The Word “Free” Is Powerful, But Dangerous

Human psychology is a capricious, fascinating thing. It doesn’t always follow conventional logic, but it does have a logic of its own that can be understood, and exploited. This is especially true in the world of marketing, where understanding the way people think, figuring out why they want things, and encouraging them to engage and purchase products is all contingent on knowing what triggers will cause someone to buy something, and what will cause them to pass on by.

Of course, it should come as no surprise that most of the time, the simplest and most obvious techniques are the ones that work best. But in many ways, they can also be the trickiest and most difficult to effectively implement.

The use of the word “Free,” is one of those techniques. And whether you are running a traditional physical marketing campaign, or using email marketing personalization software, you should always be careful about how you use this powerful word and marketing tool.

Free Is Irrational

In some ways, the word “Free” is almost like some primeval trigger in the mind of the average shopper. Seeing and hearing this word can cause people to do things they otherwise normally wouldn’t, or even impair logical thinking when asked to make a decision. Polls and experiments have been done over the years where shopping habits have been examined and the results are always fascinating.

For example, in one quick poll, people were presented with a choice between piece of Lindt chocolate at just 15¢ and a Hershey’s Kiss piece at 1¢. In this situation, most people, especially those aware of the quality of various types of chocolate, realized that the Lindt chocolate was of a much higher quality, and that it was globally recognized as a superior, elite brand. At just 15¢, this was quite a sizable savings on such a piece of chocolate, well over 70% in fact. So despite the fact that the Hershey’s Kiss chocolate was cheaper, the consumer awareness of the vast difference in quality between the two types of chocolate made people realize that, in terms of expenditure, the Lindt chocolate piece was a better deal.

Then, the tables turned. For the next result, the Lindt chocolate was reduced in price to 14¢, while the Hershey Kiss was made free. Despite the awareness of the much higher quality of the Lindt chocolate, and yet another discount applied to it to make it even more affordable, 69% of those involved chose the Hershey Kiss chocolate.

When the word “Free” was invoked, the majority of people ignored quality, value and more considered purchasing processes, and the most important thing was that someone was willing to give them something for nothing.

“Free” is an almost magical world in the world of physical retail and in online shopping, even when you’re using email marketing personalization software. It can make people stand in line for long periods, literally losing hours worth of pay from a fulltime job, for the sake of a free doughnut. It is a way to direct and control shopper attention, but only when used correctly.

Use “Free” To Target Your Offers

The shopper’s mind wants to believe that it is getting a bargain, but really this is all a matter of perception. For example, if you have a new piece of software that you’d like people try, one way to make people aware of it is to simply be honest about it. If you use email marketing personalization software, your software may already know that there are shoppers in your database that have shown an interest in this type of software in the past. Your email marketing campaign could be a simple, straightforward message to the effect of, “We have a new piece of software, we know you’ve liked this sort of thing in the past, so we thought you might be interested. Please try a demonstration that we have available.”

Doing it this way however, may give the shopper the impression that you are asking them to do something. Almost as if you are asking a favor of them, or expecting them to complete some duty, responsibility or task. It sounds like work.

However, simply change the offer to “Free demo,” and suddenly the same shopper believes a limited chance at getting something for nothing has just landed at their feet. If you create a sense of urgency by stressing that this is for a limited time only, this gives them even more incentive to try the demo as quickly as possible. The word “Free” has given them the irrational need to take advantage of a passing opportunity they may have previously had no interest in.

By carefully applying the word “Free” to products or promotions that you want to direct shoppers at, your use of email marketing personalization software will be much more effective. However, there is a downside to this, and that comes in the form of useful retention. And that’s when you may sometimes want to stay as far away from “Free” as possible.

The Horde At The Gates

Free will make people come in droves, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll stay. And in some cases, you may have a specific desire to only cater to a more discerning kind of customer or client. Going back to the chocolate example, you may in fact wish to sell a premium chocolate, but you have a limited supply and you don’t want the samples gone in seconds.

By charging a modest amount, even just a few cents, you can dramatically throttle the incoming number of requests for a sample, effectively gating the bargain hunters and people that are simply hoping to fill their pockets with things they’re not even especially interested in. This can also apply when you are trying to promote specialist products such as pet foods, health care items, and other goods or services in which the customer-base or clientele is select.

But whether you decide to use it or not, the word “Free” is indeed a powerful marketing tool. Be careful with its application in your email marketing personalization software, and make sure you use effectively.