By Rieva Lesonsky, Guest Blogger
Put down the leftover hotdogs, sparklers, and souvenir American flags. Yes, summer has barely started—but if you’re a small business owner whose profitability depends on the holiday shopping season, it’s time to start planning your marketing strategy now.
Here are three reasons you should start thinking about holiday marketing (even if you’re doing it at the beach).
1. Everyone else is doing it. Many retailers now launch holiday marketing campaigns in October (before Halloween!).
2. Americans shop all the time. Remember when your aunt who started shopping for Christmas on December 26 was considered a kook? Now, she’s just average: Forbes recently reported as many as 40 percent of Americans start their holiday shopping well before Halloween.
3. You might miss the boat. Even if your customers aren’t early bird shoppers, deadlines for advertising (especially print campaigns, direct mail or getting listed in holiday gift guides) will sneak up sooner than you think. Do you want to miss out on a great opportunity to advertise in the December issue of a magazine because you couldn’t get your act together in time?
Now that you know why you should be thinking about holiday marketing in July, here are seven steps to get a jump on the competition (and maybe even have time left over for a summer vacation).
1. Decide what products or services you'll promote. The holidays aren’t just for retailers: service businesses such as salons, spas, cleaning services and catering businesses, as well as restaurants and bars, are also among the businesses that see more sales at holiday time. While you may not be able to pinpoint exactly which products or services will be hot sellers at your toy store this year, you can get a general idea of what you'd like to promote.
2. Assess last year's marketing campaign/s. What worked and what didn’t with last year’s holiday marketing efforts? Hopefully, you always track the results of your marketing using codes, website analytics or other tools to see which types of advertising are most effective. If you spent a chunk of change on a campaign that didn’t deliver ROI, scrap that approach this year and put more money into the types of ads that got results.
3. Do market research. Consumer purchasing habits are changing rapidly, so don’t assume what worked last year will get the exact same results in 2017. Look at industry data and industry publications, market statistics and other information about your target customers’ purchasing habits. For example, retailers should check out the National Retail Federation’s Holiday Headquarters, where you can dig into projections for the coming holiday season as well as historical data about past years.
4. Create a marketing plan. Sketch out your holiday marketing goals, areas of emphasis and a rough budget, both overall and for specific types of marketing, such as print, radio, and online.
5. Develop a marketing calendar. Timing is of the essence when it comes to holiday marketing. For example, last year Hanukkah started on Christmas Eve, which meant retailers had more time than usual to sell Hanukkah gifts. (This year it starts in mid-December.) Decide when you want your ads to appear or your publicity to hit. Then work backward to see when you need to start to achieve that deadline. For example, if you want to run a print ad in the December issue of a magazine your target market devours, find out when the deadline will hit. If you’ll be doing a direct-mail campaign, check out key dates and how far in advance you'll need to get your mailers to the post office.
6. Create your marketing materials. Get as much of your marketing and advertising materials as possible ready ahead of time. If you need to hire graphic designers, copywriters or other specialists, for instance, start looking now. You can also start planning holiday public relations, reaching out to media at publications or broadcast stations, and even plotting out some of your social media content for the holidays. Be prepared and you’ll be less frazzled during the busy holiday season.
7. Take action. Don’t create a marketing plan and calendar and then stick them in a drawer. Assign responsibility for each action step and set deadlines for a certain number of items per week. By making slow and steady progress you'll be sitting pretty come fall.