Free of charge, here are two remarkable ideas.
This morning Kerwin and I walked into a Prescott Starbucks and both ordered their strong-brew coffee of the day to then find it was free. The barista at the cash register motioned over to a gentleman sitting in an animated discussion with a group of about six others, and said, “Your coffee is on Mr. Perez this morning.”
As Kerwin stirred cream and sugar into his coffee, we read a poster on the wall right above the condiment station with a picture of Mr. Perez’s smiling face explaining that every Wednesday morning from 8:30am-9:30am he buys coffee at that Starbucks for all his customers and anyone else who wants to talk story with him about investment banking and Prescott’s promising future.
Why offer free coffee in your office waiting room, when you can use Starbucks? This Starbucks in Prescott is clearly a happening place, and one of those coffeeshop locations where there is unlimited parking and lots of café table seating available inside as a respite from the Arizona heat. One glance at him holding court and you could see that Mr. Perez is brilliant.
He was also enjoying himself immensely. What a great way to work.
The second idea comes from The Gap (via BusinessBits). When The Gap started redesigning stores in Colorado, they did this:
On April 15, tax day, all parking meters in downtown Denver were free. The bags over the meters said: Change is good. Keep yours. Pardon our dust, the Gap.
Now neither of these two ideas are terribly expensive. But I bet they were remembered by many people long afterwards. Imagine if a Broadway or off-Broadway show bought everyone coffee one morning during the early morning rush at the Starbucks next door to the theatre (pretty soon, there WILL be a Starbucks next door to EVERY theatre, it's just a matter of time). Hand each person a flyer that says "while you enjoy your free cup of coffee, we hope you'll take a minute to read what the critics are saying about our show." Now every time they walk into that Starbucks, they're going to remember the time you bought their coffee for them. And every time they pass your theatre, they're going to think twice about the nice folks inside, and maybe take an extra second or two to actually read all that stuff posted on the walls and doors. And they're also likely to tell people about you as well.
There are probably lots of other examples: pay tolls one morning for the bridge and tunnel crowd on their commute into the city(Chitty Chitty Bang Bang); pay library fines for a day (The Color Purple); pay for marriage licenses for a day (Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding); hair cuts (Steel Magnolias, Sweeney Todd); shoe shines (Stomp).