What we have here is a failure to communicate

April 20, 2012

How do you make a simple idea, like coupons, confusing? At face value, coupons are an easy concept for the consumer – get a little piece of paper, bring it to a store, and save some money. But layer in evolving mobile technology, add new business models, and create new ways to digitally target and track the experience, and mobile coupons quickly take that simple idea and make it extremely complex. What’s the best way for consumers to get coupons on their mobile device, remember they have it, and ultimately, redeem? Communication, communication, communication.

Coupon Clippers of the Future

There is no doubt that paper coupons are moving to digital versions on mobile devices. You only need to look as far as the airline industry in the past few years for a shining example of how smartphones are replacing paper, right now. With just about any smartphone, you can check-in for your flight right on the device and get the virtual boarding pass that will get you all the way from the curb to that excessively narrow seat, with no paper required. This exact, digital conversion process is happening at retailers like Target, Walgreens, Starbucks and more already.

Are consumers ready for this mobile shift? Absolutely. People are actually saying that they want mobile coupons. Before Walgreens launched mobile coupons late last year, they ran a Facebook poll, and mobile coupons were the number one requested mobile feature. Target has seen great success with their weekly text alert containing a mobile web link to many different mobile coupons. Another independent poll 55% of consumers expressed an interest in mobile coupons, but only 10% have actually received one!

The Greatest Hurdle

As with the beginning of any rapidly evolving area of technology and commerce, there are always more questions than answers. Getting caught up in the confusion of all these coupons, offers, deals, codes, and discounts, marketers have a lot of questions to address when activating a mobile couponing program. These are wide ranging and require considerable thought–from the debate of apps versus SMS, delivery and redemption choices all the way to consumer privacy concerns with the connection of existing loyalty programs. Yet while those questions are debated, a larger consideration is being ignored. The customer communication plan.

Think about where these new mobile digital coupons, in any form (whether it’s apps, web or text) sit in the device. The new stack of coupons tucked away in the device requires digital reminders. Just as a paper coupon tossed in the bottom of a purse or pocket is quickly forgotten, a mobile coupon that is delivered, but then relegated to a constantly updated SMS message stream, tucked away 3 levels of navigation down in an app, or even “saved” as a mobile web page link in email, has a good chance of being digital trash by the time the expiration date rolls around. If marketers want to see return on these programs, mobile incentives need tasteful, and perhaps creative reminders that fit into the stream of users’ mobile behavior. Their streams of activities include checking email, scanning social networks, and even go ol’ SMS message exchanges, but where do the coupons fit?

Let’s go through a few scenarios…

Many online retailers have offer reminders down to a science in the realm of more traditional desktop commerce and email flows.

Think of how many e-retailers start the week with the weeklong “offer” or the coupon, perhaps with a coupon code, and sometimes even a unique coupon code for the individual, delivered to your email inbox. If you haven’t executed the offer, a few days later a new email shows up, gently reminding you that “in case you missed it, this really great deal is still there”. A few more days pass and a more urgent email shows up, this time reminding you of the “limited time offer” and with a slightly more urgent message. Finally, on the last day of the sale, you can count on a “final hours” email – imploring you to hurry and take advantage of this ridiculously, spectacular and rapidly expiring deal!

Communicating with the customer via mobile offers so much more than just an email. Think of the options to adapt the email flow outlined above to a mobile customer. You can start with a text message, first notifying the customer that their coupon is available – just click the link in the message, or open their app. Later, that same customer can receive an app push notification, reminding them that the offer is still out there. If they don’t get the push, when they open up your application, a gentle reminder on the launch page can point out that the deal is still available, and finally perhaps a mobile formatted and focused email, designed just for the mobile device the customer is using, can make that last request to take advantage of the coupon.

It’s a Communication Device, After All

Of course, there are many assumptions made above about how the coupons are delivered, the types of deals, point of sale technology, etc., but keeping mobile communication as the key thought around mobile couponing is a critical place to start. Mobile devices are all about communication. We carry them to be connected and to share and receive information, often in real time as it’s happening via social media, mobile email and of course texting.

Paper coupons are a one-way-street, but mobile coupons are a two-way, multi-lane interstate highway of information in the way coupon issuers and end users communicate. Connecting with customers to deliver mobile coupons, reminding them that those coupons exist, and ultimately letting specific, trackable (with their permission, of course!) customers communicate back that they have used those coupons is the ultimate closed loop in marketing.


Greg will be speaking on this topic as a panelist at a Heartland Mobile Council event Wednesday 4/25. If you’re in Chicago, please register and join us!

Originally posted by Greg Janssen (@grgbike) / April 18, 2012 2:56 pm on the Critical Mass website







  • I agree with you,  coupons are an easy concept for the consumer and get a little piece of paper as well as save some money.  This is very fantastic article which include very important information.

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