Groupon’s Secret Weapon: Storytelling ...

groupon blog post

Naturally, this New York Times headline from last week caught my attention:

“Funny or Die: Groupon’s Fate Hinges on Words”

The piece goes on to explain that Groupon differentiates through words, depending on storytelling techniques as its version of Google’s search algorithm.

Here’s what the NYT article doesn’t say.

You don’t need the narrative gifts of a Hemingway or even a Grisham to enhance a company’s brand with words. Just having fun with language, a turn of a phrase or a play on words, can do the trick.

Because amusing language (much less humor) scares the bejeezus out of the vast majority of companies. As a result, this type of writing rarely factors into the band-building effort.

Yesterday’s Groupon deal for San Jose provides a good example:

Grapes generally have two options in life—be harvested in their prime and fermented into delicious wines, or grow into raisinhood to be shunned in Halloween giveaways. Bask in grapey glory with today’s Groupon: for $45, you get …

You can never go wrong personifying fruit.

As discussed in previous posts, the “About Us” section on a company’s website serves as a litmus test for storytelling. Often, this valuable turf gets wasted with vanilla language.

Here’s what appears on Groupon’s site:

Launched in November 2008, Groupon features a daily deal on the best stuff to do, see, eat, and buy in more than 500 markets and 44 countries, and soon beyond (read: Space). We have about 1,500 people working in our Chicago headquarters, a growing office in Palo Alto, CA, account executives based in local markets across North America and regional offices in Europe, Latin America, Asia and throughout the world.

Our company philosophy is pretty simple: we treat our customers the way we like to be treated. That boils down to a few key things:

We sell stuff we want to buy. A great price is only half the battle – it’s also got to be a great product or service. Between our top-rated business partners and unbeatable prices, you should feel comfortable venturing out and trying something new – just because it’s featured on Groupon. We want Groupon to be an addiction you can feel good about.

No BS. We really want you to love Groupon. “Gotchas” and buried conditions that sour the experience are a terrible way to accomplish that goal. We want each Groupon purchase to feel too good to be true, from the moment you buy to the day you use it. If there’s anything unusual about a deal (e.g., an inconvenient location), we go out of our way to point it out.

Unbelievable customer service. Like you, we’ve suffered through hour-long “transfer-athons” with customer service departments, or waited days for an email reply to a simple question. If you contact us, we’ll do what it takes to make things right – and we’ll do it fast. Email us, or speak with a human (during normal business hours): (877) 788-7858.

More than being conversational, the story empathizes with the reader.

My only quibble is the kick-off pargraph which gets weighed down with how many people and location.

Jumping into the fray with an opener like the following better reflects Groupon’s voice:

Groupon features a daily deal on the best stuff to do, see, eat, and buy in a zillion markets around the world.

I’m looking forward to reading Groupon’s prospectus after it files to go public.

Now that should make for a good story.


  • Karen Dietz

    Well, the example above does show great PR and effectively written copy — but it’s not a story, unfortunately. There’s a lot missing that would need to be added to make it a story. I do agree that the About Us section in a Groupon offer is a fabulous place to tell a story & I wish more companies did so!

  • Lou Hoffman


    Thanks for dropping into the neighborhood.

    You’re right that the Groupon piece doesn’t have the classic story arc.

    Instead, they applied storytelling techniques to their copy.

    Regardless, given the copycat nature of business and particularly marketing, I think we’ll see more companies striving to differentiate through narrative.

    The power of search engines has given rise to the myth that content is king.

    The line needs one more word–

    Compelling content is king.


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