Carol Wright and Friends Hit the Web

Coolsavings has made quite a splash by bringing coupons to the web. Now the real competition begins.

Carol Wright, Val-Pak, and all the other coupons that come to you in newspapers or in the mail are now coming to the web with the help of BrightStreet.com, out of Mountain View, Calif.

CEO Scott Wills said his coupon technology is far more secure than what you now get in the mail or in newspapers, and he has convinced the biggest names in that industry to back his play.

These include Central Newspapers of Phoenix, which has an Internet investment fund; The McClatchy Co. of Sacramento; and (most important) Cox Enterprises of Atlanta.

Cox is key, Wills said, because one of its units, Cox Target Media, is the leading player in direct mail coupons. They’re the people behind brands like Carol Wright and Val-Pak.

All these players, along with Sandler Capital Management Inc., a media industry investment management firm, are on BrightStreet’s board. They don’t control the board, but they do bring their assets to the table, so within two months of launch, BrightStreet has 230,000 different offers online, as opposed to a few hundred for CoolSavings, said Wills.

BrightStreet also has distribution web-only coupon programs can’t match. All the newspapers’ sites are now promotion-enabled using BrightStreet technology. BrightStreet has use of 1,200 salespeople within the direct mail industry, calling on resellers, retailers and web sites.

The term Wills uses for this is “a digital promotional backbone. This lets us,” he explained, “manage coupons, samples and loyalty programs with individual consumer tracking. We enable a promotion to be delivered to a user, and the manufacturer can decide which channel it’s for – they can send a digital discount, or send the consumer to a retail store.”

BrightStreet’s patented technology codes all those offers, so on the back end the retailer can track exactly where a consumer purchased. “We can do loyalty programs based on purchases actually being made,” Wills said.

Most of Wills’s work has been done “under the radar,” away from the main Brightstreet web site. In fact, Wills admitted, “The BrightStreet web site doesn’t tell much. We saw competitors ripping us off, so none of our names are on the site. You have to go to the partners’ site to see what we do.” (Or just send an email sales@brightstreet.com). And only in stories like this can you see the total effort.

So here comes his pitch: “Eighty percent of all Internet households use coupons at least once a month. Ninety-seven percent of all those coupons are received through direct mail and newspapers. Only three percent of Internet consumers get those coupons over the Internet. The promotions industry is wide open.”

All this is important for two reasons. First, as I’ve noted before, the entire direct marketing industry is now moving en masse onto the web, providing new competition. Second, the entire direct marketing industry is now moving en masse onto the web, providing new opportunity.

By integrating coupons into banner campaigns, email campaigns, and offline campaigns, web marketers now have new tools they can use to increase sales for clients. The center of gravity in marketing has shifted, in other words, and your discipline is at the center of the new Earth.

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