You hear it all the time. Heck, I’ve probably said it myself here at least once: if you want to get people to do something for you, reason only goes so far. To really clinch the deal, the best thing to do is bribe them. This is true whether you want someone to opt-in to your email list, like your page on Facebook, join your team or even do something in the real world, like attend a product launch, sale, or grand opening. Think about it: even the most altruistic requests like asking for volunteers at non-profits and charity events come with some sort of bribe (it’s usually a t-shirt). The question is, then, not whether or not you should bribe someone to get them to do the thing you want them to do, but what that bribe should be.

The Difference Between the Good Kind and Bad Kind of Bribe

There are two basic bribery camps: the good (or ethical) camp and the bad (or gross) camp. Non-ethical bribery looks a lot like ethical bribery but there is one important difference. A non-ethical bribe is usually some form of incentive offered to someone in exchange for a future deed. Lobbyists who give lavish and expensive gifts to Congress people to incentivize them to vote a certain way is a good example of this. It also usually comes with a threat of something bad happening to the bribe recipient if things do not go the briber’s way (like funding a challenger’s campaign, if we’re keeping the lobbyist example). This is not what we advocate when we say you should bribe your audience. What we are advocating is called “ethical bribery.” “Ethical bribery” is what you see most of the time—“when you sign up for my email list, I’ll send you this E-book as a thank you!” In more professional circles these bribes are usually in the form of business lunches, dinners or other events for which you foot the bill (sports or theater tickets for example). Really what you’re doing is paying someone for their time, effort or information and that is absolutely legal. It’s only called “bribing” because “bribing” takes less time to say.

What Makes a Good Bribe?

There are all sorts of things out there that you can offer as a bribe. How do you figure out which offer will most incentivize your audience to take the action you want them to take?

Who Are You Trying to Attract?

What does your audience want? Before you panic, remember: you already have the answer to this question contained in the market research you did when you were building your brand and setting up your marketing platform. A good bribe is always based on what your audience really wants. Otherwise why would they accept it?

What Can You Afford?

What can you afford to offer that won’t eat into your profit margins? This is why things like t-shirts, plastic water bottles, buttons and reusable shopping bags (tote bags are too expensive) are the most common “gifts” given to volunteers and convention attendees.

Smaller is Usually Better

In this case, it really is the size that counts. Your bribe should not outshine your actual offer. What you offer needs to be smaller and less impressive than the thing you’re actively trying to sell. For example: on “free cone day,” Ben & Jerry’s do not typically hand out triple scoop waffle cones or milkshakes for free. Instead they offer single scoops—served in either a small dish or on a standard cone. The idea is that, one free scoop is enough to incentivize someone else to buy a larger serving later on.

Conformity Is Key

A lot of businesses make the mistake of offering something that they’ve overstocked and want to get rid of as the bribe. This very rarely works out. Sure, people will do a lot to get free stuff and often they won’t care what that free stuff actually is, but the best thing you can do is offer something that fits in with your existing product or service line. The closer you can get it to the singular goal you’re trying to accomplish, the better. For example: Amazon offers up the first few pages—sometimes even the whole first chapter—of a lot of the books in its inventory for free to potential buyers. The free chapter is in keeping with the actual product and provides incentive for the recipient to keep shopping.

It Has to Have Actual Value

You might not use that water bottle we mentioned earlier every day, but it still useful. You need to offer something that people not only can actually use but that they will actually use. This is why simply offering up a report of “the ten things you need to do to accomplish X” is rarely a good bribe. In fact, it’s best to steer clear of most information products as a rule. Most of the information that you would want to give away could be appropriated into content that you can publish (which, if it is presented well, should get a fair amount of organic likes and shares anyway).

Creating Scarcity Drives Value

This is the inherent value behind services like Patreon and other crowdfunding platforms: Patrons of a specific campaign are given access to exclusive content that is either released to patrons earlier than the public or not released to the public at all. The exclusivity is the bribe that is offered to get people to kick in to a campaign.

What Makes a Bad Bribe?

Usually? Info products. See above. Basically anything that will get immediately tossed out or forgotten is a bad bribe. It’s true that in the world of marketing, small cheap items or things like discount codes off of future purchases are the norm when it comes to bribing an audience. That does not mean, however, that you are limited to those offers. Anything, when given the right context, can be a good bribe. Don’t be afraid to have a little fun. The last thing you want is to offer the same thing everybody else offers, right?