations they were motivated to buy and refer others out of sheer delight.

Free products, free trials, free education based information products must be part of your overall product/service mix but up the value and reposition free as something to be earned, something with exclusive rewards for playing and something that can build trust as part of your overall marketing strategy.


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