The halls of the Chicago Art Institute are lined with the work of various risk-takers. Among them: Grant Wood, Frank Lloyd Wright and Mary Jane Drews. Their media? Paintings, furniture and coupons, respectively.
Drews isn't a painter or an architect, but she is a risk taker. As the membership manager at the Chicago museum, Drews increased membership 5% by taking a chance on Groupon, an Internet company that offers consumers deep discounts on a variety of products, services and activities.
Groupon discounts are often half off the listed price, but the catch is that a certain number of people have to sign up for the offer to activate the discount. Drews needed 300 people to click on the Groupon offer to activate the museum's 50% off, $40 membership deal. To her surprise, nearly 5,000 people signed up on Groupon in just one weekend.
The financial risks are low using Groupon. Unlike direct mailings and phone solicitations, which Drews says generally pays for itself after a significant capital outlay, the Groupon offer didn't require any upfront investment from the museum. Instead, Groupon takes a cut of the sales.
''It actually turned out to be a financially smart move,'' Drews says. ''They do revenue sharing, so I'm not going to pretend that they did it for nothing, but there were no upfront costs, and to us, that was phenomenal.''
In Pictures: 10 Fun Ways To Shop Online
The Web's Best Shopping Sites
In Depth: 10 Cyber Monday Steals
In Pictures: Where To Shop For Web Deals
In Depth: What American Shoppers Won't Give Up
Groupon also helped Drews tap into the 18- to 35-year-old market, a younger demographic than the museum's average member age of 55. ''We wanted to test in the younger market with very little risk,'' she says. ''We thought this was a great opportunity to do that.''
Groupon founder Andrew Mason says that running audience experiments with no upfront investment is a compelling offer, compared to local television advertising. ''When you run a big company, you just hand over a huge check and pray that it's going to make a difference,'' he says. ''You're just hoping the commercial you put on TV is driving customers into the door, but there's no real way to measure it.''
Text and images: Copyright Forbes.com Any unauthorised reproducton is prohibited.