Low Cost Promotions:
Low Cost, Small Town Promotions

by Tom Egelhoff

Marketing, advertising and promotion. So alike in some ways and so different in others. Each will absorb all the finances you want to throw at them and still ask for more. Before we start, just so there's no misunderstanding, let's define promotion.

My definition of promotion is the use of any means that places your business in a more noticeable position for a period of time. Usually a short period of time. For years promoters have filled baseball stadiums with fans...right? Wrong.

They fill the stands with people who are there for the freebies. Beanie Baby® night, cap night, baseball card night and the list goes on and on. And each "premium"(?) has a company name on it. "Welcome to First Interstate Bank, Goodyear Tire, Cheese Whiz cap night." Brings tears to your eyes doesn't it?

What Makes A Promotion Work?

In order for any promotion to work it must be directed to the right people. Filling your store with bodies that don't buy anything, and never return, is as wasteful as advertising in the wrong media.

Promotions work because they attract the right people...YOUR target market. These are the people who have a need and desire for your products and/or services. Before any promotion can work effectively this market must be identified.

What do you know about your existing customers? What similarities do the have in common? Age? Education? Job? Income? What makes them your customers? Are there more like them out there somewhere? These are the people the promotion must speak to.

How Long Have You Been In Business?

I think by now everyone knows that the most common promotion is...The Grand Opening. As regular readers of this site know, I have recommended that all retail stores should have an annual Grand Opening.

Why? Two reasons. One, new people are moving into your area every month. When I moved to Bozeman (my present home town), I had to find a shoe store, butcher, clothing store, barber, veterinarian, auto mechanic, doctor, dentist and grocery store, just to name a few.

Did you know that a locally owned and operated business that has been in operation for thirty years will only manage to attract 38% of its entire selling market with conventional advertising. While a competitive business with a "well planned" grand opening can attract over 42% of the total market in the first 90 days of business. 38% in thirty years or 42% in 90 days? Gee which do I want?

Aren't Promotions Expensive?

They can be. As I mentioned above, you can throw a lot of money at promotion. But, they don't have to be. Let's look at some inexpensive ways to promote your business.

The great thing about small towns is the "grapevine." People start talking about the new business in town. They spread the word about things that are new or different.

Let every one of your regular customers know that a big promotion is planned and ask them to spread the word.

It Doesn't Take Much To Attract Attention

"What's going on down at Fred's place?" "I just went by and he's got balloons and pennants all over the place and it's packed with people." "I'm gonna stop by after I leave here, I'll let you know what's going on."

Hasn't something like that happened to all of us at one time or another. We see something up ahead in the road. We don't quite know what it is but something is definitely happening. We slow down. Is it an accident?

It's human nature to look at the unusual. I can tell you, a few balloons, a couple of strings of colored pennants and some merchandise out on the street will attract attention.

Who Needs Help In Your Community?

Schools always have fund raisers of some kind going on. Maybe they would like to sell hot dogs or sodas at your grand opening. Don't buy the sodas or hot dogs for them, they can probably get them donated by one of the local food stores.

If school age customers are your market, this is even more effective. If you need an older crowd, offer the same deal to Kiwanis, Lions, Elks, VFW or whoever needs help in your community. You help the service club and promote your business at the same time.

Make Sure You Are Prepared To Promote

There is nothing worse than filling your business with people and no one can move because it's too crowded. You want to attract buyers not sardines.

Before you open your doors on the day of the promotion examine your store. Are the aisles wide enough? Are there any tight corners that can create a bottleneck? Is there a traffic pattern that will take people through the store and exit them somewhere near the cash register.

Train employees to direct people and assist them with their purchases. Remember, they are used to a lessor amount of traffic. Prepare them for double, perhaps triple, the activity they are accustomed to.

Some Things Are Real And Some Are Not

As I said earlier, when we see a crowd of people, our curiosity gets the best of us and we have to see what's going on. Should we sit back and pray that a crowd appears? Do crowds happen by accident for political speeches? No! Sometimes people are actually bused into the area for the speech.

You can do the same thing. Your family and friends should be supporters of your business. Prepare them in advance that you need a "starter" crowd to attract others. You will expect them to attend your promotion and rave about the business to anyone who asks.

Don't forget your employees families? You provide employment for them. Their families should be just as supportive of them. Studies show that the average number of people who attend a funeral or a wedding is 250. That's how many people each of your employees influences. Three employees have a potential of producing 750 people at your promotion. Add 250 for yourself and, guess what?, 1,000 people. And these people should be your customers.

What If It Bombs?

What if it does? How much have you spent on the above ideas? Some balloons and pennants. That will hardly put anyone in bankruptcy. The worst thing that can happen is you will learn from the experience.

If it's successful, do it again, with some advertising this time. If it's not successful, why not? What happened? If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

The Last Word On Low Cost Promotion

Word of mouth is hard to control. Sometimes it works great, sometimes it doesn't. You are going to "feel" the need to spend "something" on advertising.

There is nothing wrong with that. Just don't over do it. Remember, the promotion should produce more revenue than it costs. Many promotions that look successful at first are dismal failures when the final bills are tallied.

Good promotions take practice. You need to learn how to do them. If you are new to your industry, ask those who have gone before.

If you are a member of an association, or if you subscribe to magazines about your industry, contact them for ideas. What kinds of successful industry promotions have they heard about? Call similar businesses in other towns. What has worked for them? Industry experts are there to help with your success. Take advantage of them.

Is there a "magic bullet" for guaranteed success in promotion? Just do it (sorry, Nike) and trust your instincts.

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