Successful companies know that sales promotions are among the most effective methods of increasing sales, boosting customer satisfaction, and heightening brand awareness. Sales promotions have been used for decades with great success and, no matter your industry or the size of your business, there are sales promotion techniques that can work for you too.
With so many ways to promote your business with or without money, there is no need to suffer from sluggish revenue. And I've written this guide to help you with exactly that. We're going to cover:
- The basics of sales promotions, deals, and offers.
- How your business (and customers) benefit from sales promotions.
- 15 different sales promotion ideas with real examples for each,
From classic percent-off discounts, to teacher-only specials, to joint promotions with complementary businesses, there's something in here for everyone. So read on if you're ready to learn how to attract and retain more customers to your small business through creative and attractive promotions.
What is a sales promotion?
A sales promotion is any undertaking by an organization designed to increase sales or encourage the use or trial of a product or service. Sales promotions take many different forms, but they all focus on persuading a target audience to become customers of a business.
Sales promotions can be announced over free channels like social media, email, or your website; or they can be the focal point of your paid advertising campaigns such as with LinkedIn ads or Google Ads. An effective sales promotion uses imagery, effective copy, and logic to appeal to the needs, values, and emotions of your target audience, and invites them to purchase your products or services with an incentivizing offer.
Why leverage deals and offers for your business?
At first, it might seem that offering promos and deals is a self-destructive behavior that shortchanges your business. That would be terrible…if it were true. In reality, though, your business benefits from sales promotions just as much as your customers:
- Minimize risk: A balanced approach to promotions minimizes risk to your company. In other words, so long as you’re not offering endless, outrageous deals that wouldn’t be sustainable for your business, your promos are likely to create win-win situations.
- Make a profit: The sense of urgency and desire created by short-term offers means that your sales can increase significantly. In fact, you could end up making more profit than you would if you were doing business as usual.
- Retain customers: You could think of sales promos as a long-term customer relations strategy.
Sales promotion ideas and examples to increase sales
To get you started with this worthwhile strategy, here are 15 sales promotion ideas, accompanied by real examples, and categorized by the business goals they can help you achieve. We'll cover promotions to increase sales, to encourage repeat business, and to boost brand awareness.
1. Google My Business offer posts
Did you know that you can run promotions on your Google business listing? Your Google My Business account dashboard allows you to create four different types of social posts: Offers, Updates, Events, and Products.
Using the “Add Offer” post type allows you to announce a deal or offering right on your Business Profile. This allows your promotion to reach customers who find your business on Google Maps and Search—which is often when they have the highest intent. In addition to boosting your conversions, a Google My Business promotion can also drive more traffic to your website.
Google My Business promotions allow you to reach customers who find your business on Google Maps and Search—which is often when they have the highest intent.
2. Free samples
Although many businesses temporarily suspended this promotion strategy for customers during COVID-19, it can still be referenced as one of the best sales promotion examples out there. By offering free samples to all in the store regardless of whether they purchase something, this strategy (employed by businesses like Costco and Whole Foods) introduces consumers to products they may not have considered before, and oftentimes cordially encourages them to buy.
Do you have a product that you’re trying to sell? Give out samples! While this works best with food (both in-store and at farmer's markets), it can also be used by spas and salons—with tester lotions, perfumes, or aromatherapy products. The bottom line is that people like things they can try before buying.
3. Buy one, get one free promotions
Buy one, get one free deals (aka BOGO) are among the most popular types of sales promotions. Offering two of an in-demand product at a reduced price and for a short time creates a sense of urgency that can boost sales. It can also clear stock, which is why, within business circles, BOGO promos are often referred to as “self-liquidating”.
The great thing is that these promotions rarely cost anything. In fact, they’re designed to increase revenue.
For example, let’s say you pay $3 for a product that you sell for $10. If you offer a 50% discount, you’d be making $2 from selling just one at the discounted price. However, running a BOGO discount means you can sell one item at full price minus your cost for two items so, in the end, you’d be earning $4. With more people buying that product as a result of your promo, your profits would soar.
The great thing is that these promotions rarely cost anything. In fact, they’re designed to increase revenue.
BOGO deals work with more than just product-based businesses; they also work for service-based businesses. Fitness studios, spas, salons, consultants, and trainers can offer BOGO deals on their classes or trainings to fill their schedules or get new clients during a slow season. Since service-based businesses are more time- than product value-related, the only cost is time. So especially if you have time to spare, this is a perfect promotion to try.
4. Cashback promotions
Many consumers would agree that it doesn’t feel as bad to spend money when you get some in return. It’s almost like paying less from the start and then having extra money to get other desirable products.
Plus, giving back to customers in this way usually results in more loyalty and business from them. This kind of offer is a win-win for both you and your customers.
5. Lifestyle discounts
Lifestyle discounts are those that apply to a particular profession, age group, or demographic.—usually one associated with an ID. They commonly available for:
While you can offer these promotions year-round, there are also months and days of the year dedicated to specific groups of people, so be sure to take advantage of that. For example, back to school discounts are great September promotions, while August is home to National Senior Citizen's Day. Keep an eye on your calendar for these monthly marketing themes so that you can plan your promos well in advance and maximize their results!
6. Flash sales and discounts
A flash sale creates a sense of urgency among your customer base to buy now. So especially if you have a business that does a lot of online sales, flash sales may be one of the more effective sales promotion strategies for you.
There are at least two ways to go about this type of sales promotion. One, you could do a flash sale once or twice a year. Or, two, you could do one on a set schedule each month so that people are anticipating the event and prepared to make purchases on short notice.
In either case, be sure to utilize social media and email marketing campaigns to announce when the sale will be happening. You can even create a fun branded hashtag to get your audience hyped to buy!
Sales promotions that encourage repeat business
Repeat business is often the best business. Your loyal customers are often the ones to spend the most on your offerings and will gladly spread the word about your products and services.
7. Vouchers and coupons
You can offer vouchers and coupons via email, your website, or print materials such as product packaging, catalogs, and so on. They are a great way to thank your current customers and to encourage them to continue doing business with you.
One way to really get people excited about their next purchase with you is to offer a mystery coupon. Not only is it interactive, but it also makes customers feel as if they’re playing a game and getting more than just a run-of-the-mill discount.
If you do give this a try, be sure to capitalize on every opportunity with a multi-pronged campaign and strategically-crafted landing page. Even after they’ve clicked through to find out their discount, continue to advertise sale items or your most popular merchandise to further entice them to cash in on their coupon.
Too, you can make use of coupons to recover potential customers who’ve abandoned their carts. As of 2020, around 88% of online carts are abandoned. However, offering discounts to customers who may previously have only been window shopping may be the nudge they need to complete a purchase.
88% of online carts are abandoned, but offering promotions to your window shoppers just may be the nudge they need to complete a purchase.
8. Fairtrade, made in the USA, and cause-related promotions
Fair-trade and made in the USA promotions are sometimes more subtle but no less effective, and can help humanize your brand at the same time. The same goes for those that are linked to charitable causes. These aren’t often seen as promos. However, they are technically types of sales promotions and they can benefit the businesses selling them, charities, and those who participate.
This type of promotion works for businesses of any size. On the larger scale, for example, Apple and other major brands have gotten enthusiastic responses to their (RED)-branded products, which support HIV/AIDS programs in Africa.
Your business can make use of such identifiers and sales promotion strategies as well. After all, people seek out and loyally support businesses whose values align with their own. If something is important to you, it may very well be important to your customers too so use it!
9. Free shipping and returns
In addition to coupons, which we discussed earlier, what’s another cure for a ton of abandoned shopping carts? Four words: Free shipping. Free returns. Free shipping eliminates one of the last obstacles that could prevent people from completing their orders. This is key because hesitation can be present even when a customer has done business with you before and likes what you offer.
On the other hand, free shipping eliminates the anticipation of the hassle that is paying for return shipping. By getting rid of both forms of friction, you can encourage more repeat purchases from your product-based business.
The best cure for a ton of abandoned shopping carts? Four words: Free shipping. Free returns.
10. Loyalty program promotions
Rewards and loyalty programs—even those that don’t necessarily pay off immediately—can be a powerful motivator for customers. Here are a few approaches you might consider.
You could double or triple loyalty points for a limited time, which can be a great incentive to buy. You might even offer a “lump sum” of points for signing up for your loyalty program, which could move customers to buy more than they would have initially.
Punch cards are also a well-known option, which makes customers eligible for a special offer after a certain number of purchases. Some businesses even offer a small discount every time customers use their cards.
This tactic, of course, keeps customers coming back for the rewards, but also ensures you’ll make enough cash to keep you in the green after providing discounts.
Sales promotion examples for boosting brand awareness
The more familiar your audience becomes with your brand, the more they will trust and look forward to your business's announcements and content. Let's take a look at some sales promotion ideas to build and strengthen your brand story.
11. Joint promotions
Whether your company owns several brands or you partner with companies in similar or related industries, you can make use of joint sales promotions. All you have to do is bundle products or services from each brand into a package and promote it via the other brand(s). Your partners can do the same for you, which means free promotion for both of you.
This type of arrangement can extend the reach of your brand. It familiarizes new potential customers with what you offer and increases the likelihood that they’ll convert in the future. The partnership between Red Robin and the X-Men Wolverine franchise is a fine example of a joint promotion.
Red Robin offered discounts to patrons who showed up for a burger with their Wolverine ticket stub in hand. While they may not have received a discount for the actual movie, the film benefitted from attracting people who were more excited about the burger at the end of the tunnel than the movie itself.
12. Social media contests and giveaways
For example, one common method is to require followers to tag a certain number of people in the comments, or post to their stories, to be entered to win.
If you can get your existing audience excited enough about your contest or giveaway, this is basically guaranteed exposure. And not only does it increase your business’s reach on social media, but it specifically increases awareness of your brand among your ideal customer base! This boosts the probability of meaningful engagement and sales in the future.
13. Shopping sprees
One of the most exciting in-store sales promotions you can do is an “enter to win” contest that gives the winner a shopping spree in your store.
Of course, you have to be careful not to leave too much merchandise up for grabs because that could end up costing you dearly. However, allowing for a generous shopping spree can prompt powerful word-of-mouth marketing.
No doubt, the winner will be excited to share their good news and, after the spree is finished, to show off their goods. This user-generated content can put your business on the radar of potential customers and encourage them to check out what you offer.
14. Give branded gifts or bundles
Additional value for less can be very enticing, so you may bundle together your most popular or closely-related services for a reduced price. This is an excellent way to get people talking about your business.
Alternatively, you can offer branded gifts to existing customers and others. The more loyal a supporter of your brand, the more often they’ll use your branded gifts. Who knows how many people will find out about, be reminded of, and check out your brand as a result?
Both bundles and branded gifts can spark a good deal of new interest in your business.
15. Referral discounts
Bringing new customers into the fold should always be on your radar. One way to keep the new customers rolling in is to offer discounts when current customers refer a friend or promote you on social media.
Alternatively, you could give money that can be put toward a customer’s next purchase. In either case, you’ll need to decide if the referral alone is enough or if the discount is only applied after the new customer makes a purchase. If you choose to offer a discount regardless of whether or not anything is purchased, try to place a threshold on the number of referrals required before the discount takes effect. For example, get 25% off your next visit if you make three referrals.
Which sales promotion ideas will you try?
Out of these 15 time-tested sales promotion examples and ideas we covered, which ones stood out to you? Can't remember all of them? Here's the full list:
- Google My Business offer posts
- Free samples
- Buy one, get one free deals
- Cashback promotions
- Lifestyle discounts
- Flash sales and discounts
- Vouchers and coupons
- Fairtrade, made in the USA, and cause-related promotions
- Free shipping and returns
- Loyalty program promotions
- Joint promotions
- Social media contests or giveaways
- Shopping sprees
- Branded gifts or bundles
- Referral discounts
No doubt, there are at least a few you could implement and test at little to no cost to you. And the benefits of leveraging sales promotions can be well worth the effort, as we’ve discussed. So what's your goal? Increase your sales? Get more repeat business? Boost awareness of your brand? All of the above? Then it’s time to pick a sales promo idea and run with it!