Most of us have a love affair with “free.” Often, it seems, “free” is seen as a good thing, something desirable and to be cherished.
If we don’t have to use our limited resources (especially our cash) in order to obtain our desire, so much the better. “Free” samples, giveaways, trials, coupons, and offers get us all excited.
Certainly “free” is good in many circumstances and situations. But I have found that “free” things often carry additional unseen baggage that, in the long term, make “free” not always the best and most strategic choice.
There is nowhere that “free” is dangled in front of casual passers-by more than on the Internet.
Sometimes when you offer something “free” to your prospects, you are perceived as trying to appeal to the masses and you can become guilty of plainness and boring by association because often free products are worthless and available everywhere.
Sometimes the “free” version takes longer and is slower than the paid version – in which case you are trading time for money which is not always the most cost effective trade a business owner should make.
Sometimes “free” means you get the stripped down and nearly useless version of the tool that could otherwise save you great time and energy.
Sometimes you are offered a free report, free product, free webinar, free software or a free “how to” video in exchange for your contact information. Is this “free” offer a good thing? It might be … but there is no guarantee. Undoubtedly, the marketer making the offer is going to put you on his list and you are going to see offers and sales pitches from him that could be wanted or not. And some unscrupulous people share and/or sell their contacts’ personal information. So this seemingly “free” offer that seemed so cool in the beginning could turn out to be very costly to you in the long run.
Sometimes “free” versions carry with them the creator’s advertising and promotion and so the focus is not always on your own company (the distributor) but it goes to the product creator (which is what he planned in the first place).
Sometimes “free” is equated with “too cheap to pay for a professional business tool” and your reputation and credibility suffer.
Sometimes “free” attracts the type of prospects and customers that you would not choose as those with which you would most want to do business. “Tire kickers” is the term online marketers use for people that rarely make a purchase.
Certainly “free” content and “free” products are seen as less valuable than their paid counterparts, whether it’s actually true or not. When a customer pays money for something, even as little as a dollar, he tends to hold it in higher regard than a similar free product.
While there are many instances where “free” is acceptable, there are almost always trade-offs. The question you have to ask yourself is this: “is this free ________ (product, software, report, offer, coupon, etc) really free? Or am I going to end up paying for it in other ways (my reputation, the loyalty of my customers, my time, etc?”
Here’s just one simple example about the cost of “free.” Many of the digital phone carriers like Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobil offer free digital phones, and months of reduced account costs plus other perks if you signup with them rather than a competitor. Most often, there are “strings attached” or fine print that these companies don’t talk about much. So in addition to your free phone, you are committing to locking in two years of a service contract. Do you read what you are committing to? Most folks don’t.
You may be committing to a contract that will cost you big time dollars if you want to back out or change carriers before the contract is up. You are most likely committing to a much higher monthly billing amount than your “free” or discounted first few months of the promotional period. You may have signed up for service fee increases during your contract period. And if you go over your established limits of service (minutes, or downloads, or data usage) you may pay higher than usual rates for overages.
So even though you are getting a great deal up front, in the long run, there could be some or many downsides to the original “free” offer that seemed so good in the beginning. It seems to me that as online marketers we should understand and take seriously the cost of “free” both as a consumer online and as a business owner that sometimes implements “free” marketing methods, products, and offers. What cost is there associated with this free _______?
So it is with “free” things in all of our everyday experiences online and in the physical realm.
The old cliche “you get what you pay for” usually holds true when sizing up “free” vs. “paid” in the marketing world.
To your online business success!