Free's No Good Unless They Want It
Many versions of the Free model have already worked to some degree -- from news to air travel. But how does Free link to performance? It's all about the offer.
If you were raised on traditional direct-marketing principles, life was about testing the list, the copy, and yes, the offer. What extra value would entice beleaguered consumers to make a purchase they arguably didn't really need? In a tangible direct mail-driven world, those offers were often tangible as well. Gevalia coffee makers, anyone?
But in the digital world, offers have tended toward the abstract, beginning with electronic coupons and other financial incentives. For marketers targeting more sophisticated sales, educational offers have proven one of the best avenues. Many reasons: to begin, trading the value of information about a product or idea for contact information on the respondent. And if educational offers are well-targeted, the number of non-qualified leads will be curtailed. Why would consumers ask for details on a product or idea unless they're really interested?
Most marketers seem to stop at this point. They say "I've got a great offer to attract the right prospects. Now let me concentrate on how to talk about it and the most cost-effective media to run it." That would make sense if all prospects were worth the same to you. But they're not -- some prospects are simply more valuable than others. Maybe they're the frequent users; maybe they're the heavy spenders or the "alpha" users who spread the word on how wonderful your product is. However they differ, the most important thing you can do is to vary your offer to anticipate their needs.
How should offers be tailored? Perhaps your ideal prospects are interested in the technical aspects of your product. Giving them a guide to the basics would not only miss the mark -- it could be insulting. Think of sophisticated investors being sent a 4 page pdf on the basics of buying a stock. Or imagine a tech geek getting a paper brochure explaining how to send email.
Want a few guidelines on customizing offers? Try these:
- Base your offers on the characteristics of those high potential customers. Focus on the few things that distinguish them from the average Joe.
- Refine and revise, don't start over. If you have a basic theme for your educational material, changing some emphasis and tone can be sufficient customization.
- Serialize the information. It's a great advantage if you can provide initial educational information, which naturally leads to sending more. Think how a novel or even a textbook unfolds.
- Consider building online community around the educational idea. Form a LinkedIn Group to attract others interested in the idea. Tweet about it. Invite your prospects to participate.
- Pay attention to how they want to get your information. Some prospects want to hear from a live person, others want email. Some require steady frequency. Others prefer to be left alone to make a decision. Some need to see long form information; others want a one-pager. If these prospects are similar to your best current customers, you already know a lot about them. Use your research to craft and modify your offer.
The lowest common denominator won't win the hearts of your best potential customers... and when we're talking offer, Free is no good unless they want it.