"Should I give my product away for free?"

Free Agent Marketer

Is it smart to give away my new product for free online to get early feedback? Or does it tarnish my brand in the long run? 

Sincerely,

Ronald Freebie

Dear Ronald,

You’re smart to seek validation before monetization. Going for the second before the first is putting the cart before the horse. Why waste time trying to sell something at a price nobody wants to pay, or worse, something nobody wants in the first place?

My recommendation is to establish relationships and trust with people who are in your target audience, give the product to them for honest feedback, and then ask them what they would pay for something like this. That’s a lesson I learned from Dane Maxwell’s training in The Foundation, and it’s served me well to this day—even as I’m working with seed-stage startups.

One risk you run during this process is that your “free” recipients may undervalue the product as a result of it being free. Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, explains that when we get something for free, we “forget the downside” of the transaction. That causes us to stir ourselves into a frenzy that causes us to say YES to the free product, especially when compared to an option with a pricetag. When you give your product away, then, you should be careful to differentiate your offer as much as possible from any competition. This will reduce the undervaluation effect and lead your recipients to judge the value of the product on its merits and value proposition—not just on its comparable value to other available options.

Try to figure out who your free customers might be. You may already have some of these relationships. If not, start networking! Reach out to people on LinkedIn, attend local meetups, go to conferences, etc. – whatever your networking jam may be. But it’s important that these people know you and trust you. The most important element of any product validation process is the honesty of the feedback. If someone says they’d buy your product, and they’re only saying that to get you off your back or please you, their feedback isn’t valuable. What matters is whether, when faced with the question of whether or not they’d buy, they’re truly willing to pull out their credit card.

As far as your brand is concerned, the only thing that may get tarnished by asking for feedback is your ego. But trust me when I say—you’ll emerge with more confidence (and more money) once you implement constructive criticism into your product and marketing efforts. This is what the entire market research industry is built around: getting quality feedback. Without it, the biggest brands we know and love would never have the kinds of products we enjoy today.

Ask for feedback first. Then, only once you have objective evidence that you have something uber-valuable, you can offer it for a price.