Direct Mail Marketing in the Digital Age: The Coupon King Still Reigns at SaveOn

People like to say that print is dead, but don’t tell the “Coupon King” that. Mike Gauthier has been saving people money while promoting small businesses with his direct mail and digital marketing company SaveOn since 1984. Launched as Mike’s MarketShare Coupons, the Troy-based business has gone through its share of changes over the years, and certainly its share of hardships. But an independently-owned direct mail marketing company doesn’t survive 30 years without being able to roll with the punches, and that’s exactly what Gauthier has done.
 
“Insanity!” Gauthier jokes when asked about the secret to his success. Then he says, more seriously, “Persistence is the key to success. In order to have passion you must have persistence.”
 
Over the years his company has been known as Mike’s MarketShare Coupons, MarketShare, SAVE on Everything, and now SaveOn. The regular rebranding helps to keep the company fresh in the marketplace, and typically aligns with a new outward identity and internal focus. Through a never-ending process of trial and error, SaveOn has continuously expanded and evolved to meet the changing needs of advertisers and customers, launching new products and new markets to stay ever ahead of the game. It has expanded successfully into Chicago and the Twin Cities, but part of being a successful small business is knowing when to hold ’em, and knowing when to fold ’em – additional Southwestern markets that launched with unfortunate timing at the height of the recession didn’t fare as well, and were closed as a result.
 
“Since 2004 when everything hit the fan we have really had to redesign our whole product,” Gauthier says. “We added inserts [to our product line] to allow customers to add a full color, two-sided insert into the book for as little as eight cents per home. We added detached label cards, which allow us to put a postcard out for around 15 cents when it would normally cost around 35 cents. We added a lot of different products. We changed the distribution model of our magazine in Minnesota to become the actual wrap for Red Plum, so now we put a 16 to 20-page magazine out with local content and they put all of their inserts into our product getting national and local

in one package.”
 
Other new programs that have launched include SAVE on Cars and Trucks, a separate print piece and digital platform that focuses on new and previously-owned vehicles; SAVE on Groceries, allowing customers to download all the national food coupons available – like “$1 off Cheerios” – which are valid anywhere those products are sold; and on April 15 they will launch SAVE on Home Improvement, a program that has TV and radio components as well as a digital platform. Customers can visit the website and request a quote for whatever work they need done, and SAVE on Home Improvement will generate a list of two or three SAVE-certified contractors that have all passed SAVE’s five-point inspection (making sure they’re licensed, bonded, have done employee background checks, etc.) at no cost to the customer, unlike other similar services like Angie’s List which requires a paid membership.
 
Currently the company mails over 4.3 million pieces per month. “Direct mail isn’t dead,” says Gauthier. “It is really still the number one form of getting new business for a small business. When you add it to the power of digital [marketing], that’s a really good one-two punch that’s really making it happen for these guys.”
 
Printed direct mail might not be dead, but the times have certainly changed. And in order to keep up with changing customer demands, SaveOn has changed with them. In any business, success means a willingness to adapt, and in the last few years SaveOn has fully embraced the exploding trend of digital marketing by creating a full digital platform for advertisers and customers.
 
“We have launched a complete digital program,” Gauthier explains. “What we’ve really done is we’ve built a complete digital package for the small business person that includes anything they need to be relevant online. We build a microsite for them which includes streaming video, photos, menu PDFs, coupons, [and even our] Deal of the Day.”
 
There is a complete mobile program so a customer never needs to worry about forgetting their coupons at home again; the coupons can be searched for and downloaded on the computer or by mobile phone. Another new program called “Win and Save” is in sight, which rewards the customers that enter their online contests by still giving them a discount on the products they entered to win, so even if they don’t win the $10,000 new roof, they’ll still save money on a new roof. “Even if you don’t win, you always get a discount.”   
 
SaveOn also does all of the search engine marketing and optimization work as well as social media work for the client as part of the turnkey package – $250 per month gets small businesses the microsite with the Deal of the Day, streaming video, and any other content they want; help with SEO and backlinking; and also highlights them through SaveOn’s social media channels. “We really make it affordable,” Gauthier says. The independent cost of hiring a web developer and designer to create and maintain a website as well as a social media manager to maintain a social media presence on a monthly basis can be prohibitively expensive for a small family business, which is why still so many of them don’t have a web presence even in this digital age. SaveOn makes it easy and affordable for them.
 
In addition to going digital, SaveOn has also gone paperless – everything is done on iPads, from the rate cards and contracts to the proof pages. Another part of SaveOn’s current growth is assisting other small direct mail marketing companies make the digital transition. Why try to beat the competition when you can help them instead, and grow your business in the process? After decades of working with print companies and postal carriers, the team at SaveOn has a level of expertise and has developed professional relationships and an internal infrastructure that these little guys simply don’t have.
 
“A lot of guys that are much smaller don’t have much of a digital presence,” Gauthier says. “Most of the people we deal with are not digitally savvy and can’t make the investment to go online. It’s costly to do that but it can really help their company. We started a white label program for other direct mail companies like ours. We can help them save money on printing and postage. We can help them become a paperless company. We can give them this whole digital platform and put it in their name, powered by SaveOn. It’s an opportunity for them to give this program to their customers and save on everything without any expense to them. We can help them become more mainstream and more digital.”
 
Over 30 years SaveOn has weathered numerous changes, from a drastically fluctuating economy to rapid technological advances, and has been able to continually adapt with the times, making the changes that have been necessary to stay afloat and stay ahead. Persistence and tenacity have been key to success. Or, as the still-reigning Coupon King says, “Maybe it’s insanity. Maybe it’s stupidity. But it’s all about not giving up. Never give up.”