Don’t Run Holiday Promotions “Just ‘Cuz”

God, I hate Black Friday. Like, with a passion. I hail from Northern New Jersey, where there’s no shortage of shopping malls in any 100-mile radius. And a few years back, I reluctantly agreed to go with my brother to the mall on Black Friday. I think we were there less than an hour, bought some stupid fart-joke type thing at Spencer’s Gifts, and called it a day.  Black Friday breeds medication-level anxiety within my psyche.  It probably has something to do with being crowd-phobic.  Story for another day.

Now if you’re brave enough to weather the storm and make it out of there with your $99 flat screen TV, then you deserve some props. Wasn’t me though – I was still recovering from Thanksgiving, and I’m a bigger fan of Small Business Saturday the following day, as I prefer to “shop small”. The consumer cycle is still getting my hard-earned cash, but it’s helping small local businesses in the process, and that I can appreciate.

And then of course, there’s always Cyber Monday, which, as someone said on Twitter earlier, is “basically Black Friday for people who are too lazy to put on pants.” And then today is Giving Tuesday apparently – so whatever you bought on Friday, Saturday or Monday, assumedly has been delivered to its intended recipient.

From a business perspective, the holiday weeks of late November into late December are what I call “the impending season of spending”. It’s almost too much hoopla to really take seriously, let alone deal with as a business owner trying to be strategic about your holiday marketing approach. It resembles more of a series of hit-or-miss carnival booths sometimes than a platform for legitimate sales strategy.

Regardless, many small businesses utilize Black Friday or Small Business Saturday as a seasonal launchpad for driving in volume sales. It’s hard to do that as a service-based business if your structure is more my-time-is-my-money based, where you’re working on hourly or project rates, but you can still reap some benefits from the rush. Here’s the thing: I urge you to be strategic in your offerings, as any promotion or sale should have a good reason behind it. Offering a sale “just because” isn’t necessarily bad, but you do risk watering down the value of what you offer by being overly-willing to slash the price. Think about the message that’s sending.

So what are some good reasons to incorporate a holiday-driven promotion or sale into your Q4 marketing plan?

  • Pushing Out Existing Inventory: If you’re an inventory-based business, make it a point to get rid of your existing stock in preparation for the new year. This is also a great opportunity to give customers an exclusive “sneak peak” at the new products or services that you plan on introducing later. Build anticipation.
  • Drive Volume Sales: If your business is designed to accomodate volume sales, the Holidays are a great excuse to really put the drive on that. You don’t want to mark down your products randomly – the idea is to draw in enough volume sales that you’re making up for the price cut by selling more. And if you’re a service-based business, think about what product or services you can offer at a higher rate, or in a simplified version – like an E-Book, information product, or a workshop.
  • (Re)Introduce New & Existing Products: A sale is a great way to re-introduce existing products that need a little marketing kick, and definitely new products that you’re introducing to the market. Perhaps you offer an introductory rate on a new product or service if your customer chooses to invest within a certain timeframe, say this 4-day weekend coming up. It’s also a great way to bring past customers back into your sales pipeline.
  • Pushing Out New Aspects of Your Brand: Did you just recently launch a blog, a new website, an additional arm to your business? Prompting new and existing customers to visit your website or shop by offering a promotion is a great way to introduce new aspects of your brand to your audience. Offering something of tangible value in return, like a discount or freebie, will have more impact than say, trying to generate interest around your new website design. Remember: What’s in it for them?
  • Introducing Your Brand to a New Market, or a Market to a New Brand: can be a strategic time to introduce yourself to your target market with a really great promotion. Again, you’ll want to be strategic about offering deals and discounts, and not offer them simply “because we’re new!” That sends the wrong message about your value. What works better? How about a “Buy one for you, get one 1/2 off for a friend”, or a “Buy now, save another 10% later on your next purchase”.

While I didn’t make any substantial purchases this past weekend, I did invest in a couple of items that I had had my eye on, or caught wind of during a promotion. The one thing that ALL of these things had in common is that every purchase was made with a coupon or promotion. That’s not to say I wouldn’t have purchased these items without the discount, but it certainly prompted me to move quicker on that buying decision because it made sense. It was timely, it was relevant, and it didn’t diminish the perceived value of what I was purchasing.

Snapfish knows that photo books make great holiday gifts, so why not entice people to invest in their services, versus say a competitor like Shutterfly, by offering a 30% discount site-wide? Shutterfly was only offering $10, and with an order of close to $300, that value made a big difference. Similarly, I had no clue that popular creative portfolio site Behance actually has its own line of products, one of which being this fantastic goal setting journal called an “Action Book” that is exactly what I need as a small business and/or freelancer to plan my upcoming To-Do’s and landmarks for the New Year. It was through a promotional email that I caught wind of that deal, and the 20% discount that prompted me to buy. But again – it was relevant, timely, and something from which I’d likely receive real value in utilizing.

What didn’t strike my financial fancy this week? How about the “$500 off all coaching packages!” email blast I received from one industry colleague. Despite the fact that I’m more of a competitor at this point than a likely customer, I was actually turned off by the idea that this person was offering such a huge discount, because that meant one of two things: 1) If they can offer such an enourmous discount, they must be enormously pricey to begin with; 2) If they’re willing to offer such a large discount to simply ANYONE on their mailing list, they must be desperate to make sales. And desperation to sell, to me, translates into a product that doesn’t sell, and potentially is not worth investing in.

And then there’s the studio space who sent me an email to take advantage of a promotion they’re having to entice new members. Which would have been great, except for the fact that they never responded to my attempt to contact them for more information several months earlier, prompting me to sign with their competitor instead. The lesson here: Don’t miss out on future opportunities because of earlier instances of lazy or sub-par customer service. People remember that more than anything.

So think about that over the coming weeks as you’re pushing your “Buy Now! 50% Off!” email blasts out the door. Ask yourself, is this offer 1) Logical, 2) Relevant, 3) Timely, and 4) Not Diminishing the Value of the Product or Service? If it doesn’t hit all four of those markers loudly and clearly, then take it back to the drawing board, reevaluate, and look at what might be missing. Would YOU invest in your own offer if you were or were not familiar with you? Is it strong enough to appeal to those people who might be following your competitors and receiving their emails? What kinds of factors entice you to respond to a promotional offer from both new and existing brands?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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