Is Free, Free - June's Marketing Blog

I am writing to you from our inaugural Staffing Industry Analysts' Co-employment and Risk Forum. Some people thought we were a little crazy to introduce a new conference this year in the current economic climate. We thought, what a better time to introduce a new product. The market is tough, but it will give us a chance to understand the market better and produce the best conference we can.

From a marketing point of view, every conference is never easy and this one proved to be as big a challenge as we thought it would be. The target market for the conference was different, the audience for the conference was different, the time of year was a challenge and, of course, the economy. We learned so many different marketing lessons I thought I would share them with you this month.

People don't trust free
We did a series of test e-mails to one of the target market segments. We offered one part of the list a discount to the conference and we offered the other the conference at no charge. The offer that had the best response rate the discount. What we learned is that people, at least in our market segment, don't trust free. They figured that there was some price to pay somewhere, it was just hidden. The discounted offer seemed more real and therefore more viable and valuable to our audience. So before you offer something for free, test your audience, they might perceive that 'free' is not 'free.'

Sometimes old school works
I know some of you might think this tactic was a little hokey, but it worked. With Facebook, Twitter, Linked In and other social networking devices one might think that calls and sending a fax is passe, but guess what sending out a fax worked.

We had to figure out how to send the fax, after all, who has fax software on their computer anymore? We didn't.  So we found an ASP who delivered broadcast faxes and we used them. I have to say I was quite impressed with the service. They were very hands-on, they gave us good advice and their reporting was excellent. Sending a broadcast fax was very economical and only three people wanted to be removed from the fax send. All in all it was a great experience for us and we will do it again.

By the way, if you want to know the service we used send me an e-mail and I will let you know.

What I have learned at our Risk Forum thus far
We structured this conference much differently than we have structured other conferences, it was an experiment. We invited both staffing companies and buyers of contingent labor to the conference. We thought it would be interesting, but we were concerned that the staffing companies would send their sales people, who would hound the buyers. Well fact of the matter is that didn't happen. The staffing companies sent their attorneys and their risk managers to the conference. The staffing company personnel complimented the buyers amazingly well, because they both came to improve their knowledge and understand the challenges that lie ahead.

Sponsors are here, but sponsors don't have booths. I think that is a challenge for some of the sponsors and also maybe a bit of a challenge for some of the attendees. Even though people don't like to be harassed by salespeople, I think the attendees miss the casual browsing of booths that they are used to having at our conferences. Because as the attendee casually browses he/she might see something of interest and have a chat with the sponsor.  At this conference, the sponsor really has to actively reach out to meet with the attendee and the attendee has to look for the sponsor. Surprisingly, many attendees have signed up to talk with the sponsors, so that was a great result for both.

In the future we might reconsider the booth situation, but I think this was a great experiment for all.

My advice this month
Experiment and take calculated risks, especially in a down market. Try things you might not otherwise have tried, your low expectations might be rewarded. Give people the opportunity to experiment with you and they too might be surprised by the results.

And unless you are offering candy or ice cream, free might not be the answer. People might not see the value in free or otherwise think there is a hidden cost. So think hard about selling something for 'free.'

As always, I enjoy your feedback and ideas, feel free to reply back in the blog, or send me an e-mail.

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