Monday, May 27, 2024
HomeMessagingWhen "Free" Doesn't Work: Anderson made me mad. Godin didn't.

When “Free” Doesn’t Work: Anderson made me mad. Godin didn’t.

Marketing folks understand the importance of expectation setting.  Marketing text books are filled with cautionary tales of companies that promised more than they could deliver and were punished by customers for it.  “Under-promise and over-deliver” is a worn out phrase around my office.

Let’s take the matter of pricing for example.  If your customer expects to get something for $X and late in the buying cycle – i.e. after she’s done thinking and evaluating options and is ready to buy – she suddenly finds out that it actually costs $2X, she’s going to be peeved.  In fact, she’s likely to go back to her list of alternatives and purchase something else, even if they also cost $2X.

This brings me to Chris Anderson and Seth Godin.

Every year I take a couple of weeks vacation at the lake and I read a bunch of books.  This year Chris Anderson’s book Free made it onto my list.  Folks were talking about it and I loved The Long Tail.  I had heard it was available electronically for free so this week I set about getting a copy of it.  Only I discovered it wasn’t available for free at all.  At least not for me.  First I checked out his blog where I found I could download an audiobook (it’s difficult to hear my children drowning in the lake with headphones on so this wasn’t an option for me) or online via a service called Scribd but the content is unavailable for folks in Canada.  Strangely enough I could read the book on the Scribd version that is embedded in Chris’s blog, but only if I’m connected.   My connectivity at the lake is spotty at best so this wasn’t going to work for me.  Google books had it but same problem there.  Shortcoverss had it but “free” for folks in Canada translates to $11.99.  I don’t have an e-book reader but even if I did, it turned out the book was only available for free in those formats for a limited time.  I passed a bookstore and checked the price – $34.99.  Then I texted a friend of mine and asked to borrow her copy.  What do I look like?  Some kind of sucker that buys a free book for $34.99?

Last year I pre-ordered a copy of Seth Godin’s new book, “Tribes”.  There was some incentive to pre-order it in the form of having access to an invitation-only social network thingy that I wasn’t all that interested in but I figured I was going to buy the book anyway so why not do the pre-order and get the membership.  Then a funny thing happened.  I got 2 copies of the book.  The additional copy came with a letter from Seth encouraging me to give the second copy away if I enjoyed it (which I did and I did).  I was pretty happy.  And I had just paid $22 for the book(s).

The lesson here is that if I expect free and you try to make me pay, I’m unhappy.  If I expect to pay and then get something for free, I’m happy.  I’m sure Chris Anderson makes great points about this in his book.  I’ll let you know after my vacation.

Now, have a look at the products that you’re marketing.  Are you setting your customer’s expectations higher or lower than what you are actually delivering?

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  1. So true. Once you set the free expectation, there is no going back.
    I did get “Free” for free on my iPhone but ended up buying the book anyway. Just couldn’t get into reading on the small screen for more than a few minutes.
    Lots of provoking points in the book so looking forward to hearing your thoughts.


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