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Why are people skeptical of the word "free"

I have recently come across this question in my own marketing campaigns and have done some research on why my email and phones weren't blowing up with customers rushing to get a hold of one of those free things. I simply offered something for free with the understanding that they would use my products on the free equipment. Very little interest seemed to be my result. I asked myself if society has become so skeptical that offering something for free just isn't enough to gain their attention. In a 2014 article titled " Schumpeter: We want to be your friend. Brands are finding it hard to adapt to an age of skepticism". On the subject of companies trying to understand the skepticism of the word "FREE" companies tried different advertising techniques. The article stated the following example:

"Some advertisers think there is an advantage in acknowledging consumers’ skepticism. An ad for First Bank, of Colorado, showed a new leather sofa and television in the middle of a square, with a large sign saying: “Free”. People strolled by, ignoring the bounty. A voice-over asks: “What if ‘free’ really just meant ‘free’?”

What was the result for First Bank of Colorado? Skepticism as people walked around the display not making an attempt to either grab the free item or inquire about obtaining the free item. I think about an old saying my mother use to say: " When is something for free not free?" I suppose we could assume people are afraid if they take a free item it might obligate them to something they may not need or want. I find myself contemplating that when I receive offers of something FREE.

In researching for this blog I came across an article from "Ideas 4 Small Business" that pointed out some very obvious benefits to a business offering something for free.

by Emily O'Shaughnessy

). Free stuff creates a buzz. In today’s day and age, it doesn’t take long for news to travel. Soon I started to see Facebook posts and tweets about the free drinks and apps at Bar Louie. People were making plans to get there before the grand opening specials ended. People like free stuff, plain and simple. And they’re more willing to pay more attention if they hear something from a friend. The power of social media.

2). Encourages people to try your products/service/experience risk free. This is a benefit if you want to prove that you have something different or better to offer. People are more likely to try something they normally wouldn’t if it is free and without commitment. That’s why my gym offers a complimentary one-day pass to people considering membership. My daughter’s ballet encourages the kids to take a “trial” class to see if it’s something she’s interested in before committing. Free samples at the grocery store? Same concept. The idea is that if customers try something and like it, or have a positive experience, they’ll buy and then come back for more.

3) It’s the hook that gets customers in – so they’ll stick around and spend more. Sure, there’s always a few that will order the bare minimum and leave. But most will stay for awhile and order more. Why do so many restaurants offer “Kids Eat Free” days? Because kids don’t dine alone. Their parents have to bring them and eat, too. The cost of a child’s plate is minimal in comparison. It gets the entire family in the door, so they spend money at your place instead of a competitor down the street. I’ve seen a number of local restaurants promoting free appetizers for Tax Day – another way to get people in the door.

4) Customers are more forgiving when something is free. Just as I immediately forgot how upset I was about the long wait at Bar Louie, people are more forgiving if they feel like they’re getting a bargain. That’s not to say you should use it as an excuse to give poor service, but it can be an advantage for a new business trying to work out the kinks. While the employees struggle to learn the ropes, figure out the new computer system and adjust to the learning curve, you have a set of customers who are a little more willing to go with the flow. Just don’t take advantage of them. If they leave with a negative perception, they may never come back. And of course will tell all their friends. Ah, the power of social media again.

5) Positive Brand Association. People love to get something for free, no strings attached. It makes them happy and brightens their day. Buy doing this, you can create a positive association with your brand. Customers remember how special they felt and think highly of you. It’s also about positioning. Sometimes offering a completely FREE appetizer is more appealing to a guest than 15% off their meal, even though the percentage discount might be an actual greater dollar amount. People perceive that they’re getting something for nothing, which makes them giddy.

6). Creates a buying habit. By offering something free, people are more likely to give your business a try. And once they’ve been – assuming the experience was positive – they’re more likely to come back. We all know it’s harder to gain a new customer than keep a current one, and that buyers are creatures of habit. They go with what they know and feel comfortable with. Part of the challenge of a new business – or even an established business – is driving traffic (foot traffic to a retail location or traffic to your website). So now that your location is part of their consideration set, you’re much more likely to gain their repeat business in the future.

Well this being stated above, I find it interesting that my own experience didn't quite work out that way. Below is my offer...

Free Printer to upgrade your business technology. All you have to do is use our Cartridge Warehouse products on your new printer. We offer free maintenance on the new printer and free delivery on the cartridges.

How could this not get a lot of attention? I would love feed back. Email me and let me know your thoughts.

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