50 percent off! How to run a successful coupon campaign online

Estimated read time: 7 minutes

We all want deals. I do too. Tell me something is half off and I may take you up on that. Even if I wasn’t going to buy that product right now otherwise. As long as the price is believable that it’s actually a deal. Coupon codes are one way to drive awareness and sales.

I remember the days when we looked through the printed newspaper to find coupons for good deals. That certainly still happens today here and there, but where coupons are shared has evolved.

There are entire sites and all they do is share coupon codes. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. Coupons aren’t certainly a new thing that have come about with digital marketing. They just have evolved. Let’s dive in how and how you might consider using coupons in your campaigns.

Coupons - Subway on Instagram StoriesDigital coupons for physical stores

I ran across this Instagram Story from Subway. They were sharing their coupon through that social media channel. It was a sponsored post and certainly got my attention. Maybe I was hungry. I don’t even know how much a foot long regularly costs and how much this even saves me.

Subway is kind of mixing the old and the new here. This looks just like the creative that is used for Subway in printed outlets. A nice way to keep the branding similar across.

Of course, I wondered how I should present this coupon. The Instagram Post disappears at some point and since it was sponsored and I may not even follow Subway, it’s hard to find again.

Also, companies can run sponsored Instagram posts without even having an Instagram account. In that case finding the post again can be impossible. You can’t look them up on Instagram, because they aren’t on Instagram. Those companies just push their Facebook ads to Instagram.

I tweeted at Subway asking how to cut this out. Their response was the scissor emoji. Touché.

Coupon subway on IG stories

The next version of their IG Stories ad said to screenshot it:

Screenshot coupon on Subway ad


I find that to be a good best practice to just screen shot it and be able to show it at the register.  Asking people to print anything doesn’t seem like a best practice to me at all.

Don’t assume people have a printer or that their phone is even linked to one.

If you are planning on using this strategy, consider adding a count down via IG Animations to the post if the coupon expires. The countdown, which can easily be set to a specific time and day, show the user when the coupon expires.

That was an example of where customers see coupons online and use them offline.

Affiliate links with coupons

Other situations exists where the coupon can directly be used online after customers see it online. The first example that comes to mind is where the coupon is visible online and you click a link – also called an affiliate link – to wherever it is that you can make the purchase.

The above is an example from the Content Tech Summit – now scheduled for August. You can click on the image for tracking purposes and end up on the registration page. Enter the coupon code – TRAPPE100 – and you can claim your savings.

Another way I’ve seen this implemented before is that the coupon code is automatically inserted into the registration form when the click comes from the affiliate link. That’s even easier for the user.

Coupon without a link

I’ve seen versions of the above where there’s just the code, without a link. So instead of the image linking you have to  type in the URL or google “Content Tech Summit” and then type in the code. I’m not sure why anyone would do that. Maybe to mask where the referral came from? I’m not sure. Either way, it’s not very user friendly and images should link to something useful.

Text for a coupon

In this model, you have to text to a number to get the coupon. This especially works well on podcasts:

”Text xxxxx to xxxx to get my book half off.”

It’s certainly easier to remember to text something short to a short number as opposed to remembering a lengthy URL.

We talked about this concept at length on the Business Storytelling Podcast as well.

I suppose this could also be used in conjunction with the first example: Text to xxxx to get a link to the coupon texted to you. Taking a screen shot may be easier if you know how to take a screenshot. On the iPhone X it’s the right button and the top left button.

Somewhat related but at least interesting: How to do video screen shots

On the podcast, we talk about how this coupon model works especially well for restaurants in a geo-fenced area. Send a coupon 60-90 minutes before lunchtime and you may see the hungry and budget-conscious crowds bring their phones to your restaurant that day.

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PayPal.me is one of my favorite services of PayPal. Sign up here for PayPal.me and you can now create your custom links to send to people. You can also use it on your website or social media.

The links look like this:

PayPal./me/<user name>/<dollar amount>

If I want to offer you my book for $12 versus the $15 it’s listed for on Amazon I can simply send you this link:


Once a person clicks over they get this landing page, which you can customize and they can pay directly there.

Coupons via PayPal.me

Feel free to order a book with that discount (in the USA only!) and I’m happy to honor that for you as well.

The biggest thing to remember when using PayPal.me is that you probably should only use each dollar amount for one product. If there are more than one for the same dollar amount you’ll have to circle back and ask what they ordered.

Keep in mind that PayPal also charges the seller a fee, so you’ll want to bake that into your advertised cost.

Click to call

People still use their phones for phone calls and click to call is another way you may want to try the coupon game. That could look like this in an ad or call to action:

Call us now to get your next appointment half off. 555-555-5555

And you can then click to call. Easy breezy. Especially when a lot of your users are on their phones. In a perfect world the person answering the line knows what coupon applies to the specific caller! Not all campaigns are that in sync, though.

When to use coupons

Coupons are a great way to entice people to buy quicker. Especially when they are close-ish to the buying decision this can be a deciding factor to close a sale. Keep in mind that it’s not always that easy to figure out what channel or offer should get the credit, though.

At the end of the day, consider a coupon when you have something that you are selling and it can help you sell more and maybe quicker. It’s also a nice way to test things, as Ashley Ashbee reminded me when we were recording a podcast on being comfortable at work.

Her idea:

My Content Performance Culture book has its own podcast. She mentioned that I should consider offering a discount to only listeners. That was an idea I hadn’t thought about. So now, I mention the discount via Paypal.me on some shows and people can only catch it if they listen. It’s not in the show notes, either.

Of course that can also help me track how many people use it.