Free Samples

Free Samples: Why Even Rock Stars Are Giving It Away

by Tom McKay

Harry Connick Jr. was on Imus in the Morning on MSNBC this morning (1/31/07), promoting his terrific new CD, Oh, My Nola — and not coincidentally, to plug his upcoming nationwide tour. A few days ago, the country group Big & Rich appeared on Imus. Why?

Why are top artists so willing to appear on TV and radio, even if it means getting up at the crack of dawn? For the exposure, of course. Playing a tune or two on the air is a “free sample” of their new CD. It’s just like the free taste you get at Baskin & Robbins or Starbucks.

Free samples are a proven way to introduce new products or services to existing fans, and hopefully attract lots of new ones. If they like the sample, who knows — they just might buy the whole package.

Does your business use free samples to introduce your products and services to new customers? If not, you’re missing an important sales channel.

In Guerrilla Marketing, Jay Conrad Levinson called sampling “the most effective marketing method available… assuming you have an excellent product or service.” (Free samples of junk, obviously, will only hurt you.)

The benefits are obvious:

  • You introduce yourself to lots of potential new customers.
  • The cost is low, especially compared to traditional advertising.
  • It reduces the risk for the prospect. You’re no longer a stranger, an unknown quantity.
  • You’re not perceived as a pushy salesperson “selling” something. Instead, you’re giving away something of value for free, so the interpersonal dynamic is dramatically different.
  • They may even feel a sense of gratitude, that they “owe” you something and need to repay it.
  • In the case of financial planners and other consultants, a free consultation allows you to show off your expertise, thus positioning you as an expert in your field — a nice position to be in!

Even if it turns out the person receiving the free sample isn’t a potential customer, they’ll often mention you to a friend or colleague who is. And of course a referral from a trusted friend has more credibility and influence than a hundred sales calls.

How can your company use free samples to attract new customers?

Consider these proven methods. Could your company try something similar?

  • Software makers frequently offer a 30-day free trial. Some high-end mattress companies offer a 90 “night” trial.
  • Amazon lets you read excerpts of books and hear 30-second previews of songs from CDs.
  • Oreck lets you use one of their vacuum cleaners in your home for 30 days. If you’re not satisfied, return it and pay nothing. They even pay the shipping. Confidence? I’ll say. It also predisposes the customer to have faith in the product.
  • Proctor and Gamble and other merchandising giants have long introduced new detergents, toothpastes, etc. by distributing trial-sized free samples.
  • Some carpet cleaning companies will clean one rug free, in hopes you’ll be pleased enough to hire them to do the rest of the house.
  • Consultants of many stripes (including me) offer a free initial consultation to see if your need and their expertise are a good fit. In a similar vein, photographers, graphic designers and Web developers often display examples of their work on their Web sites to impress potential clients.
  • Musicians, especially less-known artists, offer free downloads of new tunes.

If you have confidence in your product or service, why not figure out a way to let your customers try it at no cost, with no risk.

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