As we get closer to the end of the year and the rush of the holidays begins to approach, it is important for operators to start planning their holiday marketing campaigns today. That's right, it's time to start deciding on what type of packages you can put together for your customers, and how you are going to market them. It is also the time to thank your customers for their support over the year, and remind them of the services you offer.
However, you need to remember that not only are the holidays are a crazy time for you, but also for your clients. You will need to strive even harder to get your company's name out there. Now is the time to start!
"September is the month that I start organizing my holiday ideas, packages and gifts for clients," says Renee Aymar of Renee's Royal Valet in Plymouth, Minn. "By the time clients start thinking about holiday parties, light tours or romantic dinner packages you must have your packages and advertising planned well in advance."
Planned Packages Many operators put together package trips for the holidays. One of the most popular holiday packages are holiday light tours. Another package is transportation for company holiday parties. Let your corporate clients know that you can provide safe transportation home for those attending holiday parties.
Aymar explains how she presents and packages a light tour. "There's nothing better on a bitter cold evening than sitting in front of a crackling fire (videotape) sipping a little cheer with your friends or loved ones while viewing the best holiday light displays," she explains. "This is so popular that past clients book as far in advance as October. I always create a sense of urgency for them to help me fill the schedule in advance, especially Sunday through Thursday. With a three-hour minimum, the cost is $95 to $120 per hour depending on the size of the stretch. Friday and Saturday we stick to a 5-plus hour minimum to maximize the holiday parties."
One package that operators may consider using, especially those near larger shopping districts, is shopping tours.
A marketing angle here is that the customers don't have to worry about finding parking and can relax during their hunt for the right gifts.
"A fun package that we offer is 'Shop 'Till You Drop,'" Aymar explains. "We provide transportation to the Mall of America and allow the clients about four hours to shop and include lunch on us. The cost is $399 plus tip. We do a drop off and pick-up and work with a reputable local restaurant at the mall."
Another idea is a "Holiday Getaway." Print up a gift certificate that customers can buy. Offer a two- or three-hour dinner/tour excursion for two. Stock the vehicle with sparkling cider or a bottle of champagne and take them on a light or city tour.
Chauffeurs should be knowledgeable of the pre-planned area and be able to act as a tour guide. You may even look into partnering up with a local upscale restaurant to place an added value on the package. All this can be promoted to your corporate clients as something they can purchase and give to their employees or clients.
The key is to look at what you have available to you and then be creative with the packages you offer.
Marketing Your Holiday Services Let's face it, if nobody knows that you have these packages and services, what good are they? This is the time when operators need to be creative with their marketing. Your clients may be receiving many different types of holiday mailing - make sure that yours stand out. However, careful consideration must be made and some questions need to be asked before you mail. What do you mail out, a thank you for their support or should you sell them on your services? Should you send a card or some kind of promotional item? Who should you mail to? When should you mail? How often should you mail? How much should you spend on holiday marketing? Let's take a look at some of these questions.
What do you mail out? "A lot of people think that if you mail something to your customer you're always asking for something," says Art Messina, president of Create-A-Card, Inc. "That's not always true. Sometimes it's nice to mail something to say thank you."
A thank you can be as simple as a card with your company name and contact information thanking your client for his or her service over the past year. It can also be a large fruit or candy basket letting your client know how much you appreciate all of their business.
The most common way to determine what to send out is based on how much business a particular client gives you. The main thing is to make sure that your company name, phone number and/or Web site is clearly printed so that you client sees it.
Should you send a card or some kind of promotional item? Why not both, or even a company newsletter? If you do send a card, an idea is to include something with it. Something that your clients can use and has your company's information on it. Some ideas are pocket 2003 calendars, business cards with important airport numbers on the back or charts that remind you what a proper tip should be. Sometimes items like these work best because they are small, which clients can carry, and they provide something that they can use regularly.
"Sometimes in the holiday card people are putting in free phone cards," Messina adds. "For example, we can do it where we put on 20 minutes or five minutes. Some of those phone cards can be set up so when they dial the 800 number for the card they hear a message saying 'thank you for using XYZ limousine service, we'll connect your call.' That's another way that you're giving them something and getting your name out there in different ways without selling."
Whatever level of service you provide, the important thing is to make sure that your company information is clearly visible on the material you send out. The main reason to give a promotional item or gift to clients is to remind them that if they have a need for livery service throughout the year, they should call you. It also makes people think they are getting something for nothing. Gifts help leave the client with something permanent. It helps jog their memory and reminds them to call you again.
Who should you mail to? It is important that you direct your marketing to the correct people. You need to target the decision-makers or the people who are making the reservations with you.
"We normally mail out to our previous customers and just go off our database," says Phil Restivo, president of Le Grand Affaire Limousine in Calif. "Then we pick different zip codes, or zones, depending on the holiday or time of year."
Restivo explains that he customizes his mailings according to the various economies of the areas.
"I normally look at what kind of income the households in that area have," he explains. "I tend to select the rich areas around holidays and more average income areas when I mail out regular specials. I promote budget-type packages for people with lower incomes and more extravagant packages to those with larger incomes."
Not only should you consider your clients, but also those companies that promote your business.
"I give to all of my clients, as well as anyone who gets work for me," says Ben Aranda, owner of Executive Limousine Service in Hacienda Heights, Calif. "If there is somebody like a florist or tuxedo shop, who actually says 'use Executive,' then I include them as well." When should you mail? This is always an important question to consider. If you send your holiday mailing too early, you miss the window of business. And, if you mail your notices out too late you lose any potential for business.
"They should start looking in October and get most of their literature out by Thanksgiving," Messina says. You don't want it to get out too much earlier than that."
Another idea is to send two mailings. You can send a postcard that promotes the holiday season just prior to Thanksgiving. This can highlight the services that you will be offering during the holidays and will help to drum up some business. Then, two weeks later, around the first week of December, you send them a thank-you holiday card. With this method, you are in front of them twice going into the holiday season. One mailing was a sale and the other was a thank you. "Jim Powers at All Star Limousine did just that," Messina explains. "He sent a postcard out in early December to try and get all that business. His mailing told them that if they are doing the holiday parties, don't drink and drive, use their limousines. Also, if they needed a shopping excursion or whatever they could want this time of year. Then he followed it up with his holiday card about two and a half weeks later."
How often should you mail? The important thing with any type of marketing campaign is to keep the company name in front of the customers. With that in mind, operators should not only consider mailings at the holidays, but also at various times throughout the year. Your holiday marketing campaign should just be part of an overall marketing campaign. The adage "out of sight, out of mind," rings true here. You should not be giving your customers any reason to look at somebody else. Keep your name out there and stay on top. A good rule of thumb is that you should send mailings out to your clients at least four times a year.
"Even if it's a guy that uses you once or twice a year," Messina adds. "Keep your name in front of him. Don't make him pick up the paper and find Cheap Charlie and then you lose him forever."
It's important for you to create those relationships and to continue to maintain them. You need to make it so that your customer doesn't think about or want to think about anyone else.
How much should you spend on holiday marketing? When it comes to setting your company's marketing budget, the rule of thumb is to spend approximately seven percent of your overall budget on marketing. However, with holiday marketing operators may consider spending a little more if possible.
"I'm kind of different than the normal guy when it comes to marketing," Restivo, who won the award for best direct-mail piece in the 2002 LCT Graphics/Marketing contest, explains. "I spend up to 20 percent sometimes on overall marketing. It just depends. I do a lot of marketing and a lot of promotion because I'm building for the long haul."
Restivo also sponsors some of the local holiday light shows, like Christmas in the Park. It is an added expense, but Restivo believes that it is another way to get his company's name out to customers during the holidays.
Aranda says that he likes to spend 10 percent, with the bulk of it spent during the holidays.
"I would say that at least one percent of what you made all year round should go back into marketing your company during the holidays," Aranda explains. "However, it all depends on how big your business is."
Other Things to Consider Something else to keep in mind is that even though operators are thinking holiday, they should also think weddings. Many people get engaged during the holiday season and wedding shows often start up in January and February.
Operators need to keep in mind that they need to start thinking about marketing for those people as well, and plan their marketing plans accordingly.
"The holiday season brings about a lot of potential wedding business," Messina says. "You don't know who has a son or daughter getting married soon. By keeping your name in front of them, you increase the potential of getting that business."
Remember that your best client is someone who has already used your service and is happy with you. You don't want to give them a reason not to come back, but instead to use you again and again.