Using Free Content From Uncle Sam

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One of the most effective and popular marketing techniques used today, online and offline, is the free content offer.

You know how it works: To generate a lead or an order, you offer the prospect some valuable free content in exchange for an inquiry or a purchase. The free content can take many forms: booklets, special reports, white papers, article reprints, manuals, or even books. These items are called "bait pieces," because they are used to bait the hook when you go fishing for a lead or sale.

The process of building marketing campaigns around free content offers is called educational marketing or "edu-marketing," because it generates sales by educating prospects about your product or service or the problem it solves.

Today, the bait piece is often electronic, not print. For online marketing, white papers and reports are offered as downloadable PDF documents. The advantage is that the prospect gets instant delivery of the bait piece, which costs you nothing in printing and postage.

Bait pieces don't have to be documents. You can offer software, DVDs, videos or CDs. The advantage is that the prospect is forced to give you his snail mail address, because otherwise you can't ship the physical item to him.

I constantly urge clients to use free content offers to increase response rates to lead-generating and one-step promotions. But to my dismay, many don't follow my suggestion. The three biggest objections these marketers have to the bait piece strategy involve the creation of the bait piece itself. They are:

• I can't write.

• I don't have time to write it.

• I don't have the budget to hire a writer and designer to produce the bait piece.

If any of these are stopping you from offering free content, I have good news for you: You can get "ready-made" bait pieces from Uncle Sam. And most won't cost you a nickel.

How? Many people don't realize that the U.S. government printing office is one of the country's largest publishers. They also aren't aware that many GPO publications are not copyrighted, meaning they are yours to reprint, distribute and use however you want (the government does ask that you credit it as the source, as a courtesy).

Years ago, when radon was in the news, I responded to a newspaper ad for a radon inspection service because it offered a free "consumer awareness guide to radon." When I got it, I realized the service had taken a GPO publication and just imprinted it with its name and address.

You can find GPO reports and booklets at the Federal Citizen Information Center. Before the Internet, FCIC used to advertise its free publications catalog aggressively on TV - remember those commercials urging you to call or write "Pueblo, Colorado"?

Now you can find the FCIC online, where you can download and print dozens of publications for free. Or you can call toll-free at 888/878-3256 for a free copy of the center's catalog of publications.

How might a marketer use this treasure trove of free content from Uncle Sam? Well, one publication I found on the site is "Stop, Think, Click: 7 Practices for Safer Computing." This 12-page report "helps protect your information, your computer, even yourself ... [against] online scammers, hackers, and identity thieves."

Could you imagine a high-tech firm selling firewalls, anti-virus software, Internet monitoring programs or content filters offering this as a free report in its ads or online? It's a natural fit. And the firm wouldn't have to write a word; it could just put its logo and contact information on the front and back pages of the existing report.

Another report I downloaded for free at the FCIC Web site was "Taking Control of Your Finances." This 12-page document had sections on common mistakes people make with money, how to protect yourself against financial fraud and five things you should know about credit cards. Any financial planner could get more leads by offering this free bulletin to potential customers interested in saving and making money.

The library of free content available at www.pueblo.gsa/gov is quality material: The federal government pays writers and designers good money to produce these publications, which are almost universally well written and attractively designed.

So if you want to offer free content but you lack the time, skill or resources to create your own bait pieces, that's no longer an excuse for ignoring the bait piece strategy. Your tax dollars already have been spent creating a wealth of content you can offer prospects as a bait piece. And it's yours free.

One more tip: Another good source of content is books in the "public domain" - that is, books on which copyright protection has expired. Most nonfiction books published before 1923 fit into this category. Of course, the drawback here is that much of this content is dated - but not all.

Note: I am not an attorney. I can't give you legal advice. Therefore, you should check with your attorney before using previously published material from any source, other than your own company, in your marketing programs.

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