Be different in ways that are hard to duplicate.
That’s one of the key lessons to be learned from Groupon, the deal-of-the-day website that caught fire on the web a few years back.
Coupons are NOT right for every business. In fact, I advise against them unless you’re in a business where you can regularly afford to absorb loss leaders. But there are some who do opt for this route and in that sense, it’s worth looking at.
It’s not hard to look at their meteoric rise—29 countries, 230 markets, 17 million subscribers in two under years—and see why Forbes called them the fastest growing company ever.
No real surprise then that Groupon has inspired plenty of newcomers eager for a slice of the action, including Google, which is reportedly building their own online coupon service.
The folks at Groupon have good reason to feel confident even as the pool gets crowded.
The secret to their success isn’t just that they were to first to carve out a niche market, which is to serve primarily small and medium-sized local-area businesses.
Read their copy. It’s funny—sometimes even amazingly funny—in an oddball kind of way that makes you do a double-take the first time you scan it in your inbox.
Here’s how they open their pitch for a Chicago-area bagel shop:
The bagel, like the circle from which it takes its shape, is a metaphor for life; it literally never ends.
But it makes you curious to read more, doesn’t it?
Groupon’s writers don’t just follow-up with the offer and leave it at that. No. They toss in a few extras. In the case of the bagel joint, it’s “Fresh ideas for day-old bagels,” including this gem:
Send a message to Jimmy the Bagel that leadership of the South Side Squids has gone “stale,” then chuckle under your breath and straighten fedora menacingly without accidentally dropping dice.
The copy works here because it manages to take what might otherwise be a product or service that’s unfamiliar to their readers, presenting it in a way that’s both memorable and makes readers want to know more.
They get the marketing fundamentals right, too.
Here are highlights from what is at least purported to be Groupon’s styleguide for writers.
1. Include all info you feel separates this business from any of its competitors.
2. Avoid marketing cliches such as:
– Got X problem? This deal is your answer!
– Exclamation points.
– Slogans, branding language from the featured business’s website broad, unsubstantiated claims.
3. Write in 3rd person as much as possible.
4. For humour, use absurd, unexpected imagery.
5. Avoid humour that solely relies on pop culture, topical or celebrity references.
6. Avoid calling out humour with devices such as quotes parentheses, and adding language that draws attention to the joke.
7. Shoot for 80% informative content, 20% creative content.
Groupon leverages the power of the unexpected. They do this by being offbeat funny. It’s no accident that their writing team includes talent plucked right out of improv.
Plenty of knockoffs can imitate the online coupon offer business model. Execution is where Groupon thrives.
And that’s a tough act to follow.