Thursday, 29 November 2012

"Free" Rein to Lose Customers

I recently met a marketer who had a bit of a quandary. Despite the fact that she had a great product (solar energy panels), that were efficient, reliable and would save her clients a load of cash over their significant lifetime, she couldn’t give them away.

And that was her problem – she was trying to give them away for free.

Now we all know that there is no such thing as free. Someone, somewhere along the line is paying and whether that cost is absorbed by a marketing department in the hope of a paid upgrade later, or in the case of the marketer in question, covered by government subsidiaries and payments derived from excess energy returned to the grid, free is not a great way of demonstrating a products value.

Her greatest problem stemmed from the fact that she was relying completely on the word “Free” to market her product and presenting very little insight into the actual product and the benefits it offered her potential customers.

Her marketing collateral screamed “FREE” louder than anything else. At tradeshows, potential customers would take one look at their booth and quicken their pace as they walked by. Her email marketing appeared Spammy, resulting in complaints, lost subscribers and incredibly low engagement. It might sound crazy, but the word “Free” was actually driving prospects away.

The fact is people don’t believe in free. It makes them suspicious and question what it is they are really buying.

A much better hook would be to list the countless other benefits available from the products, engage a prospect in conversation and then (and only then) hit them with killer proposition: If you like what you see you’ll be interested to learn that government funding is available and it may be possible to install and maintain our products at no cost. Who could ignore an offer like this?

There are several lessons a marketer can learn from this example.

If you are offering free products or services in an attempt to engage prospects you might want to re-think the positioning of your offer and how it reflects on your brand. For example:

  • Marketers who run free seminars are often disappointed with attendance levels. In such cases it might make more sense to charge for the event. This might result in fewer registrations but will ensure people who commit to attend actually turn up and remain engaged.

  • Webinars and white papers are just as efficient without the word free cheapening your investment into their creation.

  • So called Freemium products (beloved by the software industry) only have value if they covert to paid users in significant numbers. Time limited trials backed by continuous and persuasive marketing might result in fewer downloads or subscription but will potentially offer more bang for your buck as they are tested by more serious clients looking for a paid solution.

Is free working for you or is it turning potential customers off? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


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