It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and quite easily the most stressful time of year as well if you’re a small business owner. Marketing during November and December might seem just like another thing to add to the to-do list. But marketing your business is easily one of the most important things you need to do this holiday season. I’ve compiled the best steps you can take to help your 2018 holiday marketing efforts not end up on Santa’s naughty list.
Optimize Your Online Presence
Holiday marketing all starts with what kind of an online presence your business has. And I’m not just talking social media. It starts with your website. You cannot succeed in today’s world as a small business owner without a good website that is optimized for mobile browsing. 57% of all U.S. online traffic now comes from smartphones and tablets. It’s crucial that your business website is optimized for both mobile and desktop traffic.
Start by testing your website to make sure it can handle increased traffic, and make sure that mobile searchers can find what they need with just a few screen taps. Studies show you have literally between one-to-three seconds to make an impression on your website. If you do not engage visitors in the first few seconds, they’ve more than likely moved on to your competition.
Google offers PageSpeed to instantly test mobile and desktop versions of your site and offers insights to make sure it’s loading fast enough for customers to engage. Google also tells you what to fix if your site isn’t up to snuff. And to ensure your site can handle increased traffic, check directly with your host (GoDaddy, WordPress, etc.). Most hosting companies are happy to help you work through capacity issues or other problems to ensure your site can handle the increased traffic.
Once you’ve completed an audit of your website, it’s time to make sure you’re making the most of what you have on it. If your business has an e-commerce aspect, make sure you have filters set for your products. Filters like cost, designated recipients, and type of product help customers sort through it all and find that perfect gift. Lack of filters can overwhelm online shoppers with too many options and no way to sort through them.
Google My Business Profile
Now it’s time to look at other online tools that increase visibility outside your website. First, create a Google My Business profile, or if you already have one, make sure it’s current with phone numbers, addresses, operating hours, and current pictures. When customers search for your business, this profile can help them answer some of their immediate questions and builds credibility.
Go All-out on Social Media
The holiday season can be the best time of year to stand out and make a statement for your business. The problem is that everyone else out there is trying to do the same thing. Your social media pages are a great place to launch holiday marketing campaigns. But it’s important to take the right steps to make sure your efforts help your business stand out actually reach your loyal and potential customers.
Do you remember the last time you read a social media post that didn’t have a picture or a video of some sort associated with it? Me neither. There’s a reason for that, and it’s because visuals bring people in. In fact, visual content is 40 times more likely to get shared on social media than other types of content. To stand out from all the other holiday promotions, it’s important to create eye-catching, make-people-stop-scrolling, likable content that captures the eye. Like this amazing set from Hotel Tonight:
Ultra-engaging visuals can be anything from short videos to memes, pictures, or interactive gifs. Because most people learn visually, a visual will likely help your audience remember it. They might even share it with the rest of their friends and followers. And similar to website testing, use a variety of devices to make sure your posts and promotions display correctly on different types of devices.
Another rule with social media visuals is to make sure that you’re creating quality content and posts, and not just posting to fill a space. More prolific posting does not necessarily equal better engagement. Make sure everything you post has a purpose.
Customer service opportunity
90% of social media users have turned social media in some way to communicate with a brand. With an influx of customers through the holiday season, it’s only natural that a few problems will crop up with people more than happy to complain on social media. However, if you play it right, those issues can turn into big wins. And it all starts with a response. Companies who just respond to questions or complaints on social media are more likely to retain their customers than companies who don’t.
With the busy holiday season and hectic schedule, make sure someone on your staff is available each day to respond to social media questions, comments, or concerns. Quick responses can quickly solve many problems, and having a dedicated person with the time to respond will make a big difference, as shown in the example from Amazon below. Delayed or lack of response from a brand will most likely mean that customer will go to a competitor.
To avoid some stress on social media, take a proactive approach and make sure all product information is up to date or link to frequently asked questions. This will immediately relieve some stress because you won’t have to answer the same question multiple times.
For more on how to use social media as a service, check out this article.
In addition to responding to questions and concerns through social media channels, it’s important to engage with your customers regularly through your content and posts. By creating interesting and appealing content, it invites people to interact. And it’s a great chance for your brand to interact with them. There’s all kinds of ways to accomplish this. It could be as simple as just having a conversation with people who comment on your posts. There’s Facebook live videos showcasing a specific sale or product get high amounts of engagement. Or there’s interesting photos, fun questions, holiday greetings, content, or even stories that tug on heartstrings. Personal stories based in tradition will always be popular during this time of year.
Paid Social Media
During the fourth quarter of the year, it’s easy to get caught up that more customers in the store mean more money. But in order to maximize that, you’ve got to spend more on social media. Paid promotion through social media channels help you reach new potential customers. Plan to increase your social media spending levels during November and December pointing to specific promotions or specials. A boost in spend levels will get more eyes on your business, and hopefully more people interested in what you’re offering. During the holidays, people turn to social media not only to see what friends and family are doing, but also for inspiration. By running campaigns on social media, you’ll get more attention than a normal post would get simply because there’s more eyes are looking.
Lastly, don’t forget the hashtags! Hashtags should be part of every marketing promotion, even when it’s not the holidays. When a customer uses a brand’s hashtag, it’s because they want others to know and be included in that community. And when customers share using that hashtag, it increases brand awareness. This isn’t just a trend for big box stores, it can work for any type of business.
For more about how to make the most of your holiday ad campaigns, check out this article.
All through the holidays, everyone seems to have their own promotions going on, and it can get overwhelming to keep track of. But there’s a reason for that. Promotions work. And a strategic, well-timed promotion can do wonders for a holiday season marketing campaign.
When planning out promotions, start with your email strategy. Here are a few ideas to get your planning started:
- Email coupons good from Black Friday to Christmas Eve to everyone who signs up for it. Make these coupons attractive enough to bring people back through the door. For example, 25% off a single item may hold more appeal to a broader audience than a free giveaway of some kind. Keep your audience in mind when deciding on what coupons to offer and what they find valuable.
- Reward loyalty by taking care of your existing customers. Send out additional emails that offer a loyalty discount.
- Create a gift giving guide and send it out to your email list. These guides center on what a customer could give to a wife, father, sibling, boss, (marketer!), etc. And they help customers get thinking about how your business can meet their gift-giving needs. Also plan to offer a one-day sale on items in each specific category.
- Email blasts of daily final countdown deals to attract the procrastinator in all of us.
- Offer online codes or coupons that can only be redeemed in store.
Remember that when it comes to promotions that timing is everything. When it comes to promoting Black Friday events, it should start about 10 days before. But for just the holiday season in general, it should start not too long after Halloween. If you start too early for a specific sale or event, consumers will likely just ignore it. But if you start too late, the number of people who will see your promotion will be fewer and the promotion less effective. It’s also important to be regular in your posting to stay top of mind. But it’s also important not to over promote your business. Too many promotions can turn customers off.
For every promotional campaign, monitor progress and performance to see when and how people respond on social media, when they come in the store, and then gear future promotions along the same lines. It’s important to learn as you go to improve your overall strategy.
Optimize Your In-store Customer Experience
Today’s consumer culture is moving away from impersonal big brands towards the personal experience of small businesses and/or their products. For all small business owners, it’s important to ride that wave and capitalize on it. Through your promotions, social media, marketing outreach, and in-store displays, make sure you showcase that you provide better quality products and better quality service than the big box stores. And what will keep people coming back is the customer service they receive when they come in.
Some holiday-themed extras that will really put your store on the map include:
- Have coupons ready for anyone who comes in store. It can be for your current promotion, 10% off any sale item, anything you want. It gives everyone who comes in a little extra incentive to buy as they look around. But even if customers don’t buy anything, they have something in-hand to remind them of your business.
- Offer free samples. This largely depends on your type of business, but small little free samples can be a great incentive to bring people in. And a little sample helps customers remember the experience better.
- Offer to hold purchases through the end of the day so customers don’t shy away from buying anything simply because they don’t want to carry bags around from store to store.
- Offer wrapping services. A lot of people absolutely loathe having to wrap presents. Giving an opportunity to have their packages wrapped for a small price will keep them coming back. It’s a convenience factor that will greatly enhance your holiday customer service offerings.
- Especially as the crowds increase on weekends and closer to Christmas, it’s a smart idea to have more than one checkout counter. It’s easy to have a second option by arming employees with portable credit card readers like Square, attached to a smartphone with email receipt capabilities. This reduces the line at the checkout counter, and enables more flexibility for customers.
- DON’T FORGET TO DECORATE! Even though the holidays can be a big source of stress, remember that many people associate joy and gleeful anticipation with the Christmas season. Even simple décor can bring about some of those positive emotions. Also, it’s a good idea to wait on fully decorating until a little closer to Thanksgiving. Your customers will likely appreciate the break from the Christmas Creep that has taken over everywhere else.
Create Seasonal Content
Similar to decorating for the holidays, associate your products with the typical colors and signs of Christmas. It also creates the same positive emotions in customers around your product. It’s marketing without trying too hard. Remember to keep up a holiday theme throughout your posts and promotions online. The more clever the content, the more engagement it will receive from customers. And the more attention it will draw through your digital marketing channels.
But remember, these pieces of content need to help your business stand out. Several sources say the average person is exposed to somewhere between 3,000-10,000 ads per day! This leads some to say we’ve developed a sort of blindness to advertisements. Standing out can be as easy as just making a holiday ad personal to your business and your target audience.
Gather customer contact information including email addresses and phone numbers that you can use as digital marketing outreach throughout the holiday season. This is as simple as asking for that information at the checkout counter. Loyal customers want to know you appreciate them. And you can show that through special email deals and promotions just for those who interact with your business. Brand loyalty cannot be undervalued, especially at this time of year. The right customer interactions can lead to years-long relationships between customers and your business.
Highlight Gift Cards
Every year people seem to want to avoid the gift cards because they can be impersonal. However, gift cards still made up $149 billion in sales in 2017, and 4 in 10 Americans said they would prefer a gift card. The role of gift cards in holiday shopping will only grow with every passing year. But to help your brand and your store, offer something special to go along with gift card sales. Things like personalized note cards or holiday design envelopes. Little extras like this will help your business to stand out.
Identify Your Target Audience
Remember earlier how I mentioned identifying your audience? It’s important enough that it gets its own section. Knowing your customer base and targeting them through promotions, content, and products can be one the most valuable items on your holiday marketing checklist.
Different groups of people shop in different ways. For example, despite what some would have you believe, GenZ and Millennial shoppers still go to brick-and-mortar stores to shop. But they tend to do it with a phone in hand doing a price check. GenX’s and Baby boomers also hit the stores during the holidays and like to embrace new ideas and options for gifts. It’s important to know your audience and figure out why they would care about what you’re offering. You’re wasting money if you send a misplaced ad to the wrong target audience.
Once you identify your target audience, you need to show that you relate to your customers from your offerings to your conversations. And because it’s the holidays, show how you relate on a personal level. It’s a stressful time for everyone, no matter who you are. Show customers that you understand their stress and that you’re around to make their lives easier.
It’s called the “season of giving” for a reason. The holiday season is a great chance for your business to find ways to pay it forward. It’s also a great opportunity to involve your customers and give them a chance to get involved with your charitable offerings during the holiday season. There’s all kinds of ways to do this from small donations, food or coat drives, or giving trees for those in need. Your business will stand out to customers for your willingness to step up and make a difference to the community.
Define Action Items
Finally, make actionable items, create a schedule, and stick to it. Otherwise, all the well-intentioned marketing plans you’ve made will get lost in the shuffle of the hectic holiday activities and you’ll lose opportunities. Everything I’ve mentioned may seem like a lot of work that you might not have time for, but these items will make a difference in your bottom line if you take them seriously and keep up with your plan. Again, the holiday season is a stressful time of year for all. And no one knows that better than a small business owner. Take the necessary steps early in the season to ensure a relaxing time as we slide in the final Christmas countdown. It’s easy if you break down your holiday marketing into small, manageable tasks you can take on each day.