On a recent tour of a new residence hall, the tour guide pointed out that laundry was “free” to the students. Others quickly amended his statement to acknowledge that laundry wasn’t really without cost, rather it was part of the overall residence hall charge.

Then when we were in the hotel, some members of our party were commenting on how they loved the “free” happy hour amenity with hot hors d’oeuvres and adult beverages. This, in addition to the “free” hot breakfast, popcorn and snacks. In reality, these services do not come without having the user pay, it’s just that funds are not provided on a transactional basis.

The same is true at Southwest, where “bags fly free.” Yes they do, provided that they are accompanied by a fare-paying passenger. And free wi-fi, parking or notepads and pens at a meeting are also only free in the moment. Free shipping is certainly accounted for in the price of the item (or Prime membership).

When we stop to think about it, we rationally know that “free” really means “included” in the cost, instead of a separate charge. But we don’t often stop to ponder. People like the notion of “free.” They like it a lot. 

Think of how you can take advantage of this mental sleight of hand. What you can bundle together and offer under one blanket charge so you can offer something for free to your customers? Can you promote a service as “free” that you are offering anyway? Is there a way to eliminate a series of smaller charges in favor of one comprehensive one?

Try to directly charge nothing for something and delight your customers as they herald you for giving them something for nothing.

beth triplett

About the Author leadership dots by dr. beth triplett

I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action. I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.

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