Promote The Right Thing

Promotions – which usually means giving something away free – can be a great way to raise awareness, build a relationship with a potential customer, and give them a chance to experience your product first hand...

...If you do it right!

Case in point:  I downloaded a free iPhone app that helps you learn German.  Like many free apps, it's a "lite" version designed to expose potential customers to the product and entice them to buy the full or 'pro' version.

It's a nice little app.  Every night at midnight, a new German word arrives on my phone.  The app will pronounce it properly for me.  It will show me examples of the word in use in German, and (usually) supply the English translation for the phrase or sentence.  There's often a picture of it, too. (Which can present an interesting challenge at times.  Today's word is actually a phrase, "ich verstehe das nicht" – "I don't understand" - and the picture of it is a woman facing a geometry figure on a blackboard and scratching her head.)

All good.  After using it for about three weeks, I got several cool words, a number of useful words, and a couple of close English cognates that made me feel more confortable with German. I began to think about buying the full app.  But it was $14.99, a little expensive for something I wasn't yet particularly committed to, so I decided to use it some more.

That's when the app designer lost the sale.

The longer I used the app, the more close cognates I got.  For example, in the past week, I've gotten Komodie ("comedy"), Japanische Yen ("Japanese Yen"), oft ("often"), and Los Angeles ("Los Angeles").  More than half were close cognates, some laughably close.

Now, I no longer feel like the cognates make me comfortable with German.  I feel like either the app developer is deliberately giving me educational junk-food to force me to pay up to get more substantial education (bad impression of the brand), or else German is so close to English that it's hardly worth $14.99 (doubting value of the product).  Neither of these feelings makes me want to buy.

What do we learn from this?

1) If you're going to give something away, think through the way it will be received and used, and what that experience will say about your company.  The best promotional item I've ever seen is a simple plastic stick-pen, bent into a dog-leg and imprinted with the name of a chiropractor.  Every time you use the pen, you think about your back.  If the shape of the pen makes it hard for you to use, it will also make you think about your body being nonfunctional when it's bent up.

2) If you're giving away a product sample that's intended to be utilized (as distinct from just sitting on a shelf looking pretty), give away the quality and quantity of product adequate to producing a great result.  It could be a small great result, but it better be great.   One of our clients gave away samples of a new concrete coloring treatment.  The sample was just right: the perfect size for coloring one 2-car garage floor.  Our client knew perfectly well that no intelligent decorative concrete contractor would use an untried product on a client's job, but they all test products out in their garages.  This way, they could get an entire nice garage out of it (not just a 4'x4' patch in the corner), and end up feeling good about the product and the company they got it from.

If you're giving away freebies, there's a temptation to try to limit the expense.  Understandable, but don't limit the $$$ in a way that undercuts the object of the promotion.  Whatever you give away, make it represent the quality and intelligence you want associated with your brand.