2010 January: Marketing Matters

Kamron KaringtonAOL built an empire. Google blindsided Microsoft. YouTube (a company that never earned a penny) commanded a $1.65 billion price tag. What is the secret behind these and countless other unfathomable success stories? In a word: “Free.”

AOL sent millions and millions of free CDs offering a free trial of their service. Once people got on board, they stayed. Google allows anyone to use their software to search the internet –– free. They monetize the whole thing with ads. YouTube encouraged people to upload their videos and share them with the world for “free.” They built a herd of traffi c and then sold those eyeballs to Google.

There’s certainly more than one way to skin the “free” cat. Offer something free with a purchase. Then there’s free altogether or free for a limited time.

Free with purchase: Papa John’s Pizza gives you free garlic dipping sauce and pepperoncinis. Domino’s exploded onto the scene with free delivery. These companies have used “free” as a signifi cant hook in driving traffi c. Would it make sense for you to offer (and become known for) a lowfood- cost item free with every pizza purchase? Say a bag of garlic knots, or a loaf of cheesebread? Think “Olive Garden.”

Free all the time: One of my clients has a pizzeria right next to the train station where a lot of commuters disembark on their way home from work. He offers anyone a free small slice they can grab and go with. No strings attached … just one small free slice. Sure some people grab one and never buy a pizza, but most people buy extra slices or pick up pizzas several times a month to take home. He says the good will and the numbers “more than work out” to his advantage.

Free for a limited time: I was stunned beyond belief the day I offered “free” lunch at my pizzeria as a way of introducing it to the local business community. Well-dressed businessmen and women packed the building and formed a line outside to get two free slices, a salad and a soda. Personally, I would have kept on driving had I seen a mob like that. But that day close to 300 people decided to not only wait in line, but to then squeeze themselves into the pizzeria for a free lunch. I got amazing traction by randomly dropping off free pizzas at area businesses, too.

At an outdoor event, we offered two free bottles of water with every pizza. The lines at our booth were crushing. One of the reasons was the exorbitant price others charged for water (average $3). So, we made out like bandits on pizza sales by giving away water we’d bought on the cheap at Costco. The sub sandwich booth next to us actually complained that we were being unfair by giving away free water. “Free” can be monetized. In fact, I’m enjoying free wi-fi as I write this –– with my $4 coffee.

Kamron Karington owned a highly successful independent pizzeria before becoming a consultant, speaker and author of The Black Book: Your Complete Guide to Creating Staggering Profi ts in Your Pizza Business. He is a monthly contributor to Pizza Today.

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