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Five Ways to Gear Up Your Marketing for the Holiday Shopping Season The winter holiday shopping season is still weeks away, but the clock is ticking for those making marketing plans.

By Susan Gunelius

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Five Ways to Gear Up Your Marketing for the Holiday Shopping Season

For many small businesses, the holiday season is an opportunity to bring in significant sales and revenues. But many businesses don't start preparing for holiday season marketing until it's too late, and they end up missing out on opportunities. For optimum success, you should identify your holiday marketing budget and begin planning your holiday marketing months in advance.

None of these things can happen overnight. Trust me. I've been on the phone with printers and clients the day before Thanksgiving and on Christmas Eve trying to get a last-minute project done, and it's not fun. You can avoid that stress if you start preparing now.

Keep in mind that holiday marketing includes both customer marketing and internal marketing. I've created many internal holiday promotional campaigns to motivate sales teams, customer services representatives, and other employees during the busy and critical holiday season. With prizes and recognition, you can give employees the incentive they need to reach individual performance goals and overall business goals.

Related: Three Ways to Give Back to Your Community at Holiday Time

Here are five ways to get your business ready for holiday marketing. You can pursue all or just a few, but whatever you choose, you need to start right now.

1. Develop Special Promotions
Whether you want to focus on promotions in-store, online or through social media, you need to develop them early so you know what needs to be done to make them happen. You need time for design, to secure ad placement, and for printing.

2. Create Email Marketing Lists
Gather current customer email addresses from your existing email marketing list and update your opt-in messages on your website, Facebook page, in-store, and so on to promote upcoming holiday discount offers. For example, "Sign up now so you don't miss big holiday savings offers."

Encourage existing customers on your email marketing list to share the link to your opt-in form as well as holiday promotional email messages by including in your messages "email to a friend" and social media share buttons, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.

3. Turn Products and Services into Gifts
Brainstorm how you can repackage your existing products and services as gifts. Of course, gift cards are popular purchases during the holidays, but clever marketing can create more ways for customers to give your products and services as gifts without actually purchasing an item that the recipient might not like or giving only a boring gift card.

For example, instead of simply offering a gift card to customers, a restaurant could offer a "Romantic Evening" package with a special menu, table, souvenir champagne glasses (with the restaurant's name imprinted on them), and other creative extras. A "Family Night Out" package could coincide with a "kids eat free" night and include kid-friendly foods and souvenirs. These packages provide more unique gifts than a gift card. However, they do require more planning to create an enticing package that is cost effective. Further, you need time to promote the package with ads and time to create materials such as a special gift voucher and an envelope or box for the goodies to go in.

Related: Three Ways to Streamline Shipping for the Holiday Rush

4. Plan and Organize Events
If you plan to hold in-store or local events to promote your business during the holiday season, then you need to start planning and promoting them weeks or months in advance. It takes time to reserve space (if the event will not be held at your location) and book or purchase music, chairs, tables, decorations, giveaways, and other items.

Even if you hold only an in-store event such as opening an hour early for "preferred customers" on your email list or staying open late one night for a special "Holiday Celebration Sale," you still need to promote that event in advance or the turnout will be disappointing.

Don't forget to contact local charities prior to the holiday season to identify events your business could sponsor for a goodwill boost and some indirect promotion.

5. Partner with Local Businesses
The holiday season is a perfect time to partner with other local businesses that offer complementary products and services to yours. You can offer joint promotions or co-host events. For example, a restaurant could partner with a local movie theater to offer movie tickets with special reserved seating. Both businesses would promote the offer and both businesses would benefit from it.

Many businesses partner to share ad space and costs. Even cross-promoting through in-store materials is a great way for businesses to achieve economies of scale during a critical marketing period.

Of course, each of these opportunities requires that you begin reaching out to other business owners in advance to describe the benefits, achieve buy-in, coordinate and plan the effort, and execute it successfully. Be sure to schedule time after the holidays to circle back and discuss ways to improve in the following year. This saves you time leading up to the next year's holiday season.

Last but not least, don't launch any holiday marketing programs unless you're sure that you have the necessary trained staff in place to handle the response efficiently, professionally, and in the holiday spirit. The last thing you want to happen is to spend time and money developing great holiday marketing initiatives then watch those efforts fail because you're not prepared for the response from consumers. It's better to be over-prepared than under-prepared because bad service this year will certainly be remembered, and talked about with friends or on the social web, next year.

Related: Seven Ways to Offer Your Customers Free Shipping

[Photo: Dmitry Rukhlenko / Shutterstock]

Susan Gunelius

Marketing, Branding, Copywriting, Email and Social Media Expert

Susan Gunelius is CEO of KeySplash Creative Inc., a marketing communications and strategic branding company. She has authored a dozen books about marketing, branding, social media, copywriting and technology and is the founder and editor in chief of, a blog for business women.

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