By Robert W. Bly
One of the most effective and popular marketing techniques being used today, both online and offline, is the free content offer.
You know how it works: to generate a lead or an order, you offer the prospect some valuable free content in exchange for an inquiry or a purchase.
The free content can take many different forms: booklets, special reports, white papers, article reprints, manuals, even books. These items are called “bait pieces,” because they are used to “bait the hook” when you go “fishing” for a lead or sale.
The process of building marketing campaigns around free content offers is called “educational marketing” or “edu-marketing,” because it generates sales by educating prospects about your product or service – or the problem it solves.
Today, the bait piece is often electronic, not print. For online marketing, white papers and reports are offered as downloadable PDF documents. The advantage is that the prospect gets instant delivery of the bait piece, which costs you nothing in printing and postage.
Bait pieces don’t have to be documents. You can offer software, DVDs, videos, or CDs. The advantage is that the prospect is forced to give you his snail mail address, because otherwise, you can’t ship the physical item to him.
I am constantly urging clients to use the bait piece strategy -- free content offers -- to increase response rates to lead-generating and one-step promotions. But to my dismay, many don’t follow my suggestion.
Why not? The three biggest objections these marketers have to the bait piece strategy revolve around the creation of the bait piece itself. They are:
1. I can’t write.
2. I don’t have time to write it.
3. I don’t have the budget to hire a writer and designer to produce the bait piece.
If any of these are stopping you from offering free content, I have some good news for you: now you can get “ready-made” bait pieces from Uncle Sam. And most won’t cost you a nickel.
Many people don’t realize that the
They also aren’t aware that many of the U.S. GPO publications are not copyrighted – meaning they are yours to reprint, distribute, and use however you want (the government does ask that you credit them as the source, as a courtesy).
Years ago, when radon was in the news, I responded to a newspaper ad for a radar inspection service because they offered a free “consumer awareness guide to radon.” When I got it, I realized they had taken a GPO publication and just imprinted it with their name and address.
can find a selection of GPO reports and booklets at the Federal Citizen
Information Center (FCIC). Before the Internet, FCIC used to advertise their
free publications catalog aggressively on TV – remember those commercials
urging you to call or write “
Now, you can find the FCIC online at www.pueblo.gsa.gov, where you can download and print dozens of publications for free. Or you can call them toll-free at 888-878-3256 for a free copy of their catalog of publications.
How might a marketer take advantage of this rich treasure trove of free content from Uncle Sam?
Well, one of the publications I found on the site is “Stop, Think, Click: 7 Practices for Safer Computing.” This 12-page report “helps protect your information, your computer, even yourself … [against] online scammers, hackers, and identity thieves.”
Could you imagine a high-tech firm selling firewalls, anti-virus software, Internet monitoring programs, or content filters offering this as a free report in their ads or online? Of course: it’s a natural fit. And they wouldn’t have to write a word; they could just put their logo and contact information on the front and back pages of the existing report.
Another report I downloaded for free at the FCIC Web site was “Taking Control of Your Finances.” This 12-page document had sections on common mistakes people make with money, how to protect yourself against financial fraud, and five things you should know about credit cards. Any financial planner could get more leads by offering this free bulletin to potential customers interested in saving and making money.
The library of free content available at www.pueblo.gsa/gov is quality material: the federal government pays writers and designers good money to produce these publications, which are almost universally well written and attractively designed.
So if you want to offer free content, but you don’t have the time, skill, or resources to create your own bait pieces, that’s no longer a valid excuse for ignoring the bait-piece strategy. Your tax dollars have already been spent creating a wealth of content you can offer your prospects as a bait piece. And it’s yours free for the taking.
One additional tip: another good source of content is books in the “public domain” – that is, books on which copyright protection has expired. Most nonfiction books published before 1923 fit into this category. Of course, the drawback here is that much of this content is dated – but not all.
Note: I am not an attorney. So I can’t give you legal advice. Therefore, you should check with your attorney before using previously published material from any source, other than your own company, in your marketing programs.
About the author:
Robert W. Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of more than 60 books including The Copywriter’s Handbook (Henry Holt & Co.). His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and his Web site address is www.bly.com.