Have you heard of the CR-48? I know I have. So have my friends and everyone here at the office. We heard about it without the benefits of advertising, blogs or even email marketing. So what’s this have to do with you, your lists or even your email campaigns?

What is the CR-48?

Before we go any further, the CR-48 is a new laptop from Google that you can’t (officially) buy. It runs Google’s new Chrome operating system and is designed to function almost exclusively through web connection. As Google says, “it’s for people who live on the web.” Along with the typical wi-fi capabilities, there is a 3G connection built right in. You even get 100 mb free data transfer each month. What’s more is that it’s free… kind of.

An Offer Too Good Not to Talk About

Chances are that if you’re a techie like me, you’ve heard about this mysterious machine. By now it’s all over the blogosphere. But I heard about it on an internet deal site. Then I heard about it on a music forum. Then I read about it on a mountain biking website. And the news didn’t come from the sites’ writers. The hype came by way of fellow forum members who posted a link to Google’s CR-48 landing page, which offered a chance to receive a free beta test model in exchange for some information.

But First, Tell Us a Bit About You

This form represents less than a third of the questions asked. You can bet I filled out all the questions. You can bet that all my friends and co-workers filled out all the questions. And you can bet that thousands and thousands of strangers I’ll never know did the same. And most of us heard about it by word of mouth through unrelated website forums and social networks. Though Google is rumored to be giving out thousands of CR-48s, my chance of getting one isn’t great. But I gave up lots of information about my web usage patterns in hopes of being one of the lucky ones to test out the laptop and operating system… just like all the other salivating techies.

The Offer: a Free Laptop if You’re Willing to Share Your Experience with It

My best guess is that Google wants to give out these test laptops so that they can find out how their cloud-computing-only concept works in the real world. They want to be able to learn about the users’ collective and individual experiences so that when the real “for sale” laptops from various manufacturers hit the streets, they’re solid, stable and awesome. So what’s the lesson for email marketers here?

A Different Offer: a Chance at a Free Laptop in Exchange for Market Research

First, although Google will learn valuable info in the form of the feedback they get from the lucky people that will win that free laptop lottery, they are also learning plenty from the sign up form. Here’s another screen shot with more questions:

And there were even more questions than that! The point is this: Google can afford to give away thousands of laptops, but they didn’t get the wealth to be able to do such a thing by being silly. They are a smart company. And though the form is designed to qualify the gift of the beta test laptop to a web worthy person, the information culled from the thousands and thousands of people who didn’t get the laptops is very valuable. They know this. You can bet they can put it to good use.

You Can Do the Same on a Smaller Scale

Obviously if you’re giving away free laptops, lots of people will talk about it. But even if your pockets don’t run Google deep, you can give away something that will drive people to your website and help you build your email list. Make the offer sweet enough, and even just the chance of getting something will be enticement for people to sign up, leave an email address or even answer a good old-fashioned online survey. What kind of information would help you serve your customers better? What questions answered will help you to build a better product? If you’re smart, you’ll put these people on a special list, segment them according to their answers, then quickly get them into an autoresponder campaign.

Of course you’re excited now and ready to put this great info to good use. What’s that? You want to know how you can sign up for the chance to win your laptop? Well… Google it!