Fearing the “F” Word

by Jeremy Powers on July 26, 2010

In the past week I have read at least 5 blog posts or articles about “the ‘f’ word.”  The writers of these articles are playing games with “f” word references to draw the reader’s attention to the impact of promotions including free products.  Get it?  The “f word” equals free!  Cute.

There are many legitimate uses for giving information or products away.  For example, you read my blog for free, gaining insights and information that I could potentially charge for.  In exchange, I gain credibility and recognition for my thoughts.

Many business managers fear using “free” promotions.  Giving away products, services, or information, however, can have a positive impact on your business.  Here are a handful of promotions which are based on giving away items for free:

  1. Introductory offer – Giving away products to prospective new customers is one of the most common uses of “free.”  This is very common online, where information marketers give free e-books and other information to draw potential paying customers to their sites.
  2. Data collection – This is the Random House model, but it can work well for regional companies.  Prospects trade information for freebies.  You gain valuable contact and demographic information, along with the right to market to them in the future, in exchange for a promotional product.  Small service companies can quickly gain valuable information about their existing and prospective customers for no more than the cost of a few hundred coffee mugs. 
  3. Branding – Almost every company tries to get their name out into the marketplace by having their logo stamped on pens, shirts, and cups.  This is usually not effective, but properly executed, it can be very impactful.  The key is to understand who influences your customers, and then get your brand in the hands of those influencers.  (Giving your mother-in-law a coffee cup with your logo on it probably will not help your business, but . . .)
  4. Friends and Family – Especially for young companies, keeping your friends and family informed of what you do and what your company is called is important.  These folks are already champions of you, so you should empower them to talk with others about your business.  Let them proudly showcase your company with branded gear.  A biased but passionate endorsement can be effective.
  5. Information – You spend tremendous cash and energy to generate sales leads.  Once a prospect is interested in your service, always be ready with free information.  I am not talking about straight brochures and sales copy.  Educate your clients.  If you are in the business of cutting lawns, impress the prospect with how much you know about lawns.  Let your knowledge and service, not your pricing, differentiate you.  Unless you sell knowledge as a consultant, give it away early.

The key to free promotions is to ask why.  What is your primary objective for giving away this information, service, product, or gift?  If you have a legitimate answer, and the objective is worth the cost, there is nothing wrong with freebies.

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