Barrier Bashing



In a past blog I talked about free delivery being an example of a mechanism that de-risked the chance customers could spend money on a product that wasn’t right for them. And how it also demonstrates to customers that you are confident they will love your products. Free can be an excellent way to catch the attention of customers.

However, “free” has a downside.

I’ve been in those public service strategy meetings where we scratch our heads and ask ourselves how can we get more people in engaged in services.

“How can we get more people to stop smoking, to participate in weight loss programmes, to be more active, to attend screening, and health checks and medicines reviews? How can we get more people signed-up on educational courses?”

I describe the processes I’ve experienced as “barrier bashing” - that is where we pretty much write out a long list of our assumptions of all the barriers preventing people from participating, and seek to eliminate them one at a time.

Assumption: “It’s too expensive.”
Solution: “OK, we’ll make it free.”

Assumption: “It’s on at the wrong time of day.”
Solution: “In that case we’ll do two sessions, one during the day and another in the early evening for those that work 9-5.”

Assumption: “People can’t get there.”
Solution: “We’ll provide transport, or even better, we’ll hold it in a community space on their street.”

Assumption: “They can’t come because they are looking after their children.”
Solution: “We’ll provide a creche.”

And on it goes... Maybe the assumptions are right, but it can’t be the whole picture because while you’d think these programmes would be full to bursting, many struggle to achieve even modest attendances. And they may be the best, evidence-based programmes, with the nicest, most highly-qualified professionals and the newest equipment and shiny resources, but low participation makes them expensive to run and under threat of being decommissioned.

The problem is that when it comes to services, "free" can come with hidden subtext that says "this is a little bit rubbish". If it's free, then it has no value. If people are used to paying £5 for a fitness class and then get offered one for free, they can jump to the very wrong conculsion that it will be many times lower standard than the class they could have paid for, even if it is with the same instructor and at the same venue.

We say: “It’s free, it’s on your street, we’ll even look after your toddler, please take this thing from us.”

The customer thinks: “They can’t even give this thing away. It mustn’t be that good.”

There's the consumer angle too; paying for services gives us a certain sense of power. If we are receiving stuff for free, there’s a danger we become passive recipients, who should just be grateful for what we get - we don't get to call the shots.

My question for you is, do you offer any free services? If you do, can you put a charge on them instead? If you believe that adding a fee means you won’t be able to compete with rival brands or services, then in what way can you raise the quality and style with which you deliver?

And if you absolutely have to offer what you do for free (which is very possibly the case), in my next blog I’ll be offering some more ideas on how to position your free thing so it’s more appealing.