by Tony Vidler
The problem with “FREE” is nobody believes that whatever you are offering is actually free.
It might be free in terms of there being no invoice or obvious price tag, but that doesn’t mean it is “free” does it?
Consumers today are alert, have a world of information in their pocket and can compare and figure out the hidden costs pretty easily. They are largely cynical and distrusting of overt sales tactics. They know that when we say something is free, the reality is we expect to make money somewhere else in the process. Why else would a business offer something for free?
Many professionals still use “free” fairly freely in their marketing though: FREE initial consultation….FREE report….FREE advice….and for some odd reason find that they don’t attract their ideal clients. They do attract some prospects and turn them into clients, however they set themselves up for an ongoing business relationship where price is a battleground.
Objective professional advice comes at a cost. Impartiality especially comes at a cost as it means avoiding the hidden incentives, or “soft dollars”, and avoiding or transparently revealing any potentially conflicted remuneration sources. Impartial advice is never free….and impartial advice is pretty much all discerning consumers want initially. So offering that for “free” actually creates distrust on the consumers part. They know someone has to be paying for it, and that someone is either an unseen entity in the background (so what is really being provided here?), or it is themselves paying for it in a way that is being withheld from them.
So nobody out there in the world who is likely to be a good advice client actually believes that your advice can be impartial AND free. It is one or the other perhaps, but certainly not both.
Why don’t we just tell it as it is?
That initial consultation, or the useful report provided with our compliments, is delivered at our cost. We are running a business and the business certainly wants and needs to make a profit for its owners. Everyone expects that, so why hide it? In fact, be business-like about it and let prospective customers know that a significant part of our marketing budget is delivering time and resources directly to potential customers in the form of no obligation initial meetings or resources so they can “try before they buy”. We do it because it directs the marketing budget to those who are truly interested, rather than wasting it on (say) radio or print advertising to thousands of disinterested consumers.
We deliver the “try before you buy” experiences at our cost, as part of our marketing expense, to those most likely to benefit from the expertise we can provide and who are more likely then to provide a return for the business. It just makes good commercial sense for everyone involved.
Position your expertise and offer appropriately, and remove one of the big barriers to engagement by eliminating the unasked questions in discerning consumers minds. What we do is not free, it is just something that we are willing to do sometimes and in fairly small doses at our own expense in order to give people a chance to decide on whether it is right for them.
Why not tell your target market that?