How Much Is ‘Free’ Worth?

In a world where information and content are free, one mail piece stands alone and demands payment. Ummm … actually, pretty much all of them do. It’s just that there’s one that makes a good point up front while doing so.

In a world where information and content are free, one mail piece stands alone, and demands payment. Ummm … actually, pretty much all of them do. It’s just that there’s one that makes a good point up front while doing so.

“Free is a magic word,” said the late Dick Benson. It’s all over direct mail. You can highlight it, put it in all caps, add an exclamation point, or just let it work its copy mojo all by itself. It’s a great way to lift response.

FreeGeneWBut most of the time, there really is no such thing as a free lunch.

What sparked this post was a subscription effort for an investment newsletter that I came across while analyzing mail for Who’s Mailing What!

Morningstar_0001As you can see from the outer, it’s kind of on the plain side. No big, screaming type, no wild predictions of financial boom or doom. Just a calm introduction to a good argument made inside the envelope.

It grabbed me right from the jump with the teaser: “There’s so much free mutual fund information out there. Why do I need Morningstar FundInvestor?” I love that bit of internal monologue.  And I don’t even remember seeing the concept of free content addressed so bluntly by a direct mail campaign.

Inside the envelope, the letter, by Russel Kinnel (the newsletter’s editor), calls out the “free” competition available in the marketplace. “[F]ree investment information often comes at a price,” he writes. When that price is bad information, “too many investors do the wrong things.”

He boasts about how the newsletter’s researchers – “the best in the industry” – provide guidance to investors. They help with “a 360-degree view of a mutual fund” in a “market flooded with mutual fund information … [and] make sense of it all.”

The tone throughout the letter is pure confidence, and why shouldn’t it be?

Providing free content is great because it’s a nice thing to do. Done often enough, you can position yourself as an authority. But the added value that Morningstar talks about, like cutting through clutter, and curating what their experience tells them is important to clients at a more individual level, bring credibility and trust to a whole other level.

A lot of direct mail and email I read every day actually hits on a lot of this, whether it’s an insurance agent talking about his extensive training, or a telecom provider promoting the exclusive programming it carries.

It’s like the difference between doing your own electrical work, or hiring a professional to do the job after you’ve done your due diligence. You not only get the desired result, but you get structure, support, and accountability that come along with it.

Yes, information can be free. But education is priceless.

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