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What Can You Give For Free?

May 29, 2013

I enjoy the experience of dining at nice restaurants – not the sort depicted in 1986 cult classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, where everything is stiff and snooty. With the rise of celebrity chefs exposure on television; the trend of unique, casual, fine dining restaurants has made it all across the country so that regular guests can explore a variety of culinary tastes from around the world.

One of my favorite showcases is in the form of an amuse-bouche – a single bite-sized hors d’ouvres that are not ordered by the guest, but presented for free by the chef. These one-bite wonders are often intensely flavored and hint at the skill, creativity, and influences of the chef while adding to the anticipation for the meal to come.

In talking to one Executive Chef of a restaurant who offers these; I was told that his restaurant has developed a bit of a reputation for their range and quality of these miniature morsels. Though the usual idea of amuse-bouche is that it is a surprise to the patron, we discussed leveraging it as a part of the marketing. By telling regular guests, subscribers to email list, and social media followers what they will be presenting (at no charge) they are enjoying more interaction and feedback from customers than ever before. Enough feedback to schedule a special event where the entire meal service incorporates over 20 of the highest-rated bites – albeit for a set fee.

These results triggered thoughts outside the food industry. Who else offers some form of a tiny prelude into their full range of services?

Author and marketing guru Seth Godin first caught my attention in 2001 by offering his book Unleashing The IdeaVirus as a free download. It became the #1 eBook in history and obviously sparked successful hardback and paperback sales. Because of this; I have purchased over half his titles for my library, and the same can be said for several other authors.

The music industry was revolutionized in 2007 when Radiohead released their 7th studio album In Rainbows exclusively as a pay-what-you-want model. Many other bands and musicians now enjoy great benefits for offering free downloads (Singles, videos, entire albums, live performances, etc) on their website.

This is completely different than the long-existing practice of giving or selling (at drastic discounts) the rejects, defects, returns, and nearly expired that most manufacturing processes engage in that you must give your most current, relevant, and very best. To do otherwise would fail to build a sustainable reputation.

So it seems that one strategy for growth is to give your best for free. What will you give for free?

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