When Freebie Offers Fall Flat

“Let’s give away something for free to get new clients!” someone suggests. “We’ll get them in the door and make them love us and then they’ll become long term customers. It will be fun!” they said.

In theory, giving away something of value can be an effective way to attract new clients. The trick is to nurture these leads using a planned out and seamless process so that they turn into actual new clients.

Here’s a funny little story that demonstrates how companies drop the ball when they start playing the freebie game. This summer I was grocery shopping and I saw an offer for free personalized stick-on labels with purchase of a box of cereal. I thought, “Perfect! I need cereal. I need labels. Done.”

When I went to redeem my free labels, I went to the special website landing page to pick out my “free labels”. The styles of labels were nice, but very limited. I guess because I was getting something for free, I can’t have whatever style I want.

Here’s the first problem, they didn’t showcase their full product offering while they had my attention.

 While I was there I thought, I need more labels for the other kids, so I tried to navigate to the website to do some shopping and SPEND MONEY. No go. I could not navigate away from the shopping cart to continue shopping. I had to take my free labels and go. There was no opportunity to buy more labels.

This is mistake number two, they should give the lead an opportunity to buy other things or try to upsell them a little bit. My added purchase would have offset the cost of the freebie.

Next I tried to check out using my special promo code, but surprise, surprise, the code was very difficult to read and after trying to crack the code using every possible combination of numbers and letters that resembled the wobbly code on the inside of my cereal box, I gave up and e-mailed the company. Thankfully they gave me a new code, so I could complete my “purchase”.

Mistake number 4; the experience was not smooth or flawless. Every step in the lead’s journey needs to tested and scrutinized.

To be fair, the cereal company handled the promo code printing, but still, let’s try not to drop the ball on any element of a campaign.

After my “purchase”, I did go back to the website and reviewed their other labels, but this time I couldn’t find the label styles that were offered in the “free labels” category, all I could find were labels with licensed characters on them. My kids are too hipster for TV show characters, so I left feeling frustrated and annoyed. Apparently the free labels were only for the freebie people and didn’t represent the styles of labels that this company typically would sell.

Mistake number 5, your freebie item should be representative of your business and the types of products (or services) you typically carry.

At the time of writing this (late September), I have yet to receive my free labels. School has started, items have gone off to school UNLABELLED. I’m living on the edge. The labels I purchased from another company were delivered promptly and I got those just in time for school. Apparently they realize that school starting is an important time for OCD parents like me that want to label everything that leaves the house.

The bottom line is that if you are going to give away a freebie, make sure you’ve planned it out so that it’s a smooth, brand relevant experience for the lead, and give the lead the opportunity to become a customer, sooner, rather than later.


Sharole Lawrence, Digital Marketing Consultant (and OCD label-loving Mom)