The Value of Something Free or Gaining by Giving

The old freebie. That little something that offers the pungent scent of getting something without paying for it, but can hook and capture the unsuspecting (me, the sucker for anything sparkly or sweet) and even the most tuned-in marketing critic (my wife, who can spot a cheese-laced gimmick trap a mile away).

It’s like coming to a meeting just for the food and being surprised by the non-edible content. (Which happened to me this morning.) Getting that free t-shirt or temporary tattoo and becoming a walking billboard. Turning mementos that are fun and desirable into a little marketing gold.

For instance, a colleague of mine recently attended a Coldplay concert. Before the show, the band handed out “free” wristbands that lit up at a precise musical moment, while the lyrics pulsed, “we’ll be glow-in-the-dark.” So the metaphorical became the literal. Cool concept? Without a doubt. Wearable marketing material to simultaneously underline song poetry and promote band-brand sustenance and spread? Most certainly.

So for those number crunchers we all adore, it looks like this: Skimming a little immediate profit off the top to give the participant a memorable and visceral experience, which in turn makes the stunned said participant come crawling back with wallet wide open, the fans begging for more and all who experienced the spectacle giving you word-of-mouth like you’ve never known before. Hmm, that sounds ridiculously profitable.

But that’s for uncategorizable UK bands, not a foodservice or trucking company, right? Maybe not. In B2B marketing, it’s common to dish out a little trinket to promote front-of-mind purchasing, promotions or brand familiarity. Look at all the 3D mailers that saturate your industry. That stress ball that looks like a globe, promoting some worldwide service offering. Who hasn’t seen those? The plastic rulers that have a great line about making budgets stretch, or the USB drives that fill up your office desk. But coming up with something that doesn’t get lost in all the kitsch or the kitchen drawer is the conundrum. And please, no more pens. PLEASE! (Am I shouting? Yes, I think so.)

When it comes to freebies, sky-is-the-limit idealism is usually traded for money-is-definitely-an-object thinking. But true creativity (read “Invention”) is born out of its stingy mother, Necessity. At our agency, we are charged almost daily with the task of mining awesome from a smallish pool of cash. And we’re okay with that. See the yields: Hot sauce nestled into wood chips, rubber duckies, giant bolts, movie clappers, hand-thrown pottery mugs. All of these are some fab freebies that made a big splash. While there are definitely some costs involved, we’re not suggesting giving away the moon (e.g., iPads for every customer or free flights to Bermuda for filling out a “contact us” form). At the same time, lavish gifts can pay off, if they match the level of the customer relationship or action you’d like for them to complete.

Yes, it’s better to give than to receive. But (dare I say it) sometimes for business, giving is a sure way of getting. So, go ahead. Plunk down the pennies and reap what you sow — profitability harvested from the intelligent scattering of marketing-dollar seeds. When it comes to marketing, a little love goes a long way.

 

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