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Two, Four, Six, Eight How Do We Appreciate? with Nina Hershberger

by | In the Magazine, Nina Hershberger

“Customer Appreciation” events can be either a powerful marketing tool or a major embarrassment, depending on how much planning and effort you put into them.

Whether you’re reading this because you want tips for your business’s first-ever such event or because you want to understand what keeps going wrong with your grand dreams, be prepared to ask and answer a lot of questions.

Getting started

For starters, are you casting a wide net or keeping it cozy?  In other words, which customers are you trying to show your appreciation for your loyal longtime customers or your heretofore unseen potential customers?  The answer is crucial when it comes to cost and logistics.

If you’re concentrating on the existing customers, you can use the company newsletter, postcards, your website, or phone calls to let them know they are among the privileged few to be invited to take part in the fun and savings.  (An accompanying R.S.V.P. request can take much of the guesswork out of planning.)

If you go for the mass audience, announcements via radio, newspapers, and flyers can entice novices to see what they’ve been missing.  But the wider the reach, the more chances for unpleasant surprises about attendance, follow-up business, and cost overruns.

(I am aware of a farmer cooperative in Tennessee that was quite proud of its expensive new fertilizer building and invited the public to tour it.  A large percentage of the attendees had no intention of ever darkening the doors of the facility.  They just grabbed their free KFC snack box and drove away, making the grand opening far from cost-effective.)

Event style

Keep in mind that you’re not forever limited to just one type of event.  You can host an intimate gathering for valued customers and then six months later have a wide-open celebration for the general public if you so desire.

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How much of your marketing budget can you justify assigning to this one promotion?  Once you make an educated guess about attendance, you’ll know whether to go lavish or simple on food (Catered? Picked up by an employee on his way to work? Cooked on the premises?), entertainment (Games for the kids? Paid musicians?  Ernie in Accounting and his perform-for-free bluegrass band?), discounts, informational booths, and gifts.

What is the optimal date for scheduling the festivities?  No date is perfect, but do your homework and to the extent humanly possible, anticipate conflicts (everyone leaves town to watch the high school football championships, local craft festival dominates everyone’s weekend, town’s biggest employer is infamous for seasonal layoffs, months-long road construction makes it difficult to reach your facility, multiple employees have already booked vacation time, etc.).

Setting the date

Once your date is set in stone, don’t panic if some new conflict arises.  Pat yourself on the back for doing your best and learn to roll with the punches.

Will the event be held during normal business hours or after hours?  If the former, and you were trying to keep it low-key, be aware that some walk-in customers will unwittingly “crash” the event.  Allow for them in the budget and make them feel welcome.

Do you know businessperson friends who have experience with Customer Appreciation events?  Pick their brains for all the things that can go wrong (and right) with such an event.  Then sit down with your team and brainstorm pitfalls such as inclement weather, garbage overflow, and internet outages.  Have a backup plan if key personnel call in sick or if you start running out of food, calendars, ink pens, T-shirts, coffee mugs, etc.

How will your staff react to the added responsibilities?  If you can roll up your sleeves and convince them they are making an invaluable contribution to the company’s image and bottom line, they will live up to (and exceed) your expectations.  If they become overwhelmed and feel taken advantage of, you may learn that gaining a few extra dollars isn’t worth shattering company morale.

Finally

What exactly are your goals for the event?

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Will it be enough to lock the doors after the celebration is over, grab a broom, and beam, “A good time was had by all”?  Would you prefer to see x percent of attendees posting selfies of themselves at your business on social media?  Would a 10 percent increase in sales directly attributable to the event be satisfactory? Or do you insist on snatching at least 20 longtime clients away from your crosstown rival?

In short, it’s impossible to do a meaningful critique of a Customer Appreciation sale and tweak future events if you stumble through the process with no clear understanding of what constitutes success or failure.

You know you appreciate your customers, but a poorly planned event will definitely give the opposite impression.

Plan your events carefully and you can maintain or initiate mutually beneficial relationships that will last a lifetime.

 About Nina Hershberger

Nina is a marketing fanatic who loves helping local businesses not only survive, but thrive. She was recognized as one of the top 6 marketers worldwide in 2009 and is the author of “30 Minute Marketing – 101 Ways to wow your customers, clients, and patients”. She hosts a national marketing mastermind group where business owners from varied niches gather to plan, strategize and share marketing ideas.

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