In response to rising mobile-commerce activity, the Mobile Marketing Association has issued guidelines for mobile couponing. The new rules and best practices cover the five stages of mobile price promotions, general and campaign-specific best practices, and tips for designing coupons, using the word "free" and creating terms and conditions.
First, the MMA defines mobile coupons as "electronic coupons or rebates that traverse the full redemption process without the requirement for conversion into a paper or other hard-copy format." These offers can be presented through a wide range of technologies, including text messages, email, applications, the mobile Web, Near-Field Communications and barcodes.
The MMA lays out steps for five stages for mobile price promotions spanning setup and communication, discovery and acquisition, presentment, validation and redemption, and reconciliation. Instructions related to the discovery phase, for example, emphasize the importance of user opt-in through specific actions, like sending a text message to a short code or downloading an application to receive an offer. Coupons can only be "pushed" to mobile users after an initial opt-in or approval.
Best practices recommended by the MMA in regard to mobile coupons are fairly straightforward, suggesting that offers are honest, in "good taste, and transparent, among other things. The guidelines don't specifically define "good taste," but advise that all coupons "should be prepared with proper consideration of the type of product being advertised and the audience to whom the advertising or promotions are directed."
The guidelines also include tips on mobile couponing in more sensitive areas, such as pharmaceuticals and alcoholic beverages. In addition to complying with all applicable laws, drug-related coupons should avoid words like "safe," "harmless," "without risk" or any words of phrases with similar meaning.
The definition of the term "free" is always a tricky topic. The MMA instructs: "An offer may be described as 'free' provided that all conditions for obtaining the 'free' product or service are clearly and conspicuously disclosed." That's the beginning, however. There are four other points to follow around use of the word "free," including disclosure of any promotion limitations.
Driving the new standards is the growing embrace of mobile coupons by retailers and consumers alike. The use of digital coupons last year was up about 60%, according to Kantar Media, but still represents only about $1 of the couponing business. Separately, a recent Pew Research Center study found that nearly half of all U.S. adults get some type of local information on their mobile devices, and 19% say they get local coupons and discounts.
"Our research shows that consumer interest in mobile coupons continues to grow, giving brands, merchants and marketers a powerful new opportunity to establish and maintain relationships with consumers," said Greg Stuart, CEO of MMA. The trade group's Mobile Couponing Task Force created the standards with input from the Mobile Commerce Committee as well as a 30-day public comment period.