If It's Free It's for Me

Marketing maven Seth Godin wrote an interesting post last week on "Freeloaders".  It was a short post so here it is:

Freeloader_1Here's a guy at Starbucks who nicely consented to being photographed. You'll notice that he's eating a burger and fries and yes, a beverage, all from Mickey D's. (that coffee cup on his table is a vestige from the last customer).

Except he's not eating at McDonald's. He's eating at a very very busy Starbucks, a place where if the line is too long or there are no tables, people leave.

I asked him why he was eating at Starbucks, and he didn't hesitate, "It's way nicer here."

Are marketers  training an entire generation that there's never a limit? That free music and free wifi and free ebooks and free lobby space isn't just an inducement to pay attention, but is, in fact, a right?

Giving things away to get a prospect's attention and to demonstrate the value of something for which you hope to eventually get paid is especially important in cause marketing.  Why?  Because given the choice between buying traditional media and paying for cause marketing, businesses will choose advertising 100% of the time.  It's not that cause marketing isn't as effective.  It is, and is oftentimes more so.  But cause marketing is new for small and mid-size businesses and they are unsure how to value and price it like other forms of media.

That's why I've always developed cause marketing programs that come at no direct cost to the business.  But after all the hoopla around "free" has died down, you still need to raise money for your organization.  Here's what I've done to get paid.

  • Free to them but not to them.  Instead of the company paying for the program, the money is raised from shoppers via an in-store point-of-purchase program.  It's important to stress that customers are asked only for a buck or two and will actually reward the company for asking with greater favorability and loyalty.
  • Expensive for you but free for them.  Another way to get paid is to barter for things that are expensive for you, but not for the business.  Years ago I managed an event for which we needed a dozen hotel rooms.  I contacted a new hotel that needed the visibility and struck a deal that cost both of us nothing.  I got my rooms, which the hotel wasn't using any way, and the hotel got some great exposure at my event.
  • Expensive for you but not as expensive for them.  Sometimes you can get paid by convincing a company to use its buying power (think Wal-Mart) to get better pricing.  I recently did this with printing for an event.  In exchange for a sponsorship, the company agreed to run my printing job through its regular printer, with whom they did a massive amount of business.  Not only did they get me a better price, they got some it done for free.

There's nothing wrong with giving things away, but you should always be clear on how and when you'll get paid.  If you're not, "free" will become just another four-letter word. 

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