Rebuttal: Free Samples

Marketing Ideas Free Samples

In response to Seth Godin’s “Free Samples” post, May 11, 2012:

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Free samples

It bothers me to watch the hordes at the farmer’s market, swooping in to each booth, grabbing a sample and walking away. The thin slices of handmade rye bread, or the perfect strawberries or the little glasses of juice—all of them disappear into the hands of people who have no intention of buying.

Sure, someone stops and buys now and then, which is why the farmers keep offering the samples. To them, it’s merely a cost of doing business, a relatively inexpensive way to keep prospective customers coming. I’m not sure I could do it—the people afraid to look me in the eye, all that slinking around, and most of all, the profits walking out the door, over and over again. Enough thin slices makes a loaf.

This is vexing, even to someone who merely makes ideas. Watching people sneak endless tastes with no intention of making a purchase—sometimes I gasp at the audacity.

The distinction in the digital world is profound. In the digital world, the more free samples you give away, the better you do. The miserly mindset that afflicts the merchant watching inventory walk out the door at the market is counterproductive in the digital world. That’s because more free samples cost you nothing.

The scarce resources in the connection revolution are connection, attention and trust, not molecules, atoms or strawberries.

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Free Sample Double-Take

While I see great value in most of Seth Godin’s marketing ideas, I will respectfully cry foul on this one. I would have placed this comment on his blog, however—at the time of this writing—Mr. Godin has turned the commenting feature off. Curious, for someone who reports engagement is a primary vehicle for building a trusting, loyal following?

People are People

Though I agree things may be different in the digital world, I would also say the contrast is not so stark. People are people, no matter where we draw the lines on a map, and no matter whether that map is of the real or digital world. In fact, free samples probably work just as well in the flesh; they simply exhibit different properties.

Let’s Compare

Yes, your reach is broader online. You can reach anyone with a computer and an Internet connection (so long as they can find you.) This means greater volume, greater exposure, and—hopefully—greater opportunity for sales. It also means greater exposure to vultures and trolls. In the digital world, your free samples can be snapped up by people who never read them, or worse, repackage them as their own. C’est la vi.

Marketing Ideas Free SampleIn the real world, free samples also entice—same as their online counterparts. Accepting a free sample in the real world carries less anonymity, however. In a crowded farmer’s market, you can’t use a fictitious name or a junk email address to grab that succulent sample; you or your minions (maybe you send in your child, eh?) must get close enough to the purveyor to risk being greeted. As a shop owner, immediately your connection is stronger and your ability to engage the potential customer (face-to-face) is dramatically increased.

The same time and effort that went into crafting that piece of digital brilliance may also be the same time and effort that went into crafting that bread. Sure, digital assets can be downloaded and reproduced over and over. It’s the “do it once, replicate over and over” model. Yet, while many of us don’t need the latest, greatest marketing book, we all need to eat. Now we’re moving into differences in product selection, which has precious little to do with whether free samples work in the real world (which they do.)

Example: Used car dealerships employ a variation of the free sample concept all the time. Have you ever test-driven a car but needed to get buy-in from your spouse or parents before signing your life away? Has the salesperson ever told you to take the car home overnight to get a feeling for it? That’s known as the “puppy dog close” and it works wonderfully. The “free sample” is in the chance to try the vehicle on, wear it and show it off. The dealership is banking (literally) on you becoming emotionally bonded with the vehicle. The more connection you feel to that vehicle, the more likely you will adopt it and the sizable loan or lease that accompanies it.

Afterglow

Maybe Mr. Godin was simply searching for something to critique so he could segue into his final point about connection, attention and trust. He obviously must understand the ancient, time-proven concept of free samples, even though he finds himself “vexed” and “gasping” at the “audacity” of it all.

What about you? Do you believe free samples work? Have you used them in your own business? Have they compelled you to buy more yourself?

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Reference

Godin, S. Free Samples. Retrieved from http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2012/05/free-samples.html on 05/11/2012.

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Marketing Ideas Author Matt SchoenherrAbout Matt Schoenherr
Matt is a husband, father of four, marketing consultant and founder of Marketing Ideas 101. As a student, teacher and published author, Matt supports the worthy goals of service and commerce in the small business and nonprofit communities. You may find him on , Twitter and Facebook. Creative marketing ideas and marketing strategies may be found at MarketingIdeas101.com.

Comments

  1. says

    Hi Matt, I agree with you- If you ever go to Costco on a weekend, you know that free samples do work. But that’s in a retail setting where samples are built into the profit margin. I understand Seth Godin’s point of view- trying to get ‘freebies’ out of a creative team/freelancer is just plain sneaky. It’s once instance where you can’t compare apples to apples.

    • says

       Usha, thank you for your comment. I enjoyed your Costco example. I think Seth was actually advocating giving away free information in his post; a concept with which I agree. In the past, I ~have~ had the misfortune of working for clients who didn’t really want to pay for the work. Once the invoice came due, either those folks fled on their own or we had to fire them as clients. Either way, we were left with a website (or other fine bit of creative) we wouldn’t be using and life experience that taught us we needed to use contracts and get down-payments EVERY TIME before starting a project. Giving free service (whether intentionally or by accident) can be costly when compared to giving away free product which can be produced en masse (depending upon a slew of other factors, obviously.)

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