Small Business and Startups: Give Thanks (and Coupons)

Holidays are upon us, folks and it’s time to give thanks. every business large and small owes a debt to those who have helped over the year and there is no better time to gift than now: your investors and lenders deserve a note, a bottle of wine or other small token to show your appreciation  for their trust, their support, and (hopefully) their advice.

Your employees deserve thanks for their hard work, their productivity, their energy, and their all around contribution to your success. Typically this form of thanks might include a year-end bonus, a holiday bash, and some little swag, maybe a company tee shirt, pin, or jacket. Hey, even a company-branded Gulfstream may be appropriate for some od you out there!

Finally your customers. Ah yes, them. Without this group of people, your business would have no business being in business. How to thank them? Lots of ways great and small and the ideas are endless: for companies with a relatively smaller customer base, you might shoot them a card, send them a small gift, or even invite them down to your company party. For larger companies an email is probably in order, but a little gifty can be nice, too.

One solution that many companies turn to when thanking their customers for their all-important support? Discounts, baby! Airlines offer additional miles to frequent travelers; hotels send out lists of marked down rooms at posh resorts; restaurants will often sell discounted gift cards; car companies inundate us with end-of year offers typically accompanied by shiny bright, ribbon-festooned models.

What you do for your customers is up to you, but consider using coupons and price reductions as a dual-purpose strategy. First, what better way to say thank you then to reduce or even exclude your margin on something that they would purchase anyway? Secondly, why not find ways to increase sales, cement loyalty, and spread-word-of-mouth at the same time? Couponing is a great way to do this, because it is in your control, allows you to gather valuable data, can increase traffic to your store or website, and helps to develop the all-important relationships that businesses and their customers desperately need.

Here are a few ways you can use coupon discounts to reach your customers and deliver that valuable “Thank You!”

1. Via email.

Mailchimp, Constant Contact, JangoMail and the like make it easy to create and manage email  campaigns and special Thank You’s can be sent using any of these or other services. Import your list, modify one of their templates (or create your own design), input your content, and away it goes, delivered to your customer’s virtual doorstep through the internet tubes. An added advantage of using email campaigns to say thanks is the data you’ll receive in return. These services allow you to look at customer behavior that can help when you send your next mailing: you’ll easily view how many of the recipients opened that email, hw many of them clicked through y=to your site, and how many of them actually took you up on the offer. You can easily add tags such that data can be tracked using Google Analytics; you can A/B split your mailing to test different subject lines or different customer segments to gauge  performance; and you can better understand your customers and what maked them tick.

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2. Via the Post Office.

For companies dependent on local customers (talking to you Mom & Pop retail store) the US Post Office offers a fantastic product that allows you to target customers (existing or potential) via their zip codes, their streets, or their addresses at a very low cost. For as little as 15¢ via the USPS Every Door Direct Mail service, you can send them a postcard segmented by age, household income, or household size. Your mailing can be tracked as it passes along it’s route and you’ll know exactly who received your coupon, when they received it and (if you plan your design and coding well) who redeemed your coupon and who did not. Naughty or nice, you’ll gain a better understanding of which content and what demographics are working for you to increase response rates on your next mailing.

3. On your site.

With a few simple lines of code, your dev team can generate pop-up or banner offers on your site that will deliver your gift to visitors when they arrive. This strategy can be as simple or sophisticated as you like. Returning customers can receive one offer while new visitors can be offered something different. Browser cookies and retargeting strategies work well to help understand who the visitor is, if they’ve bought from you before, even the frequency of their interactions and this can help you to segment visitors further allowing you to deliver the most special Thank You to the most special customer.

4. Pay-per-click

Google and the other search engines are invaluable resources for helping customers (especially new ones) find you. Well executed SEO/SEM campaigns can yield meaningful results, though be careful as it is not difficult for a business to spend more acquiring customers through these channels than those new customers might contribute to your bottom line.  PPC campaigns can also be used to deliver discounts to customers; create a campaign that offers anyone who finds you through the search results a coupon for the first (or next!) purchase whether that takes place on-line or off. Be sure to carefully code these offers so you can track whether the offer is effective in attracting sales, and whether customers are interested in or appreciative of the “thanks you” offered.

5. Circulars ads and promotions.

A circular is simply a leaflet or pamphlet that is distributed via mail, as an insert in a print publication, or directly at your place of business. The sheer number of  these that you find in your mailbox or when you open the Sunday paper will attest to their popularity as a marketing tool. Their efficacy is arguable and you may choose to distribute these only in your brick-and-mortar store as opposed to paying for distribution via a newspaper or through the mail. Circulars can be used to promote specific products or as a generic Thank You, and can be tracked using QR or other tracking codes to collect data on user behavior and conversion rates.

Image: Ticket for free glass of Coca-Cola, believed to be the first coupon ever, 1888, Wikimedia

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