Message & Media: Free for All
Direct response writers (and their readers) know that one of the most powerful motivators in the English language is a four-letter word. It's the word "free."
Free nudges fence-sitters by eliminating risk. It rewards the deal-seeker in each of us. And it's a tool for separating you from the competition. It's also a faster read and more engaging than words and phrases such as "complimentary," "at no charge" or "courtesy of."
Free jumps out at you whether it's in an ad headline, envelope teaser or call-to-action button on a landing page. You'll find free in fundraising copy, as well as consumer and B-to-B marketing messages. And while it earned its reputation in direct mail, today's most successful digital marketers also appreciate its power. A visit to Amazon.com confirms this.
Direct marketing author, practitioner, and DMA Hall of Famer Richard "Dick" Benson called it magical. Joan Throckmorton, one of direct marketing's all-time great copywriters, dubbed it "The Great Motivator."
Free adds value to your offer, makes comparison shoppers sit up and take notice and gets your mailing opened first.
Note: Be cautious about using free in email because of spam filters. Email expert Jessica Best at emfluence.com told me, "You're OK using 'free' in email, as long as the rest of your email isn't too spammy. For example, how many times you use free in an email and whether it's lowercase or all caps affects whether or not your email gets bumped as junk. The size of the type font used also weighs in. Best practice is to always run your email through a spam-detector and adjust accordingly."
So try these tips for using free to your advantage:
• Free Gift: I learned the power of the free gift when I wrote for Fingerhut. They offered free gifts in every mailing that went out the door. Free gifts work, especially when the gift is related to the product being sold. It may even be something you already include with your product/service, but you haven't promoted (e.g., carrying case, furnace filter, how-to video, assembly tool, etc.). It's the value to the customer, not the cost, that matters.
Even stronger than offering a free gift is offering a mystery free gift. Tapping what I learned at Fingerhut—where they tested everything—I've since added mystery free gifts to both consumer and B-to-B promotions, online and offline.
• Free Shipping: Free shipping encourages customers to buy online or by catalog rather than at your competitor's retail store. It can be used as an incentive to increase your average order size or spike faster ordering when combined with a deadline.
• Free Sample, Free Trial, Free Demo: These freebies answer the buying objection, "I don't believe it." When you give a potential customer a risk-free experience with your product or service, it transforms doubters into believers who become buyers. I've written about free samples, free trials and free demos for everything from Asian skin care products, designer note cards and pocket-size publications to outdoor landscape lighting, HVAC services and hog sperm.
• Free Whitepaper: The whitepaper has become the go-to lead generation offer, online and offline, for B-to-B marketers. Publishing whitepapers on important topics positions you and your company as being experts in your field. Offering them for free creates goodwill and generates qualified leads for later follow up.
• Free Kit: Notice I didn't say free information. A free kit has higher perceived value than free information, even though what's delivered is identical. In the September 2012 edition of this column, "The Kit Factor" (bit.ly/KR2t6p), I wrote about "How to Select the Right Fume Hood Kits" for lab directors, "Getting Started Kits" for insurance prospects and "Welcome Kits" for new customers.
• Free Quote, Free Needs Analysis: These are risk-free door-openers for products and services that normally require a multiple step sales process to close. This includes insurance, business software solutions, commercial real estate, even lawn care. Google TrueGreen Lawn Care and you'll see they offer a free customized lawn care analysis.
• Free Upgrade: OK, so you never had any intention of charging for upgrades. When you tell customers you're giving them a free upgrade, you become a hero and have customers for life.
• Buy One, Get One Free: In a University of Missouri-Kansas City direct marketing class taught by legendary Bob Stone, I learned a lesson I will never forget. It reinforces the power of using the right combination of words. Bob told us about an A/B split test of two offer statements—"buy one, get one free" and "buy two for the price of one." While they mean the same thing and have the same dollar value, the one with the word free in it is normally the big winner.
• Free Preview: When you give it a name (e.g., preview), say it's free, and give it a dollar value, you capture attention. I've seen this work for newly launched magazines, collectible continuity programs, car sales, even ticket subscriptions for arts groups.
More "free" tips to try in your marketing materials:
• Whenever appropriate, give your free offer a retail price or dollar value (e.g., free shipping, regularly $10.95).
• Build perceived value by being a specific as possible (e.g., Your free kit includes a comparison checklist of the top of four manufacturers, plus 10 safety stickers for your equipment.)
• Use the words no obligation with the word free whenever it's accurate.
• Use the word on every component in your mailing (you never know which will be seen first) and when appropriate, on every page of your website.
• Test, test, test. Do an A/B split test offering a free quote vs. a quote, a free demonstration vs. no demo, a free gift vs. a mystery free gift, a free whitepaper against a free needs analysis. Then let me know what you learn.