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Over the past 12 months, a lot has been said of email becoming a one-to-one channel, with many industry evangelists crying out to marketers to start segmenting a little more, and claiming that spray and pray senders will be perceived as nothing more than spam.

But did we manage to successfully communicate the severity of the situation and the benefits of change, as an industry? I’m not so sure we did, and Groupon is a prime example of a brand that would greatly benefit from this.

Groupon is a business growing in popularity by the day. I think we all assume that the company has an enormous marketing budget (they took a slot at the Superbowl commercial break after all), so money can't be so tight that they could be severely limited to the basics. All options should be open and available to them.

Let’s not forget that this is a business that relies entirely on email to inform people of their offers on a daily basis.

Last month at the eCircle ConnectEurope Conference in London, I asked over 150 marketers: "How many of you are signed up to receive emails from Groupon?" and almost everyone raised their hand. I then asked, "who receives two or more emails from Groupon in quick succession?", and all of them raised their hand again.

I then asked, "how many of you find the content to be irrelevant or of little interest on most occasions that you receive these emails?" and nearly everyone raised their hands again.

My final question was: "Raise your hand if you would be more likely to stay subscribed and engage with emails from Groupon, providing that they give you the opportunity to tell them what you are interested in, and they then sent you relevant offers based on this alone", and again, almost everyone raised their hand.

The problem

It doesn't matter how good the deal is, if it's teeth whitening and you don't have teeth, you're unlikely to be interested, right?

The one thing that Groupon has failed to do is ask questions and adapt the conversation accordingly. Apart from name, email address and local city, Groupon doesn't ask us any other questions and therefore doesn't have a great understanding of our interests.

This means that everyone's getting the same information all of the time and a lot of that information won't be of interest to a lot of people. And I do understand that the whole point of Groupon is that it's daily deals and they're gone when they're gone, but I don't think anyone wants to hear about every single offer, every single day.

It's not rocket science

We should all hopefully believe that relevance is key for brands in developing long-term relationships with people. The good things that happen as a product of this are invaluable.

Trust and loyalty earned through meaningful relationships full of relevant conversations is in an ideal world, where we all want our eCRM strategy to be. And it is a complete fallacy amongst marketers that this is difficult to achieve.

There is so much you can do with little budget and little time. Groupon could so easily transform the inbox relationships they have with people that would truly benefit them and the people they are trying to engage with.

If it's not broken, don't fix it

Sometimes, results from email campaigns can be deceiving. I've consulted numerous clients in the past that are clearly driving high revenues and return on investment through email, but fail to see that it is not realistically sustainable because brand buzz alone won't hold this.

It's highly probable that Groupon are getting a great return on investment from their email programme, but if that is the case, I doubt that it can be sustained if it doesn't quickly adapt to meet or exceed the expectations of the people they are conversing with.

Over time, the sheer volume of irrelevant content will overshadow and undermine the content that individuals are interested in, losing loyalty and credibility and therefore making it much less likely that people will open, click and purchase something. So it's time for change.

Baby steps

I've already said that you don't need a large budget to make the greatest changes, and the same is kind of true with strategy. I often find that the simplest ideas are the best ones, and a great starting point for Groupon would be to introduce the ability for people to be able to set their preferences when they sign up.

Even if this was just set for top level categories such as spas, eating out, experience days, health care and so on, the positive impact on the relationship would be massive. Content would always be on topic, which would increase engagement, breed long-term loyalty and result in many more conversions.

It would also be cheaper in the long-run, because these changes would inevitably result in send volumes decreasing, and there could even be a simple business rule in please to ensure that each recipient only receives one email a day, with all relevant offers included in that one message.

And if there aren't any offers available for some people on one day, be bold and don't send them anything. Wait until you have something relevant to speak about. The decrease in volume and the potential cost saving associated to that, may even help to build the business case for change because it would pay for itself as a project in the long-run.


I'm sure that Groupon has many ideas on how they'll evolve their contact strategy through email, but I think at present it falls way short of the expectations of its fans.

There are so many brands out there in the same situation, but even if email campaigns are driving revenue and high return on investment, if you are not listening to each individual you and adapting your conversation accordingly, it's unlikely to continue to perform for you at that same level for any length of time.

What do you think Groupon can do to improve its email marketing?

Philip Storey

Published 11 April, 2011 by Philip Storey

Philip Storey is Global Head of Strategic Services at Lyris, London and is a contributor to Econsultancy. He can be found on Twitter

6 more posts from this author

Comments (19)

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This article doesn't take into account the £6 that users receive for passing deals onto friends/family, or colleagues. I'm sure the argument from Groupon would be that if they didn't send everything to everyone, current Groupon members couldn't pass relevant offers onto others that aren't applicable to themselves.
Also the offers that people take up may change in time....I don't want a canvas photo print at the moment, but I might do in 4 months time.....Do I have to sign in and change my selections once a week to get the offers that suit me at that time? I'm sure most people wouldn't.

over 5 years ago



I absolutely HATE Groupon emails with a passion.

I only signed up to register a business - I'm not even interested in the deals because they're for a different city to the one I live in - and I had to unsubscribe within the week. I don't need 5+ emails a day, particularly when they're such a strong sales push.

I'd like to see more options on sign up for email marketing, more creative marketing, more intelligent emails and less hassling. Their constant emails combined with their ads all over the web just means that my impression of them is of a very pushy company that cares more about numbers than customers.

over 5 years ago

Tim Watson

Tim Watson, Email Marketing Consultant at Zettasphere

Hello Phil, I think we agree. I unsubscribed from Groupon.

I suggested they add a 'do not like' button to there emails in this post http://dmaemailblog.com/2011/03/21/the-groupon-daily-deal-fix-email/

over 5 years ago


Georgia Christian Mail Blaze

Hi Phillip, thanks for the post.

I have counted quite a number of people over the past few weeks who have unsubscribed from Groupon, and those numbers are rising. When I first subscribed the deals seemed to be much more relevant than they are now. You're right though, they need to take the time to find out what their subscribers are individually interested in. That marketing expense should be covered by the fact that they'll have higher click through and conversion rates if their emails are targeted.

over 5 years ago


Nigel Williams, MD at Emailcenter UK

The other thing here is how do Groupon scale their business without sending everyone far too many emails? That is exactly what is happening now - they are selling more spots so more email has to be sent.

Yet if that continues the emails will become less effective so to maintain their sales growth they will have to sell more...which means more emails...a lovely cycle occurs.

The other danger for Groupon is they get hooked by the amount of email addresses they hold for every city. I bet that is how they sell it to those buying a spot - its far easy selling 1M people than a targeted list of 50K.

Also if they go down a tailored preference led route this probably will mean a short term drop in revenue - will their management give it that long before they open the email floodgates again?

Solution? Small control group of people on preference only targeting strategy and measured against everyone else - which group is worth more per head after 3 months? Management will then have confidence in slowly turning down the email tap.

over 5 years ago


Chris Caines

The prime purpose of any communication is to lead the recipient/target to the intended call to action. GroupOn achieve this - being the fastest growing company of all time? Seeing email and search make up the majority of their non-US to-market channels, what conversation should they be having?

I find it difficult to accept that GroupOn are failing to 'understand our interests' because they ask minimal questions (labelled as their problem) when in the same article it is argued 'It doesn't matter how good the deal is, if it's teeth whitening and you don't have teeth, you're unlikely to be interested, right?'. I'm unsure I would use a service that wanted to check which body parts I have, in tact, in case I might/might not be interested in a pedicure. Asking such questions would have reduced their signup rates, the flow of deals, and the shift in purchasing patterns a social revolution requires – quickly, simply, and to the mass.

An 'inbox relationship' is something a retailer might need, but a service providing heavily discounted products/services might not need this. This ‘false digital relationship’ is a one size fits all policy that, in some instances, suppresses strategic communication. GroupOn’s use of email is more of a reminder – have you checked GroupOn today? People log-on each day, browse the offers (often across different cities), and then purchase or not. Similar to Facebook – this will continue to become the norm. It is a pull tactic opposed to the pull communication personalisation adds value to.

GroupOn is not a service offering personalised offers – nor should it be. Users of this service have purchased offers for friends, family, partners, colleagues, and even pets. Creating a set of preferences minimises the scope for purchase, and the fundamental psychology of ‘this is a great offer I can’t miss it’.

As soon as their UK version of their US app lands it will remove the slight reliance on email they currently have – push notifications with a shorter call to action cycle.

We’re all good at filtering out what we want and don’t want. We do it every day. And when we find a deal that excites us, we’re delighted we found it, even if the offer actually found us. That is what keeps mass generic communication working – the fundamental opposite of this suggested article.

over 5 years ago

Carlton Jefferis

Carlton Jefferis, CEO & Founder at Gettus!

Agree with all of this and I too hate the spam-like Groupons which are almost always of zero interest to me BUT...

Groupon works (to an extent) on the principle that you might try something out that you didn't know about already and/or you wouldn't have considered in the past. The deep discount might give you the incentive to try something new. I know I've succumbed to that.

It also works on the basis of referral, as pointed out by Simon's comment above, so what's not of interest to me I might pass on to others. It might earn me £6 a pop. That's the theory although I've never done it.

By providing users with preferences as suggested in Philip's post, Groupon limits the opportunities for both the above scenarios, whilst drastically reducing the number of emails that are ever sent to specific interest groups. Some might say that's a positive thing, but advertisers (those business featured in the Groupon) might rather it went to everyone on the list as it gives them greater exposure even if most have low purchasing intent. There's clearly an argument here on striking a balance.

Another issue that bothers me about Groupon is that it's essentially rewarding non-customers who by definition (being hooked by a cheap deal) are unlikely to become loyal customers. It reminds me of credit card rate tarts. Are we now witnessing deal tarts?

This comes at the cost of upsetting existing customers who don't see a Groupon and therefore have the 'privilege' of paying full price. Counter-intuitive?

I'm fascinated to see how Groupon evolves.

over 5 years ago

Adam Cranfield

Adam Cranfield, Chief Marketing Officer at Mynewsdesk

It's surely part of the business model that the featured daily company/offer gets to 'carpet bomb' the mailing list?

Isn't it essentially about paying for ad space in the form of a discount? As Sean Duffy says above, an email base of 1m sounds good to advertisers.

I would be interested in any links to articles explaining the ins and outs of the Groupon business model.

over 5 years ago



I don't see any mention of Groupon's unsubscribe rates here, and I doubt they're huge. I myself have not unsubscribed from Groupon because I'd like to keep browsing their offers in case something I'm interested in does come up.

The biggest appeal of Groupon for me is that they offer massive discounts on activities and products I wouldn't necessarily have been interested in at the full price. This means I wouldn't have specified my interest in them upon registration.

Groupon is more of a discount marketplace, not a niche special interest shop, which is the reason for its wide-ranging appeal.

I was at the eCircle conference (it was great by the way!) and one of the questions to the speaker from Groupon was whether he would start geographically targeting by postcode district in London -- I emphatically disagree that this would be a beneficial exercise for them, much the same as restricting communication by personal interest. People enjoy having a look around and don't mind travelling to get a bargain. The beauty of Groupon for an advertiser is that it sparks word of mouth which is exacerbated by someone's joy of discovering something they had not known about and got a great deal to boot. This would be diminished if they started offering people things they had probably heard about or been to (i.e. if they'd specified a pre-existing interest or lived in the area where the offer was valid).

over 5 years ago



This article is 100% wrong from a practical business POV. The One-to-One matra is the most idiotic meme to hit online marketing. If the lists were segmented to everyone's tastes, you would need an overwhelming # of vendors to satisfy. The trick is to get folks to read in ANTICIPATION of getting something good; not delivering something good every day. That is a standard impossible to achieve.

over 5 years ago


Alex Timlin

An interesting article but it's definately written from a marketeers point of view not from the businesses point of view.

We work with a number of Group Buying businesses, including GroupON in a few territories and they 100% are working hard to offer preference based email communication... however there is a limitation in preference centres.

Firstly, only a fraction of the database will actually complete preferences on sign-up (it's been tried) and even for those that do take the time to do it the information is quickly irrelevant.

Say you see a banner ad advertising a discounted spa treatment in London - do you only want to get spa offers (which you do infrequently) or would you be open to other deals?

Even through propensity modelling due to the number of deals and the number of categories how do you narrow the net enough for 1-2-1 content?

For our clients in Group Buying we're using both the information on sign-up (implicit information based on keywords and landing pages) to tailor content and then using click and purchase behaviour to tailor offers and try to categorise customers - but the task is immense.

Marketer hate GroupON emails, but more often than not are not GroupON customers and never will be.

GroupON already send reactivation emails and surveys asking people about what they do and don't like about the emails they recieve, it's not just about carpet bombing and mailing list size it's about the revenue stream.

The most successful Group Buying businesses, a sector which GroupON turned into a sector, try and expose people to new experiences - how do you profile someone based on what they 'might' like to do in future?

Everyone's trying but no ones cracked it yet.

The sales team at GroupON don't have to say they have 1M people in the list because it's on CPA not CPM, GroupON makes money on sales, it's in their interests to make as many conversions as possible and if they only sent emails to the people who kindly filled out the preference centre than trying something a little more advance (but not clearly visable to a non-purchasing unengaged user testing out their email process) then they woudln't be the company they are today.

over 5 years ago



Same for the Amazon triggered emails. They've kept sending you emails which they think would interest you but in fact is not. Just because I browse or bought a hair dryer doesn't mean that I would be willing to see all the hair dryers later.

over 5 years ago

Adam Cranfield

Adam Cranfield, Chief Marketing Officer at Mynewsdesk

@Alex Timlin - interesting insights. What I don't understand is how it makes business sense for a restaurant like Les Trois Garcons to offer a meal at quarter normal price (half for the deal, and then half of that goes to Groupon)? Do they mainly do it for the acquisition of those (new) customers who take up the deal, or is it for the overall brand awareness generated? Are there any case studies showing how small businesses have achieved ROI?

over 5 years ago


Chris Caines

@Alex Timlin - agree entirely with your comments

@Adam Cranfield - interestingly at the ConnectEurope2011 Conference GroupOn discussed that they supported small businesses in dealing with the strong demand spike - from setting up campaign specific telephone numbers, web traffic, etc. allowing them to scale up and service the offer - to essentially avoid customer dissatisfaction. It seems most do it for customer acquisition to grow their own prospecting list. I'd suggest that others do use Groupon for overall brand awareness, but primarily for moments of diversification - 'we now offer...' to educate their audience.

@J - "he trick is to get folks to read in ANTICIPATION of getting something good; not delivering something good every day." agreed - that is the essence of group buying... the 'can't miss this' mantra.

over 5 years ago


Vizz Media

I'm sick of Groupon emails! They keep sending irrelevant stuff. Having a hazilion subscribers doesnt mean you send just about anything. I prefer mails from select merchants that interest me..

over 5 years ago


Krishna Pancholi

Totally agree with Alex Timlin - From a purely business / marketing textbook point of view, this article makes total sense. Perhaps it shouldn't do but Groupon works!

We don't want to miss out on a great bargain, even if it does mean we're sent multiple emails a day. I've not yet bought anything through Groupon but I continue to check their emails - just in case I one day manage to bag myself a fabulous cruise for £5!
@Chris Caines - fully agree: We're adept at filtering our email inboxes.

In the meantime, Groupon are a roaring success because they appeal to the masses with crazy discounts and they satisfy their Sales Managers with impressively sized databases.

over 5 years ago


Stephen Bennett

I really like the concept of Groupon and used to be a subscriber to their emails but very rapidly unsubscribed as my inbox was getting bombarded and I just didn't have the time to trawl through all the offers. However I DO go onto their website regularly to see if anything tickles my fancy.

I think Philip's comments are all extremely valid and I actually wholeheartedly agree with his POV (fancy giving me some free consultancy too?!!), however what we have to remember here is that we're all in the digital / email industry and therefore are alot more critical than your every day consumer, who probably scans the emails and simply deletes them if the offer isn't of interest. I know my wife never unsubscribes to something if it's not relevant to her, she simply deletes it and moves on.

over 5 years ago


Toni Mills, Freelance Graphic Designer at Toni Mills Design

Groupon does ask for your preferences. Admittedly once you are in your account. Go to My Profile. There is a form where you can select the types of offers you would like, called Favorite Deals. Groupon text with the form says "the more we know about what you like and don't like, the better we are at offering deals you love."

I have bought three items from Groupon and like how they present themselves.

over 5 years ago

Tim Watson

Tim Watson, Email Marketing Consultant at Zettasphere

A lot of great comments. I've read them all.

If I may paraphrase the logic of many comments its:
- Aim of business is to make money.
- Groupon is worth a bundle.
- Its methods are correct and justified since it is growing so well and worth a large fortune.

Its hard to argue with that. But does it mean that it shouldn't, mustn't or can't change?

Imagine there was a new daily deals company (and there are of course loads of wannabes), let's call it GrouponStar.

Say that GrouponStar had offers just as good as Groupon, sent daily emails, offered referral fee, but double the number of GrouponStar offers were actually of value and relevance to me.

I'd start using GrouponStar and drop Groupon.

So there we have it, Groupon can carry on with its business model and practices until a competitor does it better. At which point it will have to change.

I remain unsubscribed from Groupon.

over 5 years ago

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