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Physical and Free: How to Use Real-World Gifts to Inexpensively Drive Online Traffic

This guest post is by Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing.

If you’re reading this, you probably want traffic. And when it comes to traffic, there’s a lineup of “usual suspects” to consider; there’s SEO, PPC, blog commenting, Facebook, Twitter, and the list goes on and on.

Except I’m guessing that if you’ve been online for more than a few weeks, you’ve already considered all of these options, and they haven’t panned out nearly as well as you hoped.

I’m guessing that if you’re reading this, it’s because you’re looking for another option. One that everyone else isn’t doing, and one that really will give you a chance stand out, build relationships, and develop a following.

Been there, done that, seen it already

Let me start by asking you a quick question. How many free ebooks have you traded your email address for lately? What about free reports? White papers? Video courses? Lots, right?

Giving and getting free digital content has become so common that it’s almost a joke, and it’s definitely a commodity that—while sometimes useful—doesn’t impress anyone.

Do you have a folder on your desktop for all the free digital products that you signed up for? Many people do, and so did I—until I realized that I’m never really going to get to them, and deleted it!

At best, it’s a folder that people have every intention of sorting through, making use of the contents, and hopefully learning something. But the honest truth is that most of these things don’t get read, or even noticed.

Which leads to a big problem that many bloggers and online marketers face when it comes to getting attention…

Forgetfulness, inattention, and digital overload

Most of the time, we download our free content, put it aside and forget about it. We’re busy. Well intentioned, but busy. And it doesn’t take long for “I’ll download it and read it eventually” to change into “I’m  not going to bother downloading it at all!”

It’s a practical and reasonable defense mechanism. There is only so much information a person can take in over the course of a day, and when you spend most of that day online, you’re looking at a veritable sea of facts, ideas and opinions.

So, out of necessity, we learn to filter our digital information input, and all too often that free report you slaved over ends up being passed over, ignored, or not even noticed in the first place.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t capture attention by offering something, it just has to be done differently…

The beautiful difference of “physical”

I want to contrast—just for a moment—that folder of PDFs hidden somewhere on my computer with the pile of books looming over my desk. I bought most of them because I was interested, several of them because of a friend’s strong recommendation, and a few were gifts.

They sit in a pile on my desk and I look at them every day. They’re begging to be read, and I want to read them. And sooner or later, I make the time to do it (that’s why I made a point of creating a physical version of my book, even though it’s available as a free download).

Now imagine if your free giveaway had that kind of a hold on the recipient.

When the giveaway is physical—whether it’s a book or a refrigerator magnet—it creates… not quite a sense of obligation, but a sense of privilege.  You get to use it, because someone took the time to create it and send it to you. And you’re a lot more likely to make the time for it, remember it, and maybe even talk about it.

Why? Because we are physical beings. We like to hold things in our hands. We develop strong emotional and mental attachments to the physical objects in our lives. That’s just a fact.

So why not take advantage of it? Ah, yes, the issue of cost…

Doesn’t physical = expensive?

This is the part where people jump up and down and say “Wait a second, isn’t giving away all of that free stuff going to be expensive? How am I supposed to afford it?!”

That’s a fair point, except that it misses several important points:

  1. It’s not cost that matters, it’s return on investment. If you spend a certain amount per subscriber, and each subscriber generates several times that in annual revenue, then it’s a great deal.
  2. It doesn’t have to be expensive. You’d be surprised what you can have produced these days and how low the prices can be. More on that in a bit.
  3. Not everybody has to get one! Who said that a physical free product is available for anyone who raises their hand? Why not make it that much more attractive (and make the digital version that much more attractive, too) by limiting access?

The third point is what I really want to talk about here: limiting access by giving selectively, and doing targeted contests giveaways.

First, let’s define our terms. A blog giveaway is where the reader who leaves the best comment, creates the most social shares, or comes up with the best idea gets an awesome physical prize. In other words, you get the best of both worlds, and at a very reasonable price: everyone gets a shot at the prize, it raises the value of everything else that you’re doing, and it generates buzz and excitement in the process!

It’s a great way of having something physical, and valuable, showcasing it to everyone, and giving people a good reason to spread the word. But you don’t even need a contest to give something away for free.

Targeted giveaways of free physical goods

Sometimes, you’ll want to do a giveaway without all the fanfare, just as a gesture of appreciation of goodwill.

Maybe for people who have already bought stuff from you in the past, or who have been on your list for a long time, or filled out a survey … or maybe you just appreciate them for who they are and what they do, and give them a chance to feel the same way about you.

Your giveaway—whether it’s a book, booklet, CD, worksheet, or whatever—can be a wonderful testament to the value that you’re looking to offer, that will impress those who receive it. So if there’s someone that you want to connect with and impress, then send them something physical!

Or better yet, send them two—one for them, and one that they can use as a giveaway on their blog. We did this with Engagement from Scratch!, and it helped us connect with a huge number of new readers. And it wasn’t complicated, or expensive—we just added another copy of the book into the packages that we were already sending out, with a note saying: “Ideas are for sharing. So are books. I hope that’s what you’ll do with this—share it!”

So am I saying that you need to publish a book to make this work? No, of course not.

Getting started with physical and free

The key is to take the time to think about who you might want to give something away to, and what they would appreciate.

It can be as simple as turning your digital ebook into a physical book using a service like Blurb or Lulu (which are great for inexpensively self-publishing books, booklets, photobooks, etc.), or putting your logo (or a snazzy design) on some apparel, decorative office items, fridge magnets, or anything else, using a service like CafePress or Zazzle.

Just decide what you want to create, get the file ready, and upload it to the service of your choice. And order one copy. Just one. For you.

Once you hold it in your hand, your head is going to start spinning with ideas.

Why? Because we’re physical beings, and we like holding things in our hands. And so will your audience.

Danny Iny (@DannyIny), a.k.a. the “Freddy Krueger of Blogging”, teaches marketing that works at Firepole Marketing. Together with Guy Kawasaki, Brian Clark and Mitch Joel, he wrote the book on building engaged audiences from scratch (available on Amazon, or as a free download).

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Comments

  1. very very good text, thanks..

  2. Fabrizio says:

    Great post, sometimes when I’m giving away digital goods that I’ve paid money for, I don’t actually feel like I’m giving anything away at all, using physical goods however could definitely be something worth thinking about though, even with the bother of having to go out and buy something and wrapping it up and sending it to someone, at lease then I’d feel yep I’ve given something REAL away this time.

  3. Tracy says:

    Great post, Danny–and I agree–I prefer something in my hands. With all the digital content that’s available I think it’d be a welcomed change for many. Thanks!

  4. Carolyn says:

    This has worked really well for me — my blog is about cooking on a family boat and I give out reusable grocery bags. Readers love them!! Bright red, with a monster logo — total cost including envelope and shipping is about $3. I “advertise” that I give them for article ideas, but I also give them for other “good stuff” (the definition is loose . . .).

    They are a great way to thank readers and they’re also great advertising as people use them in marinas, etc.

    See them (and how I tell readers about them) here: http://www.theboatgalley.com/questions-tips/

    So far, it’s probably the best “advertising” money I’ve spent!

    • Caroline,
      I think you had a great idea because your product is related to your blog not only through the logo, but through its use as well – we all need todo grocery shoppning before cooking. And, as you say, it is like a multiplier effect as your readers use (and show) them on a regular basis. So it’s triple relevant ! I need to try and figure something out along those lines too…. it will be a bit challenging as I am in Business to Business, but your example inspired me to give it a serious thought !
      Sandrine

  5. Nick Thacker says:

    Good stuff, as always, Danny!

    Thanks for sharing–I’m in finishing up my next book (which you’re a part of! Woot!), and I’ve been kicking around mediums. I’m definitely going to do the physical version, at least for me, and probably through CreateSpace (I’ve used Lulu and Lightning Source International in the past).

    And I disagree–I actually feel an obligation to the creator of the book, not just a sense of privilege. Ha.

    Anyway, great job, as always–keep it up, and I’ll talk to you soon man!
    Nick
    LiveHacked.com

  6. I love this! Part of the appeal of simplifying, in my opinion, is so that the physical things we keep in our life are those that we love, so the idea of giving someone something they love is very appealing to me. Thank you for such a well-written article :-)

  7. Interesting ideas. I remember when I bought one of Seth Godin’s books, he sent an extra book for “giving” and I felt compelled to tell everyone I knew.

  8. Long says:

    Digital overload is what stuck out to me. I have experienced it myself and can understand how a free download can be meaningless to a reader.

    This article really resonated with me and I think I will initiate a plan of action for marketing with a tangible good. Thank you for the insight.

  9. I’d love to see this post get more attention, Danny.

    In a world that moves ever more towards digital, recognizing and appreciating the benefits of physical products (and face to face meetings) is awesome.

    I especially love how you explained a bit of the strategy behind the investment. Cheers :)

    Rock on and ryze up!