Marketing isn’t just about numbers and logic; it’s about understanding human emotions and behavior. When it comes to the power of “free,” the psychological impact is profound and often surprising.
Have you ever wondered why a free sample or a complimentary gift can make you feel so good? It’s not just about it costing nothing to get. Free offers create emotional reactions that go beyond mere logical thinking. Free can also drive the feeling of indebtedness, which is an underutilized technique in online marketing.
In the world of behavioral economics, researchers have found that free products often make people value them more, not less. It’s counterintuitive, isn’t it? But studies have shown that when consumers are offered something for free, they perceive it as more valuable and are more likely to engage with the product or service.
Sense of Fulfillment
The allure of free doesn’t stop at perceived value. It taps into a deeper sense of fulfillment and happiness. When you receive something for free, it triggers a feeling of being special, of being rewarded. It’s a small joy that can brighten your day.
Let’s take a closer look at an example that illustrates this point. Described in the book Predictably Irrational, the experiment involving two pieces of chocolate , Lindt and Hershey’s, showed something fascinating. When the price of both chocolates was reduced by a cent, leaving Hershey’s for free, almost 70% of respondents switched to the free Hershey’s. The preference for the free item was clear, even though the price difference was minimal.
Strategies Using Free in Marketing
Let’s explore how the powerful tool of Free is being used in various ways to attract customers, gather reviews, and drive sales.
Free Samples in Ecommerce
Imagine browsing your favorite beauty website and finding an offer for a free sample of a new skincare product. Intriguing, isn’t it? That’s the power of free samples in ecommerce.
Free samples are more than a nice gesture; they’re a strategic move to attract new customers and gather valuable reviews. By offering a taste of the product, brands can nudge customers to try something new, something they might not have considered otherwise.
In the beauty industry, for example, free samples have become a significant driver of purchases. Just take a look at Sephora’s free samples. There are always a ton for current and new customers to try (with purchases of course!). Sephora’s customers get to experience the product firsthand, and if they like it, they’re more likely to buy the full-sized version. It’s a win-win situation that builds trust and boosts sales.
Freemium Model and Upselling
Now, let’s turn our attention to the world of online education. Have you ever signed up for a free online course only to find yourself considering the premium version later on? That’s the freemium model at work.
Offering free courses or products can lead to upselling premium versions. It’s a clever way to attract users by providing value upfront. Once users see the quality and benefits of the free version, they may be willing to invest in a more advanced or feature-rich version.
Online course platforms, for example, often offer free courses to attract users. These free courses act as a gateway, leading users to explore and eventually purchase premium content. It’s a seamless transition from free to paid, all driven by the initial value provided for free. Udemy is a good example of how an educational platform attracts new prospects with free courses and upsells to premium courses.
Free as a Tool for Customer Acquisition
Last but not least, let’s explore how free trials or products can be a powerful tool for customer acquisition. It’s a common practice for SaaS companies to offer free trials in order to attract new customers.
Why does it work? Free trials allow potential customers to experience the product without any financial commitment. They get to see how it fits their needs, how it functions, and what benefits it offers. If they like what they see, they’re more likely to become paying customers.
What is it done? The reason is to reduce the barriers to entry. By doing so, the company lowers customer acquisition costs and creates a pathway for potential customers to buy.
Successful Examples of Free Marketing
When it comes to free marketing, there are some standout examples that have not only captured the attention of consumers but have also translated into great results. Let’s explore some of these successful examples.
National Donut Day Campaign
Who doesn’t love a free donut? The National Donut Day campaign in the United States is a delicious example of free marketing done right.
Every year, participating donut shops offer free donuts to customers. The result? Crowded stores, long lines, and a buzz that goes beyond the sweet treat itself. It’s not about the free donut; it’s about the experience, the community, and the joy of indulging in something delightful without any cost.
The campaign has become a yearly tradition, drawing in both regular customers and curious newcomers. It’s a simple yet effective way to create excitement, boost foot traffic, and make a lasting impression.
Ecommerce Sampling Strategies
If you do ecommerce, you probably see a lot of free samples that other ecommerce sites offer. Free samples have become a clever way to enhance the customer experience. Brands like Nespresso have mastered the art of embedding free samples in orders.
When you shop with these brands, you often have the option to choose a free sample to go with your buy. It’s a small gesture that adds a personal touch to the online shopping experience. More than that, this tactic introduces customers to new products they might not have tried otherwise.
By offering free samples, companies like Sephora or Nespresso not only delight their customers but also promote cross-selling and encourage future purchases. It’s a win-win strategy that adds value to both the customer and the brand.
Subscription boxes have taken the concept of free samples to a whole new level. Platforms like Birchbox provide a unique way to discover and enjoy free sample-sized products.
With a subscription to Birchbox, customers receive a curated box of sample-sized beauty products every month. It’s like a monthly gift of discovery, allowing customers to try new products without committing to full-sized purchases.
This approach not only creates excitement and anticipation but also builds a loyal customer base that looks forward to their monthly box of surprises. It’s a creative way to use free samples as a core part of the business model and foster a community of engaged and satisfied customers.
Balancing Free Offers with Business Goals
The allure of “free” is undeniable, but like any powerful tool, it must be used with care and consideration. Offering something for free can be a double-edged sword. It can attract customers and create buzz, but it can also lead to unexpected challenges and costs. Let’s see how to balance free offers with business goals.
Offering something for free might seem like a simple decision, but it comes with its own set of cost considerations. It’s essential to balance the cost of free offers with the potential benefits they can bring.
For example, some online stores charge for samples but then deduct the cost later if the customer decides to buy. This approach allows customers to try the product without a full commitment, while also helping the business cover the cost of the sample.
The key here is to assess the financial implications of offering something for free. What are the costs involved? What are the potential returns? By understanding these dynamics, you can create a free offer that aligns with your marketing budget and business objectives.
Not all free offers are created equal, and sometimes, free doesn’t work. There are instances when customers may avoid free offers, either because they perceive a catch or because the offer doesn’t align with their needs or values.
Here are some guidelines to make free work effectively for your business:
- Understand Your Audience: Know what your customers value and what they might be skeptical of. Tailor your free offers to match their interests and needs.
- Be Transparent: If there are conditions attached to the free offer, make them clear upfront. Hidden terms can lead to mistrust and dissatisfaction.
- Assess the Impact: Consider how the free offer fits into your overall marketing strategy and brand image. Will it enhance your reputation or potentially dilute it?
- Monitor and Adjust: Keep an eye on how the free offer is performing. If it’s not meeting your expectations, be ready to adjust or discontinue it.
The Future of Free in Marketing
The concept of “free” in online marketing is not new, but it’s evolving in exciting and innovative ways. As businesses continue to explore the potential of free offers, new trends are emerging, and the global landscape is embracing this powerful strategy. Here is what we believe the future of free may be in marketing.
Businesses are finding new and innovative ways to leverage free, going beyond traditional samples and trials.
One fascinating example is the use of algorithms to curate free samples tailored to target audiences. Imagine receiving a free sample that’s been specifically selected based on your preferences and past purchases. It’s personalized marketing at its best, and it’s all driven by data and technology.
This trend reflects a broader shift towards personalization and customization in marketing. By using algorithms and data analytics, you can create free offers that resonate with individual customers. Remember that such gestures of kindness will be surprising and pleasant to receive.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. From virtual free trials to gamified free experiences, the future of free in marketing is ripe with possibilities. We see how gamification is becoming more present in online marketing. We’re looking forward for new examples involving that to come.
The concept of free is not confined to any particular region or market. It’s a global phenomenon, and it’s gaining traction in markets like China and India.
In China, for example, the use of free samples, free trials, and free experiences is becoming a prominent part of the marketing landscape. Brands are using free to introduce products, build brand awareness, and create connections with consumers.
What’s interesting is how the concept of free is being adapted to local culture and consumer behavior. From free experiences in retail stores to online platforms offering free trials of digital products, the approach to free in China is diverse and dynamic.
This global perspective highlights the universal appeal of free and the potential for cross-cultural adaptation.
The journey through the world of “free” in marketing has been an enlightening one. Free isn’t just a word; it’s a catalyst for connection, engagement, and growth. It’s a strategy that resonates with consumers, builds trust, and opens doors to new opportunities. Whether it’s a free sample, a free trial, or a free experience, the magic of “free” can transform your marketing efforts in ways you might not have imagined.
As a marketer, experiment with free strategies in your content marketing campaigns. Embrace the potential, explore the possibilities, and don’t be afraid to innovate. The world of “free” is vast, and it’s waiting for you to make your mark.
And remember, if you need more expertise in setting up and driving free campaigns on your site, our team is here to help. We’ve run several free campaigns on many blogs and we understand the nuances, the challenges, and the rewards of free in content marketing.
Feel free to get in touch, and let’s turn the concept of “free” into tangible success for your brand.