Are productized unilateral concessions the new tchotchkes?

Type the word “free” in to your next email—even if your list is 100% double opt-in—and watch your open rates plummet. “Free” is a word that triggers almost every spam filter.

“Free” used to be one of the most powerful words in marketing—now it's perhaps the most useless. People equate free with “waste my time.”

Time is life's most valuable commodity. This moment is more valuable than any other (by the way—thanks for sharing it with me). Dubious? Ask any banker or religious scholar. It may be the only thing they agree on.

Marketers must still provide sampling opportunities and open, unilateral concessions in order to build credibility to help qualify prospects. It must be done because it's our job as marketers (B2B or B2C) to lower our prospects' risks around spending their money with us. We are charged to communicate a case for lowered risk the best we can.

So there's the challenge: How do we very simply communicate our UC (unilateral concession) in a credible way (without saying free)? Perhaps more importantly, How do we figure out what it is that we are unilaterally conceding that effectively lowers our potential buyer's risk?

Let's go with the latter first. Sometimes knowing what it is you're conceding (giving away) makes it easier to communicate its value. A UC must have value—intrinsic value—or it's wasted. In fact, I would argue that almost all sales collateral is useless, unless it has a clear value (other than helping your competition).

Building the UC

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Tom Barnes is CEO of Mediathink (, a consultancy specializing in media and marketing strategy and implementation. Contact him at