Whether it’s a new product or service – the power of free goes a long way. Think about Sun Microsystem’s embracing of Open Source or VaynerMedia giving away all the assets and source code for a their custom FaceBook tab or bloggers like Seth Godin and Chris Brogan giving away actionable and inspiring info on their blogs every day. Think about HBO giving away the first episode (and soundtrack) for their new series How to Make It In America. All of these examples involve giving away some kind of intellectual property that already has intrinsic value. Whether its a platform, media or a comprehensive how-to – that stuff generates buzz and customers.
In the case of Sun, entire platforms are built and run on Sun’s technology. Giving away the tools helps people to build amazing things to run on Sun’s hardware. In the Case of HBO, giving away the first episode on YouTube as well as the soundtrack (which HBO does a great job of compiling throughout their different programs) generates a lot of buzz. Essentially it’s just digital sampling but it’s counter intuitive to their business model which is based around restricting access to its content. Did it make me want to check out the program? Absolutely. Did it make me want to purchase cable so I could pay to get HBO so I can watch episode two? No. But, did I inadvertently help them with promotion by blogging about the show? Got me there.
Now let’s look at Seth & Chris. Their blogs are two of the most read on the web and each day there are nuggets of great content, served fresh daily. Having that kind of expert share their insights via a blog is worth real cash. Does sharing that knowledge or those assets de-value their core products or services because they’re giving away the blueprints to something that they normally charge for? Hardly. Just because the code, the design, or the pointers that each of these examples give away is freely available doesn’t mean that everyone is going to take the time to deconstruct it and implement their own version. When push comes to shove, lots of people don’t want to mess with learning curves. They agree with the idea, but want to be lead.
I’d argue that this approach does two things. First, these businesses and experts can ‘afford’ to give that kind of quality content away, it makes you wonder how amazing their services are for the people who pony to pay for consulting or a custom strategy. Second, it is a great tool for generating what I’ll call ‘soft money.’ Whether that’s fees for speaking at events or the cash people will spend to get their latest book (both Trust Agents & Linchpin are highly recommended by the way) – people will put money where they find value.
What do YOU think? What as a business can you give people to sample? Can you grow your business this way and will more leads be generated as a byproduct of this Thank You Economy? Which industries can get hurt or helped by this? Fire away in the comments!