Why Maya Angelou Is A Groupon Marketing Master


We all like getting a good deal. It’s exhilarating. That feeling that you’re somehow beating the system by getting something for LESS than actual value. You want to share that feeling with friends. It makes you feel proud that YOU were the one who found the deal and that, despite all your transgressions, you’re still a good human for passing a great deal on to others. That’s the power of a good coupon. That’s what makes them viral. It’s why Groupon could turn down a $6 billion offer from Google and why Facebook and Google are tripping over themselves to get into the deals space. When you do it right, coupon marketing inspires action and creates good brand DNA.

It’s when you do it wrong that you make your customers feel like dirty, dumpster-diving street urchins.

I won’t pretend to be a huge Groupon user. I’m signed up to get Albany-specific deals but the only offer I’ve actually purchased was one that promised me free bagels [Long Island girls are serious about their bagels]. But I stay signed up because I like to keep an eye out for how small businesses in the area are using the service. And this morning I was excited when I saw that Flavour Café, one of my most favorite Troy, NY haunts, was today’s featured deal. Or I was until I saw what they were offering.

$7 for $15 worth of coffe, sandwiches and more at Flavour Café & Lounge

Yeah. I’m not going to redeem that. The idea of running down to Flavour to save eight bucks and to SIT THERE while I do it (the offer is dine-in only) makes me feel cheap. If I wanted to feel cheap, I’d give a few ex-boyfriends a call. I want to feel woo’d.

As a small business owner, coupons and social coupon sites like Groupon, Living Social or Yelp Deals can be useful. They allow you to convert customers who are on the fence and who maybe need a push or, at least, a lower barrier to entry to give you a try. Groupon is not a remarkable service; it’s a local email list. You can create your own or choose to use Groupon’s – that’s your choice. But, either way, you’re only going to entice someone to take action by making it worth it. Don’t make them feel dirty.

To succeed in coupon marketing you need to create an offer that is compelling, that is unique, and that doesn’t make me feel like a cheapskate just for printing it out. Because that’s not a feeling I want to share with my friends.

You wouldn’t know it by their offer, but Flavour Café is a kickass café in Troy. The owner Charlie is always trying new things – whether it’s “Charlie’s Cupcakes” that are almost the size of your head, soft-serve gourmet sundaes, new bands, or the fortune teller that shows up for weekly readings – he’s constantly experimenting and looking for ways to bring in new customers. And I’m sure Groupon is just an extension of that, but the offer created fails. It fails because it’s void of any personality or excitement. And without it, there’s no spark. It’s just a generic save-a-couple-bucks coupon. That’s not sexy. Most people won’t notice it, and the people who do aren’t the kind you want to attract to your business. Fail all around.

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking coupons, getting people to like your Facebook page or building up Twitter followers. People don’t want your old marketing on new platforms. You gotta give ‘em something to go a little crazy about. Something that makes them feel better about themselves by associating with you.

You can do that by offering something that is unique, that breeds excitement/quirkiness and that will tease customers with scarcity. That’s how you create a good Groupon deal, how to create a compelling marketing message, and how you get people to do anything. It’s not rocket science. It’s marketing, repackaged for the flavor of the month. As Maya Angelou once said and @KarenBaglin tweeted today: People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

That’s the rub. And you need to make me feel a whole lot better than a street walker to make me do business with you. Even if you do serve the best Almond Joy latte in town.

Your Comments

  • searchengineman

    This may be old news, but still worth mentioning.
    – Groupon Advertisers have to get staff ready for the rush of customers, if staff is not ready or prepared you piss off the staff and Groupon horde.
    -They have to be very particular about deals or burn existing longtime customers.

    Those were some of the take aways from
    Rice University, Houston, Texas
    Utpal M. Dholakia
    Sept 28th 2010

    PDF link below.

    Groupon Effectiveness Study.PDF


    • Jonathan Beaton

      I know this post was not necessarily about Groupon but if we are going to talk Groupon, I’d like to add my two cents.

      Groupon can be awesome for the consumer but deadly for many businesses.
      The Groupon pricing model works as so:
      Let’s say you are a small business offering $10 for a $20 something or other. Groupon gets half of every purchase and the business gets the other half. The business is essentially offering a 75% discount.

      “But Jon, those customers will come in, have a great experience and keep coming back.”

      No, Groupon traffic is CHEAP traffic. They are not potential return customers, they are people looking for deals.

      I have yet to come across a business that has yielded a positive ROI from a Groupon campaign. The traffic is cheap and comes in quick bursts that are hard to manage/prepare for.

      I am sure there are some success stories but businesses need to be extremely careful when considering participating in a campaign.

      • Lisa Barone

        You may be surprised to hear this (or not), but I actually completely agree with you. I don’t think there’s a SMB that wouldn’t benefit from creating their OWN Groupon, which is to say, their own email list, because that’s all this is. There’s no reason SMBs shouldn’t be cutting out the middleman, staying away from deal-seekers, and using their email campaigns to build buzz and excitement that way. That’s what I’d be doing, esp with the crazy fees Groupon charges businesses for participation. But people will always gravitate toward the platform they can borrow instead of the one they have to create themselves.

        • IntelliSites

          Good point from Lisa, creating your own version of the structure isn’t complicated. But the sheer buzz behind groupon lends a weight to the email that can’t be beat. It’s trendy, and there’s a lot of people using it.

          To John’s point about Groupon traffic being cheap traffic. That’s probably true many times, but I imagine it’s far from a blanket rule.

          Once you have someone at your restaurant (or whatever it might be), you’ve got a lot of opportunity beyond just making them happy enough to come back. You could run other promos around the groupon, gather emails for your own list, and have productive conversations with new people. Heck, you might even be able to find out why they aren’t coming to your place to begin with. That’s valuable info.

          Real world example – I checked out Brunswick BBQ and Brew (http://www.brunswickbbqandbrew.com/) on a groupon. And the food was GOOD. Sure they didn’t make much money on me for the first meal, but I’ve now tweeted about it, and I’m putting it into a comment on a well read blog.

          That’s the kind of PR they bought with that groupon. PR that they couldn’t have gotten from me any other way. I would never have found that place, and I won’t sign up for their email list (I get enough crud in my inbox already).

          Also – I’ll be going back. The server we had was super cool, the ribs were solid, and the beer selection was eclectic.

          • Jonathan Beaton

            But what was the overall ROI of the campaign?
            Of course there are instances when a Groupon campaign is successful, usually more often with larger businesses.

            It is just another form of discounting, which is essentially what you made an argument for. I am not against discounting, I just feel that Groupon is not always the best way to go about it.

            Even cheap traffic converts sometimes. ;-)

            • IntelliSites

              Yeah – not sure about ROI on this. And there’s no question that’s an important measure of success. But there are other benefits beyond the numbers. Brand awareness and all that Jazz.

              Also, my argument isn’t just for discounting. A discount is great, but it’s gotta get in front of me to work. And that’s an important element of what groupon adds. A big honkin’ list of emails.

              If a tree falls in the forest…etc., etc.

  • Todd Mintz

    Actually, I love being a cheapskate when I go out…presenting a coupon along with my credit card has become ritual for me :.)

    However, I avoid Groupon restaurant deals because of the increase near-term traffic flow…I’ve only purchased them for services and they’ve worked out pretty well. I think service offerings also offer better long-term value for the merchant because people like me are less likely to use them…the prospective long-term customer ratio would be a lot higher.

  • Aussiewebmaster

    Feeling cheap… streetwalker… what is Troy doing to you? I would gladly buy you the coffee for more local tips

  • bluephoenixnyc

    In that final paragraph, Lisa, is I think a key truth that most SMBs…or even many big brands forget. That is, if you’re giving someone the great deal, you’re done. Your work is done. Deals need to be remembered for what they are: A fancy invitation to your store, not a surefire way to mint easy brand loyalists.

    In your–rather, Maya Angelou’s–words, there’s some great wisdom about the “feeling good” part. If a customer comes into an establishment, gets a tank of coffee for super-cheap because of a special deal, but (1) the coffee’s terrible or (2) the service is terrible, this isn’t helping anyone. I think it’s this interfacing-with-customers step that a lot of SMBs might blunder on. They assume that special deal = automatic conversion. If only it were that easy!

  • Mike Feiman

    One of the best blog posts I’ve ever read from you Lisa. In the end, it doesn’t matter what business you’re in, its all about the service. A cheap price may pull them in, but if you don’t wow them with service, they’ll never come back. In the case of Groupon coupons, if you can’t turn these people into repeat customers, you’ll more than likely take a bath on the offer.

  • Jerry

    First, I have to agree with Lisa. Many established businesses would be better off running their own groupon style deal with their customers. You will make 5-10 times the sales amount with your own customers than new ones. However, from experience many small business owners have poor mailing lists or none.

    Groupon can be a nightmare without proper planning. It is not a permanent marketing strategy, but can get new customers fast with no cash up-front. Most small business owners fail to capture the contact info of the customer when redeeming the coupon. The sad part is so far no one small business owner has tried to get my contact info.

    There are many others things needed for a successful Groupon / Living Social promotion to be successful, but some businesses have made a goldmine with this.