Sep 25, 2020 | 16 min read

13 Holiday marketing ideas for your small business

This article was updated on December 12, 2022

Sales during the holidays can make up 30% of a retailer’s annual revenue—and this is only from November and December (17% of the year).

That’s a big piece of the pie, and it’s why so many small businesses spend months plotting their holiday sales strategy. From doorbusters to holiday sale promo codes, Black Friday bargains to in-store-only discounts, you name a marketing trick, and businesses have tried it during the holidays. 

As the economy recovers from the pandemic, and as online marketing efforts and online shopping continue to transform everything we know about retail, small businesses must come up with innovative ways to grab shoppers’ attention this holiday season. Social media spots, influencer partnerships, and hashtag giveaways have become major marketing strategies for small and massive businesses alike. But, as the holidays approach and the holiday marketing campaign season begins, what does all of this mean for your business? 

Using real-world examples, this guide will look at 13 holiday marketing ideas you can apply to your small business, from now through the end of the year. 

Why holiday marketing is important

Aside from the aforementioned fact that holiday shopping is an important piece of small local business revenue, it also plays into many other factors that drive consumer behavior. Holiday shopping, historically, has been very different from regular shopping because of the way shoppers approach it.

While online shopping is a massive, year-round industry in the US and beyond—eCommerce activities represented $5.2 trillion of the worldwide economy in 2021 alone—in-person shopping isn’t going away anytime soon. In the same year, 43% of holiday shoppers still did their gift-buying in-store, and it might come as a surprise that, in such a digital-first era, just under half of the population is still doing holiday shopping in person. Whether it be New Year’s Eve or Valentine's day, holidays still rake in major in-store purchase sales. 

Holiday shopping puts consumers in a somewhat different mindset than usual—they’re spending more, perhaps exploring unfamiliar brands for the first time, and looking for convenient shopping options. For these reasons alone, it’s critical that retail brands — both brick-and-mortar and eCommerce companies — understand how holiday shoppers tick.

Consumer behavior: What’s going on in the holiday shopper’s head?

Unlike a summer afternoon of retail therapy, holiday shopping is loaded with opportunities for both a brand and its customers. According to SendPulse, holiday marketing is important for five reasons:

  • Shopping during the holidays is a ritual that brings brands and customers together 
  • Consumer demand increases during this time
  • Encourages creative seasonal marketing strategies that are heartfelt and endearing
  • Can increase brand loyalty when done right
  • Allows businesses to grow due to increased revenue

Taken together, holiday shopping isn’t something small businesses can afford to glance over. 

The cultural phenomenon of holiday shopping is loaded with emotion for consumers. It’s a time-honored tradition that allows for opportunities to reward loyal customers, unveil new marketing promotions, and attract new customers.

Then there’s the fact that holiday shopping is a strong barometer for overall business health. Taking all this into consideration, you can begin to understand just how critical the holidays are to small businesses.

What are some holiday marketing ideas?

With the groundwork laid (and the decorations ready), here are 10 successful holiday marketing tactics from real businesses. Each is unique, presenting a possible solution for optimizing this year’s holiday season, whether it be Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, or New Year's Day Sales. 

1. Holiday card exchange

What better way to start the Holiday season than to show appreciation to your current customers? Send out a thank you card on Thanksgiving or Happy Holidays card between Christmas and New Year. The twist on this marketing strategy is to ask your customers to send you a card in return. You can put up your customer’s holiday cards in your small business to show appreciation for their support. By doing this, customers will feel as if they have a personal relationship with your business and can offer feedback to your business. 

Small business inspiration

There are various ways for small businesses to run a holiday card exchange. Email lists are a great place to start and allow for virtual holiday cards to be emailed out to past and current customers. Think about some of your favorite brands. You’re likely part of their email list and have received many cheerful holiday greetings and e-cards over the years. This is their way of showing that they value you as a loyal customer of their business. Try it out yourself! A holiday card email blast can help your company save on the cost of mailing individual cards to people’s homes. 

Or, consider handing out your holiday cards in person, if possible. When customers come into your store or business, you can have the cards set aside and let them know about your holiday card exchange.  

2. Gingerbread house contest 

Proving once again that you can’t sleep on holiday promotions, try out a gingerbread-building contest. Have customers participate in building a gingerbread house that reflects their idea of what they think is the perfect gingerbread house. Incorporate different contest categories to get more individuals involved. Set up a discount or an award for those who participate in your contest to thank them for participating. Partnering with other small businesses for the contests will help to bring more participants to all of you.

Small business inspiration

Get your community involved in the holiday season by encouraging involvement in activities like photoshoots and seasonal festivities that boost the local morale and economy. Even companies as big as Amazon have participated in company-wide gingerbread house contests as a team-building exercise. Virtual or in-person, such events can bond your company while spreading holiday cheer. Try out one of the following ideas to get involved:

  • Photographers can boost brand awareness and acquire new clients by hosting a  gingerbread contest on social media. Encourage participants to enter by sharing a photo of their gingerbread creation and tagging your account. Award the best gingerbread house creator participant with a free holiday mini-session.
  • Real estate agents can ask their social media followers to send in pictures of their home’s Christmas decorations. Set up an online poll for contestants to share with their friends so they can vote and learn about your business. 
  • If you own a nail salon, you can run a special on Christmas-inspired nails and ask to share those images on your social media page.

3.  #12DaysofPuppies 

When in doubt, send in a puppy. It’s an effective marketing strategy that clothing retailer L.L. Bean capitalized on with its #12DaysofPuppies social media campaign. The retailer used Instagram to ask followers to post their favorite puppy pics for a chance to be featured and win a gift card. Naturally, tons of customers responded using the aforementioned hashtag, but L.L. Bean was the real winner by increasing audience interaction and spreading holiday cheer while capturing loads of user-generated content.

Small business inspiration

While puppies are hard to resist, you can take this idea and apply it to photos within your industry. For example, if you’re an outdoor retailer, you can run a #12daysofholiday camping campaign. The main idea is to get followers to rally around something enough so they share content (and share your business).

Bonus? Any business that offers gift cards can lean into the giving season by taking a page out of The Common Man’s holiday playbook.

The Common Man is a family of restaurants with several locations across the state of New Hampshire. Each year they celebrate 25 days of Christmas by offering a discount of 25% off (starting on December 1st) on company gift cards that can be used at any one of their locations. The discount rolls back by 1% each day until Christmas Day. This not only drives business to their locations but also nudges customers to act fast in order to get the best deal. 

4. Deck the (Online) Halls by Tommy Hilfiger

There’s something nostalgia-inducing about stepping foot inside a store during the holiday season to see the carefully decorated shopfronts, hear your favorite holiday tunes, and smell the aromas of spruce or mulled cider. But since holiday shoppers are buying online more than ever, they might feel like they’re missing out on the full experience. 

That’s why Tommy Hilfiger decided to create a fully immersive experience for online shoppers, allowing them to “walk” through each corner of their charmingly decorated eCommerce store—complete with hot chocolate recipes and DIY scented diffusers.

You may not need to fully redesign your website, but sprinkling a few holiday surprises throughout each page may be a nice touch for those sticking to virtual gift-buying this year. 

Small business inspiration 

No matter your industry, small businesses of all kinds can polish up their websites in time for the holiday season. Even simple edits like an updated photo in your hero section or a seasonal change in color palette can turn your website into an exciting holiday experience. 

Local bakeries looking to spice things up during the holiday season can follow Magnolia Bakery’s lead. Instead of completely overhauling their website, they featured a festive photo of mouthwatering baked goods alongside their flavor of the month. Gingerbread? Sugar cookie? Pick your seasonal special and do some online re-decorating. 

5. Red Cups by Starbucks 

 One only needs to see the cup in a gloved hand to know that the holidays have arrived. That’s the case with Starbucks’ red cup rollout. By using cups as marketing, they turned a functional utensil into powerful branding. 

Small business inspiration

The Starbucks red cup model is a master class in marketing. But who’s to say this same approach couldn’t work for a small business? With some smart planning, a cup or paper bag could be branded in holiday decor to spread some season’s greetings and drive traffic to your store. 

You can also: 

  • Design new packaging material that shows off your logo but in holiday colors or theme elements.
  • Offer a free branded seasonal item like a beanie or a Santa Hat with certain purchases.
  • Set up a fun holiday photo backdrop for customers in your store. Make sure your logo is incorporated into the design and every time your customers share their selfies, your brand will get another boost of visibility.

6. Macy’s Believe Campaign 

Since 2008, Macy’s has invited shoppers to use its site to write a letter to Santa. And for every letter written, it's given $1 to the Make a Wish Foundation. Goodwill for a good cause goes a long way in garnering brand appreciation. Plus, Macy’s is a big winner with this marketing idea, too. The campaign was paired with a social media push and has since generated tons of videos uploaded by users who support the cause.

Small business inspiration

Whether you’re the owner of a corner bookstore or a beauty professional at a local salon, take advantage of the holiday season to show your commitment to bettering the local community. 

  • Instead of a letter to Santa, encourage your customers to write holiday cards to those in need. These can be patients at a nearby hospital or even children living in homeless shelters. Offer a discount for every letter and snap a picture of all the envelopes for your social media page to show off your customers’ compassion. 
  • Liquidate the end-of-year surplus items at your boutique by offering to donate a portion of the proceeds to a local charity, organization, or scholarship.  
  • Work together with your real estate team to put on a bake sale at your office. Entice potential buyers in to chat about available properties over some freshly baked cookies and brownies, the proceeds of which will support a local homeless shelter. 

7. HotelTonight’s #visitdontstay 

Some of the smartest holiday marketing campaigns are those that exploit a universal truth. That’s the case in HotelTonight’s now well-known 2016 #visitdontstay campaign. 

As SquareUp explains, HotelTonight capitalized on the sometimes awkward parts of holiday stays. “The company shared photos of humorous situations encountered with family members, and invited followers to share their greatest (and most cringe-worthy) family holiday stories on social channels like Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #visitdontstay for HotelTonight credits.” 

It went viral. By being relatable and using humor, HotelTonight increased its brand awareness.

Small business inspiration

It’s true, the holidays are a time of warmth, celebration, and memorable stories. Invite your social media followers to share their favorite holiday tales (whether they’re humorous or heart-warming) and spotlight a story each day on your page. 

You can pick a theme within your industry—for example:

  • “Holidays in a new home” for a real estate business
  • “Memorable holiday meals” for a meal-prepping service
  • “A canine Christmas” for a dog trainer or pet supply store. 

When you share your customers’ stories on your page, your customers will share your post with their followers. Not only are you spreading good cheer, but you’re also spreading the word about your business.

8. Spotify’s “Your Wrapped” Email Newsletter 

Proof that any business can use the holidays as a marketing vehicle, Spotify first released an email newsletter to users with “Your 2017 Wrapped.” It was a look back for each member through their music listening history, including how many total minutes they listened and a ton of other aggregated data on listener behavior. Nostalgic as well as a launchpad for user-generated content (users sharing their Spotify results), this clever campaign is a smart holiday marketing trick that has turned into an annual tradition because of its popularity. 

Small business inspiration

Send out a newsletter to your contact list with your company’s year in review. Showcase some of your best moments from the previous year as well as what’s ahead for your business in the new year. Not only will it put your highlight reel on display but it’s also a friendly nudge for your new and existing customers to keep you in mind throughout the next calendar year.

9. Pottery Barn’s Gift Guide

While customers might celebrate the holidays in different ways, there’s one thing almost everyone can agree on—the challenge of finding the perfect gift for everyone on their gift list.

Pottery Barn seized the season of giving by providing a comprehensive gift guide of their top-selling products and the people on your list who might love them. 


Small Business Inspiration

Create your own gift guide specific to your business’s goods and services to help your customers find the perfect present for their loved ones. This might be a more straightforward task for clothing stores, bookshops, or even outdoor equipment shops. But whatever your business, you can show off your expertise and still point customers in the right direction.  

  • If you’re a real estate agent, create a gift guide for home furnishings, decor, or even local home services that offer gift cards like a housekeeping or landscaping service.
  • If you’re a pet supply shop, you can build a guide geared towards treats animal companions would love.

10. Guinness sends an uplifting message 

In 2020, Guinness put a hard-to-wipe-off smile on several faces during the St. Patrick’s Day season this year. By spreading a message that encouraged viewers to find joy in celebrating while also looking after themselves and their loved ones, they sent a strong message about their brand values and the importance of community during the pandemic—a message that resonated with viewers (current customers and brand newcomers alike) during a troubling year. 

Small business strategy

Whether you write a heartfelt note that reflects where your business stands in these uncertain times or try a different strategy, these messages give you a chance to connect with your customers on a deeper level. Plus, it’s an important sentiment that can be shared any time of year, not just on St. Patrick’s Day. 

Whether you’re in real estate, retail, or recruiting, work with your creative team to prepare a video or blog post in time for the holiday season. Focus on the message, share the final product with your email contact list, and wish them a happy holiday season by including an email-exclusive discount. 

11. Ugly sweater contest

Whether you remember the days of ugly sweaters worn unironically or you’re too young to recall the sequined hideousness of an 80s-era Christmas cardigan, the ugly sweater has experienced an ongoing, annual renaissance in recent years. Why not leverage the power of comedy to get your staff and customers in the holiday spirit? 

Incorporating ugly sweaters into your holiday marketing is an excellent way to add some much-needed levity to the stress of holiday shopping. 

Small business strategy

You could incorporate ugly sweaters into your holiday marketing plan by:

  • Offering a discount to customers who come to your store wearing an ugly sweater
  • Running a social media giveaway, giving a free item to a randomly-drawn user who posts a photo in an ugly sweater
  • Creating ugly sweater merch bearing your brand name or logo, and offering a discount to anyone who adds the item to their cart
  • Hosting a sale or special event where an ugly sweater is customer’s “ticket” inside

If you have charitable giving in mind this holiday season, you could consider teaming up with a non-profit to operate a clothing drive in tandem with your ugly sweater event. Comedy and care make an excellent holiday marketing duo. 

12. Holiday song montage

If your brand is mostly digital, or you’ve developed a following on social media, why not channel the power of music this holiday season? Consider creating a video montage of your staff singing a beloved holiday song together—a fan favorite like “Let It Snow,” “Happy Holiday/It’s The Holiday Season,” or “Frosty The Snowman” will do nicely, and they’re easy to sing. 

A video montage of each staff member singing a line from the song can:

  • Spread some holiday cheer with your customers or social media followers
  • Feature staff using promotional products or wearing company merch
  • Give your clients a bit of “face time” with your staff, adding a human element to your marketing campaign

Small business ideas

If your small business is looking for a digital promotion idea, a holiday song montage might just do the trick. You could give the finished product a bit more local flair by:

  • Inviting a local figure (like the mayor or a local news anchor) to sing a verse
  • Filming in front of other local businesses or inviting fellow business owners to join
  • Teaming up with a local musician, school band, or choir to amp up the musical production value

Music is powerful, and the carol montage is an excellent way to increase your brand awareness while spreading a bit of holiday cheer. 

13. Santa meet and greet

No matter how old you are, there’s something special about getting to meet Old Saint Nick in person. If one business in your town puts on a Santa meet and greet each year, why not team up with them to make this beloved holiday tradition the best it can be?

While another brand might already have a Santa on lock, add even more fanfare to the meet and greet by:

  • Hiring a local photographer to take complimentary photos for families
  • Setting aside time for people to bring their pets to pose with Santa
  • Offering raffles and giveaways for visitors
  • Hosting a Santa costume contest, judged by Old Saint Nick himself

Small business inspiration

If your business has a brick-and-mortar location, and you’re hosting any special holiday promotions or events, you can invite Santa to the festivities. While you could hire a local look-alike to play the part, don’t be afraid to get creative—if you have a bearded, kind-faced staff member, perhaps they can take on the role themselves. 

Plus, with a Santa in attendance, all children tagging along on their parents’ holiday shopping trips are bound to be on their best behavior. Consider posting a Santa at the front door during your Black Friday or Christmas Eve sales events to entice visitors into your store. 

How to share your holiday marketing idea

You don’t have to give out a million dollars or build a phantom vending machine to achieve the same results as the examples given above. But you can use these holiday marketing ideas as inspiration for your own small business. 

And once you have a great idea, it’s time to share it so that your customers—or potential customers—are aware. Here’s how:

Send Out a Holiday E-Newsletter

If you have a robust subscription list, this is a fast way to let customers know what you’re up to this holiday season.

Post on Social Media

Use your social accounts to let followers know about a promotion or event. Then ask them to share it and spread the word even further. You could even sweeten the deal with a gift card sweepstakes for those who share. 

Join Nextdoor

Nextdoor is a great tool for small business owners looking to let people in their communities know what they’re up to. It’s easy to join and free to get started. Small businesses can claim a free Business Page and connect with the neighborhood through free Business Posts, Local Deals, and Neighborhood Sponsorships, making it easy to spread word-of-mouth to the people who matter most—local shoppers. 

Whether it is planning your business New Year Resolutions or outlining personal projects, if you’re ready to share your holiday marketing ideas with friends and neighbors, there’s no better place to start than Nextdoor.

Happy holidays.

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Author image Nextdoor Editorial Team At Nextdoor, we love local. The Nextdoor Editorial Team is dedicated to telling stories of local businesses, providing product education, and sharing marketing best practices to help businesses grow.