Like most CPG marketers, Barilla America is looking for more relevant ways to connect with its consumers. Digital coupons are providing one of those ways for the world-famous maker of pasta and pasta sauce.
“Even though we know that the [distribution and redemption] numbers are still small for digital coupons, it’s a great way to start learning more about our consumers, our audience, and to learn how to manage the future where the numbers will become bigger,” said Silvia Sartori, digital marketing manager for Barilla America.
In the larger sense, the marketer is using digital coupons to monetize and measure its use of online media platforms. For example, by integrating digital coupons in several campaigns, Barilla saw redemption rates as high as 60%, but also was able to track participation in the programs. In addition, the company promoted trial of new products, tracked home printouts and their redemption, and boosted participation on its Facebook page, among other results.
“Coupons are an important component of our digital strategies for many reasons,” Sartori explains. “First of all, they help us measure the effect of our consumer engagement campaigns, and to connect them to the real world. People are browsing the web, but we don’t know how much this is affecting real purchases. There are a lot of studies, but still it is something that we were looking for a way to measure. Coupons are one way to measure these connections.”
Barilla worked with CouponFactory to develop its digital coupon programs. Tim Kane, chief executive officer, CouponFactory, explains that in today’s digital world, there are three kinds of platforms: paid, earned and owned:
Paid media “is where a brand makes an investment to attract new customers and drive them to the website for acquisition, to increase your reach, as well as to get conversions from that search media, and then acquisitions on top of that,” he says. Examples include advertising and incentives, display ads, paid search, sponsorships, affiliate marketing and brand ambassadors.
Owned media “is your internal assets – any property that you have and control.” These digital properties include home pages, microsites, mobile sites, email, Facebook pages, Twitter and YouTube videos.
Earned media is similar to paid public relations, but it doesn’t cost anything, Kane adds. One very effective example is bloggers who will pick up a brand’s coupon codes for their readers. “It’s a great way to spread the word.” Other instances are digital public relations, chats, reviews, conversations, and user-generated content.
Among the benefits are: immediacy and more precise targeting for paid media; control and cost-effectiveness for owned properties; and credibility and greater sales influence for earned media, Kane says.
Research from Ipsos MORI revealed that 73% of consumers visiting a brand’s owned digital property expect to find a coupon or promotion. Brands need to deliver on those expectations, Kane says. “When they type in your URL, the majority of the time, the first thing they’ll look for is an offer. So we say, don’t disappoint your consumers, but exchange offers for data.”
The first time a customer visits a website to print a coupon, the brand should just ask for name and email address. “If you ask too much, they may abandon.” But the company should ask for more detailed information on subsequent visits, and incentivize consumers to share the offer, he says.
Sartori described a series of online promotions Barilla has conducted using digital coupons. To promote trial of Barilla Whole Grain pasta, the company used Facebook to offer a coupon, and an in-banner ad coupon to lead consumers to the website for more content about the product. The promotion asked people to try it, and offered a replacement box of regular pasta if they didn’t like the product.
The in-banner coupon placements reached the designated maximum of 90,000 printouts after a blogger spread the word about the offer, and redemption was 60%. A coupon on Facebook to encourage sharing generated 64,000 printouts and a 58% redemption rate, while the friends receiving the shared offer printed out 130,000 coupons, redeeming at a 60% rate.
To drive awareness and trial of new Barilla sauces, the company once held a “Send a Hug Day” promotion. A Facebook app invited people to send a virtual hug to their friends, while playing on the idea that sauce “hugs” pasta, Sartori notes. For every virtual hug Facebook users sent their friends, Barilla donated one Italian pasta and sauce meal to the charity, Feeding America. In addition, the users were allowed to download a $1 off coupon for Barilla sauces.
This promotion resulted in 96,200 app visits, 18,000 people sending a total of 52,700 hugs, a 45% increase in the fan base of the Barilla Facebook page, and over 1,500 mentions of Barilla sauce across the social web. “We didn’t have any paid media for this campaign. Everything was done using our owned media, and counting on our users to spread the word,” Sartori says. The brand also sent out an email blast from its database.
In February 2012, to promote Barilla’s presence in the Miami market, the brand sent out an email blast highlighting its booth at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, and offered a coupon for $1 off pasta and sauce. The total email universe was 260,000, and there was an open rate of 31%, a click rate of 42%, with 18,000 coupons printed.
Later in the year, Barilla used email, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to promote summer pasta salads, and introduce a tri-color pasta. There was no paid media. “We were looking to leverage messaging opportunities around Memorial Day and the kick-off of summer. We sent an email to our database, and ran a contest on Twitter and Instagram,” Sartori says. Barilla asked people to share images or Tweets about their favorite pasta salad, or comment about Memorial Day barbecues.
“We created a sweepstakes for those who used a specific hashtag, and when they entered, we gave them a coupon as a reward for participating,” she adds. There were 315,000 impressions, 381 unique tweets and 25,000 coupons were printed in about 12 hours.
Summing up, Kane notes: “Digital coupons are here and they are growing. Brands ought to utilize them in the mix of their internal assets, to coupon-enable their websites, their emails and their social media platforms.”