This week in class we were asked to review the Google, Facebook, etc. models and all their proclaimed free freedoms. The argument is that a person can pretty much load photos, video, manage email, calendar, etc within all these online applications and no one EVER asks for a dime. The class discussion is to provoke thought about how this affects our lives as business people first, how we advise other business people as a credible consultants later.
The concept of free is a bit counter intuitive for me. I’ve been taught it’s a naughty naughty word that commoditizes you and it completely devalues one’s unique selling proposition. It was enough of a pivotal career shift to learn how to apply the “I’m not free or discounted, so don’t even ask” notion to my work in the first place. It took me forever to outgrow those early years’ bad habits where I gave everything away for free in effort to get clients. The wrong kinds of clients!
I believe that building the audience on the premise of “FREE” first, one can then have leverage in other areas; but in my opinion not a sustainable model. Everyone says “Google and Facebook are doing it…so it must be working.” Indeed, for giant players with millions of members it’s fine. Their goal is not to attract the “Buy one get one free” short term customer, but a “Get free, park your butt and stay,” long term member. However for the medium or small businesses that can’t afford to have a customer base that pays…oh, “nothing,” it could be playing with fire.
So how does a small to medium sized business do “FREE” without having to move back in with the parents? A couple ways:
1. Groupon.com – This site is a gem for offering bulk coupons within a geographic area. They’re awesome at representing a business’ special offer as a value added benefit of going through them to get a deal. That’s completely different than the business itself offering the discount sending message “please do business with us.” They also do a great job of spelling out the retail price, giving that business much more creditability.
2. Game it up bebe! That’s right. It’s all about games today, 65% of Americans are playing some sort of digital game. Endlessly farming digital crops on Farmville and cooking up fabulous virtual cuisine in Cafe World, for the purpose of what? Garnering points! Yep. Points. Points towards rewards, points to show off to friends, points, points for everyone. Get creative and find ways to turn the activity of doing business with you into a game. Don’t be afraid to even hire an app creator (former webmasters) to create a virtual game for your company. It’s not as expensive as it may sound. I expect at least 100 free points for this tip by the way.
For the record, I don’t think ‘FREE’ is here to stay. We’re a society of classes, levels, whatever you want to call it, of people and things. The Internet is not exempt from this law. There will be those that value a service and will pay for it (like the $35 I just paid Pandora.com for ad free radio); those that don’t, won’t. Time will tell when the FREE frenzy will end…till then I have a virtual pet that needs to be fed before points get deducted.
I’d love some comments on this one.
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