How to Drive Consumer Engagement with “Free Stuff”

Anyone who has attended or participated in a marketing event – whether a small roadshow or a large industry conference – knows that “free stuff” is common. Your brand and your competitors give away products as varied as pens, mugs, hats, or even hand sanitizer! Perhaps your company is questioning whether giving away products for free really generates brand loyalty and sales. Or, maybe you have been considering offering free products as part of your experiential marketing campaign and aren’t yet convinced. Let’s explore the science of why “free stuff” works.

Why It Works

Everyday decision-making involves weighing the costs and benefits of a decision. If a product’s benefits outweigh the perceived costs to the consumer, they will choose the product with greatest benefit and least risk. Not so when free comes into play – the introduction of free throws off how we normally process decisions! Why does the word “free” cause us to change how we make decisions?

Marketing researchers have identified a phenomenon known as the Zero Price Effect. Explained simply, when you pay your hard-earned cash for something, you’re taking a risk. You might not like what you get, in which case you’d actually lose money. When an item is free, it is perceived as having a higher value because it doesn’t come with that risk.*

The classic example comes from a series of experiments comparing premium chocolate (e.g., a Lindt truffle) to “low-value” chocolate (Hershey’s Kisses). When both chocolates were not free – for example, the truffle priced at 14 cents and the Kiss at 1 cent – the majority preferred the more expensive truffle. However, when the Hershey’s Kiss was free, the vast majority of people preferred it.

Perhaps you aren’t yet convinced. Another proposal for why “free” increases profits is the concept of reciprocity. When people receive something for free from you, they’re more likely to feel like they should try to make it up to you somehow – for example, by buying your products.  Randy Garner wrote that feeling obligated to reciprocate a favor “can occur despite the fact that we may never have requested the favor in the first place.” In sum, giving away something for free to your target audience could lead them to want to do something for your company in return.

Now that you understand the science behind “free stuff”, let’s explore the benefits of incorporating giveaways into your experiential marketing strategy.

Benefits of using giveaways and samples in experiential marketing

Experiential marketing and free giveaways are perfect partners. You already know the value of connecting with your audience and providing them a memorable experience. Adding free giveaways or samples will only add to the positive experience.

  • Samples allow you to introduce your products or services to unfamiliar audiences and expand the knowledge your customers have about your company. When the power of “free” draws people to your event, you have the perfect opportunity to engage with your customer base.
  • Samples aren’t just for new products, or for introducing your services to a new audience. Free samples also improve customer perception of your brand! As we’ve discussed previously, positive emotions make a lasting impression on consumers.
  • Experience is the driving factor. When people sample a product, they become more willing to actually buy that product. Sampling gave them a good experience! As a bonus, these experiences are often shared with others, especially with the use of social media.  However, the opposite can happen too. If a sample is provided and the sample doesn’t provide a good experience, that could negatively affect the decision to buy or not and will probably be shared on social media too.

Giveaways can also foster relationships and inspire brand loyalty, encourage repeat customers, and earn attention for your brand leading up to an event.

So how do you effectively use free samples to promote your products? Here are a few tips from our 20+ years of experience:

  • Create a plan for your experiential marketing program giveaways. Consider the audience (who you want to try your product), what you are hoping to achieve by having them try it (brand loyalty), and how you will measure success.
  • Give away something memorable and useful to your audience that they will use every day.
  • Stand out with something unique. It should be something that gets people to talk about it and matches your brand or message.

Ready to talk about an experiential marketing program that incorporates the best samples and giveaways?  Contact Pro Motion today at 636.449.3162.

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*Shampanier, K., Mazar, N., & Ariely, D. (2007). Zero as a special price: The true value of free products. Marketing Science, 26, 742-757.