E-coupons Part 2: Best practices

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Last week, “EMI” profiled Schneider Electric’s use of couponing in its online marketing efforts. This week, Carissa Newton, director of marketing for Delivra, an e-mail service provider based in Indianapolis, and Tamara Gruzbarg, digital analytics manager on the decision sciences team at Experian Marketing Services, discuss best practices for using coupons in e-mail communications:

1) Marry couponing with rich media. If you want someone to sit through your sales presentation, you can use a coupon as your carrot on a stick. You can send a link to a video, for example, and embed a call to action in the form of a coupon or offer at the end of the video, Newton said. “It gives the recipient a compelling reason to watch the video, and gives them an added incentive to make a move,” she said.

2) Create a sense of urgency. Sending out open-ended, no-expiration-date coupons may not be enough of an incentive to make a prospect follow through on a purchase. “You don’t want someone to file your offer away in their inbox,” Newton said. “You want them to act within a specific period of time so they don’t forget about your offer.” That’s not to say that subject lines or copy should be too hokey. Subject lines such as, “Act Now or Miss Out,” may do more harm than good. “You don’t want customers to think they are being strong-armed.”

3) Think carefully about the viral aspect of coupons. Some companies want prospects and customers to pass coupons on to their colleagues. Others, however, want to make coupons seem exclusive and create unique codes tied to specific customers. “Our research shows that it is extremely important to create a word-of-mouth channel where you can send an unrestricted coupon, increasing customer base and subscriber list,” Gruzbarg said. “In fact, we’ve identified this as a best practice. Forward-to-a-friend [coupons] are attractive and often used.” That said, avoid posting coupons on a landing page where they can be found and reposted to discount sites. The power of viral marketing is that the offer moves from one colleague to the next; there needs to be that human-to-human connection.

4) Use coupons selectively. If you send coupons too regularly, customers start to expect them. Some customers may not make purchases without a coupon. “They’re always going to be looking for the next great offer,” Gruzbarg said. Coupons should go out only a few times each year and should almost never go out to your best customers—the ones who buy from you all the time. You’re already getting their business, and there’s no need to erode that revenue stream. Reward that contingent with better customer service or free or overnight shipping instead.

5) Think cyclically. It doesn’t make sense to discount items or services that are strong sellers unless you’re doing so as a one-time reward for frequent customers. Coupons often work well for slower-moving items or those items you’re trying to unload quickly. “Couponing is very powerful when you’ve got one thing that you want people to act on,” Newton said.

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