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Does Your Business Hand Out the Good Candy?

Three Halloween-inspired marketing tips to sweeten holiday sales

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Trick-or-treating in suburban , where I grew up, was a mixed-bag experience. There was the fun side: putting on costumes, ringing doorbells at houses we knew had good and gorging on the loot. There was also the scary side: big kids in ghoulish costumes trolling the streets with eggs. We kids had to figure out how to get the good candy and not get egged.

Online marketing can be like Halloween in my old neighborhood.

For entrepreneurs looking to combine e-mail and , it can be a little scary, especially if you don't know how to begin. The good news is that if you know your and you know your customers, you already have "the good candy." Valuable content based on your customers' wants and needs is the good candy of your business.

And kids come back to the house with the good candy. With that in mind, here are three Halloween-inspired marketing tips to help your business hand out the good candy -- and differentiate itself heading into the holiday season.

  1. Treat customers to your business secrets, your knowledge and your humanity.
    Share your expertise freely on your website, in your e-mail newsletter and via social media networks. Craft engaging content that anticipates customers' questions, solicits and responds to their feedback, offers helpful solutions and comments on industry trends. Then distribute "individually wrapped" bite-sized snippets of your content on social media websites -- article teasers with a link back to your newsletter archive, blog or website.

    Make sure your brand is represented consistently across online media. Like the best Halloween candy (think Hershey's Kisses, Baby Ruth bars and Heath bars), the best content comes in recognizable packaging.

    Earn customer trust by showing you care. Use social media to track and respond to feedback on your business. Feature your customers' success stories and testimonials -- and the stories of your Facebook fans and Twitter followers, too. Your business story is your customer's story.
  2. Don't be afraid to venture into new online marketing channels.
    Social media websites give e-mail marketers an amazing opportunity to share their good content with new customers -- and to find out what kind of content their customers like best. (Think about it: Not everyone has the same sweet tooth; chocolate lovers may detest candy corn.)

    Engage customers in conversation and find out what they think of your business or organization. Crowdsource to learn what information is most valuable and engaging to your audience. Find new customer stories to feature in your newsletter and across social media, and share your most engaging content.
  3. Don't mask your brand in hype.
    Customers value the honesty of small businesses. One of the scary things about Halloween is you don't always know who's behind the masks. Likewise, consumers are suspicious of businesses that don't have a human face and speak in a conversational voice. Make sure you bring honesty, transparency and personality to your business.

    Use a photo when posting on social media -- don't hide behind a generic icon like the little Twitter bird. People connect with people, not avatars.

Small businesses that earn the loyalty of customers now can have a distinct advantage as they move into the busy December holiday sales season. While big-box brands will be bombarding customers with nonstop promotions (like a virtual egging), small businesses can differentiate themselves by taking a more personal approach and interacting with their customers.

Your content and your online media presence should be friendly and approachable -- like the houses we all rushed to as kids at Halloween. You don't want to be the dark house on the block no one goes back to. When customers like the "candy" you're handing out, they'll share it with their friends, and that can lead to greater success at year-end.

No tricks, just treats -- for you and your audience.

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