The word “unlimited” has a special place in the hearts of all value-seekers. Focus quickly shifts from an objective cost/quality analysis to a pure value-oriented mindset.
As an avid food enthusiast, I like to think of this as “the buffet effect.” When The appeal of the buffet (outside of Las Vegas) is not the food itself, but the unlimited nature. It’s easy to forget that you can fill up for the same price on better food elsewhere.
“Unlimited” services challenge our better judgment by tapping into our inherent desire for value. We stop focusing on what we need and start focusing on how much we can get.
How “Unlimited” Services Work
The “unlimited” business model is unique in that it has misaligned customer/business objectives. Customers want to get as much as they possibly can and businesses want to make sure customers don’t destroy their margins. The better off the customer is, the worse off the business is and vice versa. Businesses attempt to mitigate this risk by analyzing the true limitations of an unlimited offering.
For example, a buffet is truly “all you can eat” but the model isn’t designed to lose money. The business owners think about how much someone could possibly eat so they can price the meal accordingly. You’re still paying for everything. $25 can buy you a seat an an all-you-can-eat buffet, but it can also buy you all-you-can-eat (and then some) at McDonalds.
In the food industry, the all-you-can-eat model works well because there are physical limitations to the amount of food people can consume. This “unlimited” model works well in other industries as well, such as media, where there is a limitation on how much media someone can consume (max 24 hrs/day).
In other industries, this becomes tricky. The most recent one I’ve come across is graphic design. I came across an “unlimited graphic design” service and I was instantly intrigued. The service was priced at $400/month and they promised unlimited professional designs, unlimited requests, and unlimited revisions. Even though I wasn’t spending $400 on graphic design services at the time, this offering tapped into my desire for value. I figured I could find projects for these designers if it was unlimited.
That said, it seemed to good to be true, so I did some research and ultimately decided to avoid the service. Since then, I’ve seen many more of these services pop up, so I will share my thoughts.
The Unlimited Design Service Pitch
The pitch of an unlimited design service is super clear – it’s even in the name. You get unlimited designs and revisions for a flat monthly rate.
That said, we know that the unlimited business model HAS to take limitations into account. Buffets know you can’t clear out their inventory in one visit and Netflix knows you can’t crash their servers by streaming too many movies.
So, where do graphic design services draw the line? Theoretically, there is no limitation on how many designs someone could need. Technically, I could require 100 designs per day for every day of the month and this would certainly fall under the scope of unlimited. Heck, I could even start my own graphic design company and resell these unlimited designs.
The Limitations of Unlimited
Unlimited graphic design services implement their own limitations through controlled turnaround times. We’ll call this “the TAT clause.” Every graphic has a turnaround time, and your designer will generally work on one project at a time.
So, if you need an event flyer made, you send the design instructions and wait to receive the first concept. The turnaround time for most of these services is 24-48 hours, meaning “unlimited” monthly designs are limited to 15-30 designs each month.
You send in the design specifications, wait for delivery (24-48 hours), and move onto the next project.
The Problem With the Turnaround
Let me be clear. I’m not trolling these types of services by playing on the fact that they can’t really offer an infinite amount of designs each month. I know that there are always limitations and I’m not getting overly literal with the semantics.
That said, the TAT clause reeks of dishonesty to me. As a graphic designer, I can design most basic graphics (which is what these services offer) in anywhere between 1-3 hours. An event flyer does NOT take 24-48 hours to design.
The turnaround time is used as padding to slow down the design flow and it completely nullifies the “unlimited” aspect of the service.
The New Value Proposition
There are thousands of graphic design services on the market and unlimited design services stand out solely because of their unique value proposition. Unfortunately, this value proposition is built on false premises.
The expectation is unlimited designs for $400/month.
The reality is 15-30 design for $400/month (assuming no delays or period where you don’t need graphics).
This means you’re paying ~$13-$26 per graphic, which isn’t terrible, but it’s also nothing special. These companies generally use overseas designers that you can hire full-time for a price that’s similar to the subscription fee.
What an Unlimited Design Service Really Is
An unlimited design service isn’t a new type of service – it’s a different way of positioning standard design services. It’s a repackaging of the offering in which you commit to paying for a certain amount of work each month.
Technically, this could be applied to any business model. Selling articles for $30 each? Offer unlimited articles for $900/month with a 1-day turnaround time.
While this type of service may work well for companies that require frequent designs (15-30 each month), it’s not an optimal solution for smaller businesses who may only need a handful of graphics each month. It’s definitely not the solution for value seekers who want believe they can truly get unlimited designs.
Why Does It Matter? (+ Takeaways)
This isn’t a complaint/rant post. If these businesses customers are happy, great. I don’t doubt that some of these services offer great value for the monthly subscription fee. I’ve actually spoken to some representatives from these companies and they were all very nice.
That said, these services are marketed under a false premise, and I believe it’s important for marketers to be clear about their offerings. An exaggerated pitch may bring customers in the door, but it doesn’t keep them there.