The modern customer is accustomed to coupons. That’s not just a fun tongue twister, it’s also a fact. 96% have used a coupon in the past 90 days. And, here’s a truly cautionary coupon tale: JC Penney attempted to cut back on their coupons in 2012 and quickly saw a 23% drop in sales. If you read last week’s article, you’ve likely already decided to include coupons in your direct mail campaign. It’s a great way to drive customers to your business, and to retain them. But, what kinds of coupons would you like to offer? Which deals work best? Let’s explore some basic coupon protocol and practices, shall we?

Be Specific With Your Offer

Coupons are most effective when they’re specific, focusing on one particular service or product. Offering a large store-wide discount can also be compelling, but the customer will likely purchase other items and add-ons along the way regardless. Providing a bit of structure up front will liberate your consumer’s creativity at the time of sale. The more specific the offer, the less the customer needs to think, and the easier it is to add the visit to (or from) your business to their to-do list.

Create Urgency

Expiration dates are crucial in coupon creation, but their timeline is also key. If they’re too short, customers may feel rushed and they may not need your product or service immediately. But, if the timeline is too long it diffuses the sense that time is of the essence. Find that happy medium that creates a sense of urgency, not a sense of panic.Look at your sale cycle to determine what you feel is reasonable, yet inspiring.

Make Them Pretty

The coupon is a visual medium, so make yours as eye catching as possible. Your logo and brand recognition should have a dominant place in the aesthetic. Tailor all images and illustrations to that end. Your coupon should serve to introduce and reinforce your company to the prospect or customer. Your customer should intuitively learn something about you by the design of your coupon. Personalize it, while keeping it professional.

Make It About The Numbers

Coupons are most effective when they feature discounts greater than 20% or definitive amounts off such as $5, $10, or $20. But, don’t strain your bottom line to acquire a new customer. The deal must be reasonable for you and your customer. Make sure you can afford the planned discount for the duration you plan to offer it. Avoid freebies, as they generally attract free-loaders, rather than return customers. It would be more effective to offer 50% off an item, or, if you’re really feeling generous, to provide a free item with a purchase.

Make It Interesting

Though a percentage off discount is always an appealing classic, here are some other fun options to mix things up:

Buy One, Get One Free is a popular value to customers. Plus, it’s so much fun to say, “BOGO.”

If you have the data, a Birthday Offer makes customers feel special, like you “remembered”. For new prospects, you might design a more general set of conditions in the finer print, such as “Got a birthday coming up? Bring this coupon in anytime during your birthday month and get xyz.” Hey, the odds are 1 in 12 in any given month, right?

Holiday/Seasonal Offers can appeal to a sense of nostalgia. Undoubtedly, at the beginning or end of a season we’re all collectively readying ourselves for the transition. Subconsciously, a seasonal coupon touches upon that, and therefore catches the eye.

If you offer a repeat service, a Punch Card can be a great motivator. You can structure it to offer a discount or freebie at the end of a certain number of services, or you can offer tiered discounts to encourage a timely incentive.

Have fun designing your coupons. Get excited about sharing your brand and service with your prospects and customers, and your prospects and customers will feel it as they clip along the dotted line. We’re excited for you both!