Really, Truly, Actually Free Content

I write about strategies to turn fans into customers and customers into fans. I also share ways to use real-time strategies to spread ideas, influence minds, and build business.

white papers  |  Marketing  |  Best Practices

freeI frequently talk about the value of free content as way to reach buyers. Offering valuable information at the moment that people are looking is a great way to showcase your expertise. But most “free” offers are not free at all.

Conventional wisdom with B2B marketers has been to only offer valuable information such as a white paper in exchange for contact information. That is not free. Rather, it is a demand for personal information in exchange for content. Filling out a form to get a free white paper means the company now has your email address and perhaps other personal details. You have given the company something valuable so the white paper is not free.

This approach sets up an adversarial relationship with people before you've even engaged with them. It's like going to a party and demanding a business card before you speak with someone.

As consumers, we know that “free” does not mean free. So why do we forget those lessons as marketers?

Clearly, costs include more than just money:

The “free” mobile phone requires a one-year contract. Obviously the cost of the phone is built into the monthly fee.

Waiting in line to get a free ticket to an event requires an opportunity cost (the cost of your time), and therefore the event is not free. Rational people will wait if the free offering is more valuable than their time.

Make content as close to totally free as possible

I offer ebooks at no cost and no registration is required. You can see my free ebook library here. Even this has a (small) cost. It takes a second to click a link and maybe two or three seconds of wait time for a 1 MB file to download on a high-speed connection (more on slower speeds). But this is quite close to free.

I even have a book, World Wide Rave, which will cost you $22.95 list price in hardcover but which my publisher and I made totally free on Kindle and as a PDF.

As you work on your marketing plans, push back on those who misuse the word “free.” 

My research shows that a totally free white paper offered with no registration form will generate as much as 50 times more downloads as the same white paper with a registration form.

Here is a great example of a free ebook written ten years ago has generated millions of dollars in business for a marketing agency and it is still at the top of the search results generating interest from potential customers today. 

Which would you rather have: One email? Or 50 people exposed to your ideas?

New Call-to-action