Use the word 'free' strategically for more leads

SOME TRUTHS NEVER change, and here's one that's never the most popular: "You've got to give to get." Consumer giveaways can come in the form of free gifts, gift certificates, drawings for weekend trips and so forth. You may have an opinion on these already and so do I, which is this: I hate them, and I love them. Before you think I'm a manic marketer who can't make up his mind, check this out or,

SOME TRUTHS NEVER change, and here's one that's never the most popular: "You've got to give to get."

Consumer giveaways can come in the form of free gifts, gift certificates, drawings for weekend trips and so forth. You may have an opinion on these already and so do I, which is this: I hate them, and I love them.

Before you think I'm a manic marketer who can't make up his mind, check this out or, better yet, don't check it out. Oh, never mind, you'll see what I mean.

Do you like getting a little bonus, a little something extra, maybe a free service now and then? Your customers do too.

But even knowing that you are personally on board with the process, you as a plumbing contractor may be asking an age-old question. If you're in business to make money, why in the world would you give something away? And isn't this seen as gimmicky?

Simple answer here. Giveaways work. Free stuff works.

The most powerful marketing word that exists is "free." I wish I could come up with a better one, but it hasn't been invented yet. That's why I love the intelligent use of this word (more in a moment).

But it maddens me too. That's because giveaways are everywhere, continually overused, over-said and, in one huge way, very over-rated. The giveaway has become the circus barker's byword of "too good to be true," thus the occasional "gimmicky" description. The result is that legions of potential customers respond first with, "What's the catch?" When used unwisely, the word "free" repels as many — or more — than it attracts.

So is the word indecisive, or is it me? I'll let you make the call.

You saw I italicized "intelligent" and "unwisely" in my floundering descriptions of how "free" is used in marketing. That's your key to the usage right there.

When to use it
In direct-response ads (one of the five basic message types of ads you definitely should use) free is the gateway to response. It lowers the barrier to leads and gains acceptance, causing those seeking a risk-free way to gain your service offering to be magically drawn to the phone. But only when used as a way to offer something of value and validity that supports the core offer.

In other words, when testing water quality, installing filtration or working on supply lines, offer a free "safe drinking water" dispenser (with your logo on it, of course) or something related to the quality of the water. This supports and increases the value of your already highly prized filtration service and pulls it closer to irresistible. This is critical. Why?

The entire reason you run direct-response ads is to create a flood of leads, based on the irresistibility of the offer. "Free" things add to that attraction. When you insert a limitation or a deadline, you drive home the sense of urgency, which means the lead count rises even faster in an effort to "beat" the limitation.

Not sure if this works?

Real results
We took a four-color "tune-up" postcard a contractor had mailed to 16,000 people over a six-week period every year for the past four years. His average response rate for this card was about 30 appointments, or about a .02% response. He did this partly for image, partly for recognition, to remind them of the service "need," and to get some sales. It worked marginally, but it's all he had.

He hired us to do a rewrite. We followed a rigid direct-response formula, using a "free" thing (that he was already giving away, but we just made a big deal out of it) and a deadline. Plus, we killed the four-color expensive postcard and made it black and white, so it saved him some printing money. Results?

Same people, same time of year, same basic offer but seriously "response-oriented" generated 176 leads. He sold more from this "slow spring" offer than ever (total about $84,000). All in the power of direct response that highlighted something for nothing.

That's just one example. You can use these direct-response triggers with your plumbing tune-ups, upgrades, whole-house filtration, or other services and products. We've even used this with "free plumbing inspections" to new homeowners to the area (typically known as "Welcome Wagon" lists) with excellent response. In fact, we've created many letters, ads and postcards for the purpose of "giving to get" with blistering results.

A hidden lesson
Yet if you were reading closely or have one of our marketing packages, you know there's something we suggest you never offer "free" in your ads. And that's the "indistinct connection."

For example, offering a free vacation with a bath remodel is a "mental dis-connect" for your prospects. A vacation has nothing to do with a plumbing upgrade, so you're going down two paths at once. We have never been able to make these "indistinct connections" work and have wasted a ton of money trying. My advice: Don't do it.

However, you can use a vacation as an "onsite" sales closer, but not in your outbound marketing unless you just love expensive experimentation.

In other words, as your tech is discussing the merits of choosing you for the job, he also throws in: "And if you were planning on taking a vacation with your family, we have a vacation package that we offer our top customers. They come with all accommodations included, it's not a sales pitch and it is free. It's merely a bonus for choosing us. And if you can work out the details, it may make sense to do it while your bath is out of commission. Either way, it's yours free with the job." See, that ties in as an incentive to choose you in the onsite close, but it's a loser in your outbound marketing.

But "gift certificates" are another story, and there's one way they can be used as marketing "gold."

Include them as "Thank Yous" to your customers only. These would be in follow-up letters, newsletters (their best use and I'll tell you why in a second) or as a "make good" if you messed up on a service call. Gift certificates are a terrific way to say thank you and make customers feel special, building the relationship. You'll be a total standout for using them too.

In a newsletter, you can use a gift certificate offer as a coupon. It costs you zero more to print it in the newsletter, plus if you're really smart, you'll have the vendor (restaurant, etc.) pay part of your newsletter cost to be included in this promotion.

Not bad. The vendor pays for your retention effort.

So use "free," but use it wisely. If you do, you'll gain more results, better customer relations and more bang for your marketing dollar. All because you were willing to give to get.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. For a free 12-page report titled "Get More Plumbing Leads in Less Time," send your polite request along with your address to freestuff@ hudsonink.com. Call 800/489-9099 for more information or visit www.hudsonink.com for free marketing articles and reports. To receive a free bi-monthly newsletter full of marketing tips, fax your request to 334/262-1115.

TAGS: Marketing