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The holiday season is a critical money-making time for many independent businesses. What’s more, it’s a prime opportunity to grow your customer base and turn one-time buyers into loyal patrons.
“Most people are looking to buy presents for the people in their lives, so they’ll likely venture to sites and stores they wouldn’t shop at normally,” says Elizabeth Bradshaw, the owner of an online store called Canvas Art Boutique.
But it can be tough to stand out from the millions of other businesses pushing holiday products and sales, especially if your end-of-year marketing budget is dwindling.
Fortunately, you don’t need a big budget to make a big impact. Check out these nine smart, cost-effective holiday marketing ideas to give your business a boost this season.
Strategic social media use is one of the most effective—and affordable—ways to reach your audience. Instagram in particular ranks as the number one most successful non-paid platform for acquiring new customers, according to the Holiday Ecommerce Revealed study from Shopify.
This season, kick up your posting frequency and get creative with what you share. Alongside posting announcements about discounts, deals, and new products, aim to share lifestyle content that gives people a peek into your brand’s culture and shows customers the different ways to use, gift, and wrap your products.
Andrew Schrage, CEO and co-founder of Money Crashers, a personal finance blog, suggests holding contests with nominal gifts as prizes. “You could launch an initiative where the best video submitted to Instagram on a particular subject will win a prize,” he says.
Hosting a Twitter chat or posting a poll on Facebook or Instagram are also easy ways to drive engagement, says Schrage. Another option is to do a live video explaining or experimenting with a product. For example, if you sell natural dietary supplements, you could do a live cooking show incorporating your products. Own a company that manufactures hair tools? Do a hair tutorial video.
The key is to “get your business in front of the people who are privy to it the most in their preferred portal,” says Schrage.
Team up with another business to offer cross-business discounts, distribute coupons for certain products, or give promotional gifts with purchases above a specific threshold. A collaboration is a great way to amplify your business’s presence and incentivize people to buy.
If you run a brick-and-mortar store, make sure you choose a neighboring business to increase foot traffic and make it easier for customers to visit both shops. If you run an online business, don’t stress—you can still benefit from a business collaboration. Try pairing up with a company that offers complementary products or services to yours. If you sell stationery, for example, partner with a company that makes chic desk file holders and organizing trays.
If your company publishes a blog or digital newsletter, the holidays are a perfect time to create content that caters to your customers’ holiday needs.
Kuba Koziej, CEO and co-founder of Zety, a career resource site, created a Christmas-themed career guide last year. “Publishing a guide did not produce any extra cost apart from research and the manpower to write it up,” he says, “but it did show our audience that we care.”
Consider what valuable information you can offer customers this time of year. If you sell cookware, for example, you could create a guide to hosting your own holiday brunch, complete with recipes, a grocery list, and tips for preparation. Whatever you do, make sure to include relevant SEO keywords to improve your ranking for organic searches.
Providing comprehensive, quality content for free accomplishes two main things, says Kopziej: It helps attract new customers and it builds credibility with returning customers.
You don’t have to stretch your advertising budget to see results—just get more resourceful with the methods you already have.
“It’s no secret that it takes an average of seven brand interactions for a customer to be comfortable with buying your product,” says Bradshaw.
She recommends trying Facebook ad retargeting, which she says “costs pennies on the dollar compared to the cost of the first impression or click.”
The first step is to identify potential customers—these are the people who’ve visited your business’s website but haven’t made a purchase. You can target these potential customers by visiting your Facebook ad account and using filters to create a “custom audience,” such as site visitors from the last seven days, excluding anyone who made a site purchase in the past 30 days. It’s also a good idea to add Facebook pixels to your website, so you can see what types of actions potential customers take when browsing. You can then create targeted ads to incentivize them to buy.
“When someone visits a product page multiple times, it signifies that they have a strong interest for that item,” Bradshaw explains, “and seeing it one more time when they’re scrolling through Facebook yields fantastic ROI.”
Retargeting ads should be visual, relevant, and clickable. Don’t forget to add a strong call to action at the end, like “Offer ends soon” or “Get yours today.”
One of the simplest ways to generate more sales is to reach out to the people who’ve already expressed interest in your business. An email campaign is a fantastic way to connect with customers. It doesn’t cost a lot but is highly effective. According to the Holiday Ecommerce Revealed study from Shopify, email marketing is the number one source of conversions.
To get the most out of your messages, make sure every email is compelling, digestible, and clickable. If the format looks wonky, if there are broken links, or if the copy is clunky, customers aren’t going to continue reading.
As for the content, every email should add value. You can send reminders about sales, offer discount codes, share announcements about extended holiday hours, or let customers know about exclusive product drops and provide information for pre-ordering. And don’t underestimate the value of wishing customers a happy holiday and thanking them for their continued business and support.
Shoppers are actively looking for gift ideas during the holiday season, and many of them turn to others for recommendations. To get your business in front of more customers, consider a trade collaboration with people who have large platforms.
Yin Yin Wu, co-founder of Botany Skincare, a company that sells vegan and plant-based skincare products, says she gives products to bloggers or social media influencers in exchange for gift guide features or posts. This doesn’t just generate more traffic for her products, she explains, but also helps improve company name recognition and establish more brand credibility and trust.
That doesn’t mean you should send out your products to anyone who has a large audience, though. You need to connect with people whose brand and values align with yours, Wu says. “For example, right now we are collaborating with an Instagram influencer who focuses on clean beauty and loves the vision of our brand,” she says.
People like supporting businesses that share their values. This holiday season, consider partnering with a local charity to give back and boost sales. Depending on what you sell, you could do a one-for-one donation for specific items or donate a percentage of each purchase to an organization.
During the holiday season, in particular, many people are looking for opportunities to give to worthy causes, so facilitating the donation process for your customers won’t just make them happier—it’ll also make them more likely to purchase more.
“One great way to get a holiday marketing bump without spending more than usual is to create a special holiday-only product,” says Stacy Caprio, founder of Accelerated Growth Marketing. If you run a sock apparel company, for instance, you could create a series of socks featuring holiday designs. Think Christmas trees, snowflakes, or peppermint sticks.
Another idea is to create a product that isn’t overtly tied to the holidays but is only available during this time period, like a limited edition of sneakers.
The key, says Caprio, is to start promoting your product a few weeks in advance to build up the excitement and anticipation. You can generate buzz on social media, then send out emails with exclusive pre-order discounts and instructions.
Hosting a fun, memorable evening for the community can help draw in customers and generate sales. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on decorating or catering, either—extended store hours, a cozy ambiance, and free snacks and beverages go a long way.
Make sure your event has a theme or style that represents your company, though. If your store sells board games and hand-crafted toys, for example, consider hosting a game night with food, music, and a raffle. Or, if your company sells beauty products, host an event with free makeup tutorials and hot holiday drinks.
If you have an online business, you can still be part of a great event. Try partnering with a popular brick-and-mortar business to host a trunk show and get your products in front of people who may not shop online frequently.
In every type of marketing you do, it’s crucial to explain to customers why your product is relevant this holiday season, says Genia Castro Waller, owner and project coordinator of Graphic Finesse, an independent creative agency.
“Make sure you’re telling them exactly how you can solve their problems and make their lives much more enjoyable this holiday season,” she explains.
Think about what makes your product more sellable during the holidays. “Does your retail store offer perfect gifts for your hard-to-shop-for co-workers?” Walker says. Or maybe your business’s food delivery service makes holiday cooking fast, healthy, and hassle-free.
Whatever your business’s edge, let customers know. Start by updating your website to reflect the holidays, then add your holiday value props to all social media posts, email campaigns, and promotional materials.
Ramping up your holiday marketing efforts without draining your funds might be an intimidating feat, but all you need is the right approach. Focus on low-cost, high-impact strategies that engage customers and increase conversions.