The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Holiday Marketing for SMBs

The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Holiday Marketing for SMBs

December 2, 2016 Holiday Marketing Small Business Marketing social media marketing 0

Thanksgiving is over and December’s holidays are rushing in at breakneck speed. Is your small business prepared? Holiday marketing for SMBs is critical. Between getting ready for out-of-town guests, cooking big meals, and purchasing gifts to fill the space beneath the tree, though, you’ve got a lot to do!

While the holidays can be hectic, these few months at the end of the year offer valuable opportunities to market your small business, earn more sales, and find the new clients you need to keep going.

Need some proof of exactly how lucrative the holidays can be for small businesses?

Verticle Response reports that more than 25% of marketing emails are sent during the holidays and that 67% of customers have purchased a gift for someone after seeing it advertised on social media.

While those numbers are exciting, you’re probably wondering how to structure your holiday marketing so that it’s as lucrative as possible. Maybe you’ve never run a holiday marketing campaign before, or maybe last year’s results were a little disanointing. Maybe you’re a brand-new business, looking forward to your first big holiday season! Whatever the case may be, we’re here with the ultimate cheat sheet on holiday marketing for SMBs.

Read on.

Sleighing Your Holiday Marketing in the Digital Age

The holidays are a powerful time for marketing because people are feeling festive. Most of the December holidays also center around buying gifts for friends and loved ones, so people are online frequently, and they’re looking to spend money. Fortunately, it’s easier now than ever before to shop on the web.

The smartphone revolution has a huge amount to do with this: last year alone, mobile commerce exploded to account for 30% of all U.S. commerce, and consumers around the world have enjoyed the rise of smartphones, which has made it easier to shop anytime, from any place.

In addition to the fact that it’s simpler to buy online that it used to be, there are also several holidays dedicated solely to shopping: take Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Small Business Saturday (not to mention the frenzied weeks leading up to Christmas), for example. These holidays are all opportunities for SMBs to “sleigh” their online marketing, and when you do it right, you can boost your company’s bottom line in a big way.

Holiday Marketing for Small Businesses: 10 Things to do Now

So you want to hop on the holiday train and use this festive time of the year to build your business. Great. Here are the guidelines you need to do just that:

1. Start planning your campaigns as early as possible

October-January is a hectic time for SMBs, and your holiday marketing campaigns can quickly take a backseat unless you start planning them soon. With this in mind, give yourself a timeline of at least 3-4 weeks to develop your holiday campaigns.

For example, if you’re going to run a “12 Days of Christmas” campaign, you’ll need to start planning now.

There are several excellent reasons for this. First, early planning prevents you from going crazy. Second, it allows you to take a leisurely view of your holiday marketing, and ensure that you’re covering all of your bases – both online and in-store (if you have one). Third, it gives you more than enough time to schedule your social posts, content, and campaigns in advance, which is critical for making sure your holiday marketing goes off without a hitch (more on this in a moment).

2. Establish your digital properties now

If you use digital properties to process online payments or make sales, start adding, updating, or tweaking them now. The reason for this is that many digital properties implement “code freeze” during high-volume times of the year, such as the holidays.


While this is a security measure on the part of the digital provider (code freeze prevents harmful bugs from getting into the system and shutting it down at some of the busiest times of the year), it can be a pain for any SMB looking to break into a new digital property.

Fortunately, the solution is simple.

All you need to do is put these digital resources in place now to ensure they’re running smoothly at the end of the month – when you need them the most.

3. Do something a little different

What if I told you that one of the best ways to make sales this holiday season was not to make sales? It sounds crazy, right? You’d think so, but it’s an interesting approach that one major company – REI – used with massive success last year.

Instead of joining the holiday shopping frenzy and trying to get people into its stores, the recreational equipment giant ran a campaign called “Opt Outside.”


The campaign went like this: instead of joining the Black Friday shopping spree, REI would be closing all of its retail locations throughout the country. Instead of digging through piles of long underwear and ripping shoes off the racks, REI customers had only one job – get outdoors and do something adventurous.

The day after the #OptOutside campaign ended, REI sent out this email to its followers:


While #OptOutside may seem like a missed opportunity, it is hands down one of the smartest holiday marketing moves REI has ever made. In fact, the campaign won REI 9 separate awards at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, including a Grand Prix award in the “Promotional and Activation” category.

As if that weren’t enough, the #OptOutside hashtag was used on social media 37,000 times in the five days surrounding the promotion and GeekWire reports that the REI website (which remained shoppable during the promotion) saw a 26% jump in traffic on Black Friday. Not to mention all of the people (myself included) who immediately became lifelong REI devotees because of the boldness of the move.

The #OptOutside lesson? When you do something a bit different, you stand the chance of revolutionizing your marketing and your brand message all at once. Today’s consumers want brands they respect and can relate to and bold moves like this one solidify your presence for customers  Sometimes, standing out means sacrificing short-term gains (immediate sales), and playing the long game.

If you’d like to apply this to your business, here are a few approaches you could take:

  • Donate a portion of your proceeds to charity. 

    This works well coming into the Christmas holiday when people are feeling charitable. For a real-life example, consider Patagonia, another outdoor clothing company that just donated 100% of its global retail and online retail sales (on Black Friday) to grassroots nonprofits.At the end of the promotion, Patagonia had donated $10 million to environmental organizations, and customers everywhere were taking to social media to sing the praises of the company’s decision.screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-10-38-49-am

  • To make sure this works for you: Define parameters. What portion of your proceeds will you donate? Which day? To which charity? Clarity helps your customers connect and will boost the success of your promotion.
  • Turn the traditional shopping experience on its head. 

    This is exactly what REI did with #OptOutside, but you don’t have to go that extreme to be successful. Instead, consider what your small business or startup can do within its niche to offer a different experience. Can you offer a way to crowd-fund gifts? Provide a package that keeps on giving after the holiday has passed? Develop unique holiday products or services that offer exceptional value? No matter what you choose to do, customers love to see atypical approaches to the holiday shopping experience, and things like subscription services, on-going programs, and learning experiences are hot right now.

  • To make sure this works for you: Don’t stretch yourself too far. Stay relevant and use your customer information to ensure that whatever you develop is something your customers will want to purchase.

4. Run local awareness ads on Facebook

For small businesses, targeting the local market is critical, and Facebook’s local awareness ads are just the tool you need to do it.


Designed specifically for SMBs with a local presence, these ads allow you to display promotions to targeted groups of consumers within your geographical area. These ads also allow marketers to add local context so that you can grab the attention of people in your area. What’s more, each ad features a call-to-action button like “Call now” or “Get directions,” which can be critical for driving new customers to convert.

To develop your ad, navigate to the “Promote” tab in the bottom, left-hand corner of your business Facebook page, and select “promote business locally.”


From there, you’ll need to choose an image, budget, and audience, and write a summary in the promotion development box. When you’re finished, your ad should look a little something like this:


One of the most powerful tools out there for SMBs with a local presence, geotargeted Facebook ads are not something you should be ignoring this holiday season.

Remember: 80% of customers shop at brick-and-mortar establishments over the holidays, and the more they know about your business, the more likely they are to walk through your front door.

5. Develop a custom gift guide

Consumers love gift guides.

They’re the ultimate answer to the one question that most people struggle with over the holiday season, which is “what do I get this Aunt Suzy??” While you may think that gift guides only apply to companies that sell products, rather than services, it can (and does) work both ways.

Consider this hot-off-the-press gift guide from Content Marketing Institute, or HubSpot’s 2013 list of 17 unique gifts for content marketers, which features this gem:


To make your gift guide helpful rather than pushy, include products that relate to your offerings, but aren’t sold by your company. The HubSpot example is a great one.

While you can certainly include some of your services in the guide, you’ll want to make sure you’re focusing on being relevant and helpful, rather than driving cash into your pocket. The latter approach will just push people away.

6. Use holiday images to spice things up

Nothing is as welcoming as a picture of glowing holiday lights, or a well-set table. To help people sink their teeth into your holiday marketing, use festive images and graphics to drive your point home. Adding holiday-specific graphics is an excellent way to improve the look and feel of your holiday marketing, and help your customers identify it immediately.

Not sure where to get holiday graphics? Pexels is a stock photo site I use frequently. It’s free and offers a wide selection of beautiful, high-quality images. Alternately, you can head to Canva and create your blog headers and social media posts with a holiday flair.

Keep in mind that, as you populate your site with holiday images, you don’t have to hem yourself in with lights and nicely wrapped gifts. Instead, get a little creative with your visuals! For example, check out the two holiday-themed graphics below. The first was developed by Starbucks:


And this one came from Dollar Shave Club:


While neither of these images screams “holiday!” they both have elements of festivity: white and red colors, holiday-focused CTAs, etc. This helps communicate the holiday connection to the reader and make the images more enticing.

7. Optimize your website

While website optimization isn’t necessarily a “marketing tip,” it’s an essential step if you want to be successful this holiday season.

According to Business News Daily, 57% of customers will abandon a site that takes more than 3 seconds to load. This can spell disaster for small- and medium-sized businesses. With that in mind, there are two critical optimization tactics you need to take part in this holiday season.

Mobile Optimization


Mobile optimization is a huge thing right now. According to Impact Branding and Design, 80% of internet users own smartphones, 48% of customers begin the product research process with a search engine and a mobile device, and tablet devices have the single highest “add to cart” (8.58%) rate on e-commerce sites across all industries.

With that in mind, you need to optimize your site for mobile. Especially if you’re a small business heading into the holiday season.

Fortunately, this is easier than it might sound. Here are some tips to start streamlining your page:

1.Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool

This simple free tool by Google gives you an instant idea of how mobile-friendly (or not) your site is.

This simple free tool by Google gives you an instant idea of how mobile-friendly (or not) your site is. Here’s what the results look like:


Even if you don’t get an “Awesome! This page is mobile-friendly” message, Google will break down a series of problem areas that you can then address more efficiently. It’s a great place to start on your journey toward mobile optimization.

2. Design your site for touch

When mobile users surf a site, they’re doing it on a screen that is only a few inches wide. With this in mind, design your site so that the touch elements, like your drop-down menu, for example, are easy for mobile customers to access. If a client needs to zoom in massively to read a text or fill out a form, they’re likely to get frustrated and leave, costing you a sale.

With this in mind, keep your design simple and ensure the elements of your page are large and accessible enough to accommodate mobile users and desktop users alike.

3. Keep your on-page content short and succinct

On-page content doesn’t compress well on a mobile screen, which means your 1,000 word home page won’t look so hot to your mobile users. Instead, either limit your on-page content (keeping in mind that SEO standards dictate that you have at least 300 words on each of your pages), or use a “read more…” tag to keep your on-page content organized and simple for mobile users.

4. Use recognizable icons in place of words

A picture is worth a thousand words, and a universally recognizable icon is a great stand-in for a word. Use them in your social menus, “contact” pages, and services page. They’ll prevent your site from looking cluttered and make it easier for mobile users to navigate.

Check out how HubSpot has done it at the bottom of their mobile home page:


5. Keep your NAP info easy to locate

Name, address, and phone number (NAP) info should be on every single page of your site, and it should always be easy for mobile users to find. Update it when it needs to be updated, and ensure that it features prominently on your entire page.

Load Time Optimization

According to CrazyEgg, even a one-second delay in your page’s load time can lead to a 16% decline in customer satisfaction rates, a 7% loss of conversions (read: sales), and a whopping 11% fewer views of your page.

Right now, 52% of e-commerce customers report that a page’s load speed is critical to their loyalty for both the site and the company. With this in mind, it’s clear that speed (or lack thereof) can kill your holiday sales, and you need to do everything you can to boost it as much as possible. Here are some tips to get you started:

1. Turn on browser caching

When you visit a page, your hard drive stores the elements of the page in your cache – a temporary storage location that prevents the browser from having to load the same elements again the next time you visit the page.

Disabling caching means that the browser needs to send a new HTTP request to the server each and every time you visit a page, which can have a drastic negative effect on load times. Fortunately, you can avoid this by enabling browser caching for your pages. If you use WordPress, here is a simple tutorial and discussion of the plugins that will do this for you.

2. Front-load your above-the-fold content

Above-the-fold content (content that appears above the page break on a site) should be your #1 priority. This will load faster and can create a better user experience in the process.

3. Cut down on your plugin use

If you use WordPress, it’s easy to get carried away with all of the plugins available to you. Unfortunately, hundreds of active plugins can slow down your site. With this in mind, pare down the plugins you use and reduce it only to the ones you truly need.

8. Create some fun Holiday content

We already talked about your holiday images, but what about your holiday content? Holiday content is by far one of your biggest assets during the holiday season, and taking some time to make your consumer-facing content, including your blog posts, social graphics, and articles, holiday-themed is a great use of your time.

There are dozens of examples of fantastic holiday content around the web, and you don’t have to look far to find something you love. For an example of a piece of holiday content that made me feel all warm and fuzzy just this morning, check out this excellent H&M commercial, directed by none other than Wes Anderson:

While it may not be in your marketing budget to hire Wes Anderson to direct a three-minute commercial, there are dozens of things you can do to turn out killer holiday content. Here are a few festive tips:

  • Run an “X days to Christmas” countdown on your Instagram profile, using holiday-focused Canva images to draw readers in
  • Participate in local small business holiday events and write a blog post recapping them
  • Take photos of your employees in their favorite holiday sweaters and post them to your social accounts
  • Run a promotion where you invite your customers to share their favorite holiday traditions (in the form of an image or a post on your Facebook profile), and then give away a product, good, or service package to the winner at the end of each week
  • Write holiday-specific blog posts focusing on how to use your products or services around the holidays. For example, if you own a store that sells cooking supplies, write a few posts about the “Top X Kitchen Supplies You Need to Prepare Christmas Dinner.” If you are a plumber, write a post informing people about how to keep their septic systems healthy with holiday company, and so on and so forth. There’s holiday content just waiting to happen for every industry, and it’s your job to flesh it out!


The holidays are a great time to give thanks. To warm hearts and boost your customer loyalty this holiday season, make a point of telling your customers how thankful you are for their patronage. In addition to branding you as a consumer-focused business owner, this also helps your customers feel seen and appreciated and can contribute to them being more loyal to your business over the years.

Here are a few ways to say “thanks” to your dear customers this holiday season:

  • Write a blog post that acts as a “year in review.” Tell your clients how much your business has grown, where you’ve expanded to, how many new products you’ve developed, if you’ve hired new people, and more. Giving them an under-the-hood glimpse of your growth (and thanking them for taking part in it) can go a long way toward sparking goodwill on all ends.
  • Send out an email to thank your customers. Lots of companies send out year-end emails that don’t do anything except thank customers for their business. Personal, intimate, and heartfelt, these emails are ideal for any small business that’s genuinely grateful for its clients and wants all of them to know it.
  • Do something nice. In the spirit of giving, consider doing something nice for your customers. Offer a free product, good, or service, send out a coupon, or simply whip up some cookies and hot cocoa and leave them out in your store for customers doing their holiday shopping. These are simple gestures, but they can go a long way toward showcasing your gratitude.


As a small business, you’re deeply ingrained in your community, and the holidays are the perfect time to give back. With this in mind, organize a donation to the food bank, put together a holiday gift drop for needy kids, or collect supplies to donate to a domestic violence shelter or local youth home.

While this may not seem like a marketing tip, simply getting out and getting involved can work wonders for both your business and the way your community percieves you. Even if you don’t have a brick-and-mortar location, you can easily use your platform to do good. Set up a donation train through a platform like FirstGiving, for example, or use your social media accounts and blogs to draw attention to a cause you care about.

Remember: being a small business owner is all about connection, and building relationships first and focusing on sales later will benefit you massively – regarding your growth as a company and your overall perception with your clients.

Small Business Owners Everywhere: It’s Time to go out and Dominate Your Holiday Marketing 

The holidays are filled with fun, festivity, and community, and your job as a small business is to take advantage of all of them. While it’s easy to get too busy between October and January, these critical months offer a selection of crucial marketing opportunities. Companies who know how to take advantage of them, both through content and outreach, will enjoy more sales, more new customers, and a more solid foundation heading into 2017.

With that in mind, happy holiday marketing! You’re going to be great!

Do you need help developing holiday content, creating and posting social media graphics, or writing the email campaigns that will drive your sales this holiday season? Proline Creative has got you covered. Contact us today for exclusive holiday content packages and customized offerings for your small business!

Ashley is the Founder of Proline Creative. Before starting Proline, she worked in educational content creation, print journalism, and as a Content Strategist and SME for two of the largest content marketing firms on the web. Today, she works with SMBs and startups to create quality online content on a one-to-one basis.

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