Free-Not-Free

One of my pet peeves is the marketing tactic I call ‘free-not-free.’

For example, a nonprofit consulting firm or software company might offer a ‘free’ white paper with research and advice on fundraising, social media, web design, or a dozen other subjects. All you have to do is enter your contact information in the little form.

What you expect is cutting edge research and professional advice on a real problem. And maybe a welcome email and the occasional update from that company. At most, a weekly newsletter.

What you actually get is a nice infographic or booklet of information you could have found on Google. And a sales call from that company. And daily emails advertising products and workshops and webinars and conferences.

That’s free-not-free. You’re not paying money. You’re paying time and annoyance.

And look, I get why companies do it: it’s an easy way to build a customer list. The company puts some light research out there; 10,000 people download the paper and put their info in the form; and if just 1% of them become customers, that’s 100 new customers at $10 a month. Over a year, that’s $12,000 in new revenue over the course of a year. And that’s if the company only does it once.

But it’s also a lousy thing to do. So, if you’re tempted to do something that’s free-not-free, step away from that ledge. Instead of saying that the white paper or infographic or booklet is free, tell us that we’re going to get a sales call and how often we can expect emails.

After all, isn’t that the kind of treatment you would like to receive?