The first coupon of the modern era appeared in 1887 for Coca-Cola. Personally, I believe the concept of the discount was invented shortly after the idea of commerce, when one Babylonian shopkeeper offered “Free Fatted Calf Tuesdays,” but I can’t prove it. The point is, the humble coupon has been an important part of any business’s success for at least a century and a half.
Source (first coupon): https://www.bizreport.com/2010/06/retailers-coupons-benefit-you-too.html
Car dealers have a slightly more complicated relationship to coupons for a number of reasons. The first is simple. Car dealerships generally have two separate businesses under one roof: One sells cars; the other maintains them. Each side of the business therefore offers completely different kinds of coupons. The dealership side has to create specific offers on specific vehicles (made even more complicated if said vehicle happens to be pre-owned), while the service side can offer more traditional promotions and discounts.
As much as a car dealership adds a layer of complication, there is a great deal that other kinds of businesses can teach us about how to employ coupons. Because here’s the thing: if you’re not using coupons, promotions, discounts, or special offers, you are leaving money on the table, and no one wants that1.
1.What did Coke do?
Coke’s original coupon was the classic (no pun intended) buy one get one free. While that can’t work on the car selling side of things, it’s an intriguing option when it comes to the service side. The key to keep in mind is what Asa Candler, the inventor of the coupon, believed. Basically, he had the idea that once people tried Coke, they would become loyal customers. And yes, considering what was in Coca-Cola back then, it wasn’t much of a guess. Still, it’s popular today, and the formula had phased out its most famously problematic element.
So the lesson here is that you have to be ridiculously confident in whatever service you’re offering, and you have to be able to give that service away for free. There’s probably an extremely short list of those, among them buy 3 tires get 1 free, but the upswing is huge.
2. Marketing in 280 characters or less
Twitter is free to use. This had to go into the calculations of Dell when they launched @DellOutlet. This account wasn’t originally a coupon-distribution platform. Instead, it operated on a simple principle: If there’s a computer, someone needs help with it.
@DellOutlet came into its own when they started adding coupons. 40% of users Like a product or company’s page on Facebook because of discounts and promotions. Twitter, as a fellow social media platform, operates in much the same way. The short version is, Twitter is completely free to use and the integration of coupons accelerated sales to $1 million inside six months. Adding coupons and special offers to your social media is a cheap and easy way to expand your reach.
3. On Wednesdays we wear orange
In 2003, Orange, a former UK-based mobile phone operator, noticed something: no one was going to the movies on Wednesday. Makes sense, right? It’s the middle of the week and the new movies aren’t out until late Thursday or even Friday. Instead of just accepting this, Orange decided to make a special offer.
That offer became known as Orange Wednesdays. Essentially, it was a two-for-one deal, like Coke offered over a hundred years earlier, but it had a catch. The two-for-one was only valid for Wednesdays. This turned into a beloved institution in the UK, and massively bolstered movie going on Hump Day. Orange Wednesdays specifically identified a time when business was under-performing and targeted it with an offer. Is there a specific vehicle that’s not moving? Make it part of an offer. Is there a service you’re not performing? Put out a coupon.
4. Sharing is caring
Social media is all about sharing what we like, whether it’s movie clips, gifs, quotes, or weird images adorned with text in the impact font. One of the smartest moves Sara Lee made was to harness this underutilized power.
The deal was a simple one: a customer would get a coupon for $1 off of Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches, but if the customer shared that coupon on social media, they would get a coupon for $2.50. The campaign got 65,000 visitors in a month, with over half coming from referrals. These kinds of campaigns have the potential to not just help your bottom line, but to grow your social media following. That’s a win-win.
5. Know your market
Discounts for certain classes of people—specifically the elderly, veterans, or teachers—are a pretty common way to improve one’s reputation. But this is part of a larger thought process that can be of use for the unique needs of a car dealership, and it comes down to the most common use of this kind of special offer that’s so ubiquitous we don’t even think about it.
6. Ladies’ Night
Yep, the venerable tactic employed by bars everywhere. Bars noticed that they weren’t getting enough women in, and so offered a targeted discount. Makes sense, right? You can apply this to your dealership in one of two ways.
The first is the way bars did it. If there’s a market you believe you can reach that you aren’t reaching, target them. If, for example, your primary vehicle are hybrids, you might get a ton of people concerned for the environment. But hybrids, with their better gas mileage, are ideal for commuters. Make a special offer for that market, and you might well find a new customer base.
The second way to use these discounts is to lean into your market. Let’s say you sell a wide variety of cars, but you do your best business with minivans. Offer a discount to families, and start moving more of your big money items.
While selling cars is its own unique challenge, there’s a ton other businesses can teach you. Don’t worry as much about the source of knowledge if it’s ultimately useful.