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How to Run Promotions 101

Learn how to run effective ecommerce promotions for your DTC business with this comprehensive guide.

ArticlesNik Sharma

Today's consumers are being overwhelmed with products, content and so much noise in the world. It can be a challenge to stand out and stay relevant in your consumers' minds.

DTC brands need to weave their product into a larger narrative and provide a compelling reason to purchase. One way to accomplish this is by running relevant promotions.

Promotions can be often tied to holidays and cultural events or they can be launched just as a part of your campaign schedule. Promotions help keep your brand top-of-mind with consumers and provide more of an incentive to buy.

In this post, you'll learn everything you need to know about running promotions including a few tactics that you need to use to increase sales.

What are promotions?

Have you ever received an email that advertises a short-term deal, either at random or in conjunction with a holiday, such as Valentine's Day?

That's the sort of marketing we'll be addressing today. Retailers deploy these limited-time promotions to attract new and loyal customers to buy additional products.

This is distinct from the promotional acquisition bid that I discuss in my deck. This type of promotion should be a one-time "contract" or "sale" — not an ongoing one.

The purpose of these types of promotions is to accomplish four things:

  • Add incremental revenue. This should be revenue on top of your existing acquisition, replenishment, and cross/up-sell funnels.
  • Extend lifetime value (LTV). Why spend another $50 to acquire a customer when you can create a promotion to bring existing customers back and purchase?
  • Re-engage lapsed customers/subscribers. These past buyers may have deferred their purchase due to price sensitivity.
  • Sell-through inventory. If your inventory is going to be out of season or needs to be sold to make way for new products, a promotion with a sense of urgency can help.

Let's take a look at some specific examples of promotions, so you can start planning one for your potential customers.

What does a promotion look like?

I could sit here and write all about what a promotion looks like, but it's easier to just give you a few examples so you can envision the different ways to boost sales.

As always, you should personalize the sales promotion ideas below by changing the numbers to what makes sense for your business:

  • Sitewide: 15% off + FREE Shipping
  • Gift Card: Spend $99 and get a $15 gift card
  • Donation: Spend $99 and we will donate $15 to XX organization
  • BOGO Percent Off: Buy X and get Y for 50% off
  • Bundle Up: Pick any 3 cases and save 15%
  • Bundle Up: Buy this bundle and save 15%
  • Free Gift: Buy X and get Y for free
  • Free Samples: Buy X and get a sample of Y for free
  • Tiered: Spend $50, get 10% off. Spend $100, get 20% off. Spend $250, get 30% off.
  • Limited-Time Offers: Variant/Style/Flavor/Scent of the month — Save 20%
  • Flash Sale: Free shipping this weekend!
  • Loyalty Program Boost: 3x loyalty points this weekend only!

Successful sales promotions only run for a limited amount of time and reward your prospective customers in some way that they can't resist.

Ideally, your offer is a high average order value (AOV), a rare discount, narrow (see why), and includes variety to encourage sampling.

What deliverables do you need for a promotion?

In my opinion, you should run promotions in as many places as you can. If you can just do email, that's cool. If you can get your affiliates involved or affiliate publishers to include you in roundups like this or this, that's even better!

Because you're going to be driving from mostly owned/organic channels, you want to use proper UTM parameters when tracking links to see what sales come from social vs email vs SMS, etc. You can use this free UTM builder to create yours.

This is what we use as a baseline for promotions when working with clients at Sharma Brands:

1. A homepage hero banner and call out

Think of this as your "campaign" style advertisement. Your hero copy, image to show the offer, and a CTA to get you to the landing page, the offer, or collections page.

2. A landing page

This should be an easy way to shop your offer. Here is an example of an easy JUDY Valentine's Day landing page.

You'll notice this page talks to you less like you're a new customer, and more like someone who knows the brand and products. Why? Because this landing page is going to your customer base who are already familiar with your offering.

3. Organic social media

You should 100% be posting this on Instagram Stories and ideally also leaving it featured as a highlight to show what's on sale during the promotion.

If the sale is for a longer time than 48 hours, I would also recommend creating a quick video to run in your Instagram feed. If your audience is big enough, you can retarget these video viewers who saw the post about a sale but haven't purchased yet with an ad.

4. Email and SMS

Take your copy, creative, and offer and integrate them into fun emails or texts to send to your owned CRM.

Notify everyone, regardless of whether or not they've purchased before. If they have purchased, there is a good chance they've told someone about your product. This email might be what gets forwarded to whomever they were talking to and pushes them over the threshold, leading them to checkout! You can see some good sale emails here.

If you're sending a text, I highly recommend crafting a proper multimedia messaging service (MMS) to really catch prospects' eyes. This will be more expensive than a standard messaging service (SMS), but it will be worth it. I like to use GIFs and emojis. However, make sure you keep the copy straightforward and simple.

I always recommend Klaviyo for email, and PostScript for SMS.

5. Influencers

I am surprised more brands don't do this. I've written before how you can drop your customer acquisition cost by 40% using influencers. You can also do the same with influencers but organically. Pick a handful of creators you regularly work with (not just randoms with large followings), and see if they'd like to post in exchange for money or product.

If you're able to lock it in, then give them a custom landing page like this one and a custom coupon code. The clickthrough rates from the page into the cart will stay high, and it feels like a more cohesive customer journey.

6. Affiliates

Similar to influencers, if you're able to activate your affiliates for your promotions, you should do your best to add them to your promotion strategy. The Insider Picks and BuzzFeed links above are great examples of why it is a win-win. These sites make money for every sale they drive you, but you'll get an increase in awareness and conversions too.

You can also include any of your other affiliates like:

  • Ambassadors
  • Brand superfans (if you use a product like Fluence)
  • Bloggers
  • Coupon sites

Even if it doesn't generate much revenue, it's all performance-driven revenue. You don't lose anything by making bets on affiliates (unless you're buying affiliate placements with companies like TheSkimm where there's a minimum fee associated with the buy).

When should you run promotions?

Not too often. You want to run them around holidays, calendar holidays (like Valentine's Day), or if you're in need of a quick revenue bump. You'd be surprised how much a quick promotion can help bump up revenues.

Launching your next promotion

Promotions are an effective way to drive new purchases from first-time buyers and existing customers—but only if you execute them correctly.

Get started today planning your next promotion, and prepare to watch as your sales increase steadily.