Plan Now so Holiday 2013 Keeps on Giving in 2014

christmas-gifts-box-300Holiday season is a make or break time for retailers. A great season transforms a mediocre sales year into a profitable one. Taking care of details can be the difference between “Bah! Humbug!” and “Happy Holidays!” Planning ahead makes everything flow better and positions your company for growth in the New Year.

Since this is late August, the marketing plan should already be completed and ready to execute. Your plan will bring in sales from old friends and new customers. What is planned for them in 2014? How will you keep them coming back? Discount coupons and super sales buy temporary bouts of customer loyalty. Long-term commitments require more. Companies have to foster relationships with their customers.

Contrary to the illusion provided by social media, people don’t want engagement with companies. They want companies to serve them. Winning customer loyalty begins with creating an environment where it is easy for people to get what they want delivered in a timely fashion at a reasonable price. The easier you make it for people to get what they want, the stronger the loyalty.

The first priority of every holiday plan is to generate as much revenue and profits as possible. Direct marketing and ecommerce companies have the process down to a science. Every marketing piece has a projected return that is accurate within 10-15%. The marketing plan is clearly defined down to the smallest detail. The information included comes from years of testing and studying best practices. There is only one problem. Today’s marketing plans don’t plan for loyalty.

A few short years ago, acquiring customers was the primary objective for growth strategies. It was a two-step process: Find people that match customer profiles and convince them to make that first purchase. Once prospects crossed over to become customers, they tended to make repeat purchases without nurturing or any special attention.

The growth of online activity has changed the game. Companies still seek customers but people are increasingly finding the items or services they want by searching the Internet. Customers acquired via their own efforts are not pre-qualified and less likely to become loyal buyers. Loyalty has to be earned.

The holiday season is known as the “most wonderful time of the year.” It is also the most stressful. Finding the perfect gift for everybody on their list is hard work. It is unrealistic to expect people to remember where they bought everything. First time customers acquired during the holiday season are more likely to be hit-&-run shoppers than any other time of the year. They place the order. The company delivers it. There is no relationship established.

Converting first time buyers into lifelong customers is the second priority of the marketing plan. People acquired during holiday season need to be courted after the festivities are over. Placing a high priority order with an unknown company requires a leap of faith. A failure to deliver guarantees placement in the “never order from that business again” file. Successfully filling the order doesn’t even guarantee recognition.

Create a post-holiday plan designed to establish and improve relationships. Connecting with people after the dust has settled reminds them of a positive experience in a way that is more likely to be remembered. Here are some ideas to get your plan started:

Send a personalized thank you note
Everyone wants to be appreciated. Test sending emails and postcards to see which works best for your customer base. Emails are less expensive but postcards are more personal memorable.

Ask for specific feedback
Generic “how did we serve you” forms aren’t as effective as “are you satisfied with the stereo system you purchased” requests. Relationships begin when people feel the company representatives genuinely care.

Offer to help
Providing tips about how to use the items purchased increase consumption and endears customers. You can even mention an accessory or two along the way. This increases sales and keeps people happy.

Use the responses to help identify seasonal and one time buyers
Investing marketing money in people who won’t buy again is wasteful. The earlier they are identified, the more efficient your marketing.

Send customized marketing messages next holiday season
Reminding people that your company served them well can trigger a positive response. If they are seasonal buyers, your business just moved to the top of the list.

Debra Ellis is the founder of Wilson & Ellis Consulting, which specializes in improving customer acquisition and retention using marketing, analytics, service, and strategic planning.