We know that the word FREE is one of the most attractive words we can use in marketing, but consumers are rightly wary of the word because we're told that there's no such thing as a free lunch. Are you really giving me something free just to get my attention, or am I going to pay for it somehow in the end? Is there a trap?
Free can be used in positive and negative ways. There's always a catch, but many times this isn't a problem. A catch can mean "I got you into my store to look around." And that's all there is to it. On the other hand, the catch can be a terrible trap. For instance, if I get a free sample but I have to give you my credit card number for shipping and then I'm stuck on a monthly program that's almost impossible to cancel ... well that's a really nasty form of "free" that isn't free at all.
If you offer a free eye exam but I'm obligated to buy overpriced glasses or contacts, then the cost of the eye exam was built in and then some.
If you offer me a free vacation but then hound me about a time share ... well, you get the point.
What are some of the positive uses of "FREE"?
The nice thing is that, living in the internet age, we've discovered that digital "stuff" -- which can be highly valuable as information or software -- costs a business nearly nothing once it's developed. So they really can offer us something for free, without any trap, simply to get our attention. The catch is just to have us learn more about them or actively use their business at no cost (building a relationship) with the potential for upgrades down the road.
Free reports are one example. Free online courses. Free e-mail. Free video calls. Just to name a few.
Sometimes free can be a worthwhile "give and take" as well. I'll give you something for free if you'll do a little something for me as well. This might take the form of bartering. Or you see how VistaPrint has become a billion dollar printing company by offering "FREE BUSINESS CARDS" that are one-sided only, because on the back side of the card is small promo for VistaPrint. In other words, you get free cards (you pay for shipping) in exchange for promoting them.
[Interestingly, their free business cards are NOT made through offset printing, but through digital printing. So they're very low quality, and I would never recommend them for a business. And VistaPrint uses these low-quality cards to promote itself. Not the best way to build an image, but there you go.]
In a similar but I like to think more progressive fashion, I've started offering free business card design. One-sided, just like VistaPrint. The back side is also reserved for a small promo, but here's the difference: the promo actually builds a second stream of income for my business card client.
How it works: they get their card designed and use it as usual. Then they get it printed by ViralPrint (wholesale design and printing) which they've joined through me, and I include their ViralPrint referral code on the back of the card. Anyone they give their card to who wants low-cost design and printing uses their code to join. Now my business card client is making money every time that person prints something. So do I, so it's a win-win scenario, and it allows me to offer this professional service at no cost to them.
How could you use FREE in your business without a trap? Are you using free already? If so, does it help or hurt your business? It's one thing to attract people. It's another to lose your shirt by doing so.