Buzz over Coffee Bean's limited-time promo: Balancing between urgency and value

Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf Singapore has rolled out a SG$0.54 promotion for its small-sized drinks. While it may sound like a steal, it comes with a catch that has ticked many consumers off - it only runs for 54 minutes on 9 August. The "54" promotion, according to its Facebook post, was created to celebrate Singapore's 54th birthday.

In less than two days, the post has drawn more than 650 likes and 450 shares. Several netizens who commented said the move is reminiscent of the recent furore over Huawei's National Day promotion, which disappointed majority of the consumers who queued at its outlets due to severely limited stocks. Others called out the promotion for being "stingy" and not well thought out, as not many would be able to enjoy the offer within 54 minutes considering waiting time for the drinks and possible long queues. Marketing has reached out to Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf for comment.



Speaking to Marketing, former Fonterra CMO and Growth Officers CEO Anindya Dasgupta said that a good promotion not only drives short-term sales, but also links back to brand values and build brand equity. According to him, the problem with Coffee Bean's promotion is that it is not providing enough "payback" for customers who have to travel to a physical outlet and stand in queue to access a short 54-minute window.

He explained: “Even if you want to associate to '54', do so in such a way you can drive sales and still provide value. For example, reward customers who spend SG$54 dollars with something of real value to them. From customers’ point of view, the payback for spending SG$54 is worthwhile. It’s exciting.”

However, surprise or limited time offers can go a long way, if executed properly. For instance, in the case of Amazon, where flash sales have become something customers come to expect, Dasgupta said the promotions are well-received because they are online and therefore, accessible. To tap on digital channels, Dasgupta said the company could have tweaked the promotion to run a 54-minute promotion on its website for its gift cards, increasing accessibility and ensuring that there is enough time for customers to complete the purchase.

“The ad by Coffee Bean, frankly, imitates a lot of marketing gimmicks out there," he said, adding:

It’s a National Day promotion but by running it for only 54 minutes, it is essentially making the promotion inaccessible to a lot of Singaporeans and their loyal customers.

For quality control, he advised companies to assign someone with the right skill sets and experience in the approval process for all marketing campaigns. Marketers meanwhile, also need to have a "distinct idea" to cut through the clutter during seasonal periods.

Sharing Dasgupta's sentiments, Pavilion KL general manager - marketing, Juliana Chua, said that flash promotions such as Cyber Monday or Singles Day work because they are conducted online and consumers can make purchases from the comfort of their homes. "If they do not manage to get the items they want, the impact is not as great because almost no effort was put, let alone queuing," she explained. Chua added:

Marketers need to realise that sales efforts for brick and mortar stores and online are very different.

Anything that is going to create a "sense of urgency" among consumers needs to provide digital convenience, said Chua, who suggested Coffee Bean roll out a digital coupon for customers to claim and pick up the drink on that day instead.

While it is crucial for marketing efforts to have an element of urgency these days, Chua said marketers have to balance it with delighting the shoppers. For example, food and beverage retailers can reward every 54th consumer who walks into the store. She added:

It is better to surprise and delight consumers, if there are limitations in terms of budgets or if there is a certain cost that will go into offering free products.

In terms of duration for festive promotions, she said marketers could either plan something big for one day or choose to have a month-long effort with more limited impact.

Moving away from the opportunistic mindset

While seasonal promotions are a great way for brands to join topical conversations, Carro's group chief marketing officer Manisha Seewal said they will go wrong if marketers executed them with "an opportunistic mindset" to ride the wave of social media chatter. Urging brands to move away from short-term hype, she said marketers should consider the long-term impact on the brand.

If the promotion creates negative brand reputation, is it even worth doing?

"Brands also need to consider promotions from a reputation perspective, in addition to a financial perspective – and weigh the potential brand reputation impact against the potential sales boost from such a promotion," added Seewal. To show customers that the brand is sincere about the offer and operationally ready to fulfill it, marketers have to set a realistic duration that gives customers enough time to respond, share and enjoy the offer, she said.

Citing Carro's current promotion in National Day Parade booklet as an example, Seewal said Carro has given customers until the end of the year to utilise the offer. While it could have given a SG$54 discount for greater association to the country's birthday, the company has decided to go with SG$100 to offer "real value". The promotion is also planned months in advance in April, Seewal said, adding:

Seasonal promotions come and go, but a good reputation should be constant.

Meanwhile, Cheryl Lim, VP, head of branding, communications and sponsorship, Manulife said the objective for seasonal promotions are usually very tactical, and not for deep engagement. "I’m not in favour of seasonal promotions as it is not healthy for the brand. I don’t want my brand to be known for price," she said.

While they should not be regular, Lim said tactical promotions could run on special occasions such as the brand's anniversary to go in tandem with above-the-line storytelling efforts. However, if on-ground activations are involved, brands have to ensure they have the logistical ability to distribute the offer in the event of a huge crowd.

Lim explained that one common mistake is to focus on the exciting promotion without full logistical agreement and support. As such, it will be good to list out a few possible logistical scenarios and ensure that there is on-ground support for the most extreme scenario to be fully prepared.

On the communication front, Lim said there should be regular updates of inventory on social media throughout the promotional period at least twice a day, so that fans are engaged and informed.

In July, the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf Singapore copped flak from netizens for not accurately using a SAF personnel in a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Day drink promotion ad. It later apologised via Facebook for featuring a China national soldier instead of one in Singapore's army uniform and took down the promotion.