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How To Turn The Word “Free” Into a Marketing Tool

How To Turn The Word “Free” Into a Marketing Tool

Common sense says, “If I give away my best material, why buy my book, online or offline service?” This type of thinking is fine for physical products and inventions, but it doesn’t help you sell your book or service, and what is the point in having the best book or service if nobody is ever exposed to it? If you are selling a book, give away your best advice in the book description section on your website because it is your strongest selling point.

If people see great advice given away for free, they will buy your book because it reassures people that their money will not be wasted. Think of it as a magician having to perform his best tricks for free before people will pay to see his show. This article explains how to use “Free” as a marketing tool.

Give Your Best Material Away For Free

“Free” is one of the world’s most overused sales words; it is abused by everybody from sofa adverts to email spammers. We all know that nothing is truly free, and people who want something for free are the easiest to scam. Yet, giving away something of great value for free is sometimes your most powerful marketing tool. Before addressing how powerful the “Free” marketing tool can be, let’s clarify what “Giving away for free” isn’t.

  • It is not giving a free sample
  • It is not a loss-leader product
  • A free trial is not the same as giving something away for free
  • No form of lending is involved in most cases
  • People do not have to earn it
  • Winning is not the same as giving something away for free
  • Giving something away for free shouldn’t involve a subscription
  • Forcing people to watch adverts is not the same as giving things away for free

The Elephant In The Room – Some Businesses Cannot Use The “Free” Marketing Tool

Larry has 300 apples. He offers to give one away as a free sample to each customer. Unless Larry’s apples taste like silverside beef to a starving dog, then people are not going to buy the rest of his stock. If you have read the work of the world-famous shyster Napoleon Hill, you may have read the story about the cookie shop owner. She thought her cookies were great but couldn’t sell any, so she stood outside her door and gave them away for free until she had built a loyal customer base.

If the cookie story were true, (it wasn’t), such a story would be useless because it relies on the cookie shop having the best cookies in town. You may have brilliant products and/or services, but are you honestly the best in your town, state or country? Using the “Free” method as a marketing tool is simply not that effective in this case.

Maybe Larry could give one free apple away for every two bought, and maybe the cookie shop could give away free cookie samples in a mall, but using the “Free” marketing tool is not going to repeatedly and consistently win new customers in these cases. The truth is that some businesses, some products, and some services simply cannot use the “Free” marketing tool to any great effect.

Forget Building Trust, Start With Playing Down Mistrust

Why do we live in a world where a magician is unable to say, “Hey, I have a great show, come and watch” and nobody will buy a ticket? Why does the magician have to show a few of his most amazing tricks before anybody will come see his show? It is all because of mistrust.

Marketing books and college courses talk about building trust in order to make a sale, but trust building is only something that established brands are able to do because they have already done the legwork and set the scene. Unless your potential customer is already a warm lead, you cannot start at building trust, you have to start by playing down mistrust.

By giving away your biggest selling point, you are dismissing most of the mistrust that people have about your marketing claims. WordPress didn’t become the worlds most popular website builder because it “Promised” a good service, WordPress gives away its core software for free.

How To Get More Dates And Attract Women

How many e-books have you seen on amazon and websites with a title similar to the header? Most people do not buy such books because they are always a disappointment. Dating books claim to have the “Secret” and they often show a few tips such as “Smarten up,” and “Be confident,” but the reader has no reason to buy. Nobody is going to spend money on a promise.

Now, consider a book that lists all of its secrets in the Amazon book description and you are truly impressed with the tips it has to offer. If the chances of you buying the other dating books on Amazon was 0.001%, would it be fair to say that the chances of you buying this book are around 0.002% or maybe 0.5%, or maybe even 35%. Perhaps you would try the tips and then buy the book if the tips worked because you wish to learn more.

Eban Pagan is a dullard and a hack, but he wrote a book on dating and he gave away his top secrets in a free book. His free book took most of the tips from his book and summarized them. His primary book was 300 words and his free book was 15 pages. He gave away tips such as “Make friends with ugly people who attract women” and “Be cocky and funny.”

Compared to most books on the market in the early 2000s, Eban’s tips made logical sense and stood up to the first waves of scrutiny. Eban sold 200,000 copies of his main book because he gave all his tips away for free in the smaller book. He said, try them before you buy my book.

Maybe 400,000 people downloaded his free book and never bought the full book. For all we know, two million people may have tried his free book without buying the larger book. Yet, Eban leveraged the “Free” marketing tool to ensure his book sold more copies than any dating book in the USA and UK combined.

Sidenote – don’t bother trying to find his book because he turned it into a very expensive video seminar package, and eventually closed the whole thing down after he got married.

The Online Social Environment And Its Members

Some products and some services may enjoy an additional benefit from giving their services/products away for free. Some services/products may enjoy a healthy amount of publicity because of their “Free” marketing strategy.

If you have ever been strapped for cash and received a free service, you are likely to recommend that service to others. For example, after watching Eban Pagan’s business seminars, I can say with full confidence that he has the intellect of a can of Tuna, but I read his free book, so he gets a mention here. When I couldn’t afford programming lessons as a teen, I got them free from, and they get a mention here too. People who contribute to websites, such as myself, and people who post reviews online will never be shy to recommend a company that gave them something of value for free.

Google, Facebook, And A Plumber Named Joe

Think of all the things that Google gives away for free, from access to their sophisticated search engine, to translation services, mathematics tools, analytic tools, web services, maps, directions tools, and much more. Yet, this company is worth billions. It makes its money from advertising, yet never forces people to watch adverts.

For example, if you want to use Google Translate, you do not have to watch an advert first like you do when you watch a Daily Motion video. Facebook uses a similar method to Google; Facebook makes hundreds of millions from adverts while giving its core product away for free.

A plumber named Joe was laughed at because every time he fixed a blocked toilet or sink, he gave away a pump plunger with his company name, address, website and phone number on. It was a pump plunger that works like an overpowered bicycle pump where the blockage is forced down the pipe. He was laughed at by his peers because there is good money to be made from unblocking pipes and he was giving his customers the means to do it by themselves.

Joe the plumber’s target consumers were people who were likely to repeatedly block their drainage pipes, and every time they had a blockage, they used his free pipe-unblocking plunger and were exposed his advertising. Who do you think those consumers called when they needed fixtures replacing, leaking pipes fixed or showers installed? Plus, Joe had that give-receive dynamic going (aka. the law of reciprocation) where people feel obliged to return a favor because they received something of value for free.

Use “Free” as a Marketing Tool And Not as a Trickery Device

Think of “Free” as a marketing tool and not as a way to make money. Factor the money you will spend into your marketing budget so that you have a clear separation of what “Free” really is.

It is important that you view “Free” in the correct terms because some people try to use the “Free” method it as a trickery device, which poisons the process and invariably leads to a negative backlash.

Good Usage Example – Bob’s Garage offers to do all car puncture repairs for free. After each repair, the customer is happy, and the customer also receives a voucher for 20% off his or her next servicing, repair, etc.

Bad Usage Example – Dave’s Garage offers to do all car puncture repairs for free. Dave searches out slight imperfections in the tire and says, “Sorry, we cannot legally puncture repair a car with unsafe tires” and then pressure sells new tires to the customer. If a customer tries to replace just one tire, the customer is told that having just one tire replaced will pull the car’s tracking/balancing out of joint, and then goes on to pressure sell for another replacement tire on the other side.

Good Usage Example – WordPress is the most popular content management system in the world with one out of every six websites being built using WordPress, yet few people realize that WordPress is a free program. WordPress gives you all you need, and if you want extras such as a shopping checkout or SEO (Search Engine Optimization) checker, then you may buy their add-ons or extensions, (Mozilla and Chrome have a similar business model).

Bad Usage Example – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax are credit bureaus. They offer a “Free” 30 day trial. Almost every advert for their services claim they offer a free credit report. However, you have to subscribe if you want your “Free” report. If you do not unsubscribe within 18 days, then your free 30 day subscription will roll over into a fully paid subscription and the credit card/ bank card you signed up with will be charged. Want to unsubscribe? Simply call their phone number between 8am and 3pm, and wait on hold for 50 minutes. Then, wait nervously to find out if they actually canceled your subscription or find out if you have to call again.

Blurring The Lines

Some people say that giving your best stuff away for free is a good idea because customers will say, “If [company] is giving THIS away for free, then [company] must have something even better in the paid version.” Even though such a sentiment is not fully incorrect, it blurs the line in terms of your motives.

Your motive is to use the “Free” marketing tool to turn cold leads into warm leads, and to help dismiss mistrust. In addition, it may help build a customer-business relationship, and may lead people towards the start of your sales funnel. Your motive is not to get people’s hopes up or to make yourself appear better than you are.

One could argue that by giving your best stuff away, you are proving you have value, but that is not really the point, the point is to dismiss any mistrust your potential customer may have. Think of it as you proving your gold bars are not hollow.

Only Give Things Away That Are Of Value

Your biggest selling point, your best feature, your silver bullet, should be the thing you give away for free. Do you know how much it costs YouTube to host millions of people’s videos for free, and how much it costs allow millions of people to stream those videos without a drop in streaming quality? Do you think YouTube would be as popular if it could only host steady streams in 360p?

People may go onto Steam and play over 100 free games, and even if some of them make their money from in-app purchases, the fact is that Steam allows these freebies because free games warm users up to the idea of paying for alternative games. Do you think Steam’s freebie policy would have pulled in as many sign-ups and paying customers if all its free games were “ET (1982)” video game quality?

Estate agents who give away free key rings, printing companies that give away free pencils, PC repair shops that give away free mouse mats, they are all wasting their money. Nobody keeps their “Burnie’s PC repair” mouse mat, and nobody is walking around with their branded estate agency keyring. These types of cheap gifts may impress children at a party, but grown consumers throw these types of free gift in the bin.

Offer to allow me to watch the movie in 360p, and then sell me the 1080p or 2160p (I have a 4K TV) version. Give me a year free of your antivirus program and ask me in 12 months if I would like buy the full version. Give me 0% interest on balance transfers for 23 months, and then ask me if I would like to keep my card and/or upgrade to the paid platinum card. Offer your program for free like Blender does or Unity does, and once I have fallen in love with it, then sell me advanced tutorials, add-ons, extensions, and extras.

About The Author

Ash The Great

After a varied career in different industries from the hospitality industry to the financial consultancy industry, Ash now spends his days working as a professional writer.

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