Coupon Tactics Get Interesting

On several occasions, I have conducted highly informal research on what people want to receive through email. Nothing fancy, just me asking friends and family what they want companies to send them. "Coupons" is always the first answer.

  I have also conducted surveys asking consumers what they want from retailers. No matter how you try to spin or hide it, the same answer always comes to the top of the list. I recently conducted a survey for a retailer where we tried to avoid the topic, but we made a mistake in asking the simple open-ended question, "What would you do to improve the program?" Nearly half said "more coupons."

Of course, as email marketers we need to focus on the hot topics of the day, like relevance, list churn, and testing, but like it or not customers want us to give them a reason to buy today -- and coupons still represent one of the best tools in our arsenal.

Before getting to specific tactics, it is important to note two types of coupons. First, multi-use coupons represent a single promotional code that is provided to multiple customers. In this instance, anyone supplying promotion code 123 gets the discount. This makes distribution the key point of concern for retailers and manufacturers to ensure that coupons are not distributed beyond the originally intended audience. This is the area where solutions provided by companies like Coupons, Inc. excel by controlling the number of times coupons can be printed from a user's computer.

Second, single-use coupons are used where redemption can be controlled at the point-of-sale. In this instance, a retailers POS system can support anywhere from thousands to millions of unique promotion codes, all tied to the same master promotion. Distribution still needs to be controlled, but not to the same extent. If the coupon is printed more than once, redemption can still be controlled at the POS given proper education and training of the sales staff. Obviously, this opens the door for online marketers, since now a unique barcode, or promotion code, can be assigned to each individual online consumer.

The following is a list of ways marketers are integrating coupons into their email programs that that strike me as compelling:

Tracking cross-channel sales:. With cross-channel shopping growing at a significantly faster clip than pure online sales, this is a critical metric for marketers to capture. Not only does it allow tracking of conversion, but it provides insight into brick-and-mortar basket composition that can then be evaluated against online baskets.

Targeting Freebie Site Users: The proliferation of "freebie coupon sites" can create tracking and fraud control challenges, unless you have a strategy and safeguards in place. Is it best practice to lock down display of coupons after they have been displayed a specified number of times. But instead of simply locking people out of getting the promotion, why not require new visitors to sign up to get another email, with a new, valid, single-use coupon sent to their inbox? This allows marketers to drive both incremental sales and list growth from traffic driven from freebie sites. Moreover, with single-use coupons, it does not take long to figure out who is posting your coupons to freebie sites. Once identified, you can create specific strategies for these influential consumers.

Geotargeted Coupons: Geotargeting provides the opportunity to target specific store-level offers or to alter coupon values depending on how far a subscriber is from your retail outlet. The farther they are, the more incentive it takes to get them to make the drive. To do so, marketers must calculate distance to the nearest store for each subscriber, but several companies provide mapping tools that enable drive-time calculations.

Mystery coupons: Mystery coupons combine two established tools from the marketer's toolkit: coupons and sweepstakes. In this instance, subscribers are told simply that their coupon is worth something, but the amount is left as a range. Saks Fifth Avenue recently sent an email to subscribers with a mystery coupon with a value between $15 and $1000. Not only did the coupon sites buzz with feedback from users on the actual value of their coupon, but it also drove messages like, "Don't delete your email" and "Please send me your unused coupons" in the freebie forums.

As the holidays approach, try any of these tactics to track your impact on offline sales and help draw a few more subscribers into your local store.

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