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Why now's the time to implement your Christmas strategy

September 28, 2015 by Marketing Donut contributor

Why now's the time to implement your Christmas strategy{{}}It's time to start planning for Christmas and there are six key areas that business owners need to focus on: internal communications, audience segmentation, attribution, email targeting, display advertising, and affiliates.

Peak planning board

Set up a cross-departmental "peak planning board" so that everyone in the business understands their role in the build-up to Christmas. It is especially important for marketing and fulfilment teams to be in constant contact as seasonal campaigns and promotions must be supported to allow the supply of high-demand items. Marketing teams can also help drive stock movement by creating promotions for items that are lagging behind in sales.


Businesses need a deep understanding of shopper behaviour in the build-up to Christmas so they can segment and target their marketing effectively. Using insights from previous years, it is possible to identify the frequency and value of a customer's purchases, whether they buy from you throughout the year or only at Christmas, or whether the type of purchase they make changes at Christmas. This information will help you determine the level of personalisation and the type of marketing message to apply to different customers.


Advanced attribution takes account of every touchpoint; every device, platform or channel used by the customer during the buying journey. And it can provide valuable insight into customer behaviour. It allows you to measure return on investment for individual channels and campaigns in near to real-time, which in turn opens up opportunities to adjust campaigns and divert resources on-the-fly to support successful channels.


The upturn in online spending in the build-up to Christmas brings an increased risk of basket abandonment as customers save products they see for comparison or purchase later. It is important to have a clear strategy in place for following up on abandoned baskets and incomplete purchases – including when to start offering discounts or other perks to entice shoppers back to their basket on your site. Consider shortening your usual timeline for this follow-up, particularly as Christmas gets closer. Email-based discounting campaigns can also be useful for implementing "contingency plan" campaigns in the event that revenue targets are not being met. 


Competition for advertising space during the build-up to Christmas is intense and the early bird catches the worm. High-impact display advertising formats such as home page takeovers, billboards, pushdowns and skins get snapped up quickly – especially on sites with high prestige or traffic volumes. Seasonal campaigns should be planned and space booked in September, to run from November. This means that advert design and copywriting needs to be finalised by September.

It is important to think not only about special days such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but also about the January sales period. These slots also get filled up very fast by premium publishers.


Partnering with affiliates can be an effective way to increase the reach and penetration of your marketing campaigns; something that's vital to customer acquisition at Christmas when so many voices are competing to be heard by the same audience. To ensure maximum impact from your Christmas campaigns, you should begin working on partnership agreements with affiliates from September, so that they go live from November.

The popularity of online shopping in the run-up to Christmas increases every year and Black Friday has intensified and extended this period of heightened demand. This trend isn't going anywhere; retailers must act now to ensure they are adequately prepared.

Copyright © 2015 Luke Griffiths, general manager of eBay Enterprise Marketing Solutions — EMEA.

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How to grow your business when you've hit a brick wall

September 22, 2015 by Mike Southon

How to grow your business when you've hit a brick wall{{}}Sooner or later, all businesses hit a brick wall. For entrepreneurs, it is a tough but salutary experience when they realise that the main obstacle to growing their business is, in fact, themselves.

It takes significant gumption to start and then bootstrap a business. You live from hand to mouth, go for any scrap of business you can and use your instincts to make tactical, rather than strategic decisions.

Once the business model is proven, then the enterprise takes on a completely different aspect. The focus is then on doing the same thing over and over again, rather than constantly changing direction by trying new ideas.

Each potential client should be judged on profitability and internal systems should be put in place to keep costs down. Any mistakes learned along the way should be studied and not repeated.

The only thing that differentiates outwardly similar businesses is the quality of the delivery people within it. It is a hard lesson to learn that the people who were the best performers in the opportunistic early days may not be the right people to deal with more systematic and bureaucratic clients.

The Richard Branson way

For the entrepreneur themselves, it is important that they learn to delegate. Every successful entrepreneur, from Sir Richard Branson downward, explains that the biggest factor in their success was their ability to hire people better then themselves, and to let them get on with it.

All of these factors involve some serious soul-searching for the entrepreneur. They need to have a mentor who has experience of going through this phase, who knows them well, can spot their weaknesses and provide impartial advice on the right way forward.

The most effective mentoring I have myself provided over the last ten years has been for people going through this difficult development phase, typically from 25 to 35 people. I use psychometric testing, not to try and change the entrepreneur, but to help them to understand their own strengths and weaknesses.

These sessions can involve some significant soul-searching; but once they break through this barrier the path to future prosperity and happiness is clear.

Copyright © Mike Southon 2015. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.

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What makes a good strategic partner?

September 07, 2015 by Shweta Jhajharia

What makes a good strategic partner?{{}}A strategic alliance is a loose partnership between non-competing businesses that can add profit to each other's bottom lines. This calls for commitment rather than investment but the right partnership can pay serious dividends.

Since strategic alliances do not have the backing of a legal agreement, it usually requires time to build up the relationship. This involves regular reviews to refine and develop the agreement. In short, partnerships are long-term strategies that also require short-term activity.

In fact, the reason strategic alliances are so often neglected as a strategy is because of the level of dedication and commitment they require.

Your mindset is also important; you do not want to think of this as "getting" something from your alliance partner. There is a powerful concept used in the BNI networks that they call "givers gain". It's best to think about how it is that you can help your alliance partner first, then you can think about how that partner can potentially help you back. Your alliance will flow much more smoothly as a result.

What makes a good strategic alliance partner?

Just as you identify the characteristics of your target customers, you also need to draw up a picture of your ideal partner.

Start by considering other firms that supply your customer base. For instance, if you are a business-to-business company, potential partners could include stationery suppliers, accountants, lawyers, financial advisers, cleaning companies, business coaches and so on. If you are business-to-customer, think about other complementary retailers, service providers or local organisations.

Once you have a long list of potential suppliers, you need to whittle that down to the strongest contenders. Here's what to look for in a potential strategic alliance partner:

1. They have a similar audience

Their audience does not have to be exactly the same as yours, but it definitely should be a similar clientele. For example, if your target person is usually wealthy, then you want to target services that are more likely to have wealthy customers, such as financial advisors or high-end retail.

2. They are not your competitors

Your service should be adding value to their customers, not competing with their services. If your product is too similar to theirs, why should they want to help you promote yours when they can promote theirs? You will get the greatest benefit from those who have a distinct service from you but a similar audience.

3. They can give you access to new customers and prospects

Ideally, you want them to have a database of clients and/or prospects that you can easily access. It could work to your advantage if they are not making the most of their database. Imagine if you could offer to help them a) build their database and b) communicate with their prospects and customers with an offer in a positive way. That, in itself, is adding value to them straight away; but it also gives you access to new prospects.

4. They want to work with you

This is an important point. If the potential partner is already satisfied with their sales and marketing and they cannot see much value from you, you should probably move on. Qualify all your potential strategic alliances the same way you would your sales leads. If they are not as excited about the partnership as you are, then it probably will not work out in the long term. They may look like a good prospect but they are just not that into you.

5. They want something you can offer

You need to be able to offer something that they want from you. Within the core products that you offer, there should be something that is valuable to your partner's customers. If you can identify that, then in the long term you can be a giver. And, as we know, givers gain.

Copyright © 2015 Shweta Jhajharia, principal coach and founder of The London Coaching Group.

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Why communication is like tennis; and how to do both better

January 05, 2015 by Andy Bounds

Why communication is like tennis; and how to do both better{{}}"Andy, you are rubbish at this."

So said my tennis coach, Vicky, last week.

She wanted to know what was going through my mind every time I hit the ball.

So, she had asked me to shout “good”, “bad”, or “OK” every time I hit it.

Now, I'm not very good at tennis. So, I shouted “good” if I got it over the net and “bad” if I didn't.

But she told me: "Your objective is not just to get it over the net. You’re supposed to hit it where I'm not. You aren't just trying to get it in; you’re trying to win the point."

To be honest, I was a bit embarrassed that I needed this pointing out! In fact, I've since found out that everyone else in the world knew this.

But, as soon as I changed my focus, my game improved ­– almost immediately. I now know what “good” looks like. So I'm aiming for it and often achieving it.

So how does this apply to communication?

Well, if you had to grade each of your communications as “good”, “bad” or “OK”, how would you decide which each was? Would it be whether your communication:

  • covered all the agenda items?
  • finished on time?
  • engaged the audience?
  • had 100% attendance?
  • was better than last week’s?
  • wasn't derailed by detailed discussions about irrelevant issues?

All these are useful, yes. But they aren't the true measure of good communication.

So, here’s my version of Vicky’s advice:

"Your objective is not just to communicate. You’re supposed to trigger actions as a result. You aren't just trying to say things. You’re trying to cause things."

And, once your focus changes to this, like my tennis, your communications will improve – almost immediately. You now know what “good” looks like. So you aim for it. And you will often achieve it.

If I'm being brutally honest, even though I'm focusing on the right things now, Federer could probably still beat me. Probably.

But that’s fine. I'm better than I was. And I always aim for success, not perfection. And, now that I'm focusing on the right thing, I keep improving.

What about you? Will your communications be better today than they were yesterday? Well, if you focus on the right thing – their impact, not their content – you've got a great chance.

Copyright © 2014 Andy Bounds is a communications expert, speaker and the author of The Snowball Effect: Communication Techniques to Make You Unstoppable. You can sign up for his free weekly tips here.

Ten things we learned in 2014

December 17, 2014 by Rachel Miller

Ten things we learned in 2014{{}}As 2014 draws to a close, here at Donut HQ we’re getting ready to take a short break. It has certainly been a busy year. Across the five Donut websites we’ve published a wealth of blogs, news, guides and articles – all with one aim, to help small business owners, sole traders and entrepreneurs everywhere.

Our thanks go out to all our brilliant blog writers, our generous expert contributors and our valued sponsors and partners. And we’d also like to say a massive thanks to you all for stopping by on a regular basis, for your comments and feedback and for your support on social media.

We will be bringing you more small business news, views, information and advice in 2015. In the meantime, in case you missed anything, you can catch up on some of the things we have learned this year (below).

Have a great festive break – and check out our guide to work-life balance if you need help switching off! See you in 2015.

Rachel Miller

Editor, Marketing Donut

Ten of the many things we have learned in 2014

Video is king

“Consumers that watch a video of a product are 85% more likely to buy it.”

Five key retail marketing trends in 2014

Website basics are vital

“41% of shoppers abandon an online shopping cart because of hidden charges.”

What makes people buy? Understanding the psychology of the online shopping process

Timing is everything on social media

“Twitter engagement for brands is 17% higher on weekends and click-through rates are generally highest on weekends and midweek on Wednesdays.”

When's the best time to post on social media?

A badly written email can be fatal

Andy Bounds reveals the cautionary tale of a brilliant proposal that failed at the first post because of a poor covering email.

How a simple covering email can backfire

Small firms are missing a trick with mobile

“SMEs in the UK are missing out on up to £77bn in annual revenues as a result of not having mobile-optimised websites.”

Two ways to optimise your website for mobile

Social media can be dangerous

“Online libel cases have doubled in recent years due to the social media explosion, so don’t think that social media is still a grey area in the eyes of the law — it’s really not.”

Could social media get you or your business into trouble?

Customer service counts

“72% of UK customers would ditch their purchase for a competitor if they didn’t get an email reply within one day.”

How shoddy service can wreck your small business

Why “shouting” on social media doesn’t work

“You wouldn’t train your in-store staff to constantly shout out brand messages — apart from looking unprofessional, it would drive people away. So why do brands do this on social media?”

Are you having one-sided conversations on Twitter?

What Einstein can teach us about social media

“Albert Einstein said: ‘Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts’.”

Why Albert Einstein knew a thing or two about measuring social media

Why page loading times matter

“Google considers over 200 factors when ranking a website and one of those that has become more influential is website and page loading times.”

Is your website keeping pace with Google changes? 

Rachel Miller is the editor of Marketing Donut.

Further reading

Ten things you could have learned from the Law Donut in 2014

Ten things you could have learned about business start-ups in 2014

IT Donut: the best of 2014

Ten things you could have learned from the Tax Donut in 2014

Why these are exciting times for independent retailers

November 26, 2014 by Rachel Miller

Why these are exciting times for independent retailers{{}}Things are changing on our local high streets. Consumers are shopping in a different way and these new habits are bringing exciting new opportunities for independent retailers.

Just last month, a report by the Local Data Company in conjunction with the British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA) revealed that the number of independents is now at its highest level in four years following a net increase of 432 new stores in the first half of 2014.

There are lots of reasons for this positive news – consumers are keen to support local retailers and the recovery, although unsteady, is certainly helping too.

But the biggest driver seems to be a shift in shopping habits. New data shows that we are increasingly swapping the old weekly food shop at an out-of-town supermarket for more top-up trips made locally. And that is driving footfall to all kinds of shops on our high streets.

A new generation of canny shoppers

The recession has permanently altered the way we shop. We are less keen to drive to out-of-town supermarkets. And we are determind not to waste food as we once did. That means we would often prefer to buy our food locally as and when we need it.

What’s more, when we are visiting a Tesco Metro or a Sainsbury’s Local to get some essentials, we are also increasingly visiting other local stores as well.

But that’s not the whole picture. We’re also lapping up any opportunity to get a bargain. While the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury struggle, discounters such as Aldi and Lidl are flourishing. And of course, we are increasingly shopping online too.

All this has prompted Goldman Sachs to suggest in November that one in five big supermarkets may need to close. It points to “altered shopping habits” as well as competition from the big discount chains and pressures from online retailers.

These are clearly seismic shifts – not just recessionary aftershocks.

Grasping the opportunity

Now’s the time for independent shopkeepers to grasp these new opportunities. It’s about promoting what makes you special and giving customers the kind of friendly, personal service that big names just can’t deliver.

Tell your customers just how much good they are doing by shopping locally. According to Independent Retailer Month, for every £1 spent locally, 50-70p goes back into the local economy. For the same £1 spent out of town or online only 5p trickles back to the local community.

After all, a recent survey by Vend has found that 53% of consumers who choose to shop at small businesses do so to support the local economy and 30% of shoppers choose small businesses to buy one-of-a-kind items.

The convenience of online shopping, however, is undeniable. Independent retailers can also win more business by having an appealing and accessible website where customers can browse, get information, order online and either have goods delivered or click and collect. Judicious use of discounts and deals will also appeal to many shoppers that are counting the pennies.

Support for independent retailers

All over the country there are shop local campaigns offering support and inspiration – Love Hackney Shop Local or Buy Local Norfolk to Totally Locally Durham are just a few examples.

Above all, at this time of year, it’s well worth getting involved with Small Business Saturday. Taking place on 6th December, this grassroots campaign encourages consumers to shop locally and support small businesses in the run-up to Christmas and beyond.

You can download support and marketing materials on the Small Business Saturday website. And look out for the Small Business Saturday bus – coming to a town near you in November and December.

Blog by Rachel Miller, editor of Marketing Donut.

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