"Pay What You Like": What Fee-Free Says About a Brand
September 23, 2008 ‐ 0 comments

4e305372-b417-478e-824d-9f55892e06bb-1Have you seen the GOOD sheet? Starbucks’ best new offering isn’t its new take-out oatmeal cup, but a weekly communiqué. With its dynamic graphics and charts, it offers facts and statistics on a political issue (this week: Health Care), along with explanations of the presidential candidates’ respective stances and proposed policies on the issue.

And it’s free – unless you opt to pay; on the GOOD website, you can subscribe at whatever price you deem appropriate, or choose not to pay at all. This Pay-at-Will model is kind of like the church donations plate: While it’s not technically mandatory, the hope is that a moral impetus to contribute will compel many people to throw down a few dollars if they deem the cause a worthy one.

Starbucks isn’t the first. In what was dubbed the pay what you like experiment, Radiohead made its In Rainbows album accessible online, allowing listeners to determine how much they wanted to pay, if anything, for their music.

Similarly, Drupal is a handy software package that enables users to manage website content, and is accessible free of charge, though donations to the Drupal Association are welcome.

What does this Pay-at-Will option say about a brand? For one, it demonstrates a brand’s confidence in its products and services, but it also leaves it to the consumer to be a judge of quality.

Second, it makes these brands appear to be motivated by more than just profit – “If you like us, pay us. We’re progressive!” Undoubtedly, the folks at Drupal have a long-term business plan in mind. But by not charging for the product, they are garnering greater-good attributes for their brand that are paying off with tangible donations, most notably a $10,000 grant from Google.

As for Starbucks, “pay if you like” is a wise acknowledgement that their products are indeed luxuries. The message to consumers: we appreciate that you’ll pay $4 for a coffee, so we’ll offer you this reading material for free. And we’ll accept your donation, but only if you’re inclined to offer it.

While voluntary donations to the GOOD sheet come to nearly $900,000 so far, there’s more to letting people pay at will than strict ROI. Providing products and services and letting customers determine their value creates a certain bond between providers and consumers. The provider appears to be providing for the sheer love of it. The consumer gets to be one of the cognoscenti who know where to go for ‘authentic’ goods and services. Both end up as forward-thinking partners in a relationship much deeper than one based on acts as crass as buying and selling.

Not unlike this blog and its readers. And if you like what you’re reading, the BrandCulture Company Non-Mandatory, Strictly Voluntary Goodwill Fund is now accepting donations – without obligation, of course.

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