As marketers our job is to generate brand awareness, educate our prospective customers on the benefits of our products and get them to purchase. Effective marketing is about generating sales. Sure, leads and nurturing and all of that are all good but the reality is that unless a sale is made, all that money was spent without any return. Part of the challenge is reaching enough people with your message so that at least a significant number of them decide to buy. And how do you reach even greater number of prospects? Give away free stuff.
Can free stuff sell?
There is a natural resistance among marketers to give whitepapers, webinars, even product spec sheets out for free, especially without requiring any kind of registration. We want names, titles, email addresses, phone numbers, company revenues, number of employees, and while we’re at it give us your annual budget too. What do we do with it? We send it along to the sales reps so tat they can chase these “leads” like eagles diving for their prey. Eagles rarely come back empty handed, though. But that’s another story.
Back to the free marketing stuff. I am enrolled in a free course called Inbound Marketing University, created by HubSpot. It is a free week long online training program featuring some great speakers on topic such as blogging, SEO, viral marketing, email marketing, lead nurturing… all the tools online marketers need to know.
So, why is it free? Because if they charged for it not as many people would register. Also, the classes (delivered via online webinars, with the archives available afterwards) feature speakers from other respected companies that would love to be able to sell their products to the attendees. I’m not saying that it will be sales pitch university, but I am skeptical. Will it really have all the great insight you get from quality paid courses? Will I get sales calls from each company that is presenting a class? I sure hope yes for the first and no for the second.
As an attendee the question is whether the content will be good. As a marketer (HubSpot in this case) the question is whether sales will follow.
Free marketing that sells
Free marketing stuff can definitely help a company improve its brand and get new customers. People love free stuff, and if it is quality free stuff that you don’t have to regiser for they will tell more people to check it out and those people will tell even more people (viral marketing anyone?). Odds are that someone may eventually buy the product or service. David Meerman Scott is a master at this. His eBook “The New Rules of PR” was offered for free without requiring any registration from his website and was downloaded 250,000 times. When he came out with his hardcover book “The New Rules of Marketing & PR”, it reached number 1 in sales quickly. When people download his eBook and like it, they are more likely to purchase his new book. On top of that, by recognizing David as an expert on the subject and someone that is not emailing you every week with stuff you never asked for, he and his company (Pragmatic Marketing) may get some customers that otherwise would not have even thought about them.
And if you do a simple Google search, you’ll find tons of other free stuff that does not require registration. From free PPC tips, free guide on Facebook for business, free eBook on Twitter for Business, free email marketing guide, and other miscellaneous free stuff (some of which you wish you had never found).
Does it mean we should all offer free stuff without registration on our websites? And how about going a step further and forgo registration for everything else we have on the site, just let people take it? Of course not, but putting some thought into getting quality content available without too many hurdles for the users couldn’t hurt either. Going back to the Inbound Marketing University, what I liked about their registration process is that it was painless, they ask minimum information and so far only relevant emails about the course have been sent.
Whether Inbound Marketing University ends up delivering a great program or just more sales presentations, I will let you know throughout the week as I take their classes (probably more archive classes than live ones, for my free time during the day is fairly limited). The free offer has at least picked my interest so you could say that the strategy is working… for now.
Does free stuff appeal to you? Or you try to stay away from it? Do you offer free marketing materials without registration on your website? Please share your experiences! 🙂
Interesting post. This is always a struggle – we sell knowledge so if we give a lot of it away does it devalue our knowledge and mean we have to charge less?
I think the answer to this is an emphatic no! People like free stuff and they will come to you when you give it away (as long as it is of real value), then when they need something they can’t find for free but that you offer they will know where to turn. They will also realise how good you are because you have proved it with the free stuff you have given them.
I heard David Meerman Scott talking about giving whitepapers or similar away totally free (I think on Duct Tape Marketing) i.e. not even requesting an e-mail address, he said the response rate goes up hugely. If you ask for an e-mail address and one person signs up, give the same thing away totally free and 100 people will sign up. With luck they will then spread it around their friends and colleagues – what would you PAY for this type of exposure? Probably a lot more than you’ve “lost” by giving something away in the first place!
There is always a challenge for us, marketers, as we try to measure the success of our campaigns. If we don’t capture any information about the person who downloaded the whitepaper but see a huge increase in traffic to the website and directly to that WP, we could assume (everything else being equal) that the WP generated the spike. I think of it as a balancing act… some things you have to give it away for free while others you try to ask for registration. Since most sites I visit still require registration it seems the idea of giving it away for ‘free’ is still in its infancy.
P.S.: one could also argue that although everyone is talking about your WP and going to your site, if no sales are being closed, then all was for nothing!
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