Digital Marketing Bias: “Digital marketing tools should always be free.” or “Free tools are ineffective.”

The amount of tools available for digital marketing is growing exponentially. The quality and prevalence of these tools varies greatly. This often makes it difficult to identify and effectively implement the tool that’s best suited to your marketing campaign’s needs. One common factor that drives a decision to adopt a tool is whether it’s free or fee based. This factor seems to have two opposing viewpoints that either requires a free version or fosters mistrust in the tool if it’s not a paid service.

Digital marketing tools should always be free.

There is often an expectation that digital marketing tools are free. There are useful free tools but each should be carefully analyzed. The old saying, “you get what you pay for” can often be applied to no cost options.

  • Free . . . Sort Of – Many marketing tools offer a base level service at no cost. Sometimes that base level is sufficient, but many times it is not. Survey Monkey is a tool I’m regularly told by trainers, consultants, and professional coaches that they want to use because it’s free. I’ve yet to complete a digital marketing campaign with the free version. The purchased version always becomes necessary due to the setup and data limitations of the free service. The free services will restrict how you deliver your message and often times will hold your data hostage without an upgrade to the paid service. Nothing will eat up time and money like false starts with tools that end up not meeting your needs or requiring unexpected fees.
  • Support – Tools are worthless without someone that is proficient in using them. Proficiency is often gained from self-teaching through user guides and FAQs, which most free tools offer. However, sometimes the tool doesn’t work as expected or some additional guidance is needed to use it effectively. Most free tools offer no support, either user error or system error. So if there is a problem, users are on their own to figure it out or work around it.
  • Extra Services – Steadfastly sticking to no cost options can blind digital marketers to additional services that might benefit them. For instance, almost every social media platform offers a paid ad service but it’s often ignored due to the cost. These services obviously need to be leveraged intelligently so that unnecessary expenses aren’t created, but it should be an option on the table if it’s likely to benefit a campaign.

Free tools are ineffective

Some trainers, consultants, and professional coaches have a general mistrust of free tools. The thought is generally that no cost equals no quality. Neglecting valuable free tools hurts effectiveness and the marketing budget.

  • Bait and Switch – This is the opposite view of those that jump at “free” services without getting the details. The thought is that every free service is a useless dumbed down version that will force users into getting the paid version. While some healthy skepticism is valuable, too much will have you miss out on valuable services. A good example of this is Google Analytics. Google Analytics can be set up for free and provides valuable tracking data consistently and accurately without a need to upgrade.
  • Neglect Options – Many tools are offered only on a no cost basis. Disregarding them outright eliminates an option that could very well meet your needs. A common example of this is plugins for website content management platforms. Many developers create a solution for the platform and provide it to the platforms store for those that might have similar need. Many of these are free and do an admirable job at a certain function. If you steadfastly need to pay for any tool you use, you might be able to make a donation to the developer but don’t disregard it outright because the developer made it publically available at no cost.
  • Too Much Work – There is often a complaint that free tools require too much work to be implemented. This can be true in some cases but is true just as often for many paid tools. All tools require time and effort to get setup and utilized in your digital marketing campaign. When seeking a tool for a particular function know that it will take work to implement and base your analysis on functionality and feasibility rather than if it’s free or not.

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