All brands use coupons but who invented them? It was 1887 and the brand was called Coca-Cola. The first coupon was created when Atlanta businessman Asa Candler had the idea to offer a ticket to consumers for a free glass of Coca-Cola. It is estimated that between 1894 and 1913, 1 out of 10 people in America had received this coupon, which made it possible for this little-known sugary drink to become a brand leader.
Today, coupons are used by all brands and for all types of products. Thanks to the widespread use of mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, they are rapidly becoming digitalized. In 2015 more than 120 million digital coupons have been used in the United States and they are expected to reach 127 million in 2016 (source: Statesman).
Compared to traditional paper coupons, the digital ones are more convenient for consumers, who can seek offers that interest them at any time and save them directly on their smartphones. They are also more strategic for brands, which can send targeted offers to customers in a particular time of the day or while they are in the vicinity of the outlets.
From a practical perspective, creating mobile coupons is easier than ever and within everyone’s reach: in addition to a large number of specific apps, there are online systems to create mobile sites that also allow you to make creative and effective mobile-coupons in just a few minutes without requiring special technical or graphic skills. What is important is to have a very clear idea of what you want to get from this campaign, who you want to reach out and find the right idea to get as many people as possible use the coupon.
Mobile coupons can be used to achieve several objectives:
One of the most famous campaigns of mobile coupons that had marked an era was that of Orange Wednesdays, promoted by the telephone company Orange (now known as EE). By simply sending a text message, people would receive a code enabling them to claim 2 movie tickets for the price of one. These tickets could be used to watch a movie on a Wednesday night, the day when the movie theatre usually had less revenue. It was reported that over 23 million free tickets had been distributed throughout the Orange Wednesdays (source: TheGuardian) and the campaign had been so successful that it continued for twelve years, from 2003 until the beginning of 2015.
But what is the secret to create a successful mobile coupon campaign? Be original: remember that it is a tool used by all brands for over 120 years and that consumers receive dozens of offers and promotions every day. This is why you must stand out.
Almost all coupons offer a percentage discount, which may eventually have little impact on consumers who are now accustomed to receiving offers of any kind for any type of products. Rethinking it in a creative way and customizing it for your target and product category can help you involve consumers more closely. For example, an ice cream might offer free cream to those who present themselves as a couple on Valentine’s Day and buy two cones; Grom, an Italian ice cream brand, has done something similar this year, but they only promoted this on Facebook and not through mobile coupons… could it be an idea to make the campaign even more effective in 2016?
When customers are near the store, they receive a mobile coupon that can be used in that specific store. Consumers perceive it as an opportunity not to be missed and they are enticed to use it, even if prior to receiving the discount they would not have thought of shopping. The yogurt shop chain Pinkberry has shown how this can be a winning idea: an advertisement on the consumers’ smartphone would show the nearest yogurt shop. By clicking on the ad, they would obtain a coupon with a discount of $1 on yogurt along with directions to the shop and a “call” button.
Coupons were once distributed directly from the brand to the consumer, in a unidirectional manner, but now with social networks, Facebook in particular, the tables have turned: the consumers are the ones to spread and share an offer with their friends, spontaneously increasing brand visibility. How to make the most of this opportunity? By doing a promotion that reflects the social nature of Facebook. You can propose, for example, on the page of your brand a coupon valid only for those who present themselves in the store with their friend with whom they shared the offer.
People are inundated with advertisements and promotions and it is possible to lose sight of the ones they are interested in. Sending a mobile coupon exactly when the consumer might be willing to use it is a good strategy to draw attention at the right time: for example, for pizzerias and restaurants, the best time to send coupons is just before lunch or dinner time, when people start to think about where they are going to eat. Taco Bell has put this into practice in an original way, through the Happier Hour campaign, which offered a discount coupon for consumptions in the afternoon. The promotion included a “Remind me at 2PM” option in order to save the discount in the calendar on mobile devices and to receive a notification at the most appropriate time to use it.
Customers are not all the same and those who are most receptive should be rewarded. Those who have used a coupon are probably more likely to use another one in the future. By keeping track of these consumers, you can create and send specific offers to them, and more frequently than other customers and provide them increasing benefits: this makes them feel important and helps you increase your customer base that is strongly loyal to the brand.
A percentage discount is a good incentive, but offering freebies is much more. It doesn’t matter if it is of small value, psychologically speaking, a freebie always attracts people: unlike a discount, which involves doing some calculation to be able to define the real advantage, its appeal is direct and immediately noticeable. How to use the power of the word “free” creatively? You can do this, for example, through a coupon given at every purchase offering a different type of item for free. This can help widen the knowledge of your products as well. You could also reward consumers who book a service in advance. McDonald’s has done this through a downloadable special coupon that offers a free McMuffin to those who order their breakfast the day before.
On one hand, all these ideas would never be feasible if it were not for technology, which now allows to geo-localize users, track their behavior and send them scheduled promotions. But on the other, technological innovation alone is not enough to sell. Ideas are needed: you should know your consumers, imagine what they would want, send them customized offers and take into account the mobile technology and the personalization it can offer. Be today’s Asa Candler.
Silvio Porcellana is the CEO and Founder of mob.is.it, the online tool over 1,000 agencies and professionals use to build mobile websites and native apps for customers worldwide. From his retreat in the Monferrato Hills in North West Italy, he bootstraps companies, writes about web and mobile marketing, and helps customers succeed online. Find out more about him at mob.is.it/about