The cost of pricing: When free may not be worth it.

Today I attended a seminar targeting senior marketing professionals in the financial services sector. The content was presumably custom-fit for my level of experience and my business. Given that I could walk there plus a no-cost price tag made it irresistible. However, I ended up leaving early and I’d actually planned to do so even before arriving. I’m sure you’ve done the same thing when it’s a free event because we have nothing invested in the opportunity except our time and attention.

But isn’t free the “right price” from an expense management perspective? Or do those sessions suffer by seeming less compelling?  Does paying a little money make you anticipate value? But these days, why even bother attending when you can probably get similar content through a free one-hour webinar that’s available whenever you want to listen?

Okay; a webinar doesn’t offer the on-site networking or the break from your workplace so that’s not a fair comparison. But I am intrigued by the pricing variable and how that may influence our level of commitment to an event.

Here’s how I’d set my event pricing:

  • Free: if the main event is professional networking, travel is unlikely and vendors may be on the agenda.
  • Small fee (less than $100): for educational forums with no-name facilitators (e.g. industry peers). They may be good, but you won’t remember their names and probably can’t find their books or blogs.
  • Medium fee ($100-$500): association events that may involve travel but to a second-tier location; some targeted/industry keynotes and high -quality networking.
  • Premium fee ($500+): save this for exclusive events or exceptional content with big name keynotes. At this rate, I expect innovative content and expertise that will make me really think, along with highly valuable networking and travel to top-tier locations.

I’ll probably always feel okay leaving early – or even skipping – a free conference but not anything I’ve paid for. There’s an expectation of getting something of value when money’s been exchanged. So if you want to fill the seats, a small fee may be worth it!sxsw_panel2015