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FREE Doesn't Have To Suck

Don’t do it they said. You’ll damage the brand and reduce its value. People don’t trust free products. The list of reasons why you shouldn’t launch a free product is long. The scariest of course is “how will your company survive?”

But let’s imagine you answered the survival question and genuinely felt that your product could positively impact the world. The only thing between a noticeable change in the lives of your customers owners and your product was letting them know you existed. It’s no small task, but it’s the biggest question in many entrepreneurs’ minds. How do I get my product in more hands? In many cases, the answer is to give it to the people who can benefit the most.

There is psychology associated with the consumer’s interpretation of the word free. For instance, some may say: If it’s free, it can't be anything great. If it’s free, they are just trying to sell me something else. There’s always a catch. After years of seeing this scenario play out, we’re naturally skeptical of anyone wanting to give us something for free. The biggest obstacle you face when making the decision to give the public something free is establishing trust with the consumer. But people love free. They are attracted to it. For some it’s just curiosity. For others it’s a hope that this free offering solves a problem or acts as a small windfall. Others are merely happy if they get more then they expect out of the effort they put into getting the free product. The fewer the hoops, the lower the expectation. It’s this scenario that offers a company the greatest potential for success.

In my opinion, the word free should also be coupled with the word instant. We love to be rewarded for our effort. This instant gratification serves as the reward for our “trust in your free” offering. When I give you my email address, I should get something in return. The better the “something” is, the more likely I will be to continue giving you more information or be interested in other “paid” offerings. The company’s hope is that you will trust them enough to listen to other offers. Or even better, tell your friends about the delightful treasure you found hidden in the free pile.

A company’s value proposition is defined as the difference between your products perceived benefit and its perceived cost. The greater the benefit relative to the cost, the more value you’re offering your customers. In most cases, free has a low perception of adding a high degree of value in your daily life. So, the opportunity exists to really ‘WOW” a customer by providing them with a huge amount of value for a relatively low cost. It is the classic under-promise, over-deliver scenario.

It’s this concept that makes your value proposition so compelling. Consumers of your free product are surprised by the amount of functionality, education, or applicability they get. Surprise is good. Especially when the cost is a little as a social media like or share, or even an email address. Social media platforms almost always deliver a spike in engagement, brand recognition, or qualified leads during a campaign. Those users who weren’t familiar with your brand can now engage with your company and begin to build loyalty for your company. Heck, they might even become evangelists if you truly deliver value. Trust is built by the minute in the social media world of FREE. Your goal is to continue to deliver with consistent free and paid offerings.

It’s true that some free products fail to deliver value and are easily disregarded. The key to success is to remember the formula for value proposition. The benefit the receiver enjoys should impact his daily life in a positive way. The goal of free distribution is to build your brand and establish trust and credibility in the market. Money can only be attracted, not pursued. Most believe a decision to move to a free product will have long term financial effects for everyone involved, especially their customers. The key to offering a free product is to keep a potential customers interest. You got their attention, now it’s time to compete for wallet share.

This is where many companies lose my attention. They do a great job getting my attention and provide me with an interesting free offer that I’m curious about. But then they overwhelm me with marketing collateral, or they make an offer for a product outside my interest. If I download a cash flow forecasting spreadsheet, I’m probably interested in that subject. Your next offer should be something that answers a question in the same topic area, not necessarily jump me to small business loans. The best follow-up offers are the ones that answer a question I might have about your free offering. For instance, I download a spreadsheet for cash flow forecasting, and you offer me a way to connect my various software systems to the data entry of the spreadsheet. You gave me a way to do it myself, but then offered me a paid way to avoid the pain of doing it myself. I love those types of offers.

The core notion of giving your product away is to change the world customers live in. You are uniquely positioned to help, and the best way is to share the tools and knowledge you have. Giving away your product will be great because you can add considerable help customers who aren’t aware of your offering and win their hearts and dollars. Just be sure to deliver the value they never expected from a free product.

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