Treat Customers to a Holiday Party Give your seasonal marketing a personal touch by hosting a special event.

By Gail Goodman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Some market-watchers predict that this holiday season will show an uptick in sales as compared to last year. That's promising news. It also means the holiday marketing onslaught is on, full throttle.

How do you plan to rise above the crowd? Consider hosting a special holiday event.

A holiday event gives your business an opportunity to create intimacy and reserve a moment with your customers. When you invite customers to a special event, you're building relationships the old-fashioned way--with personal, face-to-face contact. It's likely these people have been purchasing from you already, so you need to give them a great reason to attend.

Pick Your Party
Here are some events that businesses can put together to bring in customers, community members and prospects:

Customer Appreciation Night: Put a fresh spin on year-end sales or promotions by hosting a special "VIP Night." Your event could be a private preview of holiday gifts or a new product line, maybe an invitation to consult with a personal shopper. Include a gift giveaway to "the first 100 people who walk through our door."

Special Guest/Entertainment/Demonstration: Between work parties, holiday travel and family get-togethers, the consumers' holiday calendars are as tight as your pants after Thanksgiving dinner. Entice customers to put your event on their calendars by bringing in a special guest, entertainer or expert. It could be an author, a political candidate, musicians or an expert in using your products or services. Just look for someone that complements your business and engages customers--create a fun break from the holiday shopping grind.

Joint Event with Other Local Businesses: Invite all the merchants on your street to host an event with you. If you're an entrepreneur who works out of a home office or small office, join with a related business willing to host a get-together for all of your joint customers. Chambers of Commerce are especially good at bringing businesses and community together.

Charitable/Fundraising Event: You don't have to be a nonprofit organization to host a holiday event that brings a charity's mission home to the community. Invite your customers and invite the charities donors, members and volunteers to share it's success stories first-hand. Host the event somewhere people already go to shop for the holidays and you can tie it into a special offer.

House Party: If your business is a franchise model that is based on home sales, a holiday house party is a great idea. Give shoppers an alternative to the hassles of the mall and invite them to come over, relax and shop from the comfort of your living room.

Make Your Event a Successful One
Once you've decided what kind of event you'll host, the next step is to plan your event and get your customers excited about attending. Here's how:

  1. Get customers to commit on their calendars. Send a save-the-date e-mail as soon as you firm the details of your event. Then, follow up with an invite that asks people to RSVP and register in advance, even if your event is free. If you're charging admission, ask people to pay in advance--that way they'll be more likely to be there.
  2. Create a sense of excitement and exclusivity. Everyone wants to feel like a VIP. E-mail a coupon that attendees can redeem at the door. Example: "The first 20 people get a free [insert branded promotional item of your choice, such as a keychain, mug, hat, T-shirt, white paper, flash drive]."
  3. Build a sense of urgency. Send a reminder e-mail to anyone you've invited who hasn't registered yet. Example: "Only 5 spots left. Register today!"
  4. Entice guests to bring their friends. What's better than a bargain? A bargain for you and one for your friend! Reward customers if they bring guests. Example: "Bring a friend and you'll both get $10 off your purchase."
  5. Involve the community. Look no further than the local schools for the most popular entertainers in town. Invite a school group to sing or play at your holiday event. They're cute, they're free, and they'll bring their parents.
  6. Put all event details on your event website. You've probably received more than one event invitation that didn't include the date. Put all the pertinent details on a special web-page, and be sure to include a link to a map for directions. Don't make your guests work to find your event.
  7. Use multi-channel marketing to promote your event. Don't just use e-mail marketing or an event marketing product for planning and promoting your holiday event. Use all the other the tools in your marketing toolkit. For example:
  • Provide a link to your event homepage on your Facebook page and in your Twitter feed. Tell your LinkedIn colleagues about it, too.
  • If you're co-hosting with other businesses, share the cost by cross-promoting the event on each of your websites, via social media, and in other media outlets, such as community newspapers (which often place nonprofit bulletin board ads for free). You should also take some pictures during the event and send them to the local newspapers for some post-event promotion.

A special event adds a personal touch to your holiday marketing efforts. It doesn't have to cost a lot (particularly if you team up with your business neighbors). With some thought, planning and promotion, you can end the year on a high note--and kick off the new year right.

Gail Goodman is the author of Engagement Marketing: How Small Business Wins In a Socially Connected World (Wiley, 2012) and CEO of Waltham, Mass.-based Constant Contact Inc., a provider of email marketing, event marketing, social media marketing, local deal and online survey tools and services for small businesses, associations and nonprofits.

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