Ultimate Holiday Playbook for Small Businesses

Posted on October 21, 2016



Holiday shopping season is drawing near — are you ready? Last year, shoppers spent $626.1 billion just during the winter holidays, and companies who had a detailed, thoughtful plan in place were the most successful. The National Retail Federation is projecting that the November and December holiday shopping season retail sales will increase by 3.6 percent this year, and online sales are projected to grow by 7 to 10 percent.

Understanding your customers and how your product and service fits into the big picture can help you put together your plan to take on the 2016 holiday season. A solid strategy for everything from marketing and employees to shipping and shelf stocking can make the difference between a poor performance and a successful shopping season.


Why Holiday Marketing is so Important

On average, about 15 percent of retailers start promoting their holiday retail sales as early as late September or early October, and holiday sales made up nearly 20 percent of all annual sales. There’s no better time than the holiday shopping season to start improving your holiday sales, and with marketing being the key toward improving your relationship with your customers, increasing shopper loyalty, and generating new and qualified sales leads, a specific campaign tailored toward your holiday sales and specials is key.

It’s so valuable that Entrepreneur magazine recommends doubling your ad spending on creative ads that have been proven to engage your target audience.

“An active holiday marketing strategy allows you to capture eager shoppers’ attention and drive significant revenue,” they write. “Start advertising early and invest increasing amounts of your time, energy, and money towards making each shopping season a boon for business.”

Image of Checklist

Make a Plan

  • Look at Last Year

Start by analyzing the sales and strategies you used in past holiday seasons. Going back five years can help you get a clear picture of what has been successful, but if your company doesn’t have five years of history, use the data you have. Look at the average purchase, whether it was made online or in your store, and when it was made. Check out your social media and e-mail opens and responses, and track what actions were taken as a result. You’ll start to get a clear picture of your customers’ tendencies.

  • Identify Your Objectives

Before you make a plan, decide what you want to accomplish — and “increasing sales” isn’t a valid goal. Goals should be measurable, which means that you can find data to support whether or not you were successful, and should be manageable, which means that they should be a slight stretch that encourages you to reach higher but still be able to accomplish the goal. A more precise goal would be to choose a percentage to increase your retail or online sales, to line up a certain number of clients or consultations for the first quarter of 2017, or to simply attempt something new in your business or marketing.  The point is… DO SOMETHING!!

  • Analyze Your Systems and Processes

Once you’ve determined your goals, look at the systems and processes you have in place to make sure they can sustain the level of growth and support you’re looking to achieve. If you want to increase foot traffic by 30 percent, do you have space for these individuals to browse comfortably? Do you have enough employees to provide them with support and help, and sufficient cashiers? Can you handle credit and debit card payments, knowing that 66 percent of in-person sales were paid for with plastic? Look at each of your objectives and goals, and think of all of the components that go into supporting the goal.

  • Make Your Marketing Plan

Once you’ve taken a thorough look at your goals and the accommodations you’ll need to achieve them, it’s time to start making a marketing plan that encourages your customers to take the steps needed to reach your goals.

  • Online

More and more individuals are using the Internet to consume content and take action. Decide upon a call-to-action that will inspire your customers to take the next step, and be consistent in its use across your blog, e-mails, social media, PPC advertising, and your Web site. Make a strategy that will help you plan your time on each online component and you’ll be in a better situation during the holiday rush.

  • Direct Mail

Before you write off your mailbox, consider writing a letter or postcard:

Start looking at your direct mail strategy for this holiday season. Whether you send out a seasonal card with a coupon, want to learn more about your customers, or want to increase engagement, direct mail can be a cost-effective approach that is easily measurable and trackable, and plays a significant role in the decisions made by your customers.


  • In-store

If you have a bricks-and-mortar shop, think about sprucing up holiday decorations, holding special one-day sales or events, putting out hot chocolate, coffee, and cookies, or inviting your best customers for a special VIP holiday event. Start planning your events early so they can be included in your seasonal marketing schedule.

  • Promotions and Specials

63 percent of adults between the ages of 35 and 54, with at least one child in secondary school, used a voucher that was mailed to them. Whether you e-mail or text a coupon code to those who have opted in, or use your direct mail to reach your customers, promotions and specials are a great way to reward your best customers, engage new customers, and bring back previous customers. Start to schedule your sales and rewards early, but keep in mind that there are certain customers who will appreciate the flash sales that businesses will run for anywhere from a few hours to one day.

  • Consider Charity

The holidays are a great way for you to also raise awareness for your favorite charity. If you are passionate about a cause, consider hosting a wish list drive or collection or making a commitment to giving a set percentage or financial donation based on sales on a specific day. Giving Tuesday, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, is becoming a significant player when it comes to holiday charitable giving. By including a meaningful cause in your plan, you’ll be raising more awareness about a pressing issue while increasing your storefront foot traffic or online sales.



Black Friday – Yay or Nay?

Many small businesses have found themselves struggling with the increasing pushback for Black Friday. When you are making the decision whether or not you should offer a special, consider the following points:

  • If you have a storefront, do you have enough manpower to support an increased amount of shoppers?
  • Does your business promote any personal or family values that would be compromised by staying open on Black Friday?
  • Can you accommodate a higher demand for products or services?
  • If you’re planning on offering or selling online, can your hosting service and plan handle a higher traffic day without any repercussions?


Online Opportunities: What you Need to Know for Success

  • Optimize Your Website

Page load speeds are increasingly valuable to online shoppers — every second is important, with research showing that a one-second delay causes an 11 percent decrease in page views, a 7 percent drop in conversions, and a 16 percent decrease in customer satisfaction. Work with a developer and host to make sure that your plan has enough bandwidth and speed to support your increase in traffic.

  • Security for Online Shoppers

If your site doesn’t already have an SSL certification, this should be one of the first steps you take. These data files protect credit card transactions, logins, and other pieces of data that are shared online, even becoming a popular option for social media. Look to see what integrations with security programs are available through your Web host to be prepared for distributed denial of service — or DDoS — attacks, hackers, and other security threats.

  • Check Your Cart and Checkout Process

On average, almost 68 percent of shoppers abandon their online shopping carts, for a variety of reasons. Keep yours up and running by streamlining your checkout process, eliminating non-essential questions, enhancing your page design, redesigning for mobile users, and making the entire checkout procedure hassle-free and painless.

  • Raise Awareness: Social Media, SEO, and PPC

Now is the time to start increasing your presence on social media, by creating and building bases of followers who are interested in your brand and willing to share your information with their connections. As you write content to share on your blog, don’t just think about the social media sharing implications — incorporate keywords to make the most of your search engine optimization opportunities, and think about adding in some pay-per-click advertising to boost your reach.


Get Going: Two Months To Go

  • Jump into Action: 5 Things to Do Today

Making your holiday promotion playbook is a year-round process that starts as soon as Jan. 2, with many businesses looking at their strategies as early as mid-summer. Despite this timeline, though, there are a few different, easy steps you can take today that will help you see a better last quarter, a more profitable holiday season, and a fantastic start to a new year of growth.

  • Get Organized:

Did you know that 88 percent of customers avoid stores during the holidays? When you’re getting ready to take on your holiday shopping, start by getting organized. Look at trends to see if you will offer anything different or special for the end-of-year shoppers; if you need to order, create, or design, now is the time. Look at the traffic flow of your retail store, and consider making adjustments based on last year’s walking patterns or your current layout.

Think about your online organization, as well. Start to develop your e-mail templates that can be updated and sent to your contact list. This will spur more foot traffic while helping to raise awareness of your online shopping options. Update your Web site to make sure your most-viewed and visited pages are current and relevant to your holiday messaging. If you haven’t made sure your site is responsive mobile-friendly, take Google’s free test, which will give you suggestions that can improve the experience for your users.

  • Start Using Snapchat

Snapchat is the newest, fastest-growing addition to the social media toolbox.  Launched in 2011, the platform now has more than 150 million active daily users, with 60 million in the U.S. and Canada alone.  U.S. millennials make up about one-third of Internet users on Snapchat, so if you’re looking to target this extremely influential demographic, opening a Snapchat account may be your ticket to reaching 13- to 34-year-old shoppers. Create your account today, test out some of the platform’s On-Demand Geofilters, and start building an audience. You have enough time to start gauging the content your followers find interesting and engaging, which will help you direct your seasonal techniques.

  • Make Sure You’re Mobile-Ready

In December 2015, online sales from a desktop computer reached $56.4 billion — but mobile commerce in the same year saw a 13 percent increase from 2014, reaching $69.1 billion. We talked about making sure your Web site is mobile-friendly, but it’s also important to look at your other Web-based components. If you’re sending e-mails from Outlook, consider meeting with designers to guarantee each e-mail is mobile-friendly. Consider switching to Constant Contact, Active Campaign, or another Web-based e-mail software, where the templates will already be designed to accommodate all possibilities and include HTML and plain-text versions.


Start to consider your social media responses, as well. Just because it isn’t a sales channel doesn’t mean it should be excluded from your holiday marketing plan. Nearly 80 percent of social media is accessed via mobile devices, so it’s important to make sure that you are scheduling posts, responding to comments, and answering private messages.


  • Begin Building Your Brand

Brand awareness is one of the top goals of a solid content marketing plan, and it should play a part in your holiday plan, as well. If you’ve been running the same ads for a while, or haven’t changed the windows in your storefront, consider changing it up. Add some holiday decorations, strings of lights to call attention to your featured products, and seasonal music for the background. Share your brand in new and creative ways.


  • Polish Your Customer Profiles

This week, start to research and analyze your customers. If you want to make sure they are receiving — and reading — your content, you need to make sure it is compelling and interesting. Start to look at your customers’ likes and dislikes, find your blogs or posts with the most comments and interaction, and learn when they are reading and opening your emails. Start a profiling campaign that gives you pointers as to the designs, language, products, and services that catch their attention, and start to model your seasonal content after the most successful trials.

Fall Harvest Basket


November: Giving Thanks for Opportunity

November kicks off the holiday giving season, with the bulk of retailers starting their holiday promotions on the first day of the month. The themes of family, friends, appreciation and bounty are common messaging topics that evoke positive emotions and responses from most of your target audience members.

  • Top Dates for Developing Campaigns: Be ready to have your campaign run at the beginning of the month. This gives you a solid three weeks to prepare for the most popular sales days of the month and the official kick-off to annual holiday shopping.
  • Take Advantage of Established Events: While there are many different theories about why and how Black Friday came to be, today, it’s widely recognized as the biggest shopping day of the year, with more and more stores each year expanding their offerings to allow customers to shop on Thanksgiving. Small Business Saturday, Cyber Sunday and Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday cap off the five biggest consecutive days of the holiday season.
  • Key Focus: Engagement: Advertising will be hitting your target audience from every angle — standing out is vital to set yourself above the noise. Engagement, or finding ways to truly connect with each individual, will make the difference between your ad and everyone else’s. For example, once you’ve sent out an e-mail, use your social media account to follow up with your friends.


December: A Strong Finish

The end of the year is filled with hustle and bustle, holiday parties and get-togethers — and shopping galore. Fill your company calendar with appointments, sales, and specials, and you’ll set your business up to not only to finish out your year strong but to get a solid start on 2017.

  • Top Dates for Developing Campaigns: Free Shipping Day, Dec. 18, has been popular in the past — but you can avoid the stress of getting your customers’ orders out by offering compelling sales and specials earlier. Many stores have started to make free shipping a season-long standard. During the week before Christmas, gift cards are more widely publicized because of their one-size-fits-all appeal.
  • Pull Out All the Stops: The end is in sight, so don’t lose momentum in the last few weeks. Make sure to consistently use all of your opportunities to reach your audience, from e-mail and text to social media and your Web site. Keep your messages consistent across the different platforms, monitor your dashboards and analytics to see how your audience members are responding, and be willing to adjust to meet their needs.
  • Key Focus: Broaden Your Reach: Your ultimate goal might be to reach a certain sales goal, but remember, sales posts, especially on social media, aren’t the ones your followers want to see all the time. Consider one sales post to every three to five engagement posts, from video messages to sharing time-saving or informational pieces.


What Next?
Finalize Your Follow-up

While you’re worried about looking at the holiday marketing and sales, a crucial component should be the follow-up after the year is over. Customers might say that they like the sales and specials, but they’re more likely to return to the companies that they feel provided them value, benefit, and showed them that they are viewed as more than money in the company’s pockets. Follow-up is another action that will propel you into the minds and hearts of your customers, so, as you are putting together your marketing plan, factor in the steps you will take after the sale and in the future.

January: Jump Into the New Year

  • Top Dates for Developing Campaigns: The obvious days are New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and, this year, Inauguration Day — but being a slow holiday month doesn’t mean you should let your interaction and engagement with your customers drop off. National Day Calendar is an excellent marketing tool that gives you a glimpse into both the popular, well-known holidays, as well as the quirkier celebrations.
  • Keeping Communication Strong: You might feel tired, but take the excitement and expanded reach that you generated through the holiday season to catapult your marketing and sales into a greater level of consistency throughout the next year. Use some automation tools to schedule your upcoming blog posts and social media updates, but continue monitoring your accounts and responding to followers.
  • Key Focus: Don’t Let Your Audience Drop Off: Staying connected is the name of the game in January. Start to hone your sales funnel and develop drip campaigns that direct your customers into a higher level of engagement and interaction. Loyalty programs such as perQify allow you to reward your loyal customers while staying top-of-mind throughout the year.

Analyze Your Results: In the weeks following your holiday sales season, analyze your results. Don’t put the research and data on hold — look at your analytics, note your highest-rated posts and the platforms where your audience was most active. Take note of the online and in-store situations and processes that could have been improved, and start thinking now of the changes you can make for the next season.


Prepare for Next Year: The Importance of Year-Round Readiness: With one strategically planned holiday season under your belt, you’re ready to tackle 2017. Start thinking of the steps and campaigns you’ll incorporate in 2017, pull in a team that can help you developing certain benchmarking goals throughout the year that will lead to a year even more profitable than the previous.

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