Are your complimentary services free? Understanding word choice
During some recent holiday travel, I saw this sign in the San Diego airport. I had to take a picture of it because I wondered how many people asked. “How much does it cost?” before they added the handwritten sign “free.”
Who are you trying to reach?
A 2012 report indicated that the average reading level of the books taught in U.S. high schools (grades 9 through 12) was just over a fifth-grade level.
Using the readability index calculator, I tested two very similar sentences. Here are the results.
“We offer a complimentary breakfast.” Flesch-Kincaid Grade level: 15. Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score: -1. (The higher number for the reading-ease score, the easier the text is to read. Comics usually score around 90. Legal documents usually score below a 10.)
“We offer a free breakfast.” Flesch-Kincaid Grade level: 5. Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score: 66.
One word makes a BIG difference!
Are you trying to reach the average U.S. adult, or are you hoping to reach adults with a higher level of education? If you aren’t sure, take a step back and create a profile of your ideal customer.
Refined or powerful?
Yes, “complimentary” sounds more refined than “free,” but “free” is more powerful!
“Free” is one of many power words – words that get your readers excited about your product or service. You can grab your readers’ attention by mentioning they can get something for free.
What are they searching for?
People don’t typically search for complimentary items; they search for free items.
Let’s take a look at the hotel industry. The term “hotels with free breakfast” is searched for 3.5 times more often than the term “hotels with complimentary breakfast” (although “complimentary breakfast” was a term that had been used for some time in the industry).
By focusing on what your audience is searching for, you can increase the traffic to your website.
What are the big boys doing?
Let’s take a look at the hotel industry again. In the world of complimentary breakfasts and free Wi-Fi access, what words are being used?
I did some perusing of hotel websites. In most cases, the hotel chains touted “free” breakfast and Wi-Fi, although some companies hedged their bets by still including “complimentary” on the page. Check out these examples.
Wyndham offers free breakfast and made sure you knew there was free Wi-Fi included in your free breakfast.
Comfort Inn also stuck with a free hot breakfast and free high-speed Internet access.
Hampton Inn makes sure you know that a hot breakfast and Wi-Fi are both free with your stay.
Residence Inn lets you know about several free offerings: breakfast, grocery delivery and Wi-Fi.
Embassy Suites touts free cooked-to-order breakfast, but offered complimentary drinks.
Holiday Inn makes sure you see that breakfast is both free and complimentary.
Country Inns & Suites by Carlton bucked the system with a complimentary breakfast, but it still mentions free high-speed Internet access.
Whichever word you choose, be sure to highlight value
Be cautious when publicizing free services (no matter how you phrase it). When highlighting something that is free, be sure you let your audience know what the monetary value of the product or service is. Otherwise, it is very easy for them to diminish the worth and significance of this bonus.
What’s your take? Do you offer something for free or is it complimentary?
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Very interesting concept.
You know, when you go to the dictionary the first definition of complimentary is “expressing regard or praise,” not “free of charge.”
It’s the secondary definition that says “presented or given free especially as a courtesy or favor.”
So, in my opinion, if you want to compliment me, give me something . . . free!
In regards to a service or product, a compliment is an enhancement but if someone offers a complimentary service is it free? (I.e. if you have already purchased a service and you are offered a COMPLIMENTARY upgrade to that service is the upgrade free or simply an enhancement? Great play on words for the marketing community, but underhanded to the consumer unless it’s actually free.