10 Steps to Organizing Your Holiday Promotions for Maximum Results
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Think back to last year’s holiday season. Were you completely relaxed, with no worries about your life or business, and enjoying more free time than you knew what to do with?
Yeah, didn’t think so. What we call the most wonderful time of the year is also the most stressful. In a study by the American Psychological Association, 85 percent of Americans said they’re more stressed about their lack of time during the holidays than throughout the rest of the year.
The season may be even more stressful for people trying to balance the typical demands of the holidays—shopping, traveling, entertaining, staying on budget—with the never ending challenges of running a business.
If you own or manage a small business, the thought of running a special holiday promotion might just sound like more work and stress. But it doesn’t have to be—not when you start planning early with a game plan for getting organized, and
not when you leverage technology like customer relationship management (CRM) and automation tools to make your marketing efforts more efficient and effective.
With an organized plan and the right tools, your holiday marketing efforts can help connect you with customers and boost your bottom line.
In this guide, we’ll share a step-by-step plan for organizing a holiday promotion, along with stories from three small businesses that boosted sales through well-planned holiday marketing campaigns. Read on to learn how to make this season your least stressful, most successful yet.
Your Holiday Promotion Game Plan
Holiday shopping has become synonymous with deals and specials, especially during the promotional bonanza that is the weekend after Thanksgiving. According to the National Retail Federation, 42 percent of Americans shopped online and in stores that weekend. And by the end of the season, they had spent a whopping $626 billion.
If you sell toys or Christmas decorations, you’re probably not hurting for business this time of year. But even if your products and services don’t obviously relate to the season, you can still grow sales with a holiday promotion. This time of year, consumers have been conditioned to look for and react to offers from businesses. They’re ready to spend—so give them a reason to buy from you instead of your competitors.
This 10-step plan helps you get organized for the holidays, walking you through choosing a promotion that’s attractive both for your customers and your bottom line, then promoting it through a series of emails. Email marketing—considered by digital marketers across companies to be the most effective marketing tactic—is particularly important during the holidays when consumers are primed to hear about promotions.
In 2015, 70 percent of consumers looking for deals learned about them via email, according to research from Magnetic and Ipsos Connect.
The plan assumes you’ll start organizing your holiday campaign in October and early November before launching it the week of Thanksgiving (end of November for our non-Americans) for the trifecta of shopping holidays: Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday.
(Start early: According to a study by Nielsen, nearly half of Americans started their 2015 holiday shopping before November.) However, you could also use this campaign later in the holiday season—or for a different time of year entirely.
To use this plan, you need only a customer email list. But you’ll be able to run this promotion much more efficiently if you have a CRM to organize and segment your customer data, as well as a marketing automation tool that allows you to automatically trigger emails based on customer behaviour. (Keap® combines both tools.)
Here’s how to get started.
Step 1: Reflect on Past Holidays
Family feuds and last minute shopping aside, what happened last holiday season? Before you jump into planning for this season, consider how you could improve on last year’s efforts.
Take a look at your sales figures, asking these questions:
- How much revenue did your business generate in November and December? How do those figures compare to other months?
- Which products or services were the best and worst sellers?
- During which days and weeks were your sales highest?
- Did you sell more to new customers or people who had purchased from you before?
- What was your profit during the holiday season, considering the cost of acquiring those customers through advertising and other expenses?
Dig up holiday emails you sent, looking at:
- What subject lines and messages did you use in your emails?
- When did you send the emails?
- What was the open rate and click-thru rate for each email?
- Who did you send the emails to: prospects, customers, people who had purchased specific products or services—or all of the above?
If you’re struggling to answer these questions, a CRM, email marketing provider, and e-commerce solution can give you the data you need to inform your strategy.
A CRM stores and organizes customer information so you can keep track of customers’ interests and interactions with your business. An email marketing provider measures which emails were most effective, while an e-commerce solution tracks orders and sales figures. When all three systems are combined, as they are in Keap®, you know what customers purchased and which emails they clicked, allowing you to create the offers and emails that resonate most.
Step 2: Set a Goal for Your Promotion
For a consumer, a sale’s a sale. For a business, a sale or special offer is a strategy.
Before choosing a holiday promotion, you need an objective. Are you trying to gain the awareness and interest of new customers? Launch a new product or service? Boost sales of something that’s relevant for the holidays? Get rid of inventory by the end of the year?
Considering the numbers you crunched in Step 1, think about what the holiday promotion should do for your business (besides make money, of course).
Step 3: Choose a Promotion to Achieve Your Goal
Once you set a goal, you can choose a promotion that helps you achieve it. A “buy one, get one free” promotion would help you clear inventory if that’s your objective, while a tripwire—a low-dollar offer that consumers don’t hesitate to act on—could be the key to landing new customers.
For an example, say you run a salon and spa, and the spa side of the business is slow during the holidays. That problem won’t necessarily be solved if you offer a Black Friday discount on all services. Customers could take advantage of the discount on beauty services during a time when the salon is booked solid with women primping for holiday parties. You’ll make less than you would have without the promotion.
Instead, you could use Black Friday to offer a discounted gift card for spa services (like $25 off a $100 gift card purchase), stipulating that it expires at the end of January. That way, you’re driving sales of spa services in December and January, when fewer massages and facials are booked.
Step 4: Identify Your Target Market
Now you have an idea for a holiday promotion that’s appealing to consumers and beneficial for your business. So to whom are you promoting?
The answer shouldn’t be “anyone who will buy.” Promotions— and any marketing efforts, for that matter—work best when you can focus your efforts and messages on a target customer with specific needs and interests.
Back to our spa example: Anyone, man or woman, could purchase the holiday gift card. But who is more likely to buy: A man purchasing a gift for a woman, or a woman buying for herself?
Before you decide, consider your sales data and what you know about your customers. You might assume the man is your target customer for the gift card because men are, well, not always the most creative gift givers.
But maybe an analysis of your customer base shows that you have far more women than men on your email list. Then you consider the psychographics of your customers: the attitudes, challenges, habits, and emotions that drive purchase decisions. You know that your female customers love getting a massage or facial, but they often feel guilty spending their limited time and money on a spa day—especially during the busy holiday season.
These factors considered, you decide your target customer for this holiday promotion isn’t the male gift giver. It’s the woman who needs a reason to treat herself during the holidays.
Step 5: Position Your Offer
Once you’ve identified a holiday promotion and a target customer, it’s time to consider what you’ll say in marketing that offer to that customer.
Think about the following questions as you position your promotion:
- What’s the biggest problem that this offer solves for your target customer?
- How does your offer solve the problem?
- What benefits does the offer provide for your target customer?
- With regards to the problem, what are the most important features of your product or service?
- What makes it better than a competitor’s solution?
With the answers to these questions, you have a product positioning statement:
[Your product/service] allows [your target customer] to enjoy [these benefits and solutions] using these [features].
For example: The spa gift card allows a busy woman who’s stressed about the holidays to enjoy relaxation and time to herself by booking a massage or facial at a discount.
With that kind of messaging, you’re more likely to connect with your target customer’s needs and emotions than you would if you simply advertised a discount.
Step 6: Segment Your Email List
By deciding that you’re promoting the spa gift card deal to women and not men, you already started segmenting your customer list.
Segmentation—the act of dividing your customers into smaller, similar groups based on factors like gender, location, and purchase history—helps you create more targeted marketing messages that stand out amid the holiday hoopla. If you’re sending emails that feel personalized and relevant, customers are more likely to open them (and less likely to unsubscribe from your list).
While you can segment your email list manually, segmentation is much more organized and efficient with the use of technology. Automation software can automatically tag customers based on factors like purchase history and store that information in your CRM. With these tools, you can search your CRM for a customer segment (like customers who have previously purchased spa services) and send emails to only that group.
Segmentation also helps you avoid sending emails that would be inappropriate based on customer demographics or purchase history. For example, your spa and salon could use segmentation to exclude anyone who recently purchased a spa gift card, as well as anyone who already paid for a spa service in December and January. No one likes finding out they could have saved money they already spent.
To further personalize the messaging behind your holiday promotion, you could create additional customer segments and send similar yet different emails to each group. Frequent spa customers get a reward for their loyalty, customers who haven’t purchased recently get an incentive for coming back, and those who have never visited the spa get a special offer to try it for the first time.
Step 7: Tease Your Promotion
When you’re hosting a holiday promotion, you have to, well, promote it—even before your offer is valid.
More emails are sent on the day before Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday than any other days throughout the year, according to research by Experian Marketing Services. For a better shot at standing out in the inbox, start promoting your offer before there’s even a deal to be had.
The week before Thanksgiving, send an email advising customers to be on the lookout for your offer next week. Share the news on your social channels, too, encouraging followers to opt-in to your email list to be notified when the offer is live.
If you use automation software, you can use the teaser email to create a segment of customers who are especially interested in your promotion. Offer the opportunity for customers to be added to an early notification list, which entitles them to a 24-hour head start on your promotion. Software automatically tags the customers who click on the email link for the early notification list, allowing you to later share the promo code or link for your offer with only those customers.
Now you have those customers’ permission to contact them more frequently and aggressively about your promotion—a strategy that can be particularly effective if you’re selling a limited number of items. Later in this guide, you’ll see how Luc Stokes at Degree33 Surfboards uses this strategy to drive sales over Thanksgiving weekend.
Step 8: Schedule and Send Your Promotional Email Series
The week of Thanksgiving, consumers will be bombarded with dozens (if not hundreds) of holiday deals via email, TV, social media, radio, and more. A single email about your holiday promotion probably isn’t going to cut it.
Instead, plan a three-email series that launches on Black Friday and continues through the weekend, potentially into Cyber Monday. Each email should convey an increasing sense of urgency as the countdown on your offer winds down.
For example, use subject lines like these:
Email No. 1: Holiday sale for three days only!
Email No. 2: Get [offer] now before it’s gone!
Email No. 3: Today is the last day for [promotion]!
Automation software will help you manage the promotion in a more organized and efficient way, especially if you’re sending personalized messages to different segments of your customer base (as explored in Step 6). With software, you can schedule each email to be sent on a specific day and time, ensuring you don’t have to interrupt holiday family activities with email prep.
Software also comes into play in tracking customer purchases. If a customer takes you up on the offer after receiving the first email, you don’t want to annoy them with subsequent messages about something they already bought. You can build an automated sequence that ensures customers who purchased your offer are removed from the email list while you continue to follow up with those who haven’t taken action.
Step 9: Follow Up with Another Offer
Thanksgiving weekend may be the busiest time to buy, but it’s still only the beginning of the holiday shopping season. In 2015, about 90 percent of consumers told the National Retail Federation that their holiday shopping lists weren’t complete as of December 15.
To keep up the holiday sales momentum, look to your best customers: the ones you already have. People who have already purchased from you are inherently sold on your business and more likely to buy again. The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60 to 70 percent, compared with 5 to 20 percent for a new prospect, according to the book “Marketing Metrics.” Plus, considering the money and effort it takes to win over a new customer, marketing to repeat customers is more cost-effective, too.
In December, send another offer to the customers who took advantage of your first promotion. It could be an upsell that builds on the previous promotion, a cross-sell of a complementary product or service, or simply a thank you gift, like a promo code or gift card to be used on the next purchase. Another idea: While customers are in the mood to give (and to receive gifts) this season, offer incentives for customers to refer a friend to your company. Using automation software, you can send an email to existing customers that directs them to a web form. When a customer enters a friend’s email address, both parties receive a promo code for an offer, like $20 off their next purchases. With referrals, everyone gets a gift: Customers and their friends receive a little holiday cheer, and you gain more contacts for your email list. (But be sure to ask new contacts to officially opt-in to your communications so they don’t treat you like a spammer.)
Step 10: Measure Your Success
When all the gifts are unwrapped and the fridge is devoid of leftovers, the holiday season still isn’t over just yet. While the season is fresh in your mind, dedicate time to reviewing the results of your holiday promotion.
Revisit the questions from Step 1 about your sales and email metrics, recording notes you can reference to improve on your next promotion. If the stats aren’t as impressive as you’d hoped, that’s OK: Marketing is essentially one big trial-and error experiment, and even the most successful marketers are continually measuring and optimizing their campaigns. And there’s always next year—or Valentine’s Day, only 45 days away.
3 Small Business Holiday Promotions
Big-box stores aren’t the only pros when it comes to holiday promotions. Here are three stories from small businesses that boosted holiday sales with promotions that stood out against the competition.
How to Cash in on a Big Black Friday Deal
Luc Stokes, founder and President of Degree33 Surfboards
San Diego, California
The same strategy that helps big-box stores sell electronics also works on handmade surfboards, Luc Stokes has found. For the past several years, Stokes has offered Black Friday discounts on Degree33 surfboards, finding that the Thanksgiving-weekend sales suits the mindset of his customers.
“They’re mentally in a position of, ‘This is when I’m going to buy whatever I’m going to buy,” Stokes said. “I’m going to buy my microwave, my Blu-Ray player—oh, there’s also a sale on surfboards.”
And like the big box stores, Stokes starts hyping up the sale early. Two weeks before Black Friday, Stokes uses Keap® to ask all of his contacts whether they’d like to join an early notification list for the Black Friday details. By joining the list, customers also get access to the sale four hours earlier than the general public. When customers opt-in by clicking a link, the software automatically tags them appropriately, allowing Stokes to deliver on the promotional emails they asked for.
Over the course of Thanksgiving week and weekend, the early birds receive about twice as many promotional emails as the contacts who didn’t turn up. From Black Friday through the weekend, Stokes sends a series of increasingly urgent, automated emails about the promotion: $100 off a purchase (the average sales is $550). The same offer, previously unadvertised, is offered on Cyber Monday as a last minute bonus.
By the end of the four-day promotion, Degree33 typically brings in more than $150,000 in sales. And, it turns out, the early birds caught (or bought) the worms: Stokes estimates that 80 percent of weekend sales stemmed from the early bird notification list.
How to Take Advantage of the Holidays as a Non-Holiday Business
Corey House, founder and owner, F.I.T. Strength & Conditioning
Albany, New York
The holiday season wouldn’t seem like the time for Corey House to sell his most-expensive offering: a one-year membership to his fitness training facility, F.I.T. Strength & Conditioning. Over the holidays, people buy for others more than for themselves—and they tend to eat more than they exercise. But House found that timing annual membership offers to New Years resolutions wasn’t effective, either: After weeks of spending on gifts, customers balked at the cost of nearly $2,000.
Instead, House began promoting membership deals over Thanksgiving weekend, before the full holiday season left customers feeling spent. “Once they’re in holiday mode, they’re not going to really care about buying a fitness membership,” he said. “They’re more centred around family”.
Using Infusionsoft by Keap® to send automated emails, House offered a one-month training discount of $2000 on Black Friday. On Cyber Monday, he advertised a 12-month membership with three free months for $1,764.
The results: More than $20,000 in sales—not bad for campaigns that House estimated required 30 minutes of work.
How to Prime Your Email List for a Holiday Promotion
Stephanie Soebbing, founder and owner, Quilt Addicts Anonymous
Rock Island, Illinois
For Thanksgiving weekend, Stephanie Soebbing plans not just one holiday promotion but five of them. From Thanksgiving Day to Cyber Monday, Quilts Addicts Anonymous offers a flash sale on a different quilting kit or pattern, using email to promote the deal of the day.
When she launched the promotion for the first time in 2015, Soebbing found that a customer who bought the first day would often buy again the next.
“By the end of the weekend,” she said, “I had hardly any inventory.”
Thanks for the promotions, Soebbing achieved her goal of clearing older products that hadn’t been selling—and brought in 11 percent of her annual online sales in a single weekend. If the same percentage holds this year, her weekend sales could top $10,000.
The email flash sales wouldn’t work, of course, if Soebbing didn’t have anyone to send emails to. She attributes the success of the holiday promotion—and her business—to her email list of 34,000 subscribers cultivated from years of sending helpful content and free resources.
In 2014, Quilt Addicts Anonymous was Soebbing’s hobby: a blog where she could expand her quilting lessons beyond the five students who had signed up for her class at a local quilt shop. The blog evolved into a business after the success of a Block of a Month program, in which participants received month-by-month directions for sewing a quilt. By the end of the year, more than 12,000 people had downloaded her free block patterns and tutorials.
In the past year, the business has grown 240 percent as Soebbing quit her day job at an ad agency to work full-time on growing Quilt Addicts Anonymous. The growth has allowed Soebbing to hire an assistant and envision the business someday supporting her husband and two-year-old daughter.
But while Soebbing focuses on growing revenue by selling more quilting kits and patterns, two-thirds of her email content still denters around the original purpose of the Quilt Addicts Anonymous: quilting education. She sends new tutorials every Monday and a podcast every Wednesday before introducing a product for sale on Fridays.
The mix of content and promotional emails seems to work: Email drives 84 percent of Quilt Addicts Anonymous sales, with 22 percent originating from upsell offers sent automatically via Infusionsoft by Keap®. With content preceding it, the product offer email seems less about making sales and more about introducing materials needed for Soebbing’s quilting tutorials.
“Anytime you can teach somebody how to do something that involves your product—yeah, you’re selling, but you’re not really selling,” Soebbing said. “If you keep that balance between content and sales, I think people are more likely to open your sales emails.”
Big-box stores aren’t the only game in town when it comes to holiday promotions. Small business owners can also take advantage of the year’s busiest time to buy—and without sacrificing too much of their already-limited time and resources.
A successful holiday promotion starts with planning objectives, a target market, and messaging, and ends with launching a promotional email series—and follow-up offer, too. Getting organized early means less stress later, especially when you leverage technology to help you plan and execute your promotion. CRM and marketing automation tools help you organize your customer information, measure the effectiveness of your promotion, and reduce the time you spend on manual tasks.
And as a bonus: “Holiday” doesn’t have to refer only to events in November and December. The plan behind this promotion can be re-purposed for other occasions throughout the year, whether it’s Valentine’s Day, Halloween or your company’s anniversary. And you can use a similar promotion next November and December, too.
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