Why “Free” Is Your Best Marketing Strategy

Free: Best Marketing Strategy
Image credit: Shayne Kaye (Creative Commons)

How do you earn permission to speak to a group of people that will engage with your message, buy what you sell, and share your ideas?

Give something away for free.

Giving away an idea is the best way to build a tribe. Every day, thousands of advertisers and marketers sit in meetings, scratching their heads, wondering how to get their message to spread, how to sell products and change people's behaviors. They spend money on ads that only add to the noise.

And every day, they become less relevant.

They need a new, better approach.

Why free?

Ideas that spread win.
—Seth Godin

Generosity catches people's attention. It's the free-prize-inside effect.

Compelling ideas and stories must reach a tipping point before they start to gain momentum. And the best way to push them over the edge is to be generous.

There's so much noise in the world  that it's impossible to know what's worth buying. Most people buy stuff that they have a personal connection with or that is recommended by a trusted friend.

Giving away your work will allow future customers (or readers or fans or whatever) the opportunity to hear about it, see the value, and then reward you for it.

But doesn't a zero price tag devalue your product?

Nope. Not that I've experienced. It just raises the visibility of it. It's a way to get in front of people that would otherwise ignore you. It's marketing.

Writing an eBook and giving it away has been an experiment in the efficacy of generosity as a business model. So far, it's workingThe Writer's Manifesto (an eBook that people can download for free) is now selling on Amazon and Nook. And people are actually buying it.

This is not the first time this has happened. Seth Godin did it with Unleashing the Ideavirus, an eBook he gave away for free (selling a million copies) and then eventually charging for it (selling another million copies).

Why does this work? Because people don't value what they pay money for; they value what others value. They value what gets talked about.

It's your job to get people talking about what you have to offer. The best way to do that is to give it away. (By the way, want a free copy of that eBook I wrote? Join my newsletter list, and you'll get it sent to your inbox.)

Won't this attract the wrong type of customer?

Yes. But it will also attract everyone else (if you do your job right).

Listen, there will always be freeloaders. So why not give away your best stuff (even to the cheapskates) so it can spread more quickly — eventually reaching those who will pay for it?

Why not build a reputation as a generous, creative person who shares her gifts with the world?

In a world of takers — where “me first” and “gimme gimme” still reign supreme — the future's leaders will be marked by generosity.

How to get started

So how do you actually do this? How do you give away an idea that spreads? Here's a quick step-by-step guide:

1. Pick a compelling idea. Look through your blog archives or notebook or listen to some old demo tracks. See if you've already created something that you could repurpose.

In the book REWORK Jason Fried calls this “using your byproduct.” It's a smart, efficient way to work. Find something that you know already resonated with people and expand upon it. Make sure it's sticky, that people will resonate with and want to share it.

2. Build an early feedback group. Ask a group of friends to help you make it. If it's a book, ask for editing help. If a piece of music, offer to include them in a virtual “listening party.”

Whatever the project, find a group that can become your early adopter and “sneezer” list. You can add to this list once the project starts to gain momentum.

3. Keep it simple and elegant. This needs to be more than something you threw together in a Word processor with a simple white background and Times New Roman font. It needs to be good.

People need to feel good when they read or listen to or experience what you've created. Don't waste time trying to make it perfect, but don't just put a piece of junk together. Spend some time on design. Presentation matters.

4. Leak it to influencers. Ask them to freely share and start talking about it. If someone's an authority in the subject you're covering, ask for an endorsement.

5. Thank everyone. (Yes, everyone.) As people begin to talk about you, go over the top in terms of customer service. Thank each person who tweets a link to your resource. Write hand-written notes to the influencers who helped you. Email them.

Show your tribe how much what they did mattered. Show them that you value their attention. Share their work. Give them other free stuff in the future. Keep the momentum going.

Where this leaves us

People are stingy with their creative gifts. We need to give more of our ideas away. We need to be generous.

If you're a writer, musician, or artist waiting to be discovered, it's time to embrace free. To start giving away your best stuff.

Then, see who follows you.

Further reading: Free: The Future of a Radical Price

Would you ever pay money for something you could get for free elsewhere? Have you done it before? I want hear your stories.

*Photo credit: Shayne Kaye (Creative Commons)

Disclosure: Some of the above links are affiliate links, which means that I make pennies off of any book you buy.