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The FOUR LETTER WORD you should stop using NOW!

February 27, 2015

The Word Free

You see it EVERYWHERE you go – on billboards, on bus stops, and sidewalk streets. Flip through magazines and newspapers, and you’ll find it plastered throughout the pages. It’s even worse when you’re browsing the internet – you’re literally hit in the face with this four letter word. OH, and don’t get me started on infomercials (don’t lie, I know you’ve watched them!) This nasty little quip echoes over, and over, and over again.

Do you know what I’m talking about? OF COURSE YOU DO…unless you’ve been LIVING UNDER A ROCK!

The word?


And BOY, do I hate that vile utterance!  It is distasteful, obnoxious, and off-putting.  It reeks, it’s slimy, it’s annoying. Do I sound over-the-top yet? ;) Good – because that’s how much I want you to stop using the word FREE… right this moment.

If you’re a marketing professional or if you’re in any type of sales, this is especially pertinent to you. By the way, that’s all of you wedding photographers… every single one of you. You are in the business of sales; you sell yourself and you sell an experience. When you use the word “free,” you aren’t doing yourself any favors at all. In the wedding photography industry, I’m constantly hearing “FREE ENGAGEMENT SESSION,” or “FREE 16X20 CANVAS!” and it makes me shudder every single time. We’ve got to stop this right now. Let me explain this a little further…

1. The word FREE simply noise.

To understand why this point is especially important, you’ve first got to understand the mindset of millennials (those born between 1981-1997, tentatively coined by the Pew Research Center in January 2015.) to whom you should be focusing the bulk of your marketing as a wedding photographer due to nothing else but their age alone. Millennials are tech-savvy, reviews-focused, and relationship-oriented. But most importantly, we are skeptical, critical, and we rarely take things at surface value. We have the unique ability to tune out all of the marketing noise because, well…we grew up with it. And since the word FREE has been used since the dawn of sales and marketing, it’s only natural that the word has become part of the background clutter we’ve learned to ignore so well.

Simply put, every time you use the word “free,” your target demographic is automatically tuning it out. And when they tune that out, they’re likely to tune out the rest of your message, as well. Why are you wasting your breath?

2. Nothing is truly FREE.

You’ve heard the old adage, right? There’s no such thing as a free lunch? With the amount of innate distrust millennials bring to the conversation, it’s almost impossible to use the word “free” without it automatically being looked upon with a raised eyebrow. You’re not kidding anyone when you offer a “free engagement session.” Come on…it’s built into your cost. Even if it’s not a direct cost to the consumer, it came at a cost to you or someone else, and we all know that.

Please understand me here – there’s nothing wrong with the inherent cost behind services or products offered at no cost to a consumer. Rather, it’s the fact that the word “free” tends to draw more awareness to that fact because it is automatically seen with a measure of skepticism and cynicism. If for no other reason alone, it makes sense to stop using the word “free” because of this stigma.

3. FREE devalues your brand.

This is the absolute worst in my opinion – but the most obvious, as well. Because of its overuse and the aforementioned stigma it now carries, the word “free” is perceived as cheap and down-market. And when you begin using this word in your marketing, it’s going to pollute your value by its very nature. Stamp the word “FREE” nice and bold across one of your graphics, and suddenly you’ve become a discount brand. I think I’m making a pretty accurate assessment when I say that no one wants to market themselves to a bargain demographic, right? You want people to see your value and “oh my gosh they’ve GOT to have what you have to offer because it’s the BEST!”

You see, the moment you start using the word “free,” you devalue yourself and your brand. You begin to turn away the audience you want – an audience that places a high priority on your value and services, and instead you start attracting an audience that only seeks out the cheapest, most rock-bottom prices out there. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with bargain hunters, but I know of very few wedding photographers who aspire to be a bargain brand, much less who make a happy, successful living doing so.

So where do we go from here?

I’d be lying if I said I was never guilty of using the word “free,” but I did learn early on that its usage is ineffective because of the aforementioned reasons above. However, I learned that there is a way to offer discounts and bargains without sounding so cheap. Here are some simple substitutes, used in terms of a “free engagement session”:

  • “A complimentary engagement session.”
  • “An engagement session, as my gift to you.”
  • “An engagement session, at no additional cost to you.”
  • “An engagement session, on me.”

Do you see how simply wording this differently can cause one to perceive your brand as higher-end? It’s really simple, and only requires retraining your brain to think a different way.

It’s all about perception. Don’t let your photography business be lumped in with other cheap, bargain brands. You offer a unique, valuable service unlike anyone else can offer. Market yourself that way.

comments +

  1. Kristina says:

    This is a GREAT post! I couldn’t agree more! A free session really isn’t free.

  2. Tracy says:

    This is an awesome post. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. Trina says:

    Great points!

  4. Ashley says:

    This is such a great post! ‘Free’ is one of my biggest pet peeves as well.

  5. Great blog post! I totally agree with you, although I myself have been guilty of using that terrible word too. I love all the substitute examples you posted… there really are many different ways to say it! :)

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