Customized Online Media: How You Respond to F-R-E-E

As the worlds of digital, mobile and offline advertising become more integrated, advertisers and media owners are having to come up with new ways to get their content in front of consumers as well as track down potential leads. One of the tactics that has proved successful in recent years is offering online users certain pieces of key content for free. Many sites now offer their services for free, including all the major players such as Facebook and YouTube, and are supported financially by advertising revenue.

However, the market is now so full with media owners providing content for free that an important question is often asked: is free content the way forward for the industry and do users even respect and value content that comes with no price tag?

The Price of Free

More and more consumers are beginning to walk away from content that is perceived as free. As the market of free grows and more advertisers use it to drive their businesses forward, consumers are beginning to understand that even if something is free, there will ultimately be a price to pay for it later.

Even something as simple as an email address is often asked for in exchange for free content and while there may not be a monetary sum on the content consumers are accessing, it does allow media owners to contact them in the future.

As any online marketer will tell you, the real money lies in having a highly targeted list of customers potentially willing to buy your products in the future.

The Value of Free

Consumers are also beginning to question the value of something that they get for free. Something that is free, even if it is online content, can be judged almost as being worthless.

As a society that completes transactions financially and trades goods based on their monetary worth, the idea of free content comes with two large problems for consumers:

1) that even the owners of the content themselves do not judge it to be worth anything and thus are giving it away

2) that nobody else is willing to pay for the content, making it worthless.

The Future of Free

Free content is generally better accepted when it is offered as part of a more complete offer that will eventually cost consumers money. Users are more willing to accept that at least a taste of the future offer is free because it gives them faith in the advertiser’s intention to eventually charge them — in short, it reinstates the status quo that something worth having is worth paying for.

One good way for media owners to do this is by combining free content with a paid offer, as vacation rental firm HomeAway has recently done. The company launched an app allowing users to edit their own customized HomeAway commercial for free. This is great for branding and also allows the user to have a fun and unique experience with the company- something that will stick out in their minds when looking for a rental company in the future.

Striking the right balance between free and valuable content can be difficult for today’s brand advertisers. So, how do you respond to free content and how do you value it?

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