If you have a computer and an Internet connection, finding a dentist in Maplewood – or anywhere else – takes approximately one-quarter of a second. But like more old-fashioned methods such as telephone directories, narrowing dozens of listings to a single service provider takes a bit more doing. From the customer’s perspective, a variety of choices is almost certainly a plus. From the provider’s perspective, the view is a bit more daunting: how to stand out among hundreds or potentially thousands of others? For many dentists and other service-related businesses in places like Maplewood, the answer is increasingly direct online marketing.
There’s little doubt that the arrival of Groupon a few years ago was a game-changing moment in online marketing. The e-mail coupon company became a juggernaut in a matter of months, spawning a host of imitators and inciting businesses to jump on the bandwagon or be overlooked. The concept was ingeniously simple because it relied on the 21st century’s premier method of building brand awareness: social networking. Groupon’s deep discounts relied on a minimum number of buyers to make the deal effective, so interested consumers had an ironclad incentive to share the deal – and by extension, the business – with their friends and co-workers. Poof! Instant visibility. Whether the company was a dentist’s office in Maplewood or a swanky new nightspot in downtown Miami, suddenly there was a way to get everyone talking about it – and buying in.
Groupon’s arrival onto the e-marketplace was serendipitously timed. It arrived just as social networking was reaching critical mass and the U.S. economy was staggering through a recession. Everyone was looking for a bargain. Service providers in industries like dentistry were also getting hard hit, as massive unemployment meant millions of people were cut off from health care because of a lack of insurance. So online discount marketing arrived in the midst of a perfect storm of supply and demand. After a few initial bumps such as expiration dates (the company quickly changed its policy so that the paid amount had to be honored no matter when the coupon was tendered), the trend was firmly established. Now, it’s more or less assumed that a small business that wants to build its client base will offer an online direct-market discount.
If you’ve recently visited a Maplewood dentist, made an appointment for a manicure, or planned a fun outing with the family, it’s entirely possible that you did so because a coupon appeared in your inbox and offered you an incentive to do so. The local businesses that you supported are no doubt grateful, but they will be even more gratified to have your repeat business – this time, perhaps, at full price.