Digital Coupons Have Arrived

outermesh.jpgCoupons aren’t what they use to be. And while it is hard to think about coupons as part of direct advertising and marketing, that’s exactly what they’ve always been. The coupon industry is actually an $8 billion a year sector that distributes more than 342 billion coupons a year, and processes more than 3.3 billion coupons. These instant saving “devices” have been around for a long time in paper format, and in recent years many retailers, notably grocery stores, have started to add their own type of instant coupon in the form of a card.

Traditional direct marketing solutions are seeming a little out of touch. Coupons on paper aren’t quite what they use to be. Outermesh has seen this as an opportunity to take instant savings to the digital, and more importantly mobile space. Their meshBee device is a proximity-based personalized wireless coupon and loyalty marketing solution. This keychain-sized unit serves as a touchpoint between advertisers, retailers and shoppers.

So when you’re in a mall, at the local store or just at home you can receives personalized marketing messages. Yes, this sounds like mobile spam, but these messages will be truly tailored to meet your needs. At least we hope. No one needs to get Viagra offers in the palm of their hand!

The wireless technology behind the meshBee system is actually a new standard called IEEE 802.15.4, which is part of the ZigBee or wireless mesh. This technology allows for low power, low cost and low bandwidth, making it ideal for small devices that don’t need to be constantly recharged – namely a mobile phone. In addition the targeting and recommendation engines of a device such as meshBee allow for much more focused and specific messages – at least in theory. What is to stop marketers from sending blanket Viagra pitches has yet to be seen.

However, unlike mobile phones or even e-mail on the PC, retailers and marketers won’t have the ability to as easily send those types of messages. Instead this is a system of truly targeted messages, and on the backend, this also means redemption, clearing and reporting services. This end-to-end solution should actually provide analytics and success metrics. At the current time the coupon industry only can track how many coupons were actually success once the paper items make it back to them.

This doesn’t account for those that were lost by the retailers and never sent. And unlike the paper ones, you don’t need to worry about rain or Rover dog destroying the coupons. Well, maybe you do. All this begs the question as whether consumers actually need another mobile device? But maybe they do.

Outmesh’s market research actually suggests that customers don’t want these type of messages sent to their phone, so maybe a portable mobile communications device just for the spam… we mean marketing messages is the better solution. Other challenges also include the issues of opting-in as well as technology limitations and inflexibility of the mobile marketing value chain. The meshBee solution actually provides a medium that shoppers may want and a flexible platform for advertisers and retailers. And further, once market leadership is claimed and the user experience is perfected, strategies to converge into other devices can be investigated, such as the Blackberry via mobile e-mail, or even to future generations of devices such as the iPod, where new songs could be pitched directly to your device based on what is on your playlist.

But to really work, a device such as the meshBee should also provide some comparison pricing, saving users from walking to the other end of the mall, or better still driving across town, to see if a DVD or just a head of lettuce is actually cheaper at another store. Of course the real benefits are going to be for retailers who may be able to track what you buy, but this in turn can ensure that the marketing messages are truly tailored to fit your needs. Maybe some users will really need Viagra offers in the palm of their hand!