12 Low-Cost Marketing Ideas for the Ho-Ho-Ho-lidays!

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I’m not a big fan of Christmas and Year-end Holiday cards. They are not only expensive, but boring and predictable.

Every year I look for creative marketing ideas that won’t break the bank, but will break through the clutter that my poor clients are dealing with.

This year, I thought it would be fun to share some of the creative ideas I’ve found along the way.

1. Dress up your website or blog logo like Google.  Do it not just for the Year-end Holiday season – but for EVERY holiday that comes a long. This idea is not only easy, but fun and will bring a smile to your web and blog visitors’ faces. If you don’t have a designer of your own – use go here and have them do a series of logos with fun holiday flair. Do you use Twitter.com, the social media site? Then take it one step further, and decorate your Twitter background, too. Go to TwitterBacks, download the specs or existing backgrounds, customize one with your own design. Then submit it to the TwitterBacks gallery of Twitter backgrounds, giving you a little extra marketing visibility.

2. Try Personalizing or Customizing. These days there are so many fun and interesting ways to personalize just about anything.

  • How about personalizing postage stamps with your logo or a personal picture? Take idea #1 (a holiday version of your logo) and put that on a stamp. If you do decide to send holiday cards (OK, we understand), use your personalized stamps. Don’t stop there — use the personalized stamps for sending out invoices and other customer communications during the season.
  • Get a necktie or scarf with your logo image all over it, and wear that same tie or scarf to every holiday event. You can become a walking brand at holiday parties.
  • You can also personalize cookies, candy and chocolate. For example, if your customers are chocolate lovers, M&M’s will let you pick a color and write your own short message on the hard candy shell, and Hershey’s will write a personal message on your very own bar of chocolate. Or how about a giant fortune cookie with a customized message inside? Why not bake your own cookies? There is NOTHING like receiving something handmade, it shows your customers you’ve taken brain time and energy for THEM.
  • Create water bottles or other beverages with your logo and/or team photo on it.

3. Meet Your customers half-way: One auto shop owner told customers to bring their own oil and washer fluid and they would change their oil at a reduced rate. Take a look at your business process – what opportunities do you have to save your customers money by letting them “contribute” to the work? I thought of this one when a client was telling me about a restaurant where you cook your own food. I remember thinking – why go out? But that particular restaurant was selling the experience and ambiance rather than the food.

4. Create a Video Card on your site or on YouTube. YouTube videos have become a popular form of cost-effective promotion. Why not pull your group together and sing a Holiday Song, or take a look at HP’s take on this idea. Notice their subtle use of product placement. If this sounds like an idea you’d like to try, Microsoft has put together a little how-to article on how to make your own video quickly and easily.

5. Give your best customers a digital picture frame loaded with images of the team that usually services them. Create a group shot in the lobby and take some candid shots of individuals around the company – making the product your customer uses or taking a call. You can also include photos from your annual customer appreciation event if you have one or any other pictures you may have taken at their locations with their people.

6. Create 12-days of “your product”.  Or maybe create a product or service of the month. Feature a product or service every day or every week during the Holidays — or every month throughout the year. Many of your customers don’t even KNOW about — let alone purchase — all the different products and services you have to offer. Companies in the food business use this strategy a lot; think beer-of-the-month, cheese-cake of the-month, or coffee of the month. But if you remember the “Book-of-the-Month” clubs, then you know that you can use this with many other products; Cigars or teddy bears are just a few. There aren’t too many companies offering services that do this, but I think some of these might be interesting: maid service companies could feature an extra cleaning detail each month; trainers or consultants can offer featured webinars, reports or newsletters.

7. Write a free (industry specific) downloadable Holiday Survival guide for your customers. We’re marketing experts — so we’re giving you this one! What are some tips and tricks you know because you’re an expert and an insider in your business that your customers would really appreciate? Try some of these templates for your e-book.

8. Write your own “Holiday Story.”  With so many low-cost photo book options out there, it’s a no-brainer to hire a writer, take some pictures (or use your employees’ kids to create illustrations) around a holiday story. You can develop a story that features some of your core corporate values wrapped around the holidays and perhaps some “case study” examples that not only feature your heroic capabilities and Goodwill toward men, but if you put a humorous spin on it – will be a keepsake AND a promotional item for your customers. How about some customized cartoons or drawings? For instance, Blurb is a tool that will let you create your very own high-end book. At just $12.95 each, this is a wonderful keepsake for customers.

9. Create a real-life or a digital “Holiday Tree” decorated with your organization’s features and benefits. You can use little snowflakes printed with goodwill messages, low-cost decorations that convey a message or even edible goodies. Do this for your best customers or perhaps even some of those prospects that have been on the fence. To really save money, go to your local office supply store and purchase Inkjet or LaserJet pre-scored business card paper, then create a design that’s a combination of text messages and pictures. Print them off, put in a hole punch and a ribbon, hang on the tree — VOILA — a daily reminder to your customers on why they choose you. If you’ve got pictures of you and your customers that you’ve taken over the year — throw some of those in there. If you’re not that crafty — then create your ornament cards digitally on Moo.com and they’ll be shipped to you. All you have to do is hole punch and hang.

10. Commission a special holiday greeting. Some of you just can’t resist sending out holiday cards. So if you must, make it a special and unique card. Commission a humorous cartoon through Andertoons, for example. Then once you have the image, use one of the online custom card-making applications like MyCardMaker.com, Zazzle or Moo to create your card. Or talk with your local printer and have them professionally printed in your own backyard.

11. Create a Customer Recipe Collection. Instead of collecting recipes from friends and family, let your customers know that they are part of your family by including THEIR favorite recipes mingled in with yours. This will not only be a promotional tool, but a keepsake that people will cherish for a long time. Hp has made this whole process painless by providing an easy recipe collection how-to article to get you started.

12. Holiday Cards and Invitations. Now, if you really insist on sending Holiday Cards, here is a very low-cost alternative. Simply download this PDF template and type in your personal message, and then print it out on a nice heavy weight card paper and you’re all done. And if you’re having a holiday get together for your office or any club or organization you belong to, try this easy template for a holiday party invitation  that’s ideal to distribute, post or send.

When it comes to making an impact during the Year-end Holidays, even smaller businesses can run with the best of them. Whatever level of effort and/or money you want to put into holiday marketing, there’s something to choose from. Start now while you still have plenty of lead time so you can make sure your business is top of mind with customers as we end the year and start a new one.

Now it’s your turn. Tell us your creative, low-cost or no-cost marketing ideas! Better yet, if you’ve got pictures or videos, send them in or share a link with us. Just enter your information in the comments section below.

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Ivana TaylorAbout the Author: Ivana Taylor has spent over 20 years helping industrial organizations and small business owners get and keep their ideal customers. Her company is Third Force and she writes a blog called Strategy Stew. She is co-author of the book “Excel for Marketing Managers.”