Marketing for the Holidays

Start preparing for the holidays now!When the weather is warm, the sun is shining and kids are out of school, I think about . . . the winter holidays. It sounds counterintuitive but this is the best time to put together plans, place orders and get ahead of the requirements of the season. I realize the summer has already passed, but hope this post will help you catch up!

The best advice of all is to start as soon as possible. These days, holiday decorations go on sale the day after Halloween with good reason—many people start planning and purchasing early. That’s why, whether you are a B2C or B2B company, it pays to have a roadmap for the holidays before you start hearing carols and seeing inflatable snow men on your neighbors’ lawns.

Send cards and gifts

If your business sends out holiday cards to employees, prospects and/or clients, August is the time to start designing or purchasing them. We engage the Affinity Express designers to develop both an online card and an embroidered one (for which we’ve won awards twice!). This allows us to review concepts, test and refine without compromise because of tight deadlines. But it is still not too late for you.

The same is true if you are going to send out any kind of gift. One of the busiest seasons for the promotional products industry is September through mid-December for this very reason. These items take time to produce and customize and you will get more personalized attention from your contacts if you don’t wait until the last minute. If there are any issues (like a badly sewn logo or package snafu), you’ll also have time to recover.

If you are holding holiday gatherings, waiting until the leaves turn means you may be shut out of various venues as more people start to think about their December plans. And once you’ve booked your site, you can go ahead and develop invitations to cross that task off your list (and mail them in plenty of time to get the R.S.V.P.s you need).

All these activities—cards, gifts and events—will rely on you having a solid list of names, addresses and/or emails for your target audience. It’s far more effective to get your sales and other teams to get to work on updating now versus in late November once the holidays have begun and you need the info “now!”

Above all, don’t fall into the trap of not sending some kind of holiday greeting. Clients, prospects and employees have been loyal, bought from you and supported your business all year. You should let them know that you are thinking about them over the holidays and are grateful for their purchase or, in the case of employees, their commitment.

Decide your objective

Many tactics can be adapted for the holiday season. The first thing to do is to decide what your objective is, and your tactics will flow from that. For example:

  • If you want to get more subscribers to your newsletter, blog, social media, etc., you could consider referral programs and limited-time incentives.
  • If you want to sell to more prospects, you might want to consider coupons, discounts and bonuses.
  • If you want to grow the order size with existing customers, progressive incentive systems offer increase benefits as the contents of shopping carts increase.

Offer special deals or rewards

Of course, the season is not all about celebrating, showing clients your appreciation for their business and thanking employees about work. It’s also about sales. This means you’ll have to create promotions to stand out in the rushing crowds of communications at this time of year.

  • If you don’t provide a holiday special or offer that helps them with gift giving, vacation and family time, you are missing a significant opportunity. Almost any product or service can be repackaged with a holiday offer or theme.
  • You can offer free gifts when customers make purchases at your store (I recently got a cookie at a major chain that probably cost $.5 and I was delighted).
  • Promote gift cards/certificates when you send out email (gift cards add up to about one tenth of all holiday spending and are less likely to be returned than actual products).
  • Online purchases could make customers eligible for a raffle and winners could be announced before the holiday (just be sure your website links and features are all working properly).
  • Mobile purchases might allow customers to earn free gift wrapping, shipping or other perks.
  • When direct mailing catalogs and other collateral, you could provide a schedule of events, discounts and other promotions that encourage customers to buy early and often.

Email effectively

More likely than not, you’ll be sending out emails, either to promote your special deals or just to wish customers happy holidays. Be sure to stick to these best practices:

  • Make your subject lines clear and to the point, especially if you are making an offer.
  • Keep emails brief and link to specific landing pages rather than your home page so it is easy to get more information and make purchases.
  • Segment your list based on status and behavior. Clients get thank-yous for their business and suggestions for other items in which they might be interested. If you can drill down to be relevant to the type of purchases they made before, even better. New prospects get introductory
  • Give emails a holiday theme.
  • Don’t make any of these elementary design mistakes.

Remember timing is everything

If you are starting early, you can carefully plan when and how often you will communicate. There is the danger of over-emailing and having your prospects and clients opt out. In some industries, monthly emails make sense. In others, daily is permissible (thank you to all those retailers who send me constant updates on the ridiculously expensive shoes I covet). Think about what makes sense for your business and then map out the plan so you make your appeals at the right time without over- or under-doing it.

Although the holiday season is hectic for most, for some businesses it’s actually the slowest and a great time to pick up the phone. Consider that the best window to market in your industry may be the when most people don’t.

Meet needs

As the fiscal and budget year for many companies ends with the calendar year, monitor searches on Twitter and see what people are looking for or talking about. Can you meet a need? If so, craft a special holiday offer. You could also tie into holiday themes for your featured items and promotions.

Get into the spirit and decorate

Whatever holiday you personally celebrate, you probably decorate your home so why not make your website, Facebook and Twitter sites more festive? It is easy and cost-effective to hire a graphic designer or a provider like Affinity Express to tweak the visuals and it will be a pleasant surprise to visitors. After all, if it works for Google . . .

Use public relations

Regardless of the calendar, media need a steady stream of new stories. If you can tie your business into the holidays, you have an even better hook. Capture all those endearing stories that happen with your products and services and issue a release. You’d be surprised at the attention you’ll receive, as most reporters and editors want to cover positive, heart-warming stories at this time. If you can’t find a tie-in or don’t get any bites, try to position yourself for coverage early in the new year.

Build on your charitable associations

Social media gives you the ability to provide insight on your core values. If you have a favorite charity, this is a good chance to make a donation and express your support on Facebook and Twitter. You may even want to encourage visitors to donate and promise to match funds or pledge to donate a percentage of you holiday sales. When it comes down to doing business with you and another company, this might just be the deciding factor for your prospects.

Staff for vacations

Another factor is staffing. Work with your team as early as possible to determine who is taking which days off to be with family and friends so you have proper coverage. This is especially important for customer service, the team that needs to handle all those last-minute shoppers. Make sure they are aware of all your holiday promotions so they can be prepared to answer questions and provide any critical details. Marketing also needs to plan for regular activities so it is a good idea to schedule blog posts and any emails, prep direct mail campaigns and ensure social media monitoring in advance.

Of course there are many complexities to your business and you will want to make your approach very customized. But I hope this list gives you some ideas and, at the very least, spurs you to some fast action before you break out the winter coats. The best time to heat up the holidays for your company is when the weather is still warm.

What are your ideas for festive themes and promotions? When do you get started on your business planning for the winter holidays?

About Kelly Glass
Kelly has been vice president of Marketing at Affinity Express for nine years now. She drives company strategy and all marketing activities.

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