Different Strokes For “Special Folks”? Good Idea or Bad Promotional Move?

Look up the phrase “new customers only” on Google and you’ll turn up more than 38,000,000 results.  Look up “existing customer deals” and you’ll find 19,000. It comes as no surprise that companies often turn to special incentives when trying to lure new customers to their fold. Chances are, most of us have even taken advantage of those deals from time to time. But, when you’re an *existing* customer who can’t access the good deals that you see the new folks taking advantage of it can be a bit irritating.

One of the spots in Ally Bank’s (formerly GMAC Financial Services’) commercials makes the point quite well, I think. A “newcomer” is offered an ice cream cone, but the child who was there first gets nothing. The look on the child’s face probably mirrors the feeling of many long-term, loyal customers when they learn that the “newcomers” are getting a better deal than them.

That kind of newcomer deal is pretty common and most consumers are probably somewhat resigned to the reality of the situation. After all, we can all likely understand that businesses are eager to attract new customers and will resort to a variety of means to do so.

But, what about special deals for only “certain” customers? An example that hit home for me recently was an item I saw about Verizon Wireless’ new cellular plan that it’s testing where it is offering unlimited text and data to “a limited group of customers” for $70. The new plan offers 450 monthly minutes and unlimited Verizon mobile-to-mobile, texting and data.  Only those who received the special email promotion can take advantage of the deal.  Geez. How do they rate?

The point is, I don’t know. But there’s something about not being included in this specific group that rankles a bit. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who is occasionally frustrated by deals I can’t take part in even though I’ve been giving a company my business for some time.

Creating effective offers is a critical part of any promotional effort, but sometimes offers can go awry–particularly when they inadvertently alienate some audience segment.  When that happens, it’s not a good thing. Businesses need to be cautious when designing deals that the deals 1) are necessary–after all discounting can be a slippery slope, and you don’t want to be leaving any “money on the table,” after all…; 2) are sufficient to generate the desired response from the group being offered the discount; 3) don’t create ill will.

I’m interested in hearing others’ experience and opinions about this. What do you do in terms of reaching out to attract new customers or offering special deals to certain groups and not others? Do you do it? Why/why not? Are there best practices that you’ve applied to minimize any potential backlash?

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