Boost Sales With Coupons and Contests

Two time-tested marketing strategies that draw attention.

By Jay Conrad Levinson • Apr 25, 2005

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from Guerrilla Marketing in 30 Days, available from Entrepreneur Press.


While the name guerrilla marketing was conceived in 1980 with the first guerrilla marketing book, there is evidence of guerrilla marketers way before that. In 1895, C. W. Post, the cereal manufacturer, offered the first money-off coupon ever issued in the United States. The one-cent off coupon came with Grape Nuts cereal. By turn of the century standards, this was very guerrilla-ish, and a lot of money. Today the use of coupons has grown so much that consumers have saved over $4 billion dollars since coupons were invented. Not bad for just a little clipping and redemption. Coupons bring a consumer to a business to spend more than the incentive cost of the coupon. That's the basic concept of using coupons. That's guerrilla marketing.

When you think of coupons, you basically think certificate of redemption. Coupons for guerrillas are used mostly in newspapers and magazines. Sometimes fliers and handbills can include a coupon.

Coupons are viable marketing vehicles for increasing product sales. Couponing is another way to commit people to brands that interest them the most. In the spirit of guerrilla marketing, use coupons in conjunction with other, supporting marketing. Coupons are best used to create a short-term blip in traffic to a particular establishment, focused around one simple product or service.

The primary idea behind coupons is for the user to save money. Obviously saving money is an opportunity cost to a coupon, which might not have received the business if it weren't for the coupon. The lifetime value of that customer is well worth the coupon cost if the customer returns to buy more products.

Coupon marketing is easily measured, a valuable component in any guerrilla program. Seeing who redeemed the coupons, where the user found the coupons, and tracking print coupons can pinpoint what ads, marketing vehicles, and communication are working best. All that is required is using different codes for different placements. This can be printed on the coupon itself or coded online with coupon codes or web page tracking. As more internet technology is used in marketing, consumers continue to respond to value online, as well. Those coupons, which can be printed on a desktop printer from an online website, add value by being convenient and easy.

Coupon use is very prevalent in the grocery market. Shoppers who use them consistently pay for a significant portion of their groceries. The same can happen for the purchase of nonretail and nongrocery products or services. Including discount coupons in packaging or thank-you cards for redemption against your service is one way to offer the same value to a potential purchaser of your products or services.

Many nongrocery stores publish their own store coupons both online and in newspapers. You can get coupons for haircuts, shoes, movies, oil changes, and clothing, to name a few. Be creative for your products or services. Consumers are used to the coupon craze. Adapting it, in guerrilla fashion, to products and services typically not associated with coupons and the grocery aisle is an opportunity in front of all guerrillas.

Guerrilla Hint: Put a printable or downloadable coupon on your website. Putting a code on that coupon also allows it to be used for phone or online purchases.


There is no free lunch . . . unless you dropped your business card in one of those fishbowls on one of your frequent restaurant visits. Why are restaurants so inclined to always give away a free lunch and push to get those business cards? The answer is that they are guerrilla marketers using their imagination and energy to collect your name at no cost. The purpose of that fishbowl is to accumulate names that will be marketed to later on. This little contest for a free lunch is nothing more than a lead generator. Because the winners will surely brag and talk about how great the restaurant is because they won a free lunch, word-of-mouth advertising and referrals are possible.

The primary purpose of the contest is to gather entrants. The cost for you to get these names is the cost of what the contest winner receives. This price for a targeted, permission-based list is a small investment compared to the potential return. That's the way all guerrilla marketing should be.

Contests work at trade show booths: "Stop by our booth today and enter to win a free Palm Pilot or PDA." All entrants are now permission-based prospects that will be marketed to after the contest.

Another benefit of contests is that they can generate PR.

Guerrilla Hint: Have more than one winner. The more prospects that can spread the word about how you delight customers, the more potential business you will gain. Sometimes restaurants do this if they spot a key card in their fishbowl of entries. You should, too, if you see hot prospects swimming in your fishbowl.

Today showed you three other guerrilla marketing weapons. They all work for the right business with the right creativity and the right implementation. Take this day to see if you are that right business and how these weapons might fit into your attack.

Contests don't have to be fancy. They can be publicized; then they will generate word-of-mouth buzz.

Everyone loves a winner. Making prospects winners will make you a winner in their eyes.

Jay Conrad Levinson

The late Jay Conrad Levinson is the Father of Guerrilla Marketing. His books have sold more than 21 million copies worldwide, appear in 62 languages, and have become the most powerful brand in the history of marketing. He was the chairman of Guerrilla Marketing International. Learn more at

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