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Connecting with customers during the holidays

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So much emphasis is put on preholiday marketing—crafting the perfect offer tied to the perfect end-of-year sentiment—that marketers may find themselves twiddling their virtual thumbs between Dec. 26 and the first weeks of January.

But smart marketers make the most of this “down time,” said Clint Smith, founding partner of Nashville-based e-mail marketing company Emma, and Dave Dabbah, director of sales and marketing for Lyris, a provider of e-mail marketing software. Smith and Dabbah provide one secret and one lie that will help marketers do the right thing in their post-holiday efforts.

Secret: Customers and prospects may be looking to use up any money left in their 2006 budget, and they don’t necessarily need a discount to write out a check. Too often, Dabbah said, companies use end-of-year marketing to get rid of remaining inventory, which often means they mark things down considerably, even to the point that they are selling items and services with little or no margin. This can work against you, he said, because it conditions people to wait for a sale and cheapens your brand. It can also make current customers—who may have bought the same service but spent more only a month prior—feel cheated or angry.

Instead of selling on price, sell people on what your products can do for them in the coming year, Dabbah said.

“People are being bombarded with all sorts of offers at the end of the year, but the one thing you don’t want to do is throw up your hands and say, ‘It’s over,’” Dabbah said.

The best strategy is to tie your offers to your prospects’ needs, which means you’ll need to do much more personalization than you normally do. And make sure you cut through the clutter once you settle on your offer, he said.

“Put your exact offer in the subject line,” Dabbah said.

Lie: E-mail marketing alone will convert prospects to customers. While this is never true—a good salesperson will always follow up on an offer—personal contact is even more important during the holidays, when people are wading through a slush-pile of catalogs, e-mails and other marketing collateral.

Smith suggested sending e-mail and snail-mail holiday greetings or thank-you notes in conjunction with your campaign, which will reinforce the fact that you care about your customers and their needs.

“As an e-mail company, we still use paper once in while to say ‘thanks,’ or ‘congratulations’ or ‘Hey, we like you,’ ” he said. “While a ‘Happy Holiday’ or ‘Happy New Year’ e-mail is a great idea for everyone in your audience, for your favorite customers and colleagues, a personal, handwritten, old-fashioned paper note or card is an even better idea.”

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