Remember when the best place to get a good coupon was in the newspaper? Long before the internet gave us access to couponing and discount sites like Groupon, RetailMeNot, and others, the only place you could find a good coupon was in print publications. For decades, the largest circulation day for local newspapers was Thursday. That was and still is the day grocers place their FSIs and coupons. We also looked forward to coupons showing up in the mailbox.
My favorite option for coupons pre-Google was the Entertainment and Gold C Books. Remember those? What made them awesome was all the killer restaurants that offered two-for-one discounts and the fact that they raised millions of dollars for schools and non-profit organizations. You could get your money back with one coupon and then have the entire year to save on everything the family did.
I liked that book so much that I went to work for them back in 1992. My job was forming strategic partnerships with local media and sports teams to help raise the awareness of the severe funding shortages schools faced. Television was a great way to raise awareness and promote the “Good Things” that were happening in schools as a result of the money being raised from those Entertainment Books. Professional sports teams helped by rewarding students and their families with game tickets and other VIP incentives for helping their schools promote their fundraisers. That experience was the start of my 25 years in strategic partnerships that help kids and communities. It was also where I produced the first of what would become hundreds of videos that told inspiring stories of the impact these programs had on the schools and community.
I will never forget the way I felt when those boxes of Entertainment Books arrived in August. We ripped into them with great enthusiasm and would spend that night with the family going through the book page-by-page making a list of all the new places we wanted to try out. We would gather with other parents and have coupon trading parties. “I’ll trade you an Outback Steakhouse for an Olive Garden.” Those were the days.
It was a true win-win-win program. The participating merchants supported their local schools and community while attracting new customers. Parents of all socioeconomic means could save money all year while providing much-needed funding for their child’s school. Lastly, the kids benefited from the thousands of dollars infused into their schools that helped fund programs and services that had been cut due to lack of funding.
My how times have changed. Today, technology has given everyone access to discounts at the touch of their finger. We don’t need to wait a year for that book. I can’t remember the last time someone tried to sell me an Entertainment Book. Apps like Retail-Me-Not will even notify you of the discount as soon as you walk into a store with a happy cash register sound effect. I rarely make a purchase in a brick and mortar store or online until I first, Google “x-store coupon” or check my RMN app and I’m not alone.
Being an expert in Intergenerational Engagement, I wondered how different generations today use discounts and coupons. I also wanted to assess whether coupon-based fundraising is still a good option for schools. What I found was interesting and good news for marketers using coupons especially when it comes to Millennials. It is also good news for schools with 75% of their parents being Millennials today and an additional 9,000 more Millennials becoming moms and dads every day.
Today’s Millennials, who were the very elementary school kids selling those Entertainment Books, learned a lot from their parents. Sometimes it was that coupon that made it possible for them to bring a friend along to play miniature golf. Millennials are pragmatic and cost conscious. They grew up in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. They saw their parents lose jobs and their retirement savings overnight. Times were tough, and every little saving made a difference. Now they find themselves raising their own children strapped with college loan debt encouraging them to always look for deals.
Recent research from PRRI-US consumer Surveys shows that Millennials are using coupons more than their parents, but they are not getting them from any one source and favor online coupons and promo codes over paper coupons. Online coupon usage among Millennials has risen 48% over the past two years. The number of Millennials who reported using mobile coupons to make a purchase rose to 33%, outstripping other generations by a large margin. Another survey by Valassis found that 92% of Millennials use coupons. In the past year, 51% of Millennials said they are using more coupons than the previous year, which is more than Generation X and Baby Boomers.
Millennials also shop with as innate skepticism. They don’t organically trust brands and can easily see through slick marketing and ad campaigns. Mass distributed coupons alone are not as effective as they were for their parents. Millennials, especially Millennial moms make purchases based off peer reviews from loyal customers within their trusted centers of influence or social circles.
So, does it make sense for a school to still participate in coupon book fundraisers? The answer is a resounding YES.
The research and trends support the fact that Millennial parents will certainly support any program that can help their child’s school. In the past presidential election, Millennial moms indicated that education was their number one social concern. They respect brands with heritage. They shun brands who are not transparent and are seen as greedy. They will switch to brands that give back to their communities and their child’s school. And best of all, they will share what they think with their average social network of 650 friends. Think about that for a minute. An average elementary school has 500 students, that’s 500 moms with direct access to 650 friends. The right promotion can reach over 300,000 people in a school community IF it is “share worthy.” That doesn’t include dads.
The secret to a successful discount-based fundraiser for schools is “Shareability.” The Coupon book is a good entry point, but it must be able to transcend through their social networks. Moms and dads should be able to share when they get a great deal at a local restaurant. There should be an embedded link in the post that allows their friends to buy a book and help their school right from their mobile device. The participating merchants should be celebrated, and their involvement should be shared so that the community is aware of the merchants that are truly giving back. The success of the fundraising campaign should be shared. People want to see the kids playing on that new playground equipment or reading their new books. It is called “Proof of Performance.” The number one thing a parent school volunteer wants from her experience or contribution is verification that her contribution or donation directly helped her child’s school.
The Boomers and Gen X’ers lived through times of prosperity and excess. Coupons were not as necessary, and in some cases, you could be seen as “cheap” if you used a coupon. Millennials grew up in a time when many people had to find ways to make ends meet and that included using coupons. Doing so successfully carried with it an image of being smart and savvy.
In summary, will Millennial parents embrace the right couponing platform? I spoke with a Millennial Mom at Bed Bath and Beyond last week that was using her Retail-Me-Not app in line. She said, “If you are not using coupons these days, you’re throwing money out the window.”