By Shep Hyken
Free is often an illusion. It looks free and may be advertised as free, but it’s not free.
I’m not saying a company that claims something is free is lying. As consumers, we must be careful and understand the difference between what is truly free and what is perceived as free. And as businesses, we must be cautious about what we promise.
Let’s use free shipping as an example. I think we can all agree, free shipping is not free. Somebody is paying for it, and it’s usually the consumer. Typically, free shipping is built into the price.
Sometimes, free shipping is part of a membership fee, such as an Amazon Prime membership. You pay the annual fee to get something for “free” – as in free shipping. It’s not free, no matter what you call it. And when consumers pay a fee to do business with a company, they typically want to take advantage of the perks the company offers. For Amazon, it’s free shipping, access to video content, and more.
A different way to say free is no extra charge. Isn’t that the same as free? It has the same impact.
So, what is actually free in business? Here’s a scenario. Try something free for a month. If you like it, the company will begin billing you the following month. If you choose not to continue, you could say you received a month’s worth of whatever the company sells for free. But it’s still not free – at least not to the company’s paying customers who, whether they realize it or not, are covering the cost of the marketing program that gives away a month’s worth of product while the prospect decides whether they will buy or not.
This article is an example of free. Each week we send it to thousands of subscribers. We post it to my website. I create weekly videos based on these articles. And I don’t charge a penny for them. Most people who read or watch these have no intention of ever buying anything from me. I’m more than okay with that. If something I write or put in a video makes a difference in someone’s life or business, that’s good enough for me. Of course, business is business, and I hope these free offerings lead to someone saying, “I want to book Shep as our customer experience keynote speaker for our next meeting.” (Okay, I admit that was a shameless plug!) But I must emphasize that this is truly a free offering even if you never buy. No strings attached!
I’m a big believer that the more you give, the more you get. I like the idea of free and encourage you to embrace it – give it a try. It might lead to business or sales, but if not, that’s okay too!