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A marketing strategy will help you identify your best customers, understand their needs and implement the most effective marketing methods.

The internet has transformed business marketing. No matter what you do, the internet is likely to be at the heart of your marketing strategy.

Social media is firmly established as a marketing tool. Having a presence opens up new lines of communication with existing and potential customers.

Good advertising puts the right marketing message in front of the right people at the right time, raising awareness of your business.

Customer care is at the heart of all successful companies. It can help you develop customer loyalty and improve relationships with your customers.

Sales bring in the money that enables your business to survive and grow. Your sales strategy will be driven by your sales objectives.

Market research exists to guide your business decisions by giving you insight into your market, competitors, products, marketing and your customers.

Direct marketing can be a highly successful way to generate sales from existing and new customers. Find out how to target them in the best way.

Exhibitions and events are valuable for businesses because they allow face-to-face communication and offer opportunities for networking.

PR

Favourable media coverage can bring a range of business benefits. But how do you attract the attention of editors, broadcasters and journalists?

Ten ways to reward loyal customers

Offering free goods, discounts and special buying opportunities to regular customers demonstrates that you value their custom and keeps them coming through your door to buy more. Tom Whitney outlines ten ways to show loyal customers that you appreciate them

1. Offer discounts for high-spending customers.

Offer price reductions to customers when they reach a particular spending target - for example, 10% off their next purchase if they spend £100. Limited time offers can encourage prompt purchases, but make sure you make the terms very clear. Consider how you use discounts and money off coupons. Can you make access to them easier via email, SMS or in-store?

2. Create a loyalty card scheme.

If you sell high-volume, low-value items (hot drinks, for example), give customers a card to be stamped with every purchase. Once they reach the target number, they qualify for a free item. If you sell a range of items, a plastic swipe card is a good option, allowing customers to accumulate points that translate into discounts or other benefits.

3. Give away free items with multiple purchases.

Buy one, get one free is a tried and tested method of encouraging short-term repeat sales. Don't overuse this tactic, though, or people might start to question the quality and value of the goods.

4. Team up with an associated business to offer reciprocal discounts.

A classic example is a sports clothing shop that offers discounted membership at the local gym for purchases above a certain value. In return, the gym offers members discount vouchers for the store and access to special promotions.

5. Invite customers to trial new products and services.

Asking trusted customers to give you feedback on a new offer before you launch will give them a sense of ownership over the product, which is likely to result in sales later on as well as word-of-mouth recommendations.

6. Hold a preview evening.

If you're launching a new offer, invite your best customers to a preview evening where they can buy before the rest of your customers. Make sure the event has an exclusive feel, that you provide good quality refreshments and that your customers have time for networking.

7. Take your best customers for a day out.

Many firms entertain high-value customers at Christmas but what about an annual day out for a handful of your top customers - a trip to the races, for example? It could become a fun fixture that customers look forward to.

8. Offer preferential service terms.

A few big customers may be responsible for a large proportion of your profits, so it's important to provide them with a special level of service. This might be anything from waiving minimum order quantities to expedited delivery or offering an out-of-hours service.

9. Offer additional products and services at a discount.

This works particularly well if the products or services are associated - for example, safety equipment or a maintenance contract to go with specialist machinery. If the order is particularly large, include these extras for nothing.

10. Reward introductions and referrals.

Give customers a reason to recommend you to friends by offering them discounts or free gifts in return for every new customer they introduce to your business.

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