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Mint marketing: good or bad?

News last week that the U.S. Mint is offering a free tote bag to customers who spend over $75 on its products has elicited some rude comments online.

The best of these has roots in all collectors’ worries about security.  Collectors do not want to use something that will target them for the next home invasion.

In addition to perhaps not being the best idea as a premium offer, the present program is a further indication that the Mint is wading ever deeper into conventional marketing.

The question is whether this is a good idea.

Last summer the Mint eliminated the $4.95 shipping and handling fee for orders placed online for a while. This irritated the collectors who order by telephone.

Just a few weeks ago the Mint began offering 10 percent discounts for collectors who subscribe to their various coin offerings.

The tote bag is just another conventional marketing tool.

But is the Mint dipping its hand into the wrong tool bag?

Coins are not ordinary products. On a good day they might appeal to 1 percent of the American population. No fee shipping, discount subscriptions and tote bags are mass market approaches.

Coins are more in the nature of luxury items than mass market items if they are not marketed as investments. They should be marketed as luxury items. The Mint should build up its brand rather than cheapen it.

As a monopoly producer of products desired by two million or three million collectors, it should take a page out of car dealers’ current approach. It used to be getting a car serviced meant hanging around a grimy garage. Now garages are spotless and nice lounges with free coffee, cookies, popcorn and other things make clients feel special.

That’s what the Mint should be doing. It should be making all collectors feel special. That means taking the tote bag, putting the current marketing playbook in it and throwing both away.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper is winner of the 2013 Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper “Numismatic News.”

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