Moving Beyond the Coupon: Boomers Need More Than Bargains

by Jonathan Boehman

Deal sites. Discount sites. Clearance sites. Coupons, Groupons, and Gray Poupon–oh my.

Groupon's site has spawned a slew of copycatsDon’t get me wrong–deals and coupons can be great. And they’re a hot tactic for us online marketers right now because they lie at the intersection of the consumer’s painful awareness of the poor economy, the explosion of the social graph, and location-based services. But to just implement the tactic blindly–it’s a rookie mistake a lot of companies are making as they seek the holy grail of better user engagement.

These tactics can be a key piece of the puzzle, but they need to be built onto a solid strategic foundation.

Understanding your consumer
That foundation starts with understanding your consumer on a behavioral and developmental level (read more about this in our book, Dot Boom). Unfortunately, a lot of marketers think as people age, they simply get cheaper. They believe older people just want deals, whether it’s the Blue Plate Special or a senior discount.

But the reality is that as people age, the way their brains work changes–shifting from predominantly left- or right-brained thinking to a more whole-brained, emotionally-centered view. Because of this biological inevitability, experiences become more important than more tangible things–like saving a buck. So if you’re trying to target an older consumer, you may need to buck the trends and do things a little unconventionally.

Hooks like discounts and coupons can be a great way to get people’s attention, and maybe even to get them to take action. But if that’s where the consumer interest ends, it’s perhaps where your problem begins. Already, we’re seeing articles about businesses not being able to handle traffic from sites like Groupon, or losing money because the consumers don’t come back or don’t spend enough extra to offset the loss from the coupon. And with the recent announcement of Facebook Deals, the point of entry has just been lowered, and soon there will be a ton of participation with this tactic.

But all is not lost, my friends. If you can take a deal or a coupon, and morph it into something more, something different–something that engages the user and creates a memorable experience–then you’ll turn an ordinary tactic into something worth talking about.

Create something memorable
Despite the inevitable commoditization of the coupon tactic (which we are already starting to see with the loads of Groupon copycats and Facebook’s recent entry into the deal space), there will still be a lot of opportunity for companies who “get it” enough to create something experiential.

What does the deal/coupon say about your brand? What can you do to differentiate your offer from all of the others out there? Is there a spin you can put on it? Is it significant enough to be share-worthy? If it isn’t, why not? Will the process of using the coupon create an opportunity for an experience, to say something special about your brand? To make the consumer laugh, or even cry?

Ask yourself, what does the coupon help you say about your company or product?

That you charge so much regularly that you can discount your product or service by, say 50 or 60%, and still make a profit? Probably not what you’re going for.

Thinking about coupons as experiences

A deal from our local Starbucks using Facebook's iPhone app

These can seem like big questions, so let me throw out some hypotheticals on how you might better think of them:

  • Perhaps the experience of getting or using a coupon would allow some cool or inspiring aspect of your corporate culture to shine through–this gets back to an older consumer’s desire for the experiential.
  • Pay it Forward: what if a coupon increased in value if it were shared with someone else first?
  • What if it could only be used to buy a gift for a loved one, or someone in need?
  • What if your company donated the discounted amount of the coupon to a cause that aligned with your brand? Older consumers are bigger on supporting charities than their younger counterparts, as it appeals to their desire to leave the world a better place and/or their need for legacy.
  • Or maybe its exclusivity somehow makes the user feel special, or “part of the club”, even in a small way. And I’m not talking about the obligatory senior discount.

So start looking for ways to engage consumers beyond typical deals, coupons and offers, in ways that make them feel something, or that fulfill a need. Soon you’ll be creating experiences that are infinitely more powerful, especially with older consumers.

Happy marketing.

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4 Responses to Moving Beyond the Coupon: Boomers Need More Than Bargains

  1. I found this article very interesting. I considered writing a piece on Groupon; however, my research indicated their target market is young females under 30 or 35; therefore, the content is not relevant to our readers. I found they target this audience because they feel the age group will tell one another about the daily deal. The last time I had a spa day, it was with 5 other boomers, and we had a blast. We would certainly use Groupon.

  2. Jonathan Boehman says:

    Thanks for your comments, Shannon. You’re right, a lot of deal sites (and companies in general) are “aimed” at younger users, simply by the fact that an older audience is not perceived to be online. Unfortunately, they are leaving money on the table by neglecting boomers.

    As you mentioned, you and your Boomer friends would certainly use Groupon, and I bet some of you would share it as well if you had a positive experience.

    On average, Boomers are asked their opinion 90 times a year, and they give it 90% of the time. The interesting stat, though, is that 45% of the time they share, they are doing so online. And with female consumers 45-and-up making up about half of traditional coupon users, the deal and coupon sites should definitely start paying attention to the Boomers!

  3. Robert P Hendrickson says:

    Jonathan,
    Seems a bit ironic that the Google ad at the end of your column was paid for by Groupon.
    They may be good at marketing their own company with endless attention being provided by various media outlets but I believe they represent the scurge of retail, attacting lemming-marketers with nothing better to offer than unrealistic discounts.
    Any company falling for the short-term benefit hype deserves the long-term damage to their brand and finacial drain sure to come.
    Groupons success is an embarassing testament to how desperate and brainless so many retailers are today.

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