We have been clipping coupons in America since 1887. That’s when Asa Candler had this new idea to boost sales by giving away a free drink of his new tonic (then priced at 5 cents a glass) with a coupon. Over the next ten years, it is estimated he gave away over 8 million free drinks. You might know that tonic better by name Coca-Cola.
When newspapers were on almost every doorstep in the early 90’s some 7.9 billion coupons were redeemed every year in America. Even today, some 3.5 billion coupons are exchanged every year between consumers and merchants. Many eye care providers or optical shops have some sort of coupon on their website. Even more offer special discounts to neighboring shops, centers, churches or other organizations.
It’s time though to kill the coupon. It’s not that I have had some new epiphany about discounting. Quite the contrary. We live in a world where everyone is looking for a deal. There isn’t a day that goes by in the optical forums online where someone complains that patients and customers don’t appreciate the expertise and experience that go into every eye exam or designing and operating that beautiful optical shop and privately chastise those customers who say they can get it cheaper online or across town.
Ironically, almost in the same breath the same optometrists and optical shop owners ask where they can get this or that cheap. We have all been conditioned to save money and look for the best deal. We take pride in saving a buck or two and so too do our patients and customers. I believe it foolish to deny them that easy win by eliminating the ability to take pride in saving a few dollars.
What I instead am endorsing is flipping the coupon concept on its head.
Let’s boil the coupon down to it’s simplest explanation for today. It goes something like this. Please visit my website and prove that you did, by killing a tree and bringing me a copy of the coupon I put on my website that I will now throw away once the sale is complete. This is a simple discount. Effective? Yes. Efficient? No. Even if you make the coupon digital, this process is still one that exists almost exclusively in a private interchange between you and your customer. Then of course, there is that rare occasion that another customer overhears someone else getting a discount because they actually went to your website. It is often a mess and almost certainly a hassle. Let’s turn this discount expense into a marketing opportunity.
Most every one of us is online. Over 75% of all adults online are on Facebook. There are some 195 million Americans on Facebook each and every day. On average we each have 340 friends on Facebook. We are a tribal people. As the old saying goes (and one that is very appropriate for this audience) “No one wants to be a doctor’s first patient”. We all like to profess our independence, but at the end of the day, most of us follow the pack. We wear the brands our friends accept, we marry the people our families will accept, we watch the shows our friends watch, we listen to the music our friends do, we read the books and magazines they read, dine where they dine and shop where they shop.
When we tell our 340 friends that we shop at XYZ, that very simple piece of information carries a lot of weight with our friends and family. If 2 or 3 more friends say they shop there too, well, we almost all put that shop or service on our radar for the next time we are in the market for that product. Word of mouth advertising, after all, has always been the strongest form of any advertising.
So now instead of exchanging a coupon, which at its best is still a one on one relationship between the consumer and the merchant, ask your patient or customer to check-in on Facebook, or Yelp, or Swarm, or wherever they social-eyes. Yes, not everyone is on Facebook. Then again, not everyone is online to print your coupon either. However, a bit more than 2/3 of American’s are. That’s one of the reasons Facebook is still such a great marketing vehicle for eye care providers. With your patients and customers checking in on Facebook they are telling their friends where they choose to do business. Incentive them with that discount? I say yes. Simple? Yes. Effective? Yes. Efficient? Yes. All without killing a tree or wasting toner. Let your patients and customer do your best advertising for you.