One of my favorite ways to think of content marketing is as free samples. Every blog post is a little taste of your expertise and values.  But what happens when people don’t want what you’re giving away? That’s what Apple recently found out when it sent all iPhone users the new U2 album.

Without getting any sort of opt-in, the company dropped U2’s new album, Songs of Innocence, directly into every single iPhone users’ iTunes account. Unfortunately, some people don’t like having unwanted music magically appear on their personal devices, so instead of a ‘thank you,’ Apple got a lot of backlash.

What’s the marketing lesson here? Apple forgot two important ways to figure out if its “free samples” were going to work in its favor.

1. Make content relevant

Apple is marketing iTunes to all music fans, but not all music fans are also U2 fans. Let’s put it another way:

You need to be certain the content is going to resonate with most readers. Some people are going to tune you out before you even have a chance to make your value proposition, so it may be best to appeal to the masses with an asset you invest a lot of resource in – unless, of course, you’re targeting a specific group with something special.

2. Give away something useful

People who don’t like U2 won’t have any use for a U2 album at all, so it’s basically worthless to them. But some content, even if it’s not 100 percent relevant, can still be valuable.

If you’ve created a white paper with valuable tips about how to address your customers’ top pain points, there might be a segment they don’t apply to…for now. But some customers might find that the whitepaper is worth its weight in gold down the road.

The whole reason you’d give away free samples is to get consumers to use your services or products, and excited about your brand. You need to make sure your giveaways will be well-received before you pour resources into creating them.

What’s the most valuable giveaway you’ve received from a business? Did you think Apple’s U2 giveaway was useful? Let us know in the comments section below.

Alex Butzbach is a Marketing Writer at Brafton. He studied Communications at Boston College, and after a brief stint teaching English in Japan, he entered the world of content marketing. When he isn't writing and researching, he can be found on a bike somewhere in Metro Boston.