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

Chances are that you know the unique selling proposition of your company or product. Start there to ask yourself how you acquired that USP and what you learned during its acquisition.

Then, think about which of the following standard UCs work best to communicate your learning:

  • White papers 

  • Applications (crippled or full-blown) 

  • Business cases/models 

  • Financial cases/models


These are the tchotchkes of our time—the new sales collateral.

To know that they will be effective, they must be leveragable. (Sales is negotiation, right?) You must be able to use them to heighten demand or to inform customers about your unique selling proposition.

Advertising, brochures and proposals are simply not enough. They do not add value like they once did, because technology has allowed a more thorough understanding of almost any offer. In other words, as buyers, we are all sophisticated enough to understand that anybody can advertise, build a nice brochure and write a proposal.

It's easy to write these down as ideas and philosophical theory, so I thought I might show you how we've put the Unilateral Concession into practice:

Bill Gates said it: there is no shortage of strategy. Everybody is a strategist. So at Mediathink we give that piece away rather than charge for it.

We've found that people want to pay for execution because it is more easily measured. Few executives are so naive as to believe that they can do marketing by themselves, any more than they believe they can competently navigate the complexity of the healthcare system alone.

To demonstrate the UC in action, we built an application on our Web site that allows anyone to get a quick benchmark of his/her own marketing efforts. We're not alone, either. Cymbic LINK has built a really cool ROI calculator that provides a similar service.

We write white papers, like this one, and we work with top PR agencies to build them for our clients, too. It's a paradigm shift for some in PR, because for a white paper to work it must share the right secrets and genuinely educate people—not just publicize features and benefits. Few people actually care as much about your features and benefits as they do their own bottom line.

Rich media is a bleeding-edge way to communicate what you've learned in a valuable and novel way, too. When made more efficient than reading a white paper, rich media may well have found its killer app. See here how that can work.

Finally, there is the sweet mystic beauty of the Unilateral Concession. When given something of value, the recipient is forced to wonder what it is that you have that you would charge him for. The act will drive recall and may cause your prospect to seek that very thing you are selling, and value it most.

So follow Anthony Kiedis's advice and “Give It Away.”

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