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Guest Comment: How to implement a successful friends and family promotion

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The critical success factor in creating a friends and family promotion, where recipients are invited or otherwise motivated to forward your offer to their nearest and dearest, is that it is seen and passed on to as many people as possible.

Giving your customers an incentive to spread the word of savings will not only result in additional exposure for your web store but give your brand an endorsement that would not be possible in any type of direct marketing initiative.

Expand your reach



Be sure that you send the news of your offer to absolutely everyone on your email database — don't limit your offer to 'exclusive' or segmented customers. And why not go further than that? Think about the companies your company does business with and build a separate list of their addresses. This could include affiliates, vendors, agencies and even maintenance and service providers. In our experience, people generally welcome these emails and actually thank their friends for forwarding on the savings.

Get your timing right



Spend a decent period of time planning the key days to run your offer, keeping in mind that Mondays and Tuesdays are the biggest online shopping days.

If you need to support an in-store weekend event, extend it into the beginning of the week to take advantage of these online traffic peaks. But be sure to set a clear limit on the duration of your sale to drive urgency. For example, you can start with a two day sale then have a contingency plan to extend it by a day to bring in additional sales if demand is high.

Make the offer special



The idea behind friends and family promotions is that the sale or offer is special and unusual enough that consumers will be motivated to spread the word. Stretch your limits and bump up the level of your offers beyond what you would usually run, and always include site-wide free shipping if possible.

If you must protect your margins, don't exclude free shipping — just limit the scope with monetary or unit thresholds.

Make the presentation compelling



Guarantee that you stand apart from the inbox clutter with a creative presentation that clearly touts your brand and delivers a compelling, stand-out subject line. Don't be tempted to do too much by filling your creative with multiple offers and confusing messaging. The recipient should see a loud and clear message in a postcard-style email that is free of distractions.

Market your offer across all channels



Customers should never find it hard to find your deals; be sure to promote them prominently, in advance, on your website's homepage, category pages and site-wide.

Don't just leave it to your own site, though. Make sure you advertise on affiliate sites, and make use of social bookmarks such as Digg and Reddit as well as networks as Facebook and Twitter. Leverage banner ads to support your messaging and update your paid search text with urgency callouts such as 'limited time' or 'last chance'.

And, if you're using promotion codes, it is most important to create a code that customers can easily remember (for example, "[RETAILER'S NAME]FRIEND") and be sure to seed your offer to coupon and deal sites such as myvouchercodes.co.uk and ukvouchercode.com.

Multi-channel retailers can also take advantage of high street presence by printing handouts for store managers to pass on to employees and customers in-store. Similarly, you take advantage of the contact your call centre agents have with customers by getting them to promote the sale over the phone and changing your on-hold message to advertise it.

• Steve Davis is president of the European arm of ecommerce and multi-channel solutions specialist GSI Commerce.
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