Which sales promotion strategies really work for marketers? Start with these.
Editor’s note: This article is among our most popular, so we’ve updated it recently to keep things fresh.
The competition for customer attention is hotter than ever; 92% of customers say better access to information (e.g., online product reviews) has changed what they expect from companies. The good news is marketers can still earn attention with the right sales promotions, especially when those deals are personalized. Another report showed 65% of customers agree receiving personalized offers and exclusive discounts has a major or moderate influence on their loyalty.
Sales promotions are a great way for your organization to encourage potential customers to buy your product or sign up for your service. Done well, they boost short-term sales but also attract new customers, prompt positive online reviews, and lead to repeat purchases.
But it can also feel like our days are overrun with sales promotions. Chances are, your inbox is packed with marketing emails from businesses offering discounts, special prices, buy-one-get-one offers, flash sales, and free-shipping offers.
Today’s customers want an overall experience that matches their standards for product quality. As detailed in Salesforce’s “State of Marketing” report, customers are looking for offers that are personally relevant, and they want to feel like companies they engage with truly understand them as individuals.
And they want this level of customer engagement across the entire customer journey — meaning marketers need to think well beyond their traditional domain. Falling short of expectations could mean losing customers, attracting negative reviews, and damaging your brand’s reputation.
What are the basic strategies for sales promotions?
By definition, a sales promotion is an activity applied for a predetermined, limited period of time, with the aim of increasing consumer demand and stimulating sales. Sales promotions give potential customers an additional reason to consider doing business with you and your company.
The idea is once customers are willing to take that first step and try your product — whether through limited trial periods, discounts, special offers, free shipping, branded gifts, loyalty programs, or digital coupons — they’ll be happy enough with the results to be willing to spend more of their hard-earned cash with you down the track.
Offering a discount is a tried-and-true way to win over customers, boost sales, and move stock. Not only do 77% of shoppers say discounts can influence where they shop, almost half (48%) admit a discount has sped up a purchasing decision. Discounts can be limited to a specific point in the customer journey — for example their first online order — or a seasonal or holiday promotion. Or consider an alternative, such as offering a special price — for example, “nothing over $20” — or a buy-one-get-one deal.
One sales promotion strategy that’s popping up across plenty of consumer goods’ websites recently is this “wheel of savings” or “spin to win” tactic. San Diego-based Blenders Eyewear is one such company using this new approach where the customer gets a Vegas thrill while the business benefits, of course, by growing their email subscriber list.
If your goal is customer retention, rather than a short-term sales boost, consider offering rewards points. Reward points don’t offer the possibility of immediate gratification like discounts, but they will appeal to customers who shop with you on a regular basis. According to Bond Brand Loyalty, 66% of loyalty program members modify their spending to maximize the benefits they receive. Advances in mobile technology mean customers can now collect and store their points in an app or digital wallet on a smartphone, and access additional features such as tracking information.
Coupons are another promotional tool that has been transformed by technology. You can send them directly to customers via email or text message. You can use them as an inducement to join a mailing list, or as a “thank you” to people who have. You can personalize them based on a customer’s browsing or purchasing history, or use them to remind customers about an abandoned shopping cart. What’s more, customers love them. For example, mobile coupons delivered via text message not only lead to more purchases, they also create a sense of urgency — 25% of people who receive coupons via text message redeem them within three days, and 60% redeem them within a week.
Do you have a new product you want to launch? Why not take a tip from companies like Costco and hand out samples in store, or include them with online orders? Sampling works well with products such as health and beauty products, perfume, and food. Offering a gift to consumers who buy a specific product or spend a certain amount can also help convince customers to make a purchase or spend more than they might have otherwise.
What makes a sales promotion work?
To effectively capture your customers’ interest (and business), your sales promotion strategy should include these five essential elements:
1. Select the right target audience
The difficulty with any marketing campaign lies in locating those individuals who will eventually become loyal customers. Many marketers believe that by casting a large enough net, they’ll be able to locate those individuals simply by virtue of percentages. After all, if they contact enough prospects, some of them are bound to complete the journey through the sales funnel and become paying customers. A smaller percentage of those customers will become loyal customers.
The problem with this idea is it’s remarkably inefficient, as only a small fraction of prospects and leads become buyers and so offset the initial investment. By instead predetermining a target audience, businesses can put their finite marketing resources to better use.
The same can be said for sales promotion campaigns. To understand the best target audience for your promotion, you first need to understand more about the customers you already have. Send customers a simple survey asking them about themselves. Offer an incentive that encourages them to take the time and share their personal information.
Once you have a clear idea of who uses your product or service, identify exactly what kinds of problems your product or service is designed to solve. With these two factors in mind, you should focus your sales promotion toward those who are most likely to be genuinely interested.
2. Set measurable goals
There’s no denying the importance of setting goals, but there’s also power in writing them down. One study showed that when people write down their goals, they are 33% more successful in achieving them. But you need to be more specific than “increasing sales” when designing a sales promotion campaign.
Ask yourself what the most important objective of your promotion should be. Are you hoping to draw in new customers, or are you more inclined to focus on customer retention? Do you want your customers to purchase more frequently, or would you like for them to increase the average amount they spend on a purchase? Are you attempting to increase your business during slower seasons or times of day? Are you interested in regaining the attention of former customers who have taken their business elsewhere?
Determine exactly what you want to accomplish with your sales promotion, then add a specific number — one that is ambitious but achievable — to the goal. This will allow you to chart your success or failure, and to identify aspects of your campaign you need to change or develop further.
3. Limit availability
Behavioral psychologists have found human beings tend to assign greater value to things they perceive as being scarce. In a classic study performed in 1975, researchers had participants assign perceived value to identical cookies located in two identical jars. The only difference between the two jars was that one had 10 cookies in it, while the other had only two. The study discovered that while there was no apparent difference between the cookies or the jars, participants assigned greater value to the jar with two cookies.
More recently, psychologists have identified a second important driver of human behavior: “fear of missing out,” popularly known as FOMO. This is anxiety about missing out on an exciting event or rewarding experience that other people know about.
You can take advantage of these psychological triggers by offering limited-time deals. A sales promotion — such as a gift with purchase — may seem like an attractive incentive for motivating sales, but unless that promotion is only available for a limited time or in limited quantities, many customers won’t be interested. On the other hand, if the same customers are faced with the possibility of missing the promotion if they don’t act quickly, they may be far more likely to commit.
4. Promote widely but wisely
Your sales promotion is an effort to draw customer attention to your organization’s product or service. But what about drawing attention to the promotion itself? For a promotion to be effective, your target audience needs to see and understand it.
You can market or advertise your promotions just like any other product or service. In-store signage, information on your company website, blog posts, social media posts, email marketing campaigns, e-newsletter stories, media releases, brochures, and print and online advertising can all be effective ways to let prospective customers know about your sales promotion.
Visibility is key. Just be sure to account for the marketing cost of promoting your promotion. Otherwise, you might end up spending more money on advertising than you’ll make back through increased sales. For this reason, it may be most beneficial to focus on promotional strategies that have demonstrated return on investment (ROI). For example, email marketing has a very high average ROI — $38 for each $1 spent.
5. Offer real value
When all is said and done, the customer is interested in just one thing from your organization: value. If your sales promotion doesn’t offer them real value, then all the targeted marketing and limited-time offers in the world won’t make your sales promotion a success.
Ask yourself what kind of offer your potential customers will find most interesting, then determine whether you can afford to give it to them. If you can, then you may have found the perfect sales promotion. If you can’t, scale it back until you come to a compromise that will appeal to your target audience, while remaining cost-effective for your organization.
6. Review your results
Before you begin brainstorming your next big sales promotion, take time to measure your results. Schedule a post-mortem on your campaign to see how sales stacked up against your goals — and be sure you’re reviewing this at a point in time that works best with your individual sales cycle.
As customers’ expectations of businesses increase — along with their willingness to take their wallets elsewhere — ensure that customer experience is at the heart of every sales promotion you design. Look beyond the traditional boundaries of the marketing function and breaking down organizational silos to ensure a seamless customer journey. Ensuring your promotions have a personalized and real-time component is always a smart strategy.