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Do I need a Black Friday sale? How to decide when (and if) to discount your product

Should you run a Black Friday sale? Let’s break it down.

There’s no question that sales drive conversions. And conversions drive revenue. But that doesn’t mean that sales always make the most sense for your business.

Your average marketer will push you to run a sale because sales drive revenue, and big revenue results make marketers look good. Also, a lot of us really like the buzz we get when the virtual cash register starts ka-chinging off the hook like a bugs bunny cartoon. (Who doesn’t?!)

But any marketer that’s looking at the big picture—the whole business bottom line (and the good ones will be)—will take a much more nuanced approach to sales.

Why? Because sales aren’t just big happy pots ‘o gold at the end of your marketing rainbow. The most obvious reason is that revenue that is driven by a discount is, well, discounted. You’re literally cutting into your bottom line. 

But there are other reasons to think twice about running a sale:

  • Run too many and you can potentially train your audience to expect sales and wait for the next one rather than buying right now at full price 
  • By reducing the price too much too often, you risk devaluing your product in the eyes of your customers (price is a large part of the perceived value of a product)
  • Too many deep sales can start to feel like your company is desperate—and since we’re all sheep at heart, people tend to lose interest in something nobody wants

So… are we saying you should never run a sale? Hardly. Sales are a really useful tool in your marketing toolbox. Here are a few great reasons to run a sale:

  • You have a lot of inventory you want to move 
  • You are in competition with another brand and want to get people to discover/buy your product rather than theirs (this should be a short-term strategy only to make people aware of your product, however—the last thing you want is to get into a sale war with the competition)
  • You have a product line or a new product that you want to bring attention to.  Sales get people’s attention (and opening emails) better than anything else
  • You want to drive revenue to boost sales in a slow month or quarter for legitimate big-picture business reasons
  • You want to capitalize on a traditional sale period, like Black Friday, and capture some additional traffic by appearing relevant during a key selling season

OK, let’s say a sale makes sense for your business. The next question is, how much of a discount should you offer? That is going to depend on your product (or service), how much margin you have to play with, what the lifetime value of acquiring a new customer is, and a bunch of other factors unique to your business. But here are a few tips to help you figure it out:

  • Except in rare cases, don’t go too small. People don’t respond well to discounts of 5% 10%, or even 15% off. In fact, they respond so poorly that if you do decide to offer a low-value discount, don’t use it as the subject line in your email. We’ve A/B tested and found you need at least 30-35% to use it successfully in the subject line. (Note that discounts as small as 10% can be effective as a sale, if on the right (expensive) products and messaged correctlyit’s just not where you should start.)
  • Also, avoid going too big (we’re talking 50% or more off) unless it’s a sample sale, you’re pushing things on clearance, or it’s a veeery special occasion. Deep discounts can lower the perceived value of your brand… and aren’t really generally necessary to get people’s attention. 

We usually advise starting somewhere in the 35%-off range, and then testing it (want to read more about marketing testing?) to see if the amount is meeting your needs i.e. helping you do the thing you are trying to do with the sale without leaving too much money on the table.

But wait, you still haven’t answered the question about Black Friday sales!

Actually, I have, believe it or not. You should approach a Black Friday sale or Cyber Monday sale much like any other sale: do you have a business purpose (that makes sense) for running the sale? Rather than running a sale because everyone else is, ask yourself what you want to achieve with the sale… and go from there. That should give you your answer.

That said, Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday are somewhat unique in that people have been trained to buy during that period. This means sales work really well—better than usual—to drive revenue over that weekend. So if you do have a business reason for a sale, it’s often a good idea to jump on this particular bandwagon. 

In conclusion: should I run a sale?

To recap: run sales—including black Friday sales—strategically. Keep your business purpose in mind. Set your discount amount to whatever is the lowest amount that works to meet your business purpose. And don’t run sales just because other people are doing it. 

Because, ultimately, for your business to succeed, you need to be able to sell your product—at full price—to satisfied, engaged customers. If you need to rely on sales as a prop, you’re missing some key part of your strategy… and it’s time to look closely for what that is. 

Happy marketing!

Katie & Theron


Urban Sherpa Marketing Company is a boutique marketing advisory firm specializing in helping small to medium-sized companies jumpstart their growth. Offering everything from outsourced marketing director services to marketing training and hiring advisory, they love helping marketing teams grow and thrive.


Too busy for marketing? What to do instead

Well. Those of you who check in on us periodically may have noticed that we went totally dark on the new-blog-posting-on-social-sending-emails marketing front for about seven months here recently. 

Yeah, we know, a marketing company not doing their own marketing is a bit of a bad look. 

That said (wiping the egg off our faces), we—as small business owners—are not alone on this sort of thing, so let’s take the moment to talk about what happened. 

The short story: we got really busy with client work. For us, as for most of you, our customers come first. And if we have a choice between getting something done for a client or writing a blog to progress our own marketing, it’s pretty easy to push that blog on to the next week on our calendar… and then the next week, and the next week.

Does any of this sound familiar? I can’t tell you how many clients we’ve worked with who have struggled with getting the marketing side of things done while still juggling all the other extremely important stuff they have to manage on a daily basis. 

And, ironically, often the better the business is doing the harder it is to find the time for marketing. 

The problem is that you need to be focusing on marketing when times are good just as much as when times are hard. Marketing isn’t magic. Except in rare cases like a well-tuned Google search marketing campaign, marketing isn’t something you can turn on when you need it and turn off when your tank is full—and still expect to get results. 

For most businesses, effective marketing requires multiple touch points, good frequency, consistent SEO building, review gathering, staying top-of-mind, and more… in short, a cohesive and enduring marketing strategy.

And, no, going dark on your marketing for 7 months does not a cohesive and enduring marketing strategy make. 

So, what do you do if you’re too busy to keep up with your marketing?

  1. Reduce the time needed. Look at your marketing strategy, and figure out which items eat the most of your precious time. Is there a shorter or less time-intensive option that might still get the same results? Instead of a long blog, write a short one. No time to put together a fancy graphic? Shoot a quick video with your phone to post instead. 
  2. Revisit your perfectionism. I like to say that about 80% of the effort towards making a marketing piece perfect pays off, and the last 20% is just wasted time. Seriously, there IS such a thing as “good enough”. And, when it comes to marketing, “good enough” actually happens to trump “perfect”, if perfect takes months to complete. Every. Single. Time.
  3. Tap internal resources. Is there someone in your company that likes the idea of helping out with marketing? Many employees have secret talents that they actually might like using. Find their marketing superpower, and tap it. Sure, you still have to manage everything, but it can help cut down on how much time you’re spending producing.
  4. Hire help. That’s what we’re here for, folks… to take the main burden of marketing off your shoulders so that you can focus on other things. And even if you don’t hire a fractionalized marketing director like ourselves, don’t be afraid to outsource certain tasks to freelancers. Upwork is a great resource. You don’t—repeat after me—need to do it all yourself.
  5. Change your attitude. No, I don’t mean to stop whining (who said anything about whining?). What I mean is that, in order to get marketing done, you need to make it enough of a priority that it actually gets done. Otherwise, it will continue to slide from week to week in perpetuity. And that, folks, is all in how you look at it.

Well, that’s all for now; it’s time to get my nose back to the grindstone. But boy do I have a warm feeling of accomplishment for actually getting this done!

Happy marketing,

Katie & Theron

Help! I forgot to plan for holiday marketing! What now?

It’s common marketing knowledge that you should start your holiday season marketing planning as early as August. And if you need to bring in inventory to support it, you should have really started planning right after last year’s holiday season. And common knowledge here is correct – you absolutely should plan early.

But, as with many marketing best practices, starting really early isn’t always realistic for smaller businesses, especially those struggling with their marketing function. (Hey! Need help with that?) It’s pretty common to instead feel like the holiday season is an out of control freight train screaming down on you.

So, what can you do if you’ve gotten this far (early December) without doing, well, anything? Do you have any hope? 

Well, sure.

How to salvage your holiday marketing

1) It may not be too late!

Sure, some crazy-organized people start their Christmas shopping as early as September, but there’s a lot of us that wait until the very last minute. As long as you don’t rely on the already-burdened shipping companies to get products to customers, there’s no reason you can’t throw a last-minute-shopper’s sale right up to the, well, last minute. 

Unlike in the past, when you needed to get your media buys together months in advance, the great thing about digital marketing is you can slap up an ad tomorrow. Or send out an email series to your customer list today. And there’s no time like the present!

2) Celebrate the New Year

Unless your business gets a big chunk of its revenue from holiday gift sales, why not skip the holiday season altogether? Stay with me, here! The thing is, everyone is getting inundated with messaging right now. Inboxes are piling up, catalogs are flooding physical mailboxes, we’re all being followed around the internet with great gift ideas (!) and seasonal deals… basically there is a LOT of competition for attention. 

What about sending out a Happy New Year card to your clients instead of a holiday card? Or putting on a New Year’s Resolution sale? Your message will stand out a lot more in the quiet time after the holiday season  is over than it would in the midst of the fray.

3) Double down on the next holidays

OK, so you didn’t get things together in time for Hanukkah and Christmas gifters. That doesn’t mean you have to slink away with your tail between your legs. Start planning now for your marketing for the next set of holidays. 

Valentine’s day? Sure! Mardi Gras? I don’t know, why not? Mother’s day? Absolutely. Start thinking now about what offers you want to put together, what your messaging will be, and how you will advertise your huge Belly Laugh Day sale. You’ll be well ahead of the pack!

4) Try to relax about it

Our last piece of advice is a bit more metaphysical: try not to worry too much about whether you’re doing your marketing “right”. Sure, the holidays are a great time to generate sales for a lot of businesses, but it’s not the only way to do so. Depending on your industry, it might not even make any sense to pay attention to the holidays at all. Remember that people are super distracted right now, and really don’t need another voice shouting at them. Give yourself a break – you’ve done well to get through the year – and drink a little eggnog to celebrate your lack of holiday marketing. 

And hey, there’s always next year, right?

Happy holidays (and small business marketing),

Katie & Theron

How to squeeze the very most marketing out of your marketing budget


For those of us not blessed with a Coca-Cola sized marketing budget (oh, the glory!), one of the most pressing questions we ask ourselves is how we can get more marketing for less money

If 100% of your marketing budget was easily quantifiable by ROAS (Return On Ad Spend), this would be a non-issue, of course. It’s emotionally pretty easy to increase the budget on a program that has a positive ROAS – meaning it’s bringing in more revenue than you’re paying in advertising costs. You have no idea how many conversations I’ve had with clients that start out with, “of course, if we get a good return on our marketing, I’ll increase the marketing budget”. Well, duh.

The problem is that there’s a lot of “marketing” that isn’t easy to tie cleanly back to ROAS. What about updating your website? Keeping your social media platforms current? Making sure your collateral (flyers, brochures, catalogs, etc) are up to date? None of that can be tracked back directly to sales, but still needs to be done. And we’re not even bringing up things like brand awareness, which is an important part of the marketing cycle but notoriously difficult to link directly to marketing return. 

In reality, a portion of marketing programs should be included under the cost of doing business, like your power bill or your lease.

But that begs the question: if I take away the pipe-dream of magically making all marketing pay for itself (sorry!), how do you keep costs under control so you can pay for the marketing you need? Here are our thoughts:

How to get the most out of your marketing budget

1) Your marketing channels: make sure you get the mix right

One of the biggest ways to hemorrhage your marketing budget is to spend money on marketing channels that aren’t working for you. While it’s unlikely you can directly track the return on your investment across everything you’re doing for marketing, it pays (literally) to take a step back and really look at value. 

What advertising is getting you the most traffic? How well does that traffic behave? Setting up a Google Analytics account is a useful, free way to track how well your traffic channels are performing. You can even set up conversion goals to show how well different traffic streams are converting into sales or other goals. Remember, not all your channels will convert directly into sales, but they should be driving traffic to your site that stays there a while and looks around. 

Then, act on the data. If you’re running an ad in the local paper every month, for instance, and you don’t see a bump in traffic afterwards, you might want to consider ditching that ad. Unless you’re getting a bunch of customers in some other way (like the phone is ringing off the hook), that ad probably isn’t working.

Then look around at other waste. That brochure that needs to be updated? How many do you actually give away every year (that aren’t ending up immediately in the trash)? Could it work as well (or better) as a digital flier? Perhaps even a page on your website? Go through your marketing and look at everything with a very critical eye. 

Even better, bring in pro help to do a marketing audit. They can help you build a marketing plan that prioritizes those channels that really get you sales. 

2) Target the right audience

Another way to spend more money than necessary is to spend it advertising to the wrong people. Or to spend it on a really broad audience – like an ad in the paper – that might reach the right people, but also a lot of wrong people as well. 

The more targeted your audience is, the more efficient your marketing spend will be. This is why search marketing almost always provides a positive ROAS for B2C businesses; if you’re doing it right, 100% of the traffic clicking on your ad is interested in your product or service. This is also why email marketing – to a clean, organically grown list* – is also excellent. 

Take a look at your marketing channels and think hard about whether the audience is really targeted well. Print ads (paper and magazine), some digital ads, billboards, etc, are often culprits for overspend.** And if you’re advertising on social media, use lookalike audiences (audiences that “look” like your current customers) to make sure you’re targeting effectively. 

3) Utilize the talents of your team

This is a hack we use a lot for companies we work with. Do you have a good amateur photographer on your team? Is one of your CSRs a great vlogger? Does someone like writing? Is your IT guy secretly really big on posting on social media?  It’s totally OK to farm out some of your content production and social media management to the team, even if it has a bit of a “homemade” look in the end. In fact, the more your content looks like user generated content (a fancy way of saying “homemade”), the better. 

One thing to be very aware of, however, is making sure you don’t take advantage of your employees – or seem to be.  Make sure any marketing helpers volunteer for their new duties, and don’t expect them to work on their own time. We find that, often, employees like a little break from their main duties – and enjoy being part of the marketing program… as long as they don’t feel like they have to stay late or come in on weekends to get it done. 

4) Put together a functional funnel

This may sound like a general marketing best practice rather than a cost-saving strategy, but hear me out: if you drive a lot of traffic through (paid) advertising, and it just bounces off your site without any means of capturing that traffic, they, yes, you’re absolutely wasting money. 

Instead, make sure you have strategies in place to capture that traffic. This can (and should) include retargeting campaigns and pop-ups to get people to subscribe to your email list (yes, they work). What are retargeting campaigns, you ask? They are campaigns that show ads or send things to people that have visited your site. There are many platforms that help with this, but channels can include ads, emails, and direct mail.  

5) Hire help strategically

Yeah, I said it. Sometimes the best way to save money is to spend a little. Bringing in an expert for a quick audit and some marketing planning can save you money in the long run because – if they are good – they will make sure the money you are spending is, well, money well spent. 

Final thoughts on getting the most marketing for your money

Since marketing won’t ever completely pay for itself (and why should it, you don’t expect a return on your investment from your power bill, do you?),the next best thing is to build as efficient a marketing program as possible.

And if you still need some ideas on how to pay for your (efficient) marketing program, check out our thoughts on how to find the money to afford marketing. And best of luck!

* Buying a list from a list broker doesn’t count, as, while they may be targeted, they often are overused and have bad (and old) information. They usually preform quite poorly.
** We’re not saying you should never run a print ad or rent a billboard. For certain businesses and industries, this can make a lot of sense. Just be aware of what you’re doing when you do so!

At Urban Sherpa Marketing Co. we offer marketing advisory, strategic planning, and marketing services for small businesses and startups. Our goal is to make high-quality marketing — from search marketing and social media marketing to website strategy and direct mail marketing — possible for every business, no matter the size. Think of us as your outsourced marketing department, strategic marketing adviser, or even your phone-a-friend marketing lifeline.

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Marketing best practices: the importance of testing

We recently put together a social media marketing campaign for a client. When I reviewed the ads with her, she (very nicely) let me know that while she loved half of them, she didn’t think much of the other half. 

I wasn’t surprised. I hadn’t expected her to like them. But I also wasn’t about to throw them in the trash. And here’s why: we’d deliberately put together ads that didn’t look like all their other marketing efforts to test if they might work better to get the attention of potential new customers. Those “different” ads were our way of making sure we weren’t making biased assumptions about what her customers would like.

Because, frankly, the best way to fail at marketing is to assume you always know what people are looking for. 

This is especially important with smallish businesses, most particularly those that have grown organically from the ground up. Many smaller businesses have never done any market testing on their visual brand or their messaging – because they didn’t/don’t have the money (good market testing can be expensive), or because they never thought of it. In the end, their brand is a representation of their taste, and their messaging is often simply what appeals to them. 

But – and this is a huge BUT – unless your target customers are exactly like you, what appeals to you might fall completely flat with your target market. As a business owner, it’s imperative to get away from your own preferences and put yourself in the shoes of your customers. 

Even if you’re one of the lucky few that are selling to people a lot like you, you may want to check in every once in a while to make sure your tastes haven’t diverged over time. For example, if you started a kid’s shoe store when you were a young parent in the 90s, at the time, your interests and tastes probably matched your clientele’s pretty well. But now, 30 years later, your clients are of a completely different generation… and unlikely to have much in common with you. 

How to test your marketing

There are two main ways to test your marketing efforts. One, run market research and study groups to ask people about it directly. Big brands do this all the time. Before you see that Super Bowl ad, you better believe it’s been run through study group after study group of target customers to see if it resonated with them (as surprising as that might be, considering some of the ads that passed muster, apparently – but hey, we’re not the target market for all of them). 

The problem with market testing is that it’s usually out of reach for companies that aren’t in the Big Marketing Spend arena. Sure, there’s some do-it-yourself market research platforms (we like Pollfish) that are good for testing concepts and slogans, etc, but be prepared that hiring a market research firm to do really thorough research will often run you into the tens (or more) of thousands. 

That’s not really a practical number for smaller brands, and definitely not practical for testing ad copy every time around.

The second way is to use the power of digital marketing to test ideas and copy for you. Digital marketing is set up so you can track practically everything. This means you can run two different ads side by side and see which performs better. You can test different imagery, different copy, different delivery methods, and different offers. All while actually marketing your product. Who wouldn’t love that kind of efficiency?

And if you’re not 100% sure of who your customer is, you can even use digital marketing to test customer groups. You can run ads to different ages, interests, geographic locations, household income levels, and more, and find out which groups leads to the most sales. 

By testing, you can hone in closer to your ideal message for your ideal customer. 

Of course, in order to really test effectively, you need to lose your preconceived notions of what “will” work and what “won’t work”, and just put the ads out there to be judged in the court of digital advertising. It can take some practice to do so, and yes, you’ll build some ads that you may not really like. But? You might surprise yourself – and end up with more effective marketing.

Oh? That client? It turned out that our alternate ads far outperformed the ads that felt more comfortable to them. 

And that’s something we would never have known if we hadn’t done some marketing testing.