As I mentioned in my first article of the year on 2011 new media trends, there are a lot of exciting trends on the horizon and many new media options starting to settle in as excellent positioning tactics.
A few mentioned in the article were LivingSocial and Groupon, deep-discounting-buy-a-coupon-that-is-really-a-gift-certificate-social-media platforms. Like a lot of new media, it's hard to pin down exactly what to call them since these platforms are more than a couponing tactic. And as a positioning tactic, I was very skeptical whether this would ever help a brand.
And almost as soon as we hit the publish button on that article, I received a LivingSocial offer from my relatives' restaurant, the Hart Mansion in Minerva, Ohio. Mentally, it really took some time for me to get my arms around the offer only because this fabulous restaurant didn't seem like a brand that needed to use deep discounting as one of its positioning tactics. (Of course, my wife and I each bought a deal! We certainly aren't beyond saving money.)
So instead of guessing, it seemed best to chat with owner/manager, Vicki Phillips. In an interview approximately nine weeks after the offer ran, here's her perspective on LivingSocial:
Q: Do you feel the LivingSocial platform was a good marketing decision?
A: As of today (nine weeks later), very much so. My goal was to get new patrons and, for the most part, that has happened. But the gift certificate/coupon doesn't run out until August 8, so it's slightly possible I may have a different opinion then. Would I do it again? Possibly.
Q: Why would you consider it a success at this point?
A: Because of the 40+ coupons that have been redeemed, 55 percent of these patrons had never been to our restaurant, and 95 percent of those have indicated they would definitely return. So I look at it as having gained new customers, which was the goal. If the trend keeps up, we could easily end up with well over 200 new customers.
Q: What about the dollars and cents of it?
A: It's really a win-win-win. Of course, LivingSocial gets its cut (40 percent of the deal price), the customer gets a 50 percent off deal, and our restaurant gets up-front money, plus whatever the patron spends beyond the deal price. So thus far, not counting the fact we have new customers, the marketing has paid for itself. But what I'm really interested in is the long-term relationship with these new patrons. That's what will make this a good marketing decision.
Q: How was LivingSocial throughout the process?
A: It was really great. While it took a while for me to agree to do the Akron/Canton distribution, the staff was friendly yet persistent, but not nagging. When I finally decided to do the deal, they were really good to work with. They wrote the ad, yet I could edit it before it ran. They let me choose the picture to use after I rejected the one they proposed. And the back-end order tracking system is really easy to use. I just log in and can see a lot of statistical details about this promotion, plus reviews for those who have redeemed the coupon. It hides most of the patron information, but at least I get a name and the review, plus it prevents fraud. Overall, they were really good to deal with.
Q: Would you change anything about the deal?
A: Not really, just some minor things like when I did it. We sent it out just before Valentine's Day week, and that's not really a good time to do this type of promotion. We excluded holidays, but I should have excluded that week or just held the promotion a little bit later in the month. But that was a very minor inconvenience.
Q: Were there any surprises?
A: Probably the fact that there were those who bought the deal from places all over the country. The ones purchased outside Ohio were mainly gifts for those who live near here, but we had orders from California, Arkansas, Arizona . really, all over the country. And they really make the gift coupons easy to use and they look nice.
Q: Do you have any recommendations for another business that would consider this as one of its positioning tactics?
A: For restaurants, probably the biggest question is whether or not you think you can win new customers by discounting. We have a destination crowd as much as regular patrons, so this provides that little added incentive to give us a try. A lot of our patrons come from Canton, Akron, Cleveland, and Columbus, so it's a bit of a drive to get here. Unless you have that kind of crowd, then all you may be doing is discounting for existing patrons. Then it wouldn't seem to make a whole lot of sense. And if you're considering it as a way to raise immediate cash, don't do it. It's really not for those who survive day-to-day hoping the cash register fills up.
This interview made it clear that there are circumstances where this promotional setup works. In my opinion, very narrowly. If you have no brand, and have done little to position your company in the mind of your customers and prospects, this isn't the place to start. If your position is in hand, and you've done work to build it and your existing customer base has bought into it, then this could act as a way to expand that base.
One of our associates overheard another local restaurant manager say that he would never use Groupon again. All it did was bring in new people who are not their typical patrons and were just looking for a deal. And therein lies the risk.
As a positioning tactic, it does very little to build your position in the mind of the prospect. You may put your position at risk, in fact, by indicating you are willing to heavily discount your brand.
But as the Hart Mansion showed, it does act as a gateway for a prospect to experience your position if, in fact, you are able to attract the right prospect ... YOUR prospect.