Category Archives: Coupons/Promotions

Local Onliner’s 2016 Trends and Predictions Re Customer Engagement Marketing

Our friends at Belly prompted me with some trend questions for 2016 for the company’s blog. I like where they were going, and responded as such:

What three marketing trends will have the greatest impact on customer engagement?

For the past several years, we always talk about (X) year being “the year of mobile.” And there has been tremendous movement towards a mobile centric environment for consumer information and services. But 2016 will represent a tipping point for mobile as people will increasingly use their mobile devices for commerce oriented features. Ewallets, mobile coupons, QR code info and card linked loyalty will become increasingly integrated into shopping activity. In 2016, there will also be something entirely new: The ability to pay all or part of purchases with loyalty points from different programs. We’ll see how that flies with merchants who don’t want to participate in such “coalition” marketing.” I suspect it will take some time to really take off.

There will be more social-oriented marketing, less “advertising.” SMBs are taking a social centric point of view in marketing. In many cases, they are beginning with a free Facebook account rather than a Yellow Pages ad or a Google AdWords campaign. Many go on to buy advertising on Facebook, or work with other social media or traditional media. But their real focus is on mastering social marketing. They are more likely to work with a marketing service that helps them get there.

We also expect to see more easy ordering and fast delivery options. Many local merchants have never really put much thought into easy ordering and delivery, whether they are restaurants, home services or speciality retail. But in many categories, national players are increasingly offering free or cheap delivery. It will be important for local merchants to match their efforts. The cost of delivery can be offset by more impulse buys, more upsells and customer loyalty.

There’s been a lot of discussion surrounding beacon technology and its impact on the customer experience. Will this technology be exclusive to the big brands or more accessible to the small business owner in 2016?

Beacons are one way to determine who is in the store and to target users with special offers based on their browsing and purchase behavior. The technology is relatively inexpensive, but managing it and acting on it takes some resources, so SMBs are less likely to use them. The exception: SMBs that buy into loyalty and CRM programs that include beacons as part of the subscription.

How crucial are brand evangelists for a business’s success? How can a small business go about building this base of loyal customers?

Brand evangelists who help SMBs with social media and commerce are increasingly important, not only for acquiring new customers, but for engaging existing customers. Getting existing customers back in the store and buying more is mission # 1 for many SMBs.

What social media trends do you predict will influence customer engagement?

Loyalty programs that include cash back, points flexibility and special perks; Opt in Messaging from favorite merchants that feature offers.

Last year we made a list of predictions for marketing trends in 2015. Which were fulfilled and which missed the mark?

A: Individualized Messaging

Not yet. Most programs don’t really have the volume of merchants or knowledge about their customer to offer truly individualized messaging. Most messaging will continue to be targeted on the general basis of locality and gender. In 2016, we might see more messaging based around recent purchases.

B: Powerful Storytelling

Better and better. Storytelling is getting increasingly powerful, especially as more merchants add video, which remains the media channel with the highest engagement. We’ll look for more “organic” testimonials via reviews in 2016.

C: Reputation Monitoring

Continues to Grow, but shifting. Reputation monitoring via social media tracking continues to grow in importance, but is increasingly integrated with presence management (web site hosting, listings updates etc.). It is all a major part of the new marketing.

D: Trackable Customer Acquisition / Lead Attribution

Critical. Attributing the right lead to the right marketing channel is a key part of the new presence management environment. With the average SMB now using 7 or 8 channels, and also reconsidering their marketing budget, attribution should shape up as being a top priority for 2016. We also look to see attribution increasingly linked to close the loop marketing, as SMBs do a better job tracking marketing efforts to actual sales, and then re-engaging these with loyalty efforts, new offers etc.

E: Customer Retention

Critical. More SMBs are planning to engage loyalty programs in 2016; and many existing loyalty program users are upgrading them from paper-based programs. From the consumer side, however, there are a glut of loyalty programs and they don’t often use them on an ongoing basis. The challenge in 2016 is to keep consumers interested and engaged.

Is Groupon ‘Misunderstood’? It Probably is Under-Appreciated

Newly Elevated Groupon CEO Rich WIlliams

Groupon is “misunderstood”; people haven’t updated their view of Groupon as a full blown marketplace rather than a “daily deals” company; and it actually is “the unquestionable leader in local.” All this per newly-elevated CEO Rich Williams, in a public letter.

“We have unprecedented experience in local, and what we believe is the right vision and strategy to make our goal of becoming the daily habit in local a reality,” says Williams, who has held executive ranks with Groupon for four years. While the company is going through many changes, “there are some very important things that are staying 100% the same: our mission to connect local commerce; and our vision to build the daily habit for local commerce, the marketplace where people discover and save on amazing things to eat, see, do and buy in their neighborhood. “

In his letter, which was sent to the press/analyst community, Williams concedes past strategic errors; and promises to move away from a reliance on the high volume,“empty calories” of low margin electronics sales. He also promises new marketing efforts and shopping features that will attract “millions” of new customers. And while Groupon has closed down a number of international programs – this week closing down the Scandinavian countries — it will redouble its efforts on several of the remaining international markets, including Australia, France, Germany, Italy and the UK.

Williams candidly acknowledges that the company has brought a lot of its troubles onto itself. It has highlighted — and then de-emphasized — one strategic initiative after another. I’d like to hear more about the status of several initiatives, including offer personalization; the food delivery effort; the Breadcrumb loyalty and POS program; self serve deals; and the extended publisher network.

Groupon also has moved away from offering exciting and creative deals. Now, its inventory includes a number of predictable and/or shoddy goods. While the company claims to personalize deals for users, I haven’t seen it. (Not to be prudish, but I recently got an email promo with a lot of sex toys in it.) Moreover, some of the pre- discount values on the site are exaggerated.

So — write off Groupon? Definitely not. At the end of the day, we’re still looking at a very large, mobile-oriented marketplace with more than 500,000 items from one million merchants being marketed to nearly 50 million consumers members. That volume speaks for itself. And it is a unique offering, if not yet a blue chip one. Based on Williams’ note, they’ll keep working to get there.

Here are six highlights from Williams’ letter:

1) “Groupon is a misunderstood company. We’re misunderstood by analysts. We’re misunderstood by media. We’re misunderstood by consumers — both those who haven’t visited our site in awhile and those who’ve never purchased from us.”

2) “Too many people still think of Groupon as ‘that daily deal email company.’ The reality here is twofold: first, we’re a marketplace — and a big one — one with more than half a million deals in three different categories. Sure, email is still important, but more of our purchases come from on-site search than email, and more than half our purchases occur on mobile.”

3) “There’s more to our marketplace than deals, including an increasing number of market rate and low discount offers, and new ways to save time as well as money. They’re just in their early stages and we want to move faster.”

4) “MYTH: Groupon isn’t growing/Groupon is going out of business. We’ve definitely grown: since going public, we’ve grown billings and revenue by over 90%; we’ve had seven consecutive quarters of double-digit billings growth in North America; we’ve doubled our customers over the past five years; we’ve increased the number of deals on our platform by 500x since we went public in 2011.”

5) “MYTH: Groupon is bad for businesses. The vast majority of our deals (82% as of the last report) are breakeven or better on the deal itself (i.e., no overspend or cross-sell required). That is simply unheard of in high volume small business advertising and customer acquisition.”

6) “MYTH: No one can win in Local — There are a number of big companies — Amazon, Facebook, Google — who’ve tried and died in local….(but) We have sold nearly a billion Groupons life to date. Add to that our nearly 50 million active consumer and 1 million merchant customers to date and you have a lot of proof of the possibilities in local.”

Empyr’s Goal: Become the Google/Twitter/Facebook of ‘Online to Offline’

We hear a lot about Online to Offline (O2O) — online ads and promotions directly attributable to offline sales. Card linked offers, buy buttons and loyalty programs are all part of O2O, which has already gotten traction in China, where research by McKinsey shows that 71 percent of consumers have used an O2O app.

In the US, O2O is just getting started, building on interest in payment-related promotions spurred by Apple Pay and other initiatives. At this point, several O2O platforms have emerged, including Cardlytics, Linkable Networks, Affinity Solutions, Edo Interactive, Spring Rewards and Thanks Again. Another player is Empyr (owned by Mogl).

Speaking at Money2020 in Las Vegas in October, CEO Jon Carder made his ambitious agenda clear: to become the dotcom “verb company” for O2O. “There is no Online to Offline equivalent of Twitter for SMS; Google for search or Facebook for social,” he declared.

At Money2020, Carder said that O2O’s success in the U.S. will come from providing consumers real time offers from the best brands; complete analytics providing marketing insight; universal redemption capabilities for the leading credit card associations; and an ability to give them a seamless, fun and even meaningful experience.

Fun and meaningful experiences are things that Mogl seeks to provide via cash jackpots for the most frequent buyers, and charity donations funded from part of the proceeds. Its cause-related marketing efforts have won it testimonials from celebrities like Virgin’s Richard Branson, a mentor of Carder’s; and Hall of Fame golfer and fellow San Diegan Phil Mickelson.

The service has also stepped out front by allowing merchants to provide on the fly, time-of-day based promotions. A restaurant, for instance, can decide at the last minute to offer 20 percent cash back for diners coming in before 6pm.

Early results have come in from various brands that have teamed up with Mogl. According to a Visa study that tracked Mogl members over a two year period, Mogl promotions have generally boosted business by around 20 percent. Some affiliates are seeing even higher returns. Certain Jack in the Box locations, for instance, are seeing a 33.2 percent boost in daily spend, and a 33 percent boost in transaction frequency.

The big question, however, is whether these services can scale. In order to boost the number of merchants and consumers using the service, Mogl has launched Empyr, which enables other publishers to use its API not only for restaurants and fast food establishments, but for a wide swath of categories. Empyr will generally take a 20 percent cut of revenue from affiliates, leaving the bulk of the money for publishers and merchant acquirers.

One company that has jumped on the Empyr bandwagon is Living Social, which is using the company’s platform and local partners to launch its Restaurants Plus loyalty program in Washington DC, Atlanta, San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles. Another announced partner is Virgin America.

Empyr/Mogl CEO Jon Carder

Money2020: The Payment Leaders and Their Itch to Get into Marketplaces


The march towards a new generation of marketplaces was clearly in evidence this week in Las Vegas, as the 4th edition of Money2020 attracted a huge, 10,000+ person ecosystem of financial players that all want a piece of the new world of marketing, commerce and logistics.

In the new era, marked by mobile-based services, Uber and Apple Pay have shown the way for new payment processes: the former by tying together geolocation and an e wallet; the latter by signing up thousands of merchants to accept simplified payments on iPhones.

These companies plus Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Groupon, eBay, Twitter, Living Social and Foursquare have been among the dotcom and tech giants exploring the utilization of payments as part of a new breed of “transaction marketing.” Loyalty based plays such as Cardlytics, Edo Interactive, FiveStars, Belly and MOGL are also vying for a piece of the action.

What can be said is that everyone is evolving towards becoming some type of marketing integrators or platform. And services that are geared towards millennials need to get there quicker: millennials won’t do anything that isn’t geared around their phones.

Behind the scenes, billing and payment tech has actually been underpinning advances in business and social processes and lifestyles for generations – perhaps, in modern time, since Amex transformed from a pony express delivery company to a traveler’s cheque company. As recently as the 1980s, we saw how MCI’s revolutionary Friends and Family plan transformed MCI into a long distance giant.

The new generation of mobile-based, wallet-oriented payment services — combined with Internet of Things connectivity and biorhythm user authentication — will be triggering on demand services, promotions, loyalty, credit, loans, delivery/pickup, social media/reviews and back office features such as payroll.

As a show, Money2020’s growth has been spectacular. But in its 4th year, some wondered whether the Money2020 ecosystem has grown too fast too soon, and that “winter is coming” after a year that culminated in the launch of Apple Pay; the expected rollout of two IPOs; and major buy-ins from the dot com giants.

In truth, the industry’s not an overnight success – and the technology still needs to catch up (i.e. phone batteries that can stay powered up). Apple Pay and other mobile payment services have had modest growth in actual usage; First Data’s IPO was smaller than expected; and the loyalty programs have had trouble scaling merchants. In fact, there is real pessimism about Square’s upcoming IPS; and there’s been some retreat by the dotcoms, many of whom have realized that their role is less in banking and payments than in big data and marketing analytics.

Bain Capital Ventures Managing Director Matt Harris noted that all this talk of the “winter” amount to “nothing.” The opportunities are as rich as they’ve ever been conceived, he said.

In fact, everyone should hurry to assume their parts in the ecosystem. All the trends point to 2016 as the mobile payment industry’s probable tipping point. eMarketer’s Bryan Yeager suggests that mobile payments will grow 3x over 2015 – from $8.7 billion to $27.1 billion.

Banks, of course, are widely assumed to be the most vulnerable to disruption in the new environment. But at Money2020, they showed that they plan to fight back, while leveraging an enormous volume of customers that give them a headstart. Chase, for instance, has 94 million debit/credit card accounts. CEO Gordon Smith, in a keynote, said he’ll be able to preload all these accounts by mid -2016 with Chase Pay: a comprehensive new platform that lets customers pay for goods in store, online, over the air, or with a camera in app.

Capital One, similarly, has come out with Spark Business, a new SMB platform that takes an agnostic approach towards single source banking as it builds in analytic services, management features such as accountings, payroll and benefits. “Banks (only) solve banking problems,” noted Cap One’s Keri Gohman, head of Capital One’s Small Business Bank. “They aren’t developing for SMBs, they are going up from consumers, or down from corporate.” The new platform is “more powerful for adding more connections and partners,” she said.

The POS leaders also intend to fight back against the new breed of cloud-based providers. They’ll leverage their existing customer base – VeriFone, for instance, has 90,000 taxi and gas station screens around the world. Taxi passengers in Las Vegas, for instance, can opt to pay $3 to make a credit card payment, and receive local promotions at the same time.

But VeriFone will also work to add new capabilities, and open app stores that give them a new revenue stream for every kind of service. Its rivals in the POS terminal business – namely First Data’s Clover and Poynt – are also building App stores.

“The industry is on the cusp of something historic,” noted PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, who notes that PayPal has 107 million account holders around the world. “We can take basic transactions and make them faster, easier, more secure and most importantly, less expensive. We can truly democratize money. (We can) rethink what financial services can be in world of mobile and software. It is not (just) about tapping a phone or swiping a card. It is much more profound than that.”

As Twitter Streamlines, Does Commerce Make the Cut?

Is Twitter Commerce going to make the cut? Up to 336 Twitter staffers are slated to be let go in a streamlining effort, and many divisions are likely to be impacted. Logically, it would seem that an experiemental area such as Commerce could be back burnered as Twitter focuses on ad contracts with big whales like national brands.

But Commerce, naturally, continues to tempt Twitter and its social media peers. As commerce experiences become increasingly focused on a combination of social media and mobile, it is no coincidence that Google, Pinterest, Facebook, Foursquare have been testing out buy buttons.

In Twitter’s case, its buy now button tests have included key retailers (Home Depot, Burberry), non profits and musicians. The buy now platform has also been fleshed out with a full slate of payment partners (Stripe), ecommerce platforms, and content partners, including social shopping, digital content sellers and fan commerce.

The Commerce divison, which is helmed by former Ticketmaster CEO Nathan Hubbard, also includes a full slate of promotional offers, incentives, rewards, disocunts and other programs for registered credi and dibit card holders – on built on the foundations of Cardspring, which Twitter acquired in July 2014. There is also talk of Twitter developing a marketplace. It may also more tightly integrate with payment companies such as American Express, which are already using Twitter as an offers platform.

As the Twitter Commerce Web page notes, “The goal for all our commerce initiatives on Twitter is simple: make it as easy as possible for businesses to connect directly with, and sell to, customers on Twitter.”

Realistically, to survive amidst the downsizing, all these efforts must be tightly integrated with Twitter’s advertising and marketing efforts – many of which already overlap with analytics, etc. That’s what the company is hoping to acomplish in its Collections pages, which are meant to make it easier for users to find useful information and go shopping. They must also hone in on better sales channels that bring them more local and vertical depth.

Will they get a chance to do it? We’ll see. As returning CEO Jack Dorsey said in his note annoucing the deep layoffs, “The roadmap is focused on the experiences which will have the greatest impact.”

Pinterest: Buyable Pins and the Evolution of Social Commerce

Pinterest has great goals for its new Buyable Pins program, which it believes will make social commerce relevant again, and mobile shopping usable. During a keynote at Cardlinx’s “Data Driven Commerce” event Sept. 22 in Bellevue, WA, Pinterest’s Head of Commerce Business Development Tiffany Black said the two month old program enables mobile and social commerce for a new generation for which social commerce has died, and mobile shopping is “terrible.

“There’s nothing ‘Group’ about Groupon anymore,” Black quipped, referring to its current identification as a marketplace. She also argues that social gamification sites such as Sneakpeek are also done (although we would argue that other social game sites such as MOGL and Lucky Diem have plenty of life left in them).

In any case, Pinterest shouldn’t be lumped in the same categories, says Black. It is a “forward looking,” “visual discovery platform,” “where people are thinking about tonight, tomorrow and next month. “Pinners are planning for their future,” she said.

They are also highly oriented towards mobile. Eighty percent of Pinterest’s 100 million monthly users come in via mobile devices.

While there have been complaints about the Pins turning Pinterest into a schlocky shopping mall, Black says it is only as commercial as its users want it to be, since it is entirely personalized. Top pins are food and drink, fashion, home improvement, health and fitness, cats and travel, she notes.

There’s also no problem with the merchants, which receive buyer information to confirm every purchase, with Pinterest merely acting as a common carrier. Currently, Pinterest is enabling purchases for 5,000 merchants and two million products.

BoA Sees Card Linked Offer Program Deepening Customer, Merchant Relationships

Bank AmeriDeals was launched in 2012 with the most ambitious marketing effort in the card linked offer space. Since then, the promotions program has given BoA insight into spending for over 35 million accounts, and helped deepen customer and merchant relationships, says BoA’s Alfred Hamilton, SVP of Bank AmeriDeals, during remarks on Sept. 22 at Cardlinx’s “Data Driven Commerce” event in Bellevue, WA.

Noting that customer attrition has gone down among Bank AmeriDeals users, Hamilton says that customers have gone from being leery of having their spending habits scrutinized in order to target them with better offers to actually wanting more specific targeting. “We’ve come a long way from ‘this is creepy,’ he says. “Customers expect offers to be very, very targeted.”

Bank AmeriDeals continues to make the safeguarding of consumer data a top priority, however. “No customer data leaves the bank,” Hamilton emphasizes. “We don’t have insight into all your wallets, just your BoA wallet.” That insight has proved critical for showing businesses how much incremental business AmeriDeals is providing them. As “retailers are getting more astute in this space, they need to know that this is incremental business we are getting for them,” says Hamilton.

Separately, Hamilton notes that Bank AmeriDeals is riding the wave from desktop towards mobile payments. With 18 million Bank of America customers now using mobile banking services, desktop-oriented online banking has become increasingly “kind of passe,” he says.

Hamilton’s insights into the positive impact of card linked offers were seconded at the event by Cardlytics U.S. Operations President John Brown. Cardlytics is the vendor providing the platform for Bank AmeriDeals, among other bank efforts.

Speaking generally, Brown said that card linking has multiple benefits for financial institutions beyond direct revenue – al leading to more engagement and less attrition. He notes that users do more online and mobile banking after activation, increasing their monthly sessions from 7.9 times a month to 9.1. times a month. They also increase their total monthly spend after their first redemptions by 5-7 percent;. It also helps boost a financial institutions’ CRM program because the interest in seeing offers plays a role in boosting email open rates by 2x, and click through rates by 10x.

Brown also says that the roster of companies providing card linked offers is getting increasingly stronger. While many brands are watching early results before they sign on, brands such as McDonald’s and Nordstrom Rack are participating and attracting redemptions from well heeled consumers. “Upscale people eat at McDonald’s as much as anyone else,” he says.