4 Keys to Mobile Coupon Marketing

By Constantine von Hoffman



Despite a lack of industry standards and a variety of coupon formats, mobile coupon marketing is starting to command more attention among consumer marketers looking to build a better shopping experience.

A recent study by Valassis, a Livonia, Mich.-based provider of intelligent media delivery services, helps to illustrate the opportunity for brands investing in this marketing tactic: 32 percent of consumers said they prefer mobile coupons to paper ones, making mobile the fastest growing coupon channel.

"Like any consumer marketing tactic, I think there are a lot of hits and misses," admits Megan Hennigan, senior manager of shopper marketing at Campbell Soup Co. "But in the aggregate, it has been working well for us."

Hennigan adds that mobile coupons are nearing a tipping point with both consumers and retailers. "We're getting over the adoption end of it [and] people are seeing their phones as a savings device," she says. "You are seeing a lot of suppliers getting smarter about providing a seamless delivery to reach the right shoppers."

However, that seamless delivery is very much a work in progress, in part because mobile coupons come in several different forms. One of the most popular is load-to-card (L2C), in which consumers find discounts online and load them directly to their store loyalty or preferred shopper cards. In 2016, for the first time, shoppers reported using L2C coupons more regularly than coupons from free-standing inserts (primarily found in newspapers), according to a study by Inmar, a technology and analysis firm based in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Another type of mobile coupon is app-based, either retailer-specific or third party. Retailer-specific apps were used by 51 percent of shoppers last year, a 13 percent bump from the year prior, according to Valassis. Third-party app use also increased year over year, from 31 percent to 44 percent.

Here are four essential priorities for brand managers who want to ramp up their mobile coupon marketing efforts.


1. Consider the Multiple Standards within the Market

There are many different mobile coupon providers, with disparate data standards, while retailers' apps are unique to each company's needs and electronic systems. "From an execution standpoint, it's still pretty fragmented," Hennigan says. "There are retailer-specific solves, or we have to go to multiple vendors, and that all makes for a clunky execution."

Another problem? Aside from L2C, mobile coupons frequently don't provide the ease of use that consumers expect when using digital tools. "The challenge in the CPG industry is that the technology hasn't evolved to create a seamless, beautiful experience for the consumer to use a coupon on their phone at checkout," says Curtis Tingle, CMO at Valassis. "There's no widely used technology that renders the image of a coupon on a screen and lets you have a good experience at checkout."

While there has been some consolidation among third-party app providers, mobile coupons still lack sufficient data standards. But Hennigan expects that to change relatively soon: "I'd wager that over the next three to five years, as more shoppers adopt [mobile coupons], as vendors in the marketplace start to scale their business, and as retailers start to see where a lot of ad and marketing dollars are going, we will eventually get [to a workable standard]."


2. Understand That One Size Doesn't Fit All

While the number of mobile coupon users continues to grow, the market hasn't reached a critical mass. So it's important for marketers to not only target the right audiences but avoid preconceptions about some consumer groups.

For instance, it would be natural for marketers to assume that millennials are a perfect target group for mobile coupons. After all, they were weaned on the internet and mobile communications.

"However, contrary to what some might think," Tingle says, "millennials are just as likely to use print coupons as mobile coupons because they are dedicated to value. We continue to see that print and mail are the number one sources of coupons among all consumers, as well as millennials."

"Retailers and brands seeing the most success with digital coupons are using multichannel promotions to drive awareness in both offline and online vehicles."
— Susan Jones, senior director of shopper and promotion analytics at Inmar

The Valassis study found that 89 percent of millennials, 79 percent of Gen Xers, and 54 percent of baby boomers use paperless coupons. What's more, Hispanics and African-Americans are far more likely to use both retailer-specific and third-party apps than the general population.


3. Spread the Word

It's easy to assume that most shoppers are aware of the availability of digital promotions and mobile coupons. However, the Inmar study found that 24 percent of shoppers didn't know that the primary store where they normally shop offered a digital-coupon program.

"Retailers and brands need to continually promote the availability of digital coupons to drive shopper awareness," says Susan Jones, senior director of shopper and promotion analytics at Inmar. "Retailers and brands seeing the most success with digital coupons are using multichannel promotions to drive awareness in both offline and online vehicles."

In-store signage can significantly increase mobile coupon campaign exposure and boost redemption rates, according to a study by Koupon Media. Signage with a basic description of an offer, including brand details and a short link to the offer within a mobile web browser, tends to perform best.


4. Develop Personalized Messaging

As with all types of digital marketing, mobile coupons are faster to create and easier to deploy than their print equivalents. They also can be changed faster and are less expensive to produce.

Mobile also makes it easier to harness new data about customer behavior, particularly at the local level. For example, if shoppers in a given city suddenly show an interest in a particular scent or flavor (think Pumpkin Spice), brands can send coupons for their particular offerings.

Mobile coupons also offer marketers the ability to deliver personalized content to shoppers at scale. "[Such coupons] enable marketers to provide audiences of every size with promotional content that reflects their actual purchase histories," Jones says. "This one-to-one shopper engagement — unique to mobile coupon marketing — represents a new level of targeting that is not achievable through traditional promotions."

To capitalize on personalization, brands and retailers must consistently provide shoppers with robust and varied promotional content, Jones says. Shoppers actively search for coupons for the products they purchase most often and expect to regularly find new offers from their favorite brands.

"This requires using data analytics to inform promotion strategies," Jones says. "Only by consistently analyzing the data provided by shoppers through their online activity, promotion use, and purchase behavior can marketers accurately identify core target audiences and deliver the promotions that will drive maximum engagement."


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