6 Tips for Effective 'Free Trial' Marketing


Assuming your product or service lends itself to try-before-you-buy, a free trial can be an effective way to sell it.

I’ve helped create and market a lot of free trials over the course of my career. I started my career in the publishing industry, and free trials can be a good way to sell subscriptions to content-based products (think newspapers, magazines, etc.). They can also be a good way to sell Software-as-a-Service (SAAS) products, as long as the set-up to use the product isn’t too onerous. I’ve also helped clients market subscription-based on-demand training courses with free trials.

Here are a few tips, based on a recent free trial program that I helped a client market.

1. Build in Urgency

By urgency, I mean a time limit. This about it. We’re all busy – you know that you want to try out that new SAAS tool, but it keeps getting bumped to next week. Because you can bump it to next week – because there’s no deadline for when you’ll lose access. By making it a limited-time trial, you build in urgency which will motivate the prospect not to procrastinate.

2. Differentiate Free Trial Content from Not-Free-Trial Content

Sounds simple right? But often, it’s not. Many organizations do ‘hybrid’ trials were some content/features are included, but other content/features are not. If a free trial participant finds themselves trying to read/use content/features that aren’t available, they’ll soon become frustrated and leave. So make sure there’s a visual clue as to what they can – and can’t – read/do during their free trial period.

3. Start Marketing Right Away

A mistake I see many companies make with free trials is not starting the marketing until the free trial period has ended. They want to give people a chance to engage with the free trial before they market it to them. Here’s the thing: without the nudge of marketing, many if not most of those who sign up for your free trial won’t use it. They’ll get busy, They’ll forget. That’s why it’s important to begin communicating with them early – and often.

4. Personalize Based on Usage

Browse abandonment emails – where you receive an email triggered by your activity on a website, even if you didn’t put anything in your cart – are commonplace now. You can do the same type of automated email program with free trial participants. It’s a no-brainer – if they’re accessing free trial information that’s not available to the general public, you know who they are. They are either logged in, cookied, or there’s some other way they identified themselves for access. Just capture their activity and then send a targeted ‘browse’ message customized based on the content they were accessing. Be sure to include a ‘buy now’ CTA, as well as additional resources they may find valuable based on what they were browsing,

5. Sell the Steak, not the Sizzle

Your read that correctly – I didn’t mix up the famous quote. The reason you use a free trial is because the content or product is so good that if someone uses it, they’ll see the value and buy. So the primary goal of a free trial campaign is to drive people to read/use the content/product. It’s not about the sizzle, it’s about the steak.

How to do this? I like to feature key content/features in the message map, with the idea of driving recipients to the free trial content/product – that’s the primary call-to-action (CTA). I’m a direct marketer at heart, so I always include a secondary CTA to purchase. But if your primary CTA is a traditional direct response purchase, that’s a disconnect with the purpose of the free trial. (be sure to read tip #6 here – which is an important companion tip to this one)

 6. Sell in the Platform

I saved the best and most important tip for last (aren’t you glad you kept reading!)!

With a free trial, participants are likely to be motivated to buy when they are ingesting your content or using your product or service and have an ‘aha’ moment. That moment that they understand the value you are providing as well as why they need it – and are ready to buy. And you need to have a mechanism right there, in the free trial area, for them to purchase.

Only a fraction of those who have an ‘aha’ moment will dig through email messages and search for a way to buy. But if it’s right there, if they can click on a button in the platform and buy – you’ve got the sale!

In Conclusion

Free trials can be a great way to sell a product or service – if you set the up for success. Follow me for more tips on this and other email topics. And if you’re looking to implement a free trial program, or if you have one you’d like to take to the next level, give me a call and let’s talk!

Be safe, stay well,


amirali mirhashemian fimM6mgqv6M unsplash 600Photo by amirali mirhashemian on Unsplash