Writecombination Marketing
by Andrew Knowles

The oldest marketing trick keeps winning

What still has the power to turn heads despite being small, not particularly elegant and very familiar to us all?

The four letter word: free.

It’s everywhere you go. Online and offline, in print and in shop windows, those four letters are repeated over and over. The cacophony threatens to deafen but it doesn’t stop, because marketers have yet to find a more effective way to catch our attention.

Spammers love its short simplicity. Countless tweets scream ‘free iPad’ and they work, enticing us to click links which we know won’t deliver the promised Apple gadget.

Most of us appreciate that you don’t get something for nothing. Yet such is the power of ‘free’ that we’re willing to suspend our disbelief. We want there to be something in it for us.

This week a friend of mine is at a conference which he was encouraged to book because delegates were promised that free iPad. The massive registration fee told the true story but his employer would pick that up on his behalf. Technically all those iPads being given out are owned by the organisations paying the delegate’s bills. But how many will effectively become the personal property of the attendees, going home with them every night and weekend?

That highly effective use of the word ‘free’ offered something of real value. If your business wants to take advantage of the power of ‘free’ it must do the same thing. While ‘free’ still grabs our attention we’re often immune to its charms. If the item that’s free is something I don’t need, or want, the promise is immediately diminished.

The challenge for your business is to find something that offers genuine value to potential customers and which costs you very little. But it mustn’t come across as an obvious sales technique. I’ve never taken up the offer of a ‘free safety check’ on my car because I know it’s simply an excuse for the garage to tell me why I need to buy their services.

On the other hand, I almost always sample free chocolate or cheese when it’s on offer. And I sometimes buy as a result.

Despite its age, free can still be a massively powerful word in your marketing armoury. But to get maximum effect, you need to use it wisely.

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