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Coupons Re-imagined: Mom Was Right (Again)

Coupons Re-imagined: Mom Was Right (Again)

I head back to my Mom's purple, pink, and terracotta apartment once a year. We live on opposite sides of the Pacific pond, and although I spend most of the year in the South East Asian tropics, it’s always nice to hunker down for a few weeks in Chicago’s fierce winter cold. She’s a painter, and a sculptor, and a professor, and her apartment is decorated with a combination of my silly childhood finger-paintings, and the highly contemporary works that her colleagues churn out in the Windy City’s less agreeable season.

If you’ve spent any time in a city’s winter, you may know the feeling of sitting around the fire or radiator, sharing conversation over warm drinks – in my home, we’re fans of The Hot Tottie – and getting clapped on the head with a fresh idea. This December, as I sat in my mom’s living room and warmed my fingers around her perfectly mixed whiskey cinnamon tea, we talked about the drafting process, about how old ideas can inspire new creations, and (oddly enough) about why a strong marketing campaign should never forget the good ol’ coupon! Moms always know best.

Why the “Push for New” Needs to Remember What’s Always Worked Best:

As we sat in that mostly-purple living room, I puzzled aloud about what kind of article this holiday season needs, and she asked me if I had ever written about the good old fashioned coupon. At first, I pushed back, telling her that coupons are one of the oldest tricks in the book, and that marketers today need to know about how to stay ahead of the stream.

She smiled at me in the way a mother does when her 11-year-old son has said something very stupid. “Everybody likes saving money, right”?

Moms are right

In those five painfully simple words, my mom reminded me that, regardless of how shinny-and-new we want our sales approach to be, it always needs to take into account some enduring human traits. Here we are on the cusp of another holiday season, a few days away from 2016, and chest deep in the digital age of marketing. Still, people like good deals.

For mature and maturing companies alike, coupons are a great way to tap new markets, build existing relationships, and ultimately, make more money. That is, as long as you're using them right! Until recently, the way companies used coupons had changed very little since the 1920s. Considering the fact that this tool can powerfully increase sales, it should shock us that so little innovation was taking place with this tried and true technique. With the New Year right around the corner, it's time reflect on the old, think about how to make it work better in the year to come, and then, yes, make it work better!

With a focus on digital marketing and optimizing the modern startup, I understand the tendency to push for the latest and greatest, but this winter’s Hot Totties reminded me of something very important; the search for new shouldn’t push us away from the tried and true.

In his article Tradition and the Individual Talent, T.S. Eliot reminds us that innovation requires looking back before moving forward. We need to recognize what has always worked, and build on it, as opposed to discarding the past and trying to stab a flag into uncharted territory. By reflecting on the past, we gain insight into how to address the future. Sure, Eliot was talking about creating masterful works of art, but why shouldn't we apply this to our businesses?

Memory towards progress

As the November and December sales season drives customers to your awesome business, why not toy with a new take on an old trick -- doing so could give them some great reasons to keep buying from you in 2016.

Coupons: What Does and Doesn't Work

Since their surge in the mail-order catalogues of the 1920's, coupons have shown a knack for drawing customers, convincing them to buy, and then reminding them to buy again. Awesome! But let's not forget....

That was when print newspapers were still distributed by kids on bikes, orange juice was still made from real oranges, and milk came in tin tubes strait from the cow's utter. A good bit has changed since then: the telephone became cool, computers started showing up in households, people got smarter -- just kidding, people don't get smarter -- and then... digital marketing!

Yep. Technology happened. And all of a sudden, customers got more choices, more convenience, and of course, they stopped needing scissors for their coupons. In short, the digital age of sales and marketing put a larger onus on the supplier to keep his or her clients loyal. It also brought "simplicity" to the table as a differentiating variable for client satisfaction. Now, if you're going to use a coupon, it had damn well better be easy to use! So, the Good, the Bad, and The Solution.

The Good:

Coupons give people a reason to buy your product! They make it cheaper, and everyone likes things cheaper. They also attach clients specifically to your product or marketplace. That is to say, once you've got a shopper copying and pasting your coupon, they're that much closer to buying your product, from you as opposed to someone else's product, from someone else. BUT....

The Bad:

If you're not doing it right, coupons make buying something more complicated than it needs to be. Send someone away from your site to find a code, and there's a good chance they'll never come back! Make them click six times to give you money, and they may choose to give it to someone else! If it's too complicated, it's not gonna cut it.

A Caveat:

In the 1920's I'm sure my great grandma didn't mind sitting by the fire, clipping coupons, finding an envelope, putting those coupons in the envelope, sending it to Kentucky, and waiting a few weeks for the rebate or discount. However, I can't remember the last time I put anything in an envelope, and I can promise you I've never sent a coupon to... anywhere at all. That's because I grew up in this century, and I'm used to things happening fast. If I want a coupon, I google it; if I don't find it in five minutes, I go to another site. Period.

Research shows that the more clicks it takes your shopper to buy a product, the higher your chances of loosing his or her conversion. So, coupons are awesome, but not if they make the buying process slow or cumbersome.

The Solution:

Use coupons to make shopping cheaper, easier, and faster for your customer. Make your coupons a painfully simple exercise -- literally, point and click (ONCE). This'll give them yet another reason to love you (and to keep shopping at your shop)! Remember, if you're sending them away or asking them to keep on clicking, you may as well throw snowballs at them and tell them to stop buying from your site!

A well set up coupon system gives customers more value for their money, without wasting their time, redirecting them, or asking them to click on a handful of bells and whistles. Coupons work wonders, as long as they don't ask clients to leave your site! So, modernizing the coupon -- mastering the past, and giving it that 2016 electro-tinsel -- means making coupons easy as hell to use! But how?

Maybe you're a tech-savvy wizard with time to kill. Maybe you can create a great system to streamline coupon processing. If so, I bow in your direction. If, however, you're like me, you might prefer checking out a tool that's already working for tons of other businesses, and which is easy to set up and use.

The Problem-Solving Cow is Here to Help Do it Better, Easier.

I'm not here to tell you that there's a single way to do coupons right, but I would venture to say that there are a few things you don't want to be doing wrong: Don't waste their time, don't send them away from your site, and don't loose them at the checkout! Play with your coupon system, improve your coupon system, and if you want to set up something that's already working for the rest, you might check out the "easyCoupon" system, by Moogento. It makes coupons a one-click process of simplicity for the shopper, and it takes the headache out of administering coupons on your end. Thinking through the coupon puzzle, their team has come up with a solution to address the most popular New Year's goal among businesses:

As we head into the new year, check out what my Ma was talking about and pour yourself a delicious Hot Tottie. As you sip on the fiery goodness, think back on what did and didn't work in 2015, how you'll improve in 2016, and don't forget, perfection is in process.

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Image Attribution (with a heaping spoonful of thanks):

Image #1 uses two pictures, from the following links, both of which have been modified with permission.

Image #2 uses a picture from the following link, which has also been modified with permission.

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