Have you ever heard a digital marketer say…
‘You should give away your best content for free.’
When I first heard this advice, I thought, ‘Duh!’
‘You’d be crazy not to give away your best content for free.’
‘After all, if you show someone your best content, how can they NOT want to see what your premium content has to offer?’
This was naive.
While outgiving the universe is one of the fastest paths to success. You have to outgive in the right context. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
Why ‘give away your best content for free’ is bad advice, generally speaking.
A lot of digital business owners make the mistake of creating premium products or services that are too similar to the free content/product/services they offer.
If you do this, your customers begin to look at you one of two ways:
This person is unoriginal — if your premium content overlaps too much with your free content, then customers will eventually cancel their subscription or ask for a refund because they can get most of what you’re selling for free.
This person is greedy — if your premium content is content your readers haven’t seen before, but is on the same topic (so you’ve been withholding), your readers will see you as greedy.
The good news is I’m going to show you a third — better — option for creating premium products your customers love. But first, what do you think makes a customer loyal?
Research from the University of Idaho and Arizona State finds that loyalty comprises three main factors
Quality and value of the product or service. Satisfied customers aren’t always loyal, but loyal customers are almost always satisfied. The product offering must have intrinsic value and customers must perceive it.
Market dynamics. The cost and risk of switching is a major factor. When there are no or few good options, customers are stuck. They are loyal simply because they have no other choice.
Relationship. Strength of attachment between customer and supplier matters. Preference or ambivalence influences repurchase decisions.
For today, our focus is on #1 and #3
1) Quality and value of the product or service
What does intrinsic value mean?
Intrinsic value is how your customer feels about your product. The intrinsic value of your product might not equal the current market value of your product — it could be higher or lower.
When you give away your best content for free, you’re creating lots value. This is good. The struggle then becomes continuing to add value.
Ed Powers, a researcher at Service Excellent Partners, who specializes in customer loyalty, puts it like this:
After every learning experience, the subconscious compares two values: how rewarding something was versus how rewarding it was expected to be. The brain then bursts dopamine if rewards exceed expectations, and limits it when the opposite occurs. In this manner, the brain trains itself to pursue pleasurable situations and avoid painful ones… In effect, loyalty is about encouraging the accumulation of dopamine in customers’ brains, so that they’re hesitant to experience the pain of withdrawal.
This is why giving away your best content for free on one topic makes it hard to create a premium product on the same topic that exceeds your customer expectations.
Trust drives loyalty.
“When trust is high,” says Powers, “extending the subscription contract is a no-brainer. Scientists call this affective commitment — people prefer to do business with people they know, like, and trust.”
According to Powers, the attributes scientists most often associate with trust are as follows:
Ability — Competence, predictability, and consistency in behavior.
Benevolence — Caring, goodwill, empathy, and commitment to shared goals.
Integrity — Fairness, objectivity, honesty, and open communication.
Right away, you can see why being greedy is a bad idea.
Another mistake is offering premium products that are continuations of your best free content, and mistaking this for consistency.
You want the quality of your free content to be consistent with the quality of your premium content. For that to happen, your premium content needs to cover a different but somewhat-related topic than your free content. This brings us to our third — better — option.
Google is an example of a company using option #3.
What is Google’s best free service?
Its search engine. You get access to one of the world’s largest content aggregators for FREE.
What does Google sell?
Google sells ads and cloud storage. Two products somewhat related to search, but different enough that Google can offer you 100% of its best free product, while keeping its paid products 99% exclusive.
Lastly, if your content and your products are the same right now, don’t panic. You just need to be methodical in how you give away content and explain with full disclosure to your customers what you’re doing.
I hope this advice helps you create premium products your customers love. If you have any comments or experience selling premium products, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
The Daily Brief