September 9, 2014 by Gene Jones

For the past thirty years, I have done my own version of giveaway marketing, which could also be called ‘giveaway selling’. Looking back on the process, I realize that it arose from my childhood. While most aspiring businessmen began their careers by marketing lemonade at a young age, I learned my craft by buying things. Little did I know that the Girl Scout cookies my mother and I bought would inspire a significant portion of my adult business life.
My Girl Scout cookie experience evolved into a policy of economic benevolence. Each year, we bought a large number of cookie boxes, and then gave most of them away one at a time to various friends and acquaintances over the course of the year. Decades later, I found myself selling a wild assortment of products to clients who paid me handsomely to give them away. That launched me into the role of a lifetime, which has always made me look much more generous than I really am.
I have always told people I have the best job in the world…..getting paid to give things away! Better yet, I make a profit every step of the way.
Setting up such a dynamic is a business Win-Win, with an extra Win for enjoyment and good will. In analyzing the dynamics of my Girl Scout cookie experience, I realized that there were a few distinct elements at work in that model. Basically, the Girl Scouts sell cookies to raise money to support their ongoing operations. They have become a major distributor of cookies without baking a thing. Most people buy the cookies to support the Girl Scouts, and do not necessarily eat the cookies. The baker of the cookies wholesales them to the Girl Scouts, who sell them to people who very often pass them along to others. In the final analysis, there is a cookie seller who doesn’t bake, a cookie buyer who doesn’t necessarily eat, and a huge adolescent sales staff that doesn’t get paid. Meanwhile, the baker is selling a lot of cookies and the Girl Scouts are raising enough money to run their whole organization.
All of this is done in a most cheerful manner.
It is the cheerfulness that has always impressed me. Buying Girl Scout cookies from a neighbor’s smiling daughter makes people feel good about themselves. It makes them open up their wallets and buy cookies that they really don’t want or need.
So what business lessons can be gleaned from this unorthodox approach to sales?
Primarily, it points to the importance of creating compelling incentives to motivate buyers. This is especially important when selling items not related to necessity. In the case of the Girl Scouts, belief in the organization and its principles is the main driver. It’s also very difficult to say ‘No’ to a cute little girl who is smiling at you.
When product sales are linked to a cause, then those inclined to support that cause instantly become potential customers. The first line of products that comes to mind is the assortment of pink ribbons, t-shirts and accessories marketed to support breast cancer research.
The serious side of the marketing coin is finding products that shout ‘give me away!”. Such products have the advantage of turning reluctant customers into volume buyers. In this instance, the coin has three sides. The third key component of giveaway selling is the creation of situations that inspire others to spend….for themselves and/or others.
Any combination of all three of the above components results in a potential sales bonanza. It basically serves as the basis for the promotional products industry. Clearly, promotional products are sold to companies and individuals who give them away in the hopes of either creating new business, motivating employees, or enhancing customer loyalty. The difference between the promotional products model and giveaway selling is that the buyer of promotional products is the end buyer.
He does not pre-sell those products to a third party.
What promotional products and giveaway selling have in common is that both are often utilized in an attempt to modify behavior. Giveaway sellers often give items away in an attempt to fulfill the agenda of a client. Occasionally it is as simple as giving away sunglasses to entice people to get in the mood to dance. Other times, the agendas are far more complex and/or subtle.
What this points to is that giveaway selling is a valuable tool with great potential impact as a social influencer. To explore this concept further, let’s apply the theory of giveaway selling to the trivia game show format. Since the giveaway of choice in most game shows is cash, the cash is provided to the host by the client prior to each show, so there is no profit motive in this particular product. Additional prizes are then awarded to those who win the most cash.The game show host’s job is to give away money – a very pleasant task. By using the cash and other prizes as incentives, the game show host can engage and inspire contestants to new levels of achievement, thereby morphing the game show into an inspirational vehicle for breakthrough thinking…..fusing giveaway incentives with information and conceptual thinking to achieve a state of what is known as transformational play. Game shows, as well as numerous other formats, are often used as team building and learning events that immerse participants in enjoyable activities that are designed to serve an underlying purpose. For many transformational play activities, giveaway selling of products such as trophies, plaques, gift certificates and vacations are key incentives in the quest to achieve meaningful goals.
Effective giveaway marketing requires a good deal of creativity and strategic planning. For those able to master the design and implementation of programs utilizing this enlightened strategy, profits and happy customers quickly are the certain result.
It is the proverbial three-sided coin leading to a Triple Win.