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The Power of the Free Trial

August 5, 2015

By Susan Pyle, Vice President

As I prepared my dinner from Blue Apron last night, it occurred to me that Blue Apron and many of the services that I have come to rely on as a city dweller – Uber, Instacart, FreshDirect, GrubHub – all came into my life through a free trial.

Clearly, the free trial, and its close relative the free sample, is a tried and true marketing technique that can help a business increase visibility, sales and reel in new customers. The power of the free trial comes from its ability to remove the barriers that often prevent us from trying new things, such as the cost, concerns about the quality of the product or uncertainty about the product’s value to our lives (i.e, do I really need this?). Free trials have become such a ubiquitous part of our consumer culture that some companies depend on it to keep new and existing customers coming back for more. COSTCO, for example, relies heavily on freebies as an essential part of its business model and the COSTCO customer experience.

Free trials provide instant exposure to a brand and can trigger an immediate purchase, but can the free trial be an effective public relations tool for building brand loyalty and ongoing customer engagement? Absolutely! The way I see it, there are three ways that a free trial can up the PR ante for a product or service:

  1. Reduce friction. At last month’s ExL Pharma Public Relations and Communications Summit, Google’s David Blair, Head of Industry for Health, said that Google aims to reduce the friction in people’s lives through digital innovation. I think the same holds true to for the free trial. If your product or service saves people time, money, frustration or otherwise makes their lives easier, a free trial will help you build customer loyalty immediately. Case in point – Uber. Before Uber came along, taxis were the accepted norm for transportation. We didn’t know we needed Uber until we had it… and the way most of us found it was through a free ride. Uber eliminated all the things we find frustrating about taxis – flagging them down, having cash, cranky drivers, hot, smelly cars – and we were hooked instantly.
  2. Continue the dialogue. People want to feel special, not forgotten. Once the free trial period is over, don’t forget to reengage them down the road. Ask customers to provide feedback and suggestions on your service. Periodically review your sales data and note which customers have stopped making purchases, and then reconnect with them through a new or exclusive offer.  Conversely, make it easy for the customer to opt out of communications or purchases, as well, and quell the potential for bad word of mouth when you part ways.
  3. Empower customers. There is no better endorsement than a personal endorsement. Companies that use the free trial effectively give existing customers the opportunity to share a free trial with those in their circle. This empowers and excites customers because they are able to give something to a friend or colleague for free, thus increasing positive word of mouth about the product.

To that end, a favorite service of mine has empowered me with the ability to give away three free samples. Interested? The first three people to email me at will win those free trials.