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Three Steps to Start a Mobile Coupon Strategy A solid promotion plan can attract buyers and help create lasting customer relationships.

By John Arnold Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Bargain hunters may be savvy with scissors or an online coupon code, but consumers are just getting used to the idea of redeeming coupons through their mobile devices. This means the people and the technology behind your point-of-sale need to be equipped to troubleshoot issues with new paperless price reductions.

As a small-business owner, one advantage is that you don't need to invest in pricey technology to make your coupons easy to use. Building an effective mobile coupon strategy is as simple as following these three steps.

Step One: Create your coupon in a mobile-friendly format.
The mobile coupons that are easiest for consumers to use generally come in three basic formats, each with its own pros and cons as follows:

1. Text-only coupons. You can create text-only coupons using a Short Message Service (SMS) provider or your email marketing service provider.

  • Best for: Text messages and mobile emails.
  • Pros: Almost all phones have text and email capabilities. You can include short links, coupon codes or instructions for using the coupon in the text.
  • Cons: You only have 160 characters to communicate and deliver the discount offer.

2. Image coupons. You can create an image of your coupon with a scanner or graphic design software. Use .jpg or .gif file types for mobile devices.

  • Best for: Including coupons in social-media posts, e-mails and Multimedia Message Service (MMS).
  • Pros: Images can be displayed on the majority of mobile devices.
  • Cons: Links in images aren't clickable and the details of the coupon may be too small to read on a small screen if your customers don't have smartphones with zoom and scroll capabilities.

3. Web-based and app-based coupons. You can create a coupon in HTML and put it on your website or, better yet, on a mobile web page. You can also create mobile-friendly web and app-based coupons using Google Places, Yelp and Foursquare.

  • Best for: Mobile web pages and local directory sites.
  • Pros: You can include links to your coupons in the advertising.
  • Cons: The web pages containing your coupons need to be optimized for mobile, or they might not display properly on the majority of mobile devices.

Step Two: Give your coupon redeeming qualities.
To give your prospects and customers the ability to redeem your mobile coupons, make sure they contain one or more of the following redemption options:

  • Use the text in your coupon to ask people to use their mobile phone to show the coupon at your physical point of sale. Make sure the humans involved know how to accept the coupon and know how to spot currently valid versions.
  • Phone numbers in your coupons can be pressed or clicked from text messages, emails and web-based coupons. Use the text in your coupons to ask people to mention the coupon when they call, and keep your mobile coupon offers unique so you know when your callers are responding to the mobile version of your coupon.
  • Links can be tagged with a unique redemption code if you have a sophisticated shopping cart and database, or you can include the coupon code in the text of the coupon and ask people to enter the code into the online order form. Make sure your website's shopping cart works on mobile devices before choosing this method.
  • If you plan to scan bar codes at your point-of-sale to automate the redemption process, don't expect your regular equipment to do the job. You'll likely need a special scanner that can read the bar codes from a mobile screen.

Step Three: Distribute to mobile devices.
Now, make sure your mobile-friendly formats make their way to your customers' devices. These methods will aid your distribution plan.

  • Use your text-messaging service provider or email marketing service provider to deliver a text-only coupon or link to your web-based or image-based coupon. Remember that you can only send these messages to a permission-based list.
  • Send them via MMS text messages, which can contain pictures and more than 160 characters. MMS also requires opt-in permission and a service provider to send the messages on behalf of your business.
  • Place your coupon on your high-traffic web pages. Make sure those pages are designed for mobile devices. Make sure they're on your own mobile app and social media sites as well.
  • Ask customers to snap a picture of your paper coupon or include a mobile bar code on your coupon that links to an image or web page containing the coupon.
  • Place your coupon on other mobile-friendly websites such as Google Places and Foursquare.

Remember, the goal is to give your discount-deserving customers good customer service to go along with their bargains. Your coupon strategy will go a long way toward creating lasting customer relationships.

John Arnold

Startup Marketing Expert and Author, VP of Marketing at FullContact.

John Arnold is a Boulder, Colo.- based consultant, speaker and trainer specializing in marketing advice for small businesses. He is the author of three marketing books in the 'For Dummies' series including Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference and Mobile Marketing for Dummies. Follow him on Twitter: @ArnoldMarketing

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