I’m a big fan of the term “updates,” because they seem like a nice concept to get me to buy something and to get to know my friends, but it also sounds like a very good marketing strategy, says Michael Smith, co-founder of digital content company The Dime.
“Updates are great marketing because they’re more organic and they’re very specific, they’re like ‘Hey, I’ve been buying your products for a long time,'” he says.
But that’s just not true.
Updating is a marketing term that’s a little bit of a misnomer, Smith says.
“There’s no marketing value in them.
It’s a term that gets thrown around and used by marketers to get you to buy,” he says, noting that it’s actually a bad marketing strategy.
Updates have two main purposes: One is to get a product out of your hands and then keep you hooked on that product, and the other is to keep you engaged with the company.
And it’s hard to imagine how anyone could justify the marketing value of a company using up-sells as a marketing strategy—unless they’re trying to sell something that’s more than a novelty.
So how do we know when a product is worth using upsells for?
“If it’s a great product, you’ll use it upsell,” says Seth Johnson, a marketing expert who writes the newsletter and ebook The Unofficial Product Marketing Guide.
“But if it’s not a great piece of software or it’s something that people are buying, they’ll probably not.”
A little bit more on that last part: If you’re going to use a product to get people to buy more of something, you have to be able to persuade them to buy it more, Johnson says.
So, why is that?
One of the big problems with upsell sales is that they’re not very clear on how they’re supposed to work, says David P. Lutwidge, senior VP of marketing at the online marketing company eCommerce.
The key to upsell marketing is to be clear about what it is you’re selling.
You want to have the product’s features, like the price, the free shipping, the availability of the software, all of that, in a way that you’re not making a sale, but you’re making the customer feel like you’re providing value.
The problem is, upsell offers often don’t offer anything at all, Pilar says.
For example, if you offer free shipping on a product that’s available for a month, it won’t sell you a lot of customers.
But if you just give people a month’s free shipping for a new subscription, it will, says Lutwinge.
It won’t tell you that it doesn’t give a ton of value, he says (and upsell marketers also miss out on the potential customers that will get new products in the mail), so upsell is not a good way to get customers to buy anything.
But it’s also not the right way to sell.
To understand why, you need to understand what the word upsell means.
Upsell means to deliver something more than it was offered.
“If the upsell was to get someone to pay for something that they didn’t have, it would not be a good marketing technique,” says Johnson.
The other main difference between upsell and other types of marketing is that upsell does not involve offering more than what you’re offering.
“You don’t want to be telling your potential customers ‘This is a $60 subscription that you’ve been wanting and you’ve had this for six months, but now we’re giving you free shipping,'” says Pilar.
So you’re telling them what they’re paying for, which is often nothing.
“So it’s kind of like a gift card, except you’re giving it away, and you’re just saying ‘Hey look, I got you a nice gift card,'” he adds.
In fact, it’s common for upsell companies to use upsell to get their products into people’s hands without necessarily selling them anything, Pinter says.
Upselling is a big mistake, he adds, because it’s confusing to customers.
It gives them the impression that they are paying for something, but that’s not what it’s really all about.
The only way to really understand how upsell works is to actually do it yourself, Johnson adds.
For instance, when I’m trying to help a friend sell a business, I sometimes ask my friends to fill out an online form to find out if they’d like to sell their business.
When I find out they have no interest in selling, I try to up sell them.
“I don’t do that because it costs me money,” he explains.
I do it because I think it’s an interesting question and it’s interesting for my friend, he notes.
“And then when I do ask them to fill that