Free is Not a Benefit

FeaturetobenefitIt’s a feature.

We think it’s a benefit because we know what we offer has value. It benefits from our experience and it’s designed to get someone to act on something.

Yet our prospects and users have not discovered any of that yet.

You are familiar with the definitions of features -– a product’s or service characteristics, which are you (read: company)-centered –- and that of benefits –- what your client, customer, user gets from using your product and engaging your service.

Because we do understand value based on context, perception, including external signal surrounding the product or service, like social preferences (for example, if Seth Godin or Mari Smith share a link to this post, you will think it's better), and relevance given timing, these are conditions that influence whether it benefits you or not.

For the sake of simplicity, let's say those conditions are met. And they are, by the way, more than one realizes.

When you say that something is free, you associate that in your mind with a benefit. Which is why most buy strategies involve stockpiling free stuff or doing stuff because it's "free" and not because it works, or it's actually helpful, incidentally. To the point that we have a thriving business around paying to store stuff once the garage is filled, and not just when moving from and to places, etc.

From the organization perspective, why is free a feature? Because it's something that is often readily available and which the prospect has no idea they need or want.

As such, the pick often goes to the simplest, less time consuming, most readily available thing you have to get someone to sample a product.

This is not to take away from the value of what is on offer. How many free seminar have you attended and then used the knowledge to actually do something for your business?

The same happens with your customers and prospects. Best practices, case studies, data, charts, how to information — there's loads of it circulating online every day. Often loads of the same advice rewritten and re-packaged by different people.

Is this advice the most useful for your audience?

For the prospect, user, and client, free is a gift. Yet it becomes a benefit only when it is used, learned, put into practice, and delivers results. Yes, even free books — the $25-business card, as they call them –  will not do you any good until you read them and put what you learn into practice.

Free is designed to get people into the conversation, yet when the conversation is about your product and service and not about their problem and need, it remains a feature and never becomes a benefit. I will gladly try this and that, yet that doesn’t mean I will purchase your item or avail myself of your services.

Only when what is offered is an experience that truly speaks to your prospect and user’s needs and wants, you begin to convert free from feature to benefit.


As a side note: It’s interesting to note that in Italian free is gratis (from Lat. variation of gratiis, out of kindness, orig. ablative plural of gratia, which means favor).

So here’s my question to you. What can you do today to make a sampling of what you do go from free as feature to a benefit in your prospects’ minds?


[updated from archives]


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