These days, everyone talks about free content. "Give it away!" they say, but does this really work? Well, yes and no. As with anything, there has to be a strategy.
Last Saturday I was on my morning run through our neighborhood and I noticed a number of garage sale signs (that's tag sale for those of you back east). One of the signs had a sign beneath it that read: We have free stuff! As I ran though the neighborhood I passed that house and noticed they put all their free stuff in the "Free zone" and already, even at that early hour, hoards of people were migrating there. I passed the other garage sales which were doing OK, but not great. Clearly the one with the free stuff pulled more people, but did it actually sell more paid merchandise? Yes. I checked in with the sale after my run to find most of the good stuff gone (note to self: shop first, exercise later). When I talked to the homeowner they said that the free stuff went fast, but as I noted each time I passed by, it wasn't junk stuff, it was actually good enough to make the garage sale shopper feel like they got a real deal. If it's junk and it's free, it doesn't really matter.
What's the lesson here? Free stuff can help you sell more of the paid merchandise, but you have to be careful, because some people just want freebies and that's fine. But they are not your customers. Here are some tips to help you maximize the use of free:
- Why free? The first question you should ask yourself is why are you doing this? If you aren't sure, then free might not be right for you. Free content should be offered to help further your message, build a list, and get new people into your marketing funnel. If your model isn't set up this way, maybe it should be. If you aren't interested in this kind of a marketing model, then free probably isn't your thing.
- Define how free can help: Figure out why you want to give free stuff. As I mentioned above, getting clear about your model will help determine if a free product is even worth your time. If it is, then you need to figure out how it will help you. As an example, we have a lot of free stuff on the Author Marketing Experts, Inc. site (www.ameauthors.com) but the free for us is designed to build trust. Distrust is rampant online, and in particular, in the book promotion and publishing industry. There are a lot of scams out there and so trust is important. Our free stuff builds our mailing list, yes, but it also builds trust.
- Make sure it's really free: A lot of people have content that is purported to be free when it's not really free. What I mean is that you get a sliver of it, not even a piece really worth mentioning, but the stuff you want is something you have to pay for. If you want to do free, make it free. Find something of value and give it to your customers.
- Make it something your end user wants: As I've mentioned a few times, make sure the free is something people want. If it isn't you a) won't bring in the right crowd of people (you'll end up just getting the freebie hunters, and b) you won't build your mailing list as fast. So, for example, give your readers something really substantial like an e-book or tips, or a workbook. Virtually any electronic product is easy to create and deliver. When I changed our freebie on the Author Marketing Experts, Inc. website, we quadrupled our sign-ups. So, what was the freebie? 52 Ways to Sell More Books. Now, as an author, isn't that appealing to you? Exactly my point.
- So, what if you've written a fiction book? Well, consider this: 83% of Americans want to write a book, so what if you gave them a free how-to guide? You don't even have to create this yourself, you could partner with someone who has already created this. If you don't like that idea, consider (for those of you in the historical fiction market) doing a did-you-know piece on the history you're referencing in your book. The idea here is to a) give value, and b) give your readers something they will care about. Also, whenever possible, give your readers something they need to keep so it will remind them of you and your book: tip sheets, workbooks, reference charts. All of these things are pieces that your consumer may keep, which can keep you top of mind.
The real key here is that free stuff can work well for you in so many ways, but free stuff without a goal is just free. Great to get free stuff, right? But then how is all of this hard work going to pay off for you?
If you still aren't a believer of free, try it for 90 days and see if it doesn't change your life. If you do it right, free will monetize your audience like nothing else will. The biggest reason is that in an age of pushing things on consumers, your audience really wants to sample what you have to offer before they buy. Free is a great way to do that. It's also a great way to stay in front of your audience, build trust, and develop a loyal following.