Whose fault is it anyway? Why voucher codes have gotten such a bad name

Consumers love them. The feeling of bagging their purchase at a lower price undoubtedly releases the feel-good hormone, oxytocin. Publishers see them as the difference between converting a customer or seeing a sale attributed elsewhere. They’ve become a visceral behaviour associated with online shopping. Yet code usage, particularly in online marketing, still antagonises brands with its influence over the conversion.

When you ask someone who works in digital marketing what words or phrases they associate with discount coding you often hear ‘cannibalisation’, ‘lack of control’, ‘de-valuing the brand’ or ‘decreasing margin’. However, none of these are true if proper offer distribution marketing is adopted.

In the performance marketing space, there are three participants in code proliferation; publishers, advertisers and consumers. In this article we ask, “which partners in the marketing chain have fuelled negative connotations about codes and what can we do to change it?”

Publishers

Dozens of marketing types and hundreds of ways of generating traffic. In affiliate, publishers have desired codes for two reasons; to show their users useful and engaging content, or to influence the last-click CPA (cost per action) model which ultimately provides the final incentive and entices the consumer to purchase. In this crusade some publishers have, in the past, shared content that wasn’t ‘intended’ for them. Marketing campaigns or codes created by advertisers for one channel or partner that have been floated around the web and set free, seemingly for general advertising use by any partner. Publishers have also advertised brands with codes in a ‘bargain’ manner not always sympathetic to the impact it can have on an advertiser’s brand.

Publishers have typically been the ones who have shouldered most of the ‘blame’ in affiliate marketing for the negative reputation that codes often have. I, for one, think this is unfortunate. As the ones that are taking on the biggest financial risk in the traditional affiliate CPA model publishers are challenged in their very nature to find innovative and resourceful ways to generate and distribute traffic. Aren’t they just using what resources they can to do this?

Advertisers

I recently ran an audit of 100 UK websites, these were all well-known brands operating in retail and travel. Every one of these sites had a code box visible at the check-out stage, regardless of which marketing route I had come through or whether I have been a customer of theirs in the past. This code box was seemingly displayed regardless of whether the brand frequently, or ever, distributes codes. Undeniably, advertisers are perpetuating the browsing behaviour we see when consumers actively engage in parallel code searching during the checkout process. Some of these advertisers have actively and publicly said that discounting through codes is the nadir of what they stand for, or how they want their brand to be perceived.

Consumers

The ultimate goal for advertisers and publishers, surely the lowly consumer cannot be blamed for anything! And I actually think this is true. Changing people’s behaviour to online consumption and e-commerce isn’t something that the average brand is able to alter. Just because a brand says it doesn’t discount using codes doesn’t mean consumers don’t search for coupons. Take, for example John Lewis. It doesn’t distribute codes (but, coincidently they do have a code box on their checkout page). However, search volume for the term ‘John Lewis Discount Code’ still continues to be popular:

So the problem, though perhaps not the blame, resides with consumer behaviour exacerbated by the norm of online shopping, coupled with advertisers who continue to lead consumers into thinking that a discount is going to be available because of the presence of the code box.

For most advertisers, codes are a mechanism to change the way they market and message to consumers. If affiliate marketing, and by that I mean all parties involved, can support code distribution we can eradicate the blame game, and here’s how I think we do it:

1. Codes as a marketing tool offer far greater capabilities than for only firing discounts and money off. User engagement codes can trigger and open content or promotions to engage users. Using codes to unlock gated content, rather than reducing price, provides a better brand experience more pleasing to all parties and can align more with the advertiser’s brand aspirations. This is no longer a technically hard, developer-heavy thing to do and opens options for marketers when campaign planning.

2. Provide better control to advertisers by locking codes down to one-time use by a consumer. By doing so, this curtails the ‘content borrowing’ between channels, providing advertisers with tighter visibility and a more accurate attributed view of how individual channels and campaigns perform.

3. Codes should be used to tactically showcase personalised content for users, by segmenting or dynamically introducing content onto a page. This isn’t something that most publishers currently do, as they aren’t either able to segment users, or they lack the functionality to change their marketing messages dynamically. Using code service providers to support bespoke browsing will result in a better shopping experience and deeper brand equity.

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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