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Promotion Best Practices

I was asked for some thoughts on promotion best practices recently. It is possible to get deep into this subject – one that I love to analyze and constantly develop - but sometimes a quick check list is the best starting place.  In the simplest form, there are two buckets for promotion.  The first is the actual promotion’s structure and execution.  The second is the ‘operations’ or plan behind a company’s overall promotion strategy.


Notes on Promotions  


Building relationships.

Building relationships is a common theme in any subject, for me.  Regarding promotions, before any copy is written or graphics designed, the relationship with your audience that it is intended for needs to be in some stage of development.  Obviously promotions are designed to reach masses that you do not necessarily have relationships with, but you will have better success with engagement if you have established some level of a rapport.

Think about a promotion like a relationship instead of a post or an email.

The beginning stage of a relationship requires a sense that this will provide and meet needs.  Until a level of compatibility and trust is established, requesting things is premature.  So there is some pre-planning to establish that perception of compatibility and trust.  Content and offer of resource are trending as the most effective way to establish that.

For more information on building relationship and the Relate-Respect-Connect formula, read our blog, Branding Matters.


Targeting Audience  

A buzz word for targeting is Segmentation and is considered a powerful best practice in promotion strategy across multiple channels.

I worked with a manager who understood and embraced targeting promotions early on and actually went a little over the top because of their passion.  The old term people used was ‘blasts’.  If sending out a large number of promotion emails, agencies and marketers referred to it as sending out an email blast.  This manager felt the word ’blast’ was equal to using profanity and would not allow marketing consultants to ever utter it.  At times, because many of our customers still used that language, we would use it when direct quoting a customer and let’s just say it wasn’t pretty…. We learned fast to never use the ‘B’ word when discussing email promotions.

But that was the original language.  It was also before targeting or segmenting was in practice so blasts tended to be one message to everyone you had an email address for just to get it out to the masses and see what response you could get.  To that manager’s point, that was a poor practice and why email promotions got a bad reputation for quite a while.  It is annoying.  There are now serious spam laws in place to protect against that annoying invasion.

In order to target properly, you need to keep this information in the CRM with job responsibilities, product and topic interests, demographics, and geographical locations.

Promotions should follow:

  • custom audiences
  • custom message

Then it is simple…. target the right people for your business with the properly aligned content, resources and ads.   Avoid sending promotions or serving content to people who are not the right fit.


Frequency and Timing

Frequency, in my marketing planning, considers when promotions deploy.  When is defined by both the best practice timing and the frequency.

Response rates tend to be lower on Monday mornings when workers are tackling full inboxes and Friday afternoons when it is said that many are already winding down for the weekend, mentally.   This can be backed up when tracking email open rates.   These are traditionally the lowest trending times regardless of industry.

Other notes to keep are sensitivity to holidays and priority vacation times in both our country and other countries and industry events and other news that might impact timing and response.


First Impressions

Making a good first impression is vital to any relationship’s success.   I once heard (and though I have seen these numbers vary slightly in different research, it is pretty accurate),  for face-to-face interactions, you have a 10 second average to make a first impression in comparison to only a 2 second average in the digital world (email and websites).  No pressure.

When focusing on promotion and specifically, email, the first impression is the subject line.  Here is the goal:  be unique, have personality, keep it simple, and include a call to action.  Good luck.  I had a co-worker who would put a subject line of “free cookies” when he really wanted you to read his email.  I thought it was clever for an internal email because, well, I always read those.

Though the call to action should be brief, remember it must give clear direction or expectation.


Deliver Respect

Assuming you have targeted your promotions, you have delivered the first sign of respect by not wasting someone’s time with the wrong message.  The other considerations include:

  • Time
    • communicate the value of the content –do not make people guess or independently deduct
    • use bullet points to make the communication more efficient
    • define two to three benefits


  • Honesty
    • never over-sell or promise what you cannot deliver – breaks trust
    • never undersell the value of your content or offer


  • Organization
    • communicate methodically
    • include an image of the product or service
    • always make an obvious and clear call-to-action
    • do not forget the link to get there


  • TONE
    • consider your platform
      • social media should be lighter and more engaging – it’s social
      • email promotions should be personal and customized to the individual receiving it – like a business conversation
    • tone represents your attitude – take that seriously
    • align your tone of message with tone of your content or offer
    • compare tone to your marketing action: education, informing, entertaining, inspiring



Notes on Operations


Operations, for me, is the process that ensures all best practices are in order.  I have three pieces of my operations that really help me stay ‘present’ in promotions.


Creation of Promotion Calendar

I have a one place for all marketing information that includes:

  • External dates: holidays, industry dates, trade shows and events, media/publication deadlines
  • Internal dates: planned product releases, press releases, content posts, website updates, promotions

Everything in one place creates a visual snapshot of the year and helps illustrate gaps and overlaps.  Additionally, seeing deadlines vs. deploys and launches can help with time management.



I keep a log of test results, this is true.  The clearest way to become your own expert on best practices for delivery and promotion is to do the work and learn through results.

In my early days of training, what we called A/B testing, was mandatory.   In A/B testing you simply run two promotions to each half of your list.  They must be identical with the exception of one variable.  That variable can be:

  • subject line
  • message
  • bolding certain words or use of color to emphasize
  • time of day
  • day of the week
  • wording of call to action

Important: only change one variable per A/B test.



Never miss an opportunity to analyze the performance of a promotion.  As you build history with your analytics, you will begin to see a story about your audience behaviors.  Previously, with due diligence tracking analytics on webinars, I had uncovered a trend with 92% of engineers I was promoting to engaging/viewing our content but doing so ‘off hours’ that included Sunday afternoons and late evenings.  I began to understand that there was a real need for this information and I was a trusted resource but there was an issue with bandwidth during the work week for this target audience.  Very important information that wasn’t published anywhere.

Identify steps to take based off of analytics from your campaigns.  Never underestimate the power of this knowledge.


Think Mobile

Searches on mobile devices currently make up the majority of Google searches.

Before you push out promotion, be sure you have responsive design and that your promotion is mobile-friendly.   Part of knowing your audience is knowing that they need a positive user experience on mobile.  Not only will this improve your bounce rate by keeping them on the page but will change your branding as a relevant source and leader.


Additional resources from the FOC team include:




Here are the links to this full Marketing Blog Series:




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Kathleen Skelton

About Kathleen Skelton

Kathleen Skelton, Director of Strategic Marketing's experience includes management positions at Lightwave, KMI Research, PennWell Publishing, Beacon Communications, and Security Innovations, Inc. As a strategic marketing director, she utilizes her expertise in business development, online strategy, marketing planning, digital best practices, standard operating procedures development, and database design, management and training. Kathleen has global business and marketing experience. Outside of FOC, Kathleen is passionate about her volunteer work for several organizations and works with youth groups teaching business strategy for various community projects. In her volunteer work, Kathleen is committed to developing tomorrow's leaders through exciting, strategy-focused business education. This mission guides all of her work outside of the corporate office. Kathleen graduated from Curry College with a BA in Communications and Education and minors in English and Psychology. Kathleen resides outside of Boston, MA with her husband and four children. Follow @KATHLEENSKELTON