To sell a service, give something away

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 21 March 2008



(2008), "To sell a service, give something away", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 25 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

To sell a service, give something away

Article Type: Internet currency From: Journal of Consumer Marketing, Volume 25, Issue 2.

Edited by Dennis A. PittaUniversity of Baltimore

To sell a service, give something away

As global warming becomes more apparent, weather extremes seem to be becoming worse. Recent wildfires in Europe and Southern California have devastated consumer’s lives by burning their homes and their entire contents. Victims are left with ashes. Even those who have homeowner’s insurance may not be reimbursed for the value of their possessions. Exploiting the misfortune of the wildfire victims, some entrepreneurs are devising elaborate scams to separate them from whatever other funds they have. In contrast, one reputable organization is giving away something of value to victims and non-victims alike.

The Insurance Information Institute

The mission of the Insurance Information Institute (III) is to improve public understanding of insurance what it does and how it works. The III has been in operation for more than 40 years. Over that time, the III earned positions of trust with the media, governments, regulatory organizations, universities, and the public “as a primary source of information, analysis, and referral concerning insurance.” Its information production is prodigious. Each year, it creates more than 3,700 news stories. In addition, the III reports that it handles more than 6,000 requests for information and answers nearly 50,000 questions from consumers.

In addition to its contact with the media, the III publishes a host of pamphlets and books. They range from “9 Ways to Lower Your Auto Insurance Costs” to the “III Fact Book.” The Institute states clearly that it does not lobby. In contrast, its stated function is to provide accurate and timely information on insurance subjects.

We heard about the organization, not because of its public service work over the last four decades but because it is giving something away for free: software. III provides a software program (Know Your Stuff, Home Inventory 3.0 with Vault 24 secure file storage technology) that helps homeowners create a specific personal possession inventory. Typically, after an event, like a fire, a theft, or an act of God we recognize the value of a personal property inventory. Unfortunately, at that point it is too late for those of us who do not have one.

In fact, the inventory is invaluable both for documenting insurance losses and even for tax deductions. It is precise and actually more than people need. For example, anyone armed with a pad of paper can make a list of their personal possessions, note their identification marks or serial numbers, attach their date of purchase and purchase price, and save receipts and photos in a file. The problem is that few of us are that organized and even fewer have enough foresight to anticipate the need for documentation. When we finally recognize the need, the task seems onerous or impossible.

The value of the software is that it provides the proper inventory structure and promises to make the task fun and simple. More importantly, once a user creates the database, he or she can update the inventory with a mouse click. Adding or eliminating personal possessions is simple and updating the inventory becomes less burdensome.

Starting a home inventory can be relatively simple for newlyweds. They have the advantage of a relatively clean slate. Moreover, they can exploit the value of the now common wedding registry. When a couple registers their preferences with retailers, they not only help would be gift givers; they also create a foundation for valuing their possessions. Thus, they might attach recent wedding registries to substantiate new possessions.

As mentioned above, for established families who have lived in a house for many years, the task may seem daunting. They are advised to set aside an afternoon and get the entire household involved. The conventional wisdom is that it is much easier to document personal possessions before suffering a loss from a burglary, fire, hurricane, or other disaster.

The institute notes that high-ticket items need special treatment and may need special separate insurance policies. In addition, the web site offers some helpful advice about creating and storing an inventory and provides program user information. It also notes the value of photographs and videotaped evidence and cautions that copies should be stored away from home in a safe storage environment. Groups of universities often host each other’s sensitive information like grade records. The arrangement protects against catastrophic loss or mischief. For example, someone committed a data center break in and erased the computer tapes containing a university’s grade and tuition data. All of it was gone. Fortunately, daily backups were stored offsite. However, there is concern about the security of remotely stored information. In addition, businesses with more voluminous data would significant storage space.

For most consumers, the safest storage location would be a bank safe deposit box. Storing copies of the database at work or at a relative’s home is workable but somewhat less secure than the deposit box. One nice web site touch may benefit the institute. There is a link for a secure remote storage site. The storage solution is Vault 24, Secure Swiss Databank. III calls it a global data security resource for financial and inventory information. III states “Vault 24 is designed to store critical information, such as Know Your Stuff Home Inventory files, on a secure server. This way, if your home is destroyed, you can access this information remotely 24/7.”

Vault 24 describes itself as a state of the art secure online data bank. It was designed and is located in Switzerland as an easy-to-use service suited for storage and management of important financial information. It offers online connectivity to allow effective workflow in storing and retrieving data from its secure servers. Vault 24 designed the storage service to emphasize every aspect of its clients’ privacy and security.

The service options include a basic package aimed at consumers to store and update a single Know Your Stuff Home Inventory project at $14.99/year. Small businesses may opt for a package that stores three project files at $29.99/year. Finally, the ten-unit package lists for $79.99 per year.

Downloading and storage

The web site allows straightforward downloading after providing some information. It asks for State of Residence (or an Outside the USA choice), computer operating system (Windows or Macintosh) and the downloader’s e-mail address.

Overall, the III has applied the Gillette business model to data, namely, give away the razor and reap the annuity of selling razor blades. The analogy may be a bit strained since Vault 24, not III, seems to earn the annuity. However, III has demonstrated a technique in online design that we may see more of in the future.

In our next issue, we will investigate other informative sites and invite readers to submit their favorite internet sites for our consideration.

Reader requests

Please forward all requests to review innovative internet sites to Dr Dennis Pitta, University of Baltimore, 1420 North Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21201-5779, USA. Alternatively, please send e-mail to for prompt attention.

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