Is FREE Still a Great Marketing Tool?

Is FREE still a great marketing and promotional tool or has it lost its luster? I have to admit, I’m on the fence on this one, and could really use some feedback from you.

Back in the “old days” it was a foregone conclusion that price = value. However, we all know market conditions have shifted drastically as a result of e-commerce and more aggressive global competition, to the extent that it is hard to recognize a good value when you see one today, particularly when shopping online.

On the Internet, FREE has become the adoptive buzz word for everything. There are free reports, free e-books, free white papers, etc. Some of the industry’s most recognized experts on information products will tell you to give away as much as 75% – 80% of your content and then charge for the rest at a high premium price. This model makes absolutely no economic sense to me!


If everything is FREE on the Web, then who is making any money and how are they doing it? Or, if you are giving away 75% – 80% of the content for free to entice me to buy your book, training videos, or attend a seminar/workshop series, etc., what is my motivation to pay the BIG BUCKS for the other stuff when I already have all these FREE items available to me without obligation? The larger questions here are the obvious ones … does all this free stuff really have any true value? And, am I overcharging the consumer for the fee-based items to recover the lost gross profits from all of the freebies?

(PET PEEVE #1): To determine their value upfront, here’s my first test of free items such as e-books and other information products. I will download the content and then run it through spell checker. If the document contains numerous spelling, punctuation and grammar errors, guess where it will go? And, you’ve lost me as a potential buyer. Why would I pay for your fee-based products and services when your FREE stuff is crap? It doesn’t take much extra effort to fix the spelling, grammar, etc. problems before you make your free content available to the consumer, so take the time to do it right the first time.

(PET PEEVE #2): Now, here’s my biggie. You’ve made me an offer of a free e-book, free report, etc. However, in order to obtain the free item(s), I have to plow through a lengthy 7-8 page sales letter to get to the offer. Not going to happen! As an online consumer, I have the attention span of a 3-year old and the patience to match, so net it out for me. Tell me in 1-2 pages or less what the offer is, what I have to do to get it and how I get my free stuff. (The only people I’ve ever spoken with who like these exhaustive 7-8 page sales letter diatribes are the people who create them – consumers hate them, so stop it!).

OK, I’m done with the rant, now back on topic. From a marketing perspective all this noise about free tends to diminish the value of online products and services, and creates an illusion on the part of the online shopper that everything should be free. As a result, this false perception can limit take rates on a lot of the valuable information products and services that are fee-based. So, how do you correct the perception and make FREE a more effective (and profitable) marketing and promotional tool for your business?

A friend and colleague of mine, Richard Kittrell, founder and CEO of Power of the Pride Training Systems has a great suggestion to help you position your “free” offer. If you are marketing and promoting an e-book or book, rather than offering a free report, etc., offer the buyer the first chapter or two for free. This keeps the focus on your primary offer, and allows the buyer to make a more informed purchase decision. (Similar to the try it, buy it approach).

My preference is to position “free” on the back-end of the sale in the form of an upsell, cross sell, value bundle, discount on the next order, etc. This will help you to establish a stronger customer – supplier relationship based upon the value of your initial offer, and then you can provide those customers with the post-sale incentives to promote any add-on or future sales to keep them coming back for more.

That’s my two cents. Would welcome your comments and thoughts on how you have used the concept of FREE to successfully market and promote your products and services.

COPYRIGHT © 2010-17 John Carroll