Guest columnist Scott Steinberg writes about things small businesses can do in the last before Christmas to increase holiday sales.
With just five days left until Christmas, time is running tight for entrepreneurs, startups and small business owners alike to rack up holiday sales, and tie a nice bow around that Q4 balance sheet.
Happily for those hoping to outfox larger or better-funded rivals, a variety of high-tech and online marketing solutions can help you compete. From social media campaigns to referral marketing programs and money-saving apps for smartphones and tablets, a variety of affordable last-minute alternatives to expensive paid media buys are within business owners’ reach.
No matter your promotional experience or advertising budget, the following high-tech tools can help you boost sales, increase customer satisfaction and raise brand awareness through the holidays and into 2012.
Use social media to spread the word. Paid advertising is typically expensive, booked months in advance and offers dubious returns for those forced to settle for a smaller share of voice.
Merchants that are targeting local audiences on shoestring budgets can use social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to instantly connect with customers by coupling timely announcements with arresting deals.
Programs such as two-for-one deals, bonus gifts with purchase and exclusive events (“Holiday wine tasting and fashion show tonight — first 50 patrons get in free!”) can all drive foot traffic, siphon customers from competitors and aid with lead generation.
Splurging on customers using loss leaders (gift-wrapped dog treats with every grooming) and splashy, time-limited promotions (“free gingerbread ice cream today only!”) not only helps generate direct prospects, it also allows you to create sampling opportunities, promote to a captive audience, and, while consumers are actively engaged, potentially drive interest in higher-margin goods.
Leverage affiliate and referral marketing programs. Influential as word of mouth can be on purchasing decisions, it pays to turn fans of your business into Santa’s little helpers.
To recruit them, incentivize conversation by providing eye-catching offers and savings, and compensate those responsible for generating direct leads with exclusive discounts, gifts and cash rewards. Using software tools such as those offered by providers like Extole, DirectTrack and ReferralCandy, you can create customized referral programs for almost any industry. (Refer a pal, get $20! Click here to send Facebook friends a code for 60 percent off on holiday portraits!) Distributable via social networks, they make it easy to implement last-programs on tight turnaround times, and publicize last-minute doorbuster deals with a minimum of footwork. Best of all, ads can directly be tracked from click to purchase, letting you cost-effectively conscript an army of credible sales associates working on a strictly commission basis.
Employ mobile and location-based marketing. More than 420 million smartphones will sell in 2011 alone according to IMS Research, many containing built-in GPS devices that actively monitor users’ locations. Mobile and location-based marketing services like Geotoko, Placecast and Xtify let you speak to customers when they’re in a shopping mood and can potentially help close more last-minute holiday deals.
Provide users with discounts and giveaways via text message, pop-up alert or email. With roughly one in four last-minute shoppers turning to a mobile device to help pick gifts this holiday season according to eBay, it's one more way to alert shoppers to special offers.
Promote via keywords. According to the Ponemon Institute, a full third of holiday shoppers plan to spend more money online than in-store in 2011. Knowing this, no matter your desired budget or audience, purchasing targeted keywords on popular search engines like Bing and Google can put you in front of prospective buyers right where they’re doing their primary research.
For maximum impact, use more detailed search terms (“computer repairs New York” vs. “PC repair shop”) and less popular phrases. Inside tip: If you’re feeling more naughty than nice, you can also buy up keywords related to competing products.
All of these tips can enhance your reach, keep holiday bargains top of mind and help alleviate shoppers’ stress while building brand awareness.
Small business expert , is the creator of “The Business Expert’s Guidebook” series and video show “Business Expert: Small Business Tips, Trends and Advice.”