For marketers, the idea of giving away something of value – for free – in exchange for something else is ages old. That “something else” might be demographic information, an opt-in email, an add-on for purchasing goods or services, or for taking a survey. I’m sure we have all seen this before as consumers: you go onto a website or a blog, and to entice you to opt-in to a newsletter, you are offered something of value for free in exchange. For me, I get a lot of surveys from the various professional organizations I belong to in my inbox, and nine times out of ten, I’m offered a free report or a free gift certificate in exchange for my time in taking the survey. What’s fair is fair; I’m providing my valuable time and insights to take a vendor’s survey, and in return I get something to compensate me for my 10-15 minutes of time.
This marketing strategy, like I said, has been around for years and can be very effective for a marketer IF one thing is true: that what you’re offering the consumer in return has some value. A very popular thing marketers are offering these days are free e-books. Theoretically, this is great…as long as the e-books provide real value.
This unfortunately is a huge stipulation and often a huge oversight for marketers in their zest for getting your email address, an opt-in, a sale or a survey response. When someone thinks of receiving a free e-book, they believe at the very least there will be something of value to them which makes it worth their while for opting into a newsletter or taking a survey in the first place. An e-book, right…the word just connotes that I will learn something or derive one piece of new information which may be helpful to me. However, when the e-book you receive is basically another advertisement or a complete clone of marketing material taken from a website, it produces the opposite effect. A very negative one. Let me give you one specific (anonymous) example.
One of my friends runs a blog, and I’m opted in so that when the site updates or my friend makes a new post, I get an email telling me there’s a new post so I can go check it out. He posts a lot so I get quite a few email updates from him. Occasionally, I get emails from his website which are pretty clear solicitations for services that my friend himself does not offer (in other words, another advertiser paid to rent my friend’s mailing list and is now emailing the list to offer his or her services). This is all fine, and when I opted in to my friends site I agreed to receive these types of 3rd party solicitations. All good so far.
So today, I opened up an email from a third party who rented the list talking about tips to produce insane traffic generation to one’s website. Like, the “holy grail” of traffic generation and offering me “secrets” that no one else knows about. Obviously, since I’m in the business of online marketing and traffic generation, and have been for over a decade, I don’t think there are too many tactics I’m unaware of, but I was curious more about the marketing from this particular advertiser than I was about the services they were pitching. So, I clicked the email, went to this advertisers site, and scrolled down a really long page which housed testimonials, statistics showing lots of traffic growth, and all kinds of promises that if you try this software out you will double, triple, or quadruple your traffic. I kept reading and at the bottom was the primary call to action: “Opt-in to my mailing list and receive the free e-book showing you the secrets of enormous traffic generation.”
Sounded interesting enough, compelling call to action, so I played along to see what would happen next. Sure enough, five minutes later I got an email with the attached e-book as promised. Still, all good so far, I had given my email address and in exchange was getting something of value for giving away my email.
Or so I thought.
The free e-book I received was an exact clone of the very web page of the very website I scrolled through minutes before. Just to give you an idea of how long the web page was that I looked at prior to giving my email address, it was the equivalent of a 17-page PDF. How do I know? Because when I say it was exactly the same, I mean it was exactly the same. Verbatim.
Now, I think I pride myself on being a savvy marketer who is pretty well-versed in most direct marketing strategies and tactics. And unlike most who may have dropped their email address on this site because of this particular solicitation, I was far more skeptical and wanted to go through the process to see what would happen. Basically, I was laughably disappointed. Within one minute of opening my free e-book, I unsubscribed from all future email communications from this vendor.
You see, this is an example of why there are naysayers of marketing and specifically direct marketing. It really pisses me off when people are so idiotic or lazy. In the very first sentence of this post above, I put a very important phrase: “of value”. Gone are the days that marketers can push their message onto consumers or prospects. But, the practice of providing something of value in exchange for the right to communicate to consumers is still very much alive. As a marketer, when you are trying to collect money for a sale, an email address or something else that belongs to the consumer, you have to give them an honest reason to proceed and have to give them something of value in return. You have to make good on your promise, because you as the marketer are basically signing an agreement with the consumer that says “thank you for providing me the right to speak with you in the future; as promised here is something I think you will find valuable as a way to compensate you in return.”
Call it laziness or stupidity, but for whatever reason this vendor clearly failed in that regard. Giving away free e-books is a great idea for marketers and a great way to establish an honest communication pipeline between marketer and consumer.
But giving away crappy free e-books, which are cloned from content that the consumer has already seen and is also another solicitation, is much worse than not giving anything away at all.
Lesson: If you’re a marketer and in the business of giving something away for free in exchange for something the consumer owns, please make sure it has some real value or can be helpful to the consumer.