Case Study: VistaPrint - The Art of Giving the Product Away


At first glance, VistaPrint’s business model seems absurd. They give away most of their products. Free. Seriously. It does sound scary, but there is a lot that small online businesses can learn from VistaPrint – which was a small online business itself, once. The challenge is to apply the principles on which VistaPrint relies to affect viral marketing and drive customer loyalty. VistaPrint has embedded itself in popular culture using a simple formula. Quite simply, VistaPrint gives away the basics and charges for the extras.

VistaPrint Is Everywhere

A customer of mine had business cards made – by VistaPrint – for nothing more than the cost of shipping. Her needs were simple; she did not even have her own logo to add to the cards. She simply used one of VistaPrint’s default designs. It met an immediate need, and the price was right. Over the weeks that followed, she saw her business card design – on a number of other people’s business cards!

VistaPrint was everywhere . . .

Not only did she see business cards from VistaPrint, she saw personal cards as well. Energetic professionals have eschewed the phone-number-on-the-napkin approach to social interaction, favoring a pre-printed alternative. This solution actually is quite clever. To exchange contact information in social situations, you traditionally have had two choices. You could scramble for a napkin, matchbook, or scrap of paper, ultimately risking the readability of your contact information. Alternatively, you could use a business card – which can be disconcerting; giving out professional information in a social setting can be uncomfortable.

Of course, your interaction with customers requires that you have customers . . .

For small online businesses, it is essential to win fanatically devoted customers early. They are your best marketing channel. You need your "early adopters" to become devoted to your product and your company as a whole. VistaPrint affected this through targeted promotions and product giveaways, but you do not need to limit yourself. Even basic customer interaction can help. Make phone calls; ask how your customers like the product. Send a newsletter. Stay at the front of their minds!

Customer loyalty is the gift that keeps on giving. Differentiate yourself and win customers for life.

Copyright 2006 Daniel Scheff

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