The value of ‘free’

3 minute read

It can be hard to position ‘free’ in the commercial world. Free trial, free entry, free sample. It’s a hugely common marketing technique. While we all like something for nothing it’s natural to assume that because something is free there’s either a catch (it’s not really free) or if it is (and it’s not stolen or otherwise illegal), there’s probably no actual value anyway.



Although you might think so free doesn’t appeal to everyone, especially in business, and people don’t tend to respect anything that’s offered as free. Look at the typical high no-show rate to free events like seminars and workshops. It’s not because they’re not wasting money by not attending, it’s because there was never any expectation. Without qualification free equals throw away without conscience.

I was lucky enough to have several years under the guidance of an excellent sales coach who consistently evangelised the concept of solution selling. It really doesn’t matter whether you are selling multi-million pound computer systems or pizza. There’s always a value, both to you the seller and to your customer, and it’s always different than cost. Establishing the value of free is the first step to take.

The trick with free is to find ways to add value rather than subtract it. Sales people who offer free features or upgrades without establishing value are locking themselves into a price spiral that can only go one way – downwards. Positioning value, even if the product or service is free, in fact especially if it’s free, leaves everyone feeling they’ve done well. It’s a win-win situation and that’s the best place to start any proposition.

Once you’re clear on the value, if you’re offering free marketing stuff in your campaigns try positioning free as ‘complimentary’. It can have a significant effect. It restores the belief that there is indeed inherent value and the offer is somehow more worthy. Adding words like ‘exclusive’ can also reinforce the perception of value. Complimentary establishes that you as the recipient are deserving – that you’ve somehow earned or been bestowed the value. Adding ‘limited’ can also introduce a sense of immediacy or urgency. Who can resist an exclusive complimentary offer. That’s got to be a good deal.