Grocery coupons are ripe for omnichannel marketing transformation, and the universal coupon format promises to deliver.
• The coupon industry’s Universal Digital Coupon format is the first step in a fully omnichannel future for cents-off grocery offers.
• The universal coupon transformation adds more tactics to the marketing toolkit for brands and retailers.

Coupons work.

They motivate consumers to act and promote loyalty and positive feelings toward the brands that offer them.

That’s why marketers have been using coupons in some form for over a century. And in the CPG space, around 1.7 billion are redeemed every year. That doesn’t even count how many restaurant and apparel offers that people use.

Whether these coupons present as pieces of paper or fully digital offers, consumers use – and love – them, now more than ever. However, advertising and point-of-sale technology just haven’t kept pace with the demand for truly omnichannel distribution and redemption.

With grocery coupons, we’ve had some innovations along the way: The free-standing insert made print coupons widely available and print-at-home coupons introduced the world to the idea of getting a coupon online. But today, advertisers who want to give digital deals must rely largely on the “load-to-card” offer format — enabling digital distribution but requiring the deals to be used in conjunction with a specific retailer’s loyalty program.

All the while, consumers and marketers fluidly operate in an omnichannel world:

  • Consumers buy their favorite brands at virtually any retailer and can pick the experience they prefer – buy online and pick up in-store, have it delivered or just go to the store and buy. And they expect each experience to be consistent and satisfying.
  • Marketers reach their audiences through an ever-growing and changing mix of digital and analog media. Traditional tactics like direct mail and television quickly blur with social media timelines and mobile device screens. Modern marketers don’t choose one channel, they find the best mix to deliver their message across all the appropriate channels.

With omnichannel marketing being the way of the world, coupons remain slow to evolve.

The universal coupon changes the game

In such a heavily omnichannel context, making a universal coupon available just makes sense. Our industry needs this kind of innovative coupon offer to allow advertisers to distribute a single cents-off digital offer that can be taken into any retailer and redeemed, much like the traditional printed coupon … but with even more controls.

The Coupon Bureau, an independent non-profit organization, working with industry committees at the Association of Coupon Professionals, has developed exactly this sort of industry-standard coupon format.

Marc Mathies, SVP of Platform Evolution at Vericast, has been part of that industry evolution. “It’s amazing to see how the coupon industry has come together to realize this transformation to couponing,” said Mathies. “We’re proud of our company’s deep involvement with the Association of Coupon Professionals and The Coupon Bureau to shape the new standard. We are confident that this work will ensure that the resulting vehicle is a win for everyone — consumers, retailers and, of course, brands.”

Making omnichannel coupons a reality

As a result of that work, a new Universal Digital Coupon, which uses the 8112 barcode format, is currently redeemable at one chain with 146 stores. However, retailer adoption has naturally slowed in recent months while these companies have weighed the technological and financial impact to their business. But, once this diligence is done, and adoption starts to take root, the stage will be set for truly omnichannel distribution of coupons.

To fully take advantage of the new omnichannel reality, the next generation of coupon solutions must revolutionize paper distribution as well as digital. Only then will the industry deliver the flexibility that brands need to connect with consumers in today’s world — giving them choices to map to the variety of audience and retailer-specific marketing goals.

It became apparent to the industry early on that the 8112 barcode standard behind the Universal Digital Coupon has tremendous application to paper coupons, promising to reduce fraud and improve accuracy without impacting the well-established consumer experience.

With both print and digital distribution addressed by the new coupon form, deals can be directly integrated with all the available and emerging advertising channels. Brands will have the flexibility to allow consumers to redeem these offers in virtually any store, but brands also need to be free to use a variety of media — from addressable TV to direct mail — to engage consumers with the offers.

Given recent advancements, it is realistic to anticipate a future where brands don’t have to tailor their incentive and coupon marketing tactics to the specific delivery channel. Instead, omnichannel coupons can unburden marketers from the technology and distribution friction that exists today.

Evolving the effective and reliable coupon

With the introduction and widespread use of the universal coupon format across paper and digital offers, coupons can enter the omnichannel world that marketers and consumers all want. But the benefits don’t end there. Due to three key technical features, universal coupons will be an even more powerful, omnichannel promotional marketing tool:

  • Data centralization. Made possible by the work of The Coupon Bureau, this enables brands to distribute discount coupons to consumers through various channels while being universally redeemable.
  • Real-time serialization. The serialization in the new coupon further mitigates fraud for coupon issuers, making possible for each unique coupon to be identified and tracked.
  • Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) validation. This validation enables limits that can notify the retail clerk when a consumer attempts to redeem coupons outside of their intended use.

All of that adds up to brands enjoying the benefits of this powerful marketing tactic while minimizing the cost, amplifying the impact and tracking the results.

Bringing even more consumer-friendly tactics to the party

Because universal coupons open new avenues of marketing, they will add to ­— not replace — the earlier generation of retailer-specific digital coupons. Retailer loyalty programs will remain a key tactic in the marketing mix. But universal coupons will provide a currently missing element for today’s promotional strategy toolkit: direct-to-consumer digital coupon advertising.

What’s next in the universal coupon journey?

If you’re a CPG brand marketer, you can connect to The Coupon Bureau and request an account, so you’ll be ready to distribute universal coupon offers — both print and digital — when retailers are ready to accept them. Both retailers and brands may also want to begin discussing with each other the marketing opportunities a universal coupon would provide each other. And, of course, consider connecting with us here at Vericast to discuss how you can be part of the omnichannel revolution by distributing your own universal coupon offers.

To understand why this format may help you deliver what your shoppers are seeking right now, check out our universal digital coupon resources

An industry veteran, Meggie Giancola specializes in connecting the dynamics of the CPG ecosystem and the Vericast suite of solutions, providing strategic thought leadership in marketing strategy, analytical solutions, media activations, and performance measurement. She is a graduate of Miami University and an active member of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.