Marketing your small business in the digital age is hard work. It’s even tougher work to figure out if any of the effort is paying off.
Fortunately, an age-old marketing technique—the coupon—can bring your 21st-century efforts into focus by telling you what’s working and what isn’t. If you play your cards—I mean coupons—right, you might even generate some new business, as well!
Coupons may seem old hat, and having originated in 1887, maybe they are. Still, their power in marketing is evident to this day.
Back then, Asa Candler, a pharmacist, invented coupons when he wanted to get the word out for a new tonic he was slinging. He believed in the product, but knew no one would buy it if they didn’t know what it was. So, he hand-wrote tickets offering his customers a free glass of the beverage.
The experiment started small. Then from 1894 to 1913, an estimated one in nine Americans had redeemed 8,500,000 tickets. You might’ve heard of the elixir. It’s called Coca-Cola.
Luckily for your business, modern technology means you don’t have to hand-print all your coupons. In fact, you can use social media and a variety of low-cost digital tools (like Shutterstock Create) to get the word out about your business using coupons, contests, and loyalty programs.
The best part of using online promotions is that you can track the real-time performance of your efforts and tweak, as necessary. Gone are the days of waiting for a promotion to end to understand and measure its effectiveness.
Here are some examples of how different business can strategize coupons for best results.
Test Engagement by Making Marketing a Game
For a bar owner, it could be as simple as posting a picture of a red cocktail and saying, “Come in and tell the bartender the color of this drink and we’ll take $3 off your first round.”
It’s a small investment, but it has the potential to be big for your business.
Just getting the customer in the door will likely lead to another full-priced drink. Plus, the customer will likely think fondly of the establishment for helping their wallet out. This means they may return, possibly with friends, at a later date.
In addition, this allows you to meet and engage with your customer base. Who are they? What do they like about your business or your social media page?
If the bartender chats up those that mention the post, management can gain more insight into their customer base and have an easier time creating content that connects with them.
Using Online Promos to Build Word of Mouth
A new barbershop could post a before and after of one of their clients and write: “Tag a friend that could use a trim and we’ll give them half off.”
Now this barbershop has customers playfully teasing their friends and reaching new followers they hadn’t before.
It costs nothing (aside from the discount), and the shop can tweak it based on customer response. The barbershop can measure the success of the campaign by tracking how many of the tagged users came in that week.
The same principle applies to almost any business. Ice cream shop? Offer a two-for-one deal for besties once a month. Fitness studio? Offer your existing customers buddy passes. E-commerce business?
Let customers generate their own promo codes to give discounts to friends—and get their own discount in return. Word-of-mouth marketing is perhaps the most powerful kind of advertising that exists. Combine it with a digital element to maximize your reach.
Digital Loyalty Programs Bring Customers Back
Coupons may be great for hooking new customers, but loyalty programs will keep them coming back. The same way buying eight bottles of wine might get $8 off your ninth bottle, or buying nine cups of coffee gets the 10th cup free, there are simple methods for implementing your own loyalty program.
You could consider signing up with a digital loyalty program like LoyalTap or Brownie Points. Many of these loyalty programs offer white-label apps, allowing you to use your company’s branding on top of their technology.
Some apps enable messaging, push notifications, and limited-time offers that can entice a customer to make an unscheduled visit.
You could also take a more DIY approach that will also help grow your digital presence. Ask your fans to share a social post promoting your business on their own Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages in exchange for a free gift.
Run a Contest to Expand Your Visibility
The amazing thing about digital marketing is that you can leave the traditional slip of paper behind. Instead, use your platform to engage your audience in interesting ways.
A carpentry shop could build a visually stunning cabinet, post it, and offer a giveaway: “Repost for a chance to win this beautiful cabinet.”
With no cost for entry, fans of the shop—or just people who caught a repost in their feed and liked what they saw—would spread word to each of their networks. By chance, a nearby bar or café owner who needs more storage to accommodate their growing business might see it, love it, and commission the shop to build more.
The risk is minimal and you aren’t shouldering the hefty burden of television or print ad sales. The payoff, however, is beyond imagination. You can get the word out and reach demographics (and their network of friends) that might not even be on your radar.
As with Coca-Cola’s growth, no one can buy your product if they don’t know you exist.
Getting Started with Digital Promotions
By now, you may find yourself asking: Coupons sound great, but do they actually work? According to a myriad of research, they do!
Here are some figures:
The opportunities are truly endless with a strategic coupon strategy.
Mastering Coupon Strategies with Create
Today, there are so many digital tools at your disposal to help your business capture customers’ attentions and loyalties.
Most social-media platforms actively want you to engage with your audience and offer simplified avenues to get your message out. Facebook and Instagram, for instance, have pages explaining how businesses can create offer ads on their platforms.
Of course, you’ll need a stunning visual to capture potential customers’ attentions. Try using Shutterstock Create to craft your coupons and promos fit for any field or occasion. The editing tool comes chock-full of artist-made templates, hundreds of font options, graphics, text effects, and so much more.
Plus, you can resize your designs to match any digital platform in just a few clicks!
As Asa Candler intuitively knew back in 1887, coupons and time-limited promotions are an excellent way to build a company’s following and reputation.
Of course, your company may not be the next Coca-Cola, but the good news for SMBs is that there’s no shortage of free or low-cost digital marketing tools to help convert those likes into dollars and cents.
License this cover image mockup via Gorodenkoff and Gabriela Simon.