Tuesday, September 19, 2006

There’s no such thing as a free panty

Of all of the credit card bills I’ve had to pay in my life, the one I probably least expected was … a lingerie bill. Still, there I was, making out a check for a three-digit sum to pay off my wife’s Victoria’s Secret card. But what was even more fascinating, and a good business lesson for all of us, was how that balance got there in the first place.

You see, Victoria’s Secret regularly sends its credit card holders a little envelope containing something that is small in size, but devastating in its impact – a card good for a free panty, no strings attached.

On the face of it, it makes no sense at all to be giving away free merchandise. But think about it for a moment. Victoria’s Secret is a chain of small specialty stores. You don’t go there every week, like you go to the grocery store. And since sexy underwear isn’t exactly one of life’s necessities, it’s all too easy to forget about the place entirely – which Victoria’s Secret, of course, doesn’t want you to do. That’s where the free panty comes in.

Once this little card motivates you to get in your car and go to the store, people get tantalized by all the other sexy-looking merchandise in the store – and combined with their ever-so-helpful staff doing their best job of suggestive selling, they often emerge with their free panty and a lot more. And what’s more important, they feel good about it. Everybody wins, except perhaps the person in our household (that would be me) who has to pay the bill.

This got me thinking about my own business. I make my living doing training and freelance writing, and I am always giving things away free. When I do a free talk or marketing event, for example, I don’t tease them about material in my books or training programs – I let them have it right between the eyes with important skills they can take home with them that day. And you know what? I’ve probably earned more money from giving away content, and having people come back for more, than anything else I’ve ever done.

This trend of giving away things of real value for free seems to be taking hold in the public consciousness as well. For example, it used to be common practice for hucksters to give quote-unquote free seminars that were little more than teasers for their paid products. While those types are unfortunately still around, I’ve noticed that the people I respect most in my sphere of communications skills give away tons of great information for free. They have content on their website, free newsletters, free teleconferences, live chat sessions – and it’s all good stuff. And plenty of people, myself included, often come back and cross their palms with silver after coming in for their “free panty.”

So, if there is one lesson I am taking away from paying this big underwear bill, it’s a newfound respect for the company who has built a business empire out of turning so little fabric into so much profit. Take a look at what you can start giving away for free, and see what it does for – sorry, no pun intended – your bottom line.

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