The holiday season is a critical money-making time for many independent businesses and if your small business marketing strategies are strong they can go a long way. What’s more, it’s a prime opportunity to grow your customer base and turn one-time buyers into frequent patrons who will return to your business even after the holidays are over.
“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 15 smart, cost-effective holiday marketing ideas to give your business a boost this season.
Before you start putting your marketing strategies to work, let’s define when the holiday shopping season is and when it will be most important for you to start your small business holiday marketing efforts. Generally, the holiday shopping season is considered to be the months of November and December.
Consumers are expected to spend roughly $1,050 apiece this holiday season on decorations, candy, and gifts for themselves and for others, according to the National Retail Federation. Of that, more than half of that total is expected to go toward buying gifts for friends, family, and coworkers. That’s a chunk of change you don’t want your business to miss out on.
A good rule of thumb is to start implementing your holiday marketing at the end of October or early November so you can get the early shoppers into your store or on to your website. But you should remember that nobody knows your business better than you do, so you should take a look at what’s worked for your business in the past and use that as a guide.
You’ll want to come up with a plan for your holiday marketing strategy. The holiday marketing tips below will be useful but you’ll get them to do even more leg work for you if you plan out how you’ll use them all together through the entire holiday sales season.
Ideally, you plan for months before the holiday season begins. Some businesses start planning their small business holiday marketing as early as February or March. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to plan everything out so all of your efforts don’t end up falling on the same week or two leaving the others without much marketing efforts.
This applies to any paid advertising you do, social media posts, content you publish elsewhere or on your website or blog, and more. Start early and spread out the efforts so you’re sure you’re reaching the early shoppers and the last-minute gift grabbers.
Your holiday marketing can make or break your sales for the season so it’s important to take it seriously and use the holiday marketing tips below to increase the number of customers your small business gets.
All of your competitors will be taking part in Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales and in order to keep up you’ll have to as well. To do this, decide what discounts and promotions you want to offer during the two massive shopping days, maybe consider extending the sales through the entire weekend following Thanksgiving for some extra sales. Make these sales available online and in stores (if applicable) so your customers can do what’s best for their schedules.
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. This is a great opportunity to schedule out posts about discounts, deals, and new products. You should also 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.
In addition to hyping up your content and business, remember to update your accounts for the holidays. Just like you would decorate a brick-and-mortar location, jazz up your social accounts with some virtual holiday decor too.
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 holiday marketing tips is to reach out to the people who’ve already expressed interest in your business, it’s also a marketing tip you can apply year-round. 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.
Number nine on our list of holiday marketing tips is to come up with a special holiday product. “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.
To help get customers in the giving mood you can decorate your business for the holidays. This is one of the least expensive holiday marketing tips and you can even reuse the decorations from year to year if you’re careful with them and store them properly.
Customers love holiday shopping in an atmosphere that brings the joys of the holidays. This is one you might want to do gradually throughout the season coming to a peak after the Thanksgiving holiday. Be careful with how soon you start playing those Christmas carols, some people might not want to hear their favorite Christmas song in the first week of November.
Even if you don’t have a brick-and-mortar location, you can decorate your website and your social media channels. The same concept applies, decorating or branding for the holidays can help get your customers in the mindset of spending and buying gifts.
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 coworkers?” 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.
Another one of our holiday marketing tips is to participate in holiday markets. This is a great way for your business to get exposure to new customers who maybe have never visited your business in person or online but are intrigued while wandering a market.
This is a fairly simple tip as well because it doesn’t require much, you simply need some sort of booth, sometimes the markets will even provide these for a rental fee, and someone to man the booth during the holiday market hours selling products or services and engaging potential customers.
The foot traffic at a holiday market is far more than most businesses will get at their brick-and-mortar store, so use this to your advantage. Be sure to have an inviting holiday-decorated booth and that whoever is working it is full of holiday cheer and informative. These markets can be a great way to get exposure and to make some sales.
If you have a brick-and-mortar location you can host a holiday event and bill it as a picture day with Santa Claus. This will bring in customers who have children and provide a reason for them to come to your business other than shopping. Offer holiday promotions and sales at your business along with some hot chocolate and cookies while customers and their families shop and enjoy the holiday festivities like taking photos with Santa.
Shopping during the holiday season can be stressful so customers will appreciate anything extra your business does to make it easier on them. If you own a retail store either online or if you have a physical location, offer gift wrapping for your customers. They’ll appreciate being able to check two things off their to-do list before even leaving your store or website. Plus, if you go above and beyond with the wrapping and decorations customers are sure to remember that, and whoever receives the gift might even inquire about where it’s from because it’s wrapped so beautifully. If you aren’t a retail store, consider offering holiday-themed gift cards for the goods or services that your business does offer.
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.
If you plan in advance and use these holiday marketing tips you should be able to get the word out to your customers that you’re ready for the holidays and the sales and discounts have arrived. Remember to space out when you put these holiday marketing tips into play and keep your marketing efforts going strong all season long.
Paige is a content marketing writer covering business and finance for Funding Circle, a global small business loans platform. When she’s not telling stories, she loves to travel, read, and get sandy.