Sunday, December 8, 2013

The power of a four-letter word

Direct response writers know one of the most powerful motivators in the English language is a four-letter word. 

It's the word free.
Free nudges fence-sitters off the fence by eliminating risk. It rewards deal-seekers. And it's a tool for separating your offer from that of your competition. Free is also a faster read and more engaging than "complimentary," "at no charge" or "courtesy of."

Free jumps out at you whether it's in an ad headline, subject line or call-to-action button on a landing page. And while it earned its reputation in direct mail, digital marketers also appreciate its power. A visit to Amazon will confirm this.

Direct marketing author, practitioner, and DMA Hall of Famer Richard "Dick" Benson called it magical. Joan Throckmorton, one of direct marketing's all-time great copywriters, dubbed it "The Great Motivator."

Free adds value to your offer, makes comparison shoppers sit up and take notice and gets your message opened and read.

[But Take Note: Be cautious about using free in email because of spam filters. Email expert Jessica Best  at told me, "You're OK using 'free' in email, as long as the rest of your email isn't too spammy. For example, how many times you use free in an email and whether it's lowercase or all caps affects whether or not your email gets bumped as junk. The size of the type font used also weighs in. Best practice is to always run your email through a spam-detector and adjust accordingly."]

Here are some free tips for using free to your advantage:

Free Gift: I learned the power of the free gift when I wrote for Fingerhut. They offered free gifts in every mailing that went out the door. Free gifts work, especially when the gift is related to the product being sold. It may even be something you already include with your product/service, but you haven't promoted (e.g., carrying case, furnace filter, how-to video, assembly tool, etc.). It's the value to the customer, not the cost, that matters.

Even stronger than offering a free gift is offering a mystery free gift. Tapping what I learned at Fingerhut—where they tested everything—I've since added mystery free gifts to both consumer and B-to-B promotions, online and offline.

Free Shipping: Free shipping encourages customers to buy online or by catalog rather than at your competitor's retail store. Use it as an incentive to increase average order size or spike faster ordering when combined with a deadline.

Free Sample, Free Trial, Free Demo: These freebies answer the buying objection, "I don't believe it." When you give a potential customer a risk-free experience with your product or service, it transforms doubters into believers who become buyers.

Free Whitepaper: The whitepaper is a leading B-to-B lead generation offer, online and offline. Offer whitepapers on important topics to position your company as experts and provide prospects with valuable content.

Free Kit: Notice I didn't say free information. A free kit has higher perceived value than free information, even though what's delivered is identical. 

Free Quote, Free Needs Analysis: These are risk-free door-openers for products and services that normally require multiple steps to close such as insurance, business software, commercial real estate, even lawn care.

• Free Upgrade: OK, so you never had any intention of charging for upgrades. But when you tell customers you're giving them a free upgrade, you're a hero.

Buy One, Get One Free: In a direct marketing college course taught by legendary Bob Stone, I learned a lesson I will never forget. It reinforced the power of using the right combination of words. Bob told us about an A/B split test of two offer statements—"buy one, get one free" and "buy two for the price of one." While they mean the same thing and have the same dollar value, the one with free was the big winner.

Free Preview: When you give it a name (e.g., preview), say it's free, and give it a dollar value, you capture attention. I've seen this work for newly launched magazines, collectible continuity programs, car sales, even ticket subscriptions for arts groups.
Give your free offer a retail price or dollar value (e.g., free shipping, regularly $10.95). Build perceived value by being specific: Your free kit includes a comparison checklist of the top of four manufacturers, plus 10 safety stickers for your equipment. Use the words no obligation with the word free whenever it's accurate. And test, test, TEST for the best free offers.

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