I’m about to go get pizza for dinner and bring it in. I went to the drawer where we keep the ValPak coupons we intend to use and discovered that the local pizza place coupon had expired (10/5/06). So I went to Google Maps, plugged in the restaurant name and, viola, there was the $3 coupon I was looking for.
When I get back I’ll let you know how they reacted to the presentation of the printed coupon.
When I went to pick up the pizza I presented the coupon I had mentioned over the phone. The guy at the register (a man in his late 30s or early 40s) is a member of the family that owns the place (there are two locations). He had never seen one of these Google Maps/ValPak coupons before, so he had a kind of “what’s this?” look on his face.
(Local businesses that create their own coupons through Google or a site like ZiXXo aren’t going to be similarly confused.)
I immediately pointed out the ValPak logo next to the coupon on the folded piece of paper. “ValPak has a distribution deal with Google; this is the same as the coupons you deliver in the blue envelope,” I told him. “You can go to ValPak.com or Google and get the same coupon.”
After looking at it for one or two more seconds, he seemed satisfied that I hadn’t fabricated this on my computer, but said that he had never seen this before.
The guy is there most days so it appears that nobody has given him one of these coupons before. And given that “pizza” is the archetypal local search, the fact that he’d never seen this before raises questions about whether consumers are printing and using these Google Maps coupons generally. Of course that’s extrapolating from an isolated instance and I’m sure some are — but how many and how widely?
Rather than saying something like, “Wow, here’s clear evidence that the Internet is driving more and more of my customers,” he said, “It looks like you saved $3.” That remark carried a hint of grudging acceptance, sort of like I was getting away with something. And I was in a way.
Rather than creating an incentive to buy more or to go there as opposed to some other pizza place, I was simply using the coupon to save money on a pizza I was already intending to order. This is the subtle change allowed by having coupons so persistently and easily accessible. After I’ve made my buying decision, I look for the coupon.
Another way to look at it is: I slowly become trained to look for local coupons when I’m looking for a local business and, in that context, their availability potentially does have the opportunity to sway decision making.
It wasn’t clear to me who, in the pizza guy’s mind, gets “credit” for this. I mentioned ValPak a couple of times, but the stronger brand here is probably Google. The person I dealt with at the register, though a member of the family that owns the business, pretty clearly wasn’t the decision maker regarding advertising.
It’s clear that there will be a discussion about this coupon and what it means at some point in the next couple days. It may well be that the ValPak sales rep fully informed the decision maker that Google Maps would be one of the potential places the coupons would end up, creating much broader reach. But it’s also possible he or she did not, in which case there could be a bit of a customer relations problem.
I come back to the fact that Google doesn’t market its consumer products. What if Google (or Google + ValPak) took out newspaper display ads in 20 DMAs – or wherever they have the most coupon density from the ValPak deal – and notified consumers that they could get local coupons by searching on Google Maps?
You’d probably see a ton of people doing these searches for coupons. If they had a good experience, you’d see that ignite word-of-mouth and it would work for coupon creation too. Local business owners are equally consumers and consumer marketing is an indirect from of B2B advertising when it comes to SMEs.