In 1984 an architect named Richard Saul Wurman held an event that brought together some of the best minds in design and technology. The goal was simple: To provide a platform where these thinkers could share their most powerful ideas. The invitation-only event included demos of a new technology called the “compact disc” as well as previews of advanced 3D graphics from Lucas Arts.
The event was a hit and would become so popular, that every year some of the most brilliant minds in the world (people who typically got paid to appear at events) would pay thousands of dollars themselves to attend – if they could score an invite.
The event continued for a number of years, growing more exclusive and more expensive, when one day the organizers decided to tape the conference and put it online for anyone to watch – for free. They also gave away the name of the conference – TED – and allowed organizers in cities around the world to put on similar events free of charge. Today, the TED brand, is more exclusive, and at the same time more well-known and available than it ever was. And organizers accomplished all of this by giving it away for free.
Bob Johansen, a futurist at Institute for the Future, predicts that brands giving things away in intelligent ways with the hope of getting even more in return is the future of innovation. He cites developments like the success of 3rd party innovations on Microsoft’s Kinect platform and the recent decision by P&G to open up their patent portfolio as examples of the potential of this type of reciprocity. But does reciprocity have a place in more areas than just innovation?
Wired Editor-in-chief Chris Anderson has long extolled the benefits of brands giving things away for free, but he’s mostly talked about models that have strings attached.What happens when the strings are removed and brands give freely, upfront, and with no strings attached?
Take Lululemon, the athletic apparel store. Every week they move racks of apparel off of the floor (the horror!) to make space for free yoga classes that they offer to anyone that is interested. You don’t have to buy anything and you don’t have to wear Lululemon clothes. You can just show up, bust out some sun salutations, and be on your way. But some people decide to stick around, some decide to browse the store after class is over, some may make a new friend or find a new yoga buddy, and some decide that they want to start doing yoga more regularly. All of these results are good for Lululemon – creating connections and increasing interest in yoga will mean more stretchy pants sold in the long run.
What can your brand afford to give away? It’s a scary thing to think about, and isn’t the answer to all scenarios, but many companies are beginning to see that when you give a little upfront, you may just get back more in return.
What other brands are giving upfront?