Mobile Couponing

mobileAccording to the Borrell Associates, mobile couponing is “the fastest growing and most obvious mobile marketing application.” Mobile coupon spending is growing at an average cumulative rate of nearly 78 percent. So, how can you take advantage of this growing trend? The first step is to understand what mobile couponing is and whom it can benefit. Here is a brief introduction, but to learn more, look for an in-depth How-To Guide coming soon to Above the Fold online.


Mobile couponing is any promotion, deal or incentive that incorporates a mobile phone. According the Mobile Marketing Association, the crux of mobile couponing is how the offer is redeemed. So, while mobile coupons can be offered via traditional media avenues (this means newspapers!), the redemption must actively involve a mobile device — it must either be presented at the point of sale or utilize a unique identifier. There are several advantages to using coupons. For one, they help to drive traffic to a business or event, which increases revenue. They also add value and incentive to purchases by offering a direct and tangible discount to customers.

Coupons can be delivered in a variety of ways, including methods that push the deal to the customer (i.e., text messaging) or offers that entice the consumer to act in order to receive a promotion. See the sidebar for more on pull and push delivery methods.


Traditionally, coupons are used to at retail stores for discounts on goods or merchandise, but they can also be used to draw people to local attractions or services. Gary Lombardo, manager of mobile commerce marketing for Demandware, said that in order for a business to be successful at mobile couponing, they must take an innovative approach to marketing campaigns. “What will separate retailers who are successful with mobile couponing from those who are not will be the approach they take to mobile coupons. Specifically, retailers who will succeed with mobile couponing are those who approach it differently.”

So, how can you take an innovative approach to mobile couponing? In his article 7 Different Approaches to Mobile Couponing, Lombardo suggests that one no-brainer is to make the offer on a mobile-optimized website. While this doesn’t sound particularly radical, Lombardo states that many businesses only offer their coupons on a traditional website, so this is one small step farther. He also suggests doing the following:

  • Make your coupons hyperlocal and target them to specific stores. The benefits to this are huge, allowing particular stores to sell off excess and better manage their inventory.
  • Target coupons to specific demographics, making coupons relevant to personal preferences, times and locations. This increases the effectiveness of the coupon and the ability to convert customers.
  • Offer multiple forms of opt-in couponing, which lets the consumer choose which form of notification works best for them.
  • Integrate mobile into the core shopping experience. Lombardo suggests allowing shoppers to scan the barcode of an in-store product, which will allow them to see what coupons are available for that particular product and encourage them to purchase it through the mobile site. While this is an intriguing idea, it may not easily translate to your local advertisers — but that doesn’t mean that the core functionality isn’t adaptable. I suggest allowing them to scan the barcode for a one-time promotion, which they must show the cashier, and will then prompt them to sign-up to receive more coupons. This will help build the customer database and lead to repeat customers.

Any business can be successful with mobile couponing, as long as they recognize their endgame. While increasing product movement is often the main objective, there are several other marketing benefits to this method of promotions, including:

  • Customer acquisition/Building a customer database.
    Both pull and push methods offer means of collecting customer information and increasing prospects. Rebates are one type of promotion that is often used to help build a database. This method allows businesses to track purchasers, who have to provide names and addresses to receive the rebate check.
  • Introducing new products.
    When a business is introducing a new product (car line, new listing, new job), a mobile promotion is a great way to draw attention to the new product and get it in the hands of consumers.
  • Improve attendance at events.
    If your newspaper or client is hosting an event, mobile coupons are a great way to drum up attendance. Entice them with reduced entry fees, free products, dollars off, free food — anything that sweetens the deal.

So, how can this relate to classified advertising? The first simple step: Offer mobile coupons in your classified ad. As the MMA states, it’s considered mobile as long as the act of redemption involves a mobile phone. But think outside of the box and incorporate mobile offerings on the paper’s website, social media and at events. Here are a few examples of how businesses in common classified verticals are using mobile couponing.

Case Study: Automotive

  • With the help of Gold Mobile, Ford Dealer Ad Group drives up customer acquisition using an integrated mobile coupon campaign in Louisville, Ky., and Cincinnati, Ohio. By adding a mobile component to their TV ad — which prompted consumers to text the phrase “FREEOIL” to a designated short code and receive a coupon for a complimentary oil change — they received 2,000 consumers opting-in to receive coupons. Consumers were then asked to reply with their ZIP codes and were given a list of dealerships in their area. Once they had chosen a dealership, the customer information was forwarded on to the dealer who was given the opportunity to follow up. “This was an outstanding way for the dealers to get leads and potential new customers,” exclaimed AJ Wagner, vice chairman of Gold Mobile and former president of Ford Motor Credit North America Clark, N.J. Due to the success of this campaign, Ford Dealer Ad Group is planning to do more, including mobile coupons to set up test drives and receive a $20 car servicing credit. Though this example was used in conjunction with a TV ad spot, it is easily adaptable to newspapers. Simply run advertisements — in print, online, social media, etc. — offering dealership coupons, and see the leads start rolling in.

Case Study: Real Estate

  • How can mobile coupons add value to your real estate section? Look at offering incentives on rentals — including waiving application fees, lowered security deposit, first month for free, a value-added bonus (free TV, microwave, cable, Internet, etc.).
  • Realtors® can use SMS and short codes to increase leads but prompting prospective buyers to text for information on a house, listings or open houses.

To Pull or Push, That Is the Question


Pull methods of delivery require the user to act in order to receive a coupon. This includes:

  • Short Number (aka Short Code)
    The consumer must text a code to a short number to receive a mobile coupon or request a coupon to be delivered by post or email.
  • Applications
    Once the user has downloaded an application, they opt-in to receive a coupon.
  • Bluetooth
    The user must activate their Bluetooth to receive a promotion.
  • 1D/2D Codes
    The consumer scans a code with a mobile device to receive a promotion.
  • Mobile Dial Code
    The user calls a special number on their smart phone to have a coupon sent to their phone.
  • Banner Ads
    The consumer interacts with a banner ad displayed on their mobile unit.


Push methods require users to opt-in to receive deals in the email, phone or application.

  • Messaging
    After the user has “opted-in” to receiving text message deals, the coupon is pushed to their mobile device through standard messaging formats, such as SMS, EMS or WAP, or enhanced formats like MMS. MMS, Multimedia Messaging, delivers richer graphic messages with images and text. SMS, Short Message Service, is limited to 160 characters. EMS, Enhanced Message Service, is an extension of SMS but offers limited graphic elements. WAP, or Wireless Application Protocol, enables merchants to deliver web links within an SMS setting.
  • Applications
    The coupon is delivered to the user without the need for activation.
  • Bluetooth, NFC or RFID
    The promotion is delivered to passive consumers within a specified proximity.