Business
Why free stuff sucks

Why free stuff sucks

I’ve been talking to a lot of people lately about “building your email list.” They say rule number 1 is to give something away. Okay, I guess there’s merit to that suggestion. But quantity does not equal quality. If you want quality subscribers who are more likely to buy whatever it is you’re going to sell in the future, you want people who have already shown a willingness to buy from you.

zombie snacks

I’ve been running booths at trade shows since the early ’80s. No matter what the focus of the show, the aisles are full of what I call “stock market zombies.” Almost immediately upon entering a show, they get a bag. Sometimes one of the vendors provides them at check-in. Without thinking, gaping and with a thousand-meter gaze, these people begin to crawl back and forth through the corridors, turning their heads from side to side. While distracting the booth staff with meaningless questions like “What exactly do you do?”, his hands pick up anything that isn’t nailed down. Lots of stall vendors give things away, and I’ve seen bag zombies clear a table in a matter of seconds. Some have no shame, they’ll literally take as much as they can in your bag.

Now here’s the sad part. These zombies will leave the show, loaded down with bags full of perfectly good marketing materials that vendors have paid good money for. They will take those bags to the office, or home, and put them in a corner. Other things pile up in the bags. From six months to several years later, these zombies discover the bags. They stick their heads out and look confused at a pile of trash they stole. Since it doesn’t work for them, they throw it all away. All the time marketers spent planning their swag, perfecting their sales pitch…all the money they spent designing, producing, and shipping their marketing swag…gone. All wasted.

That is not worth it

I’ve talked to dozens of people who got free downloads. Books, stories, white papers… it doesn’t matter. Less than 1% of them have read everything they received for free. Less than 10% read some of your free downloads. The rest read nothing. They collect stuff because it’s free. And they treat it with exactly the care and consideration a free download deserves: they ignore it. They don’t value what they get for free. Since it was free, they don’t take the time to read it. Free stuff is not worth it to them, and any effort put in by the giver is also wasted. Whether it’s an author giving away a sample chapter or a company giving away a comparison chart, these digital bag zombies suck it up and put it on their hard drives, where it sits in the dark until, at some point, , the downloader removes it.

What is the solution?

So if giving things away works for building an email list, what can you do to turn a quantity list into a quality list? The fancy word is segmentation. That is, divide your list into people who are stock market zombies and those who are genuinely interested in what you have to offer. You sell them something.

Now, I’m not talking about something expensive. A line doesn’t have to be a mile wide to be a line, it just has to exist. One of my clients offers a service that is worth $600 for $49. Another customer is offering an entire book for $0.99. is what I call interest test. It is a minuscule price, the goal of which is to make them take out their wallet. It makes them take an extra step, the same step they would have to take when paying you $100, or a thousand dollars. And define the fact that this person is interested enough in what you have to offer that they will pay something for it. After that, you just have to find the highest price point they’re willing to hit.

Yes, give away something free to build your email list. Make sure they get that gift. But the next step you take should be to offer them something they have to pay for. Something small, at a low price. Don’t try to sell them extras or anything expensive. Just have them pull out their wallet. If they don’t buy Item A, offer them another inexpensive item, Item B. Offer a range of small, inexpensive items. But once they buy, move their name to another list. Call it “Purchased,” “Leads,” or whatever. But offer the stock market zombies an inexpensive line to cross. Once they cross it, you have a much more interesting and lucrative problem on your hands.

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