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The Coupon Offer in Action Get attention--and motivate prospects to buy--with creative coupons.

By Al Lautenslager Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

One often-ignored marketing vehicle that can help grow your business is coupons. Coupons can be powerful marketing tools if they're used right--and you make them stand out from other marketing messages.

In 1895, C. W. Post, the cereal manufacturer, offered the first money-off coupon ever issued in the U.S. The one-cent-off coupon came with Grape Nuts cereal. By turn-of-the-century standards, this was a lot of money and a real guerrilla tactic. Other smart marketers took note, and today, consumers have saved over $4 billion with coupons since they were invented. Not bad for a little clipping and redemption.

Why are coupons so effective? Because people love saving money! And while customers see coupons as a way to save money or get something for free, businesses see them as an inexpensive marketing tool. That's because consumers who visit your business with the express purpose of using the coupon generally end up spending more than they'd planned. This makes coupons viable marketing vehicles for increasing product sales and committing people to brands that interest them the most. Coupons are best used to create a short-term blip in traffic at a particular establishment, and they're most effective when they're focused on one simple product or service.

Compared to other marketing efforts, coupons don't cost businesses a lot of money. Believe it or not, fewer than three percent of all coupons are ever redeemed. But just because coupons aren't redeemed doesn't mean you aren't gaining the benefits of coupon marketing. Having a coupon establishes credibility and awareness for your company, your products and services, and your brand. Distributing coupons to new prospects is a quick and efficient way to build interest and goodwill.

Coupon use is very prevalent in the grocery arena, but many non-grocery stores publish their own coupons both online and in newspapers. You can generate coupons for haircuts, shoes, movies, oil changes, clothing and more. Be creative. Adapting coupons, in guerrilla fashion, to products and services not typically associated with weekly specials and the grocery aisle is an opportunity waiting to be seized.

In the world of direct marketing, coupons are the most visible type of offer made to generate a response or motivate prospects and customers to take action. They're a direct incentive for prospects to visit or call you. And once you have a customer in front of you, you can sell more, inquire more and work on creating a lasting relationship.

One of the great things about coupon marketing is that it's easily measured, a valuable component in any marketing program. Seeing who redeemed the coupons, where the user found the coupons, and tracking print coupons can pinpoint what ads, marketing vehicles and communications are working best. All that's required is using different codes for different placements. Source codes can be printed on the coupon itself or coded online with redemption codes or web-page tracking.

Learning From Others
Coupons are all around us--just look in your mail pile. Chances are, you'll find many coupon offers. Take a close look at them. Did any of them get your attention? Was one better than another? Why? What made it stand out from the pack? What made you want to read further? Then think about what would motivate you to take action. When considering your coupon offer, it's important to consider your prospects and ask yourself, What's in it for them?

Recently, I received two offers in my mail. One was in a white No. 10 business envelope, and I could see what looked like a coupon through the window. This letter didn't grab my attention. It was screaming "Junk mail!" The second one had a graphic of a hot steaming pizza with the works on it--just the way I like it on the outside of the envelope along with the words, "Free Pizza Inside." That was enough incentive for me to open the envelope, hoping for a pizza coupon, or at least curious to see what the free offer was. I was hooked. I wanted more. I wanted pizza. There was a coupon inside, which I redeemed, and I've since become a loyal customer of that pizza place. Thinking back to the marketing principles of AIDA--attention, interest, desire and action--this coupon letter successfully achieved all that.

I finally opened the plain white letter, too, and it was an announcement and coupon for a new cell phone store near my house. Guess where that one went? The recycling bin. I already have a cell phone--why should I get another or switch services? Maybe if that question had been answered, I would've read further or redeemed their feeble coupon.

This brings up the importance of incentive. You need to make it clear that you're offering something for free, a discount, a deal, a sample, or something useful and valuable that leads a prospect to take action. Other incentives you can advertise with coupons include a loss-leader discount, new products and services, special offers for loyal customers, and events like grand openings, tent sales, anniversary sales and more.

Think about what your prospects are interested in--and what you can afford to offer--and design your coupon accordingly. Distributing this marketing vehicle to your target market efficiently and frequently will increase revenue and bring in more customers--and you won't have to spend a ton of money to do it.

Al Lautenslager

Author, Speaker, and Consultant

Al Lautenslager is an award-winning marketing expert, bestselling author, highly sought-after speaker, consultant, and entrepreneur. He is the principal of Market For Profits, a Midwestern-based marketing consulting firm; former president and owner of The Ink Well, a direct marketing, printing, and a Certified Guerrilla Marketing Coach.

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