The Marketing of FREE

I am a huge and most likely one of many silent fans of Hugh MacLeod of Gapingvoid.  Hugh is an interesting artist or, as he refers to himself, a cartoonist.  Daily, Hugh sends out thought pieces to members of his newsletter. The graphics are intriguingly complex, but more important to me, is the linkage to what inspired the art…his thought.  Today’s piece, #168, titled Freebies, hit a personal cord for me.

Hugh’s words:  “In today’s ‘free’ economy, we have become so used to getting things at no apparent cost to us, that many people actually start to believe that companies doing work for nothing is sustainable. At the end of the day, the sad fact is that money does need to change hands at some point because the landlord, electric company, grocer, needs to get paid, and, even businesses with apparently low cost business models have to live as well.

Twenty years ago, people wouldn’t have dreamed that they were entitled to get something for nothing, but the Internet had to prove its low cost ‘proof-of-concept’ by giving stuff away and now the idea seems to have pervaded the rest of the economy.

Next time you are thinking about asking someone to do something for nothing, why not ask yourself ‘what do I have that I can give in exchange’, even if it’s not cash.”

While Hugh’s point about role of the Internet (or perhaps more correctly Internet Marketers) in creating a false impression that knowledge distilled in digital books or skill sets elegantly coded in software should be  FREE is certainly valid, I have to disagree with his comment that “people 20 years ago wouldn’t have dreamed that they were entitled to get something for nothing”.

People may not have dreamed they were entitled to get something for nothing, but it certainly didn’t stop them from haggling.  In fact, I think the art of haggling, a fine art at that, is what we may miss in the ‘Add to Cart’ button transactions of today.  Twenty years ago, I recall companies in sunny San Diego wanting to hire experienced skilled marketing managers — no newbies need apply — yet, these companies didn’t want to pay hard dollars for that experience.  No, instead they talked of “sunshine dollars” as if rays of light might be an acceptable form of currency banks would accept for mortgages payments or were how one purchased food.


Hugh’s suggestion that before assuming something should be FREE, people need to ask what they can give in return is excellent.  In some respects, the Internet is also influencing such behavior through all things social, online two-way versus one-way dialogues and the increased emphasis on community sharing via popular sharing sites.

On a personal note, I am currently working with a small local retailer who wanted me to handle all of her marketing efforts, but claimed she couldn’t possibly afford me.  I was willing to do a few things for FREE in return for her tracking results (a biggy to me) and for her testimonial if my marketing efforts were successful.  In short order, she began to see what was involved (often an education process for many clients) and she began to see results.  She agreed to pay a small monthly retainer with the balance in ‘soft’ merchandise dollars.  Her offer is sufficient for my current role.  As my role grows, it is up to me to educate her about how much more time is involved and the value.   Plus, I have created a personal promoter, if you will.  She has already raved about me to all she thinks could use my services and that includes the Pastor of her Church.  Priceless. It would never occur to me that God needed marketing.

For me, the lesson of #168 Freebies is that nothing is really FREE and this includes one’s artistic talent, one’s analytical skills or one’s time.  Yet, payment can come in many forms, some far more valuable than hard cash.

P.S.  I strongly encourage one and all to sign up for Hugh’s newsletter, which you can do on GapingVoid blog or on his campaign archive.  He is good for the gray matter.

Sheila Hibbard

Sheila Hibbard takes the fluff, hype and confusion out of marketing and social media. She provides small business owners with straight forward, no nonsense marketing guidance and techniques that produce results based on her 35 plus years in advertising, communications, research, strategic planning and social media. Author of Marketing Online Made Simple - WHO.

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