Throwing money at your marketing team and having them plaster social media with your brand logo won’t win over the hearts and minds of your target audience.

Not to mention, while “promotion” and “marketing” are often thought of as synonymous, there are some key differences to be aware of. As such, your business should approach its promotions as a subset of its overall marketing strategy.

If your organization is getting ready to launch a new product, open a new location or simply wants to create buzz around existing offerings, it’s time to pump up your promotions and make sure your audience knows that you’ve got the good stuff. But how can you approach this creatively, and in a way that won’t just garner the attention of your target audience, but make your competition take notice as well?

It sure is a lofty goal, but nothing is unattainable with the right planning, strategy and execution. If you’re in need of ideas for your next wave of promotional messaging, we’ve got you covered.

Marketing ideas, advertising and sales promotions: What’s what?

Let’s define these concepts before we get any further:

Marketing, advertising and promotions: What's the difference? Marketing encompasses all of the strategies and activities a brand executes to expand audience awareness. Advertising is a single strategy that usually focuses on a single product or service. Promotions are short-term efforts that typically aim to gain quick wins in a particular area, like sales of a certain offering.

Marketing

Think of marketing as the overarching umbrella. It encompasses all of the strategies, activities, campaigns, messaging and online outreach that your brand executes to expand audience awareness of the business and its offerings. Marketing efforts include industry and audience research to make sure the brand is leveraging the right messaging in each ad, blog, one-sheet, eBook and other collateral.

Advertising

Advertising is just a single strategy under the umbrella of marketing, typically with the purpose of calling attention to and/or educating the company’s audience about a certain product or offering. Advertising is also typically an ongoing process, where goals include boosting customer loyalty and raising awareness around the brand’s service portfolio.

Promotion

Sales promotions are efforts and approaches may overlap a bit with advertising – i.e., a business might use a traditional ad as part of its sales promotion strategy. However, the key difference here is that where advertising is usually part of a continual campaign focused on increasing loyal customers or educating the audience, sales promotions are more short-term.

The goal of a promotion, more often than not, is to boost sales, garner attendees for an event and/or increase revenues in a “quick-wins” kind of way. This usually involves the use of customer incentives to support purchasing motivation. A simple example is a brand offering deep discounts for an after-holiday sale. Customers benefit from cheaper prices and the brand breeds a sense of urgency while boosting sales and clearing out last year’s inventory.

Raising revenues online and in-store: Sales promotion ideas

It isn’t hard to get stuck in a rut with sales promotion ideas, especially if the company is working to churn creative promotions out all the time. Let’s take a look at a few unique promotion models you can consider to raise sales at your brick-and-mortar stores or e-commerce store:

1. Ditch the price cut and go for the upgrade

Sales are so last decade. Everybody can slash prices, (or create the illusion of such with red slashes and lower amounts on their price tags). But customers – especially in the B2B space – are hip to this game, and with so many opportunities to shop around for goods and services, it isn’t difficult for decision-makers to discern a fair price for a brand’s offerings.

As OKsuzi Marketing CEO Suzanne Brown suggests, kick this idea to the curb and replace it with an offer to upgrade.

In other words, instead of cutting prices, offer customers the next tier up (or the “premium” offering, but at the “basic” price). Another approach to consider here is to include a complimentary add-on service as the upgrade. As Brown pointed out, this won’t just help you boost sales; it will also help your marketing team better understand the upgrade opportunities that are most attractive to your core customers.

2. Support your loyalty program with gifts and an exclusive club vibe

Customer loyalty is key, and many businesses garner it through a loyalty club. However, it’s not enough to simply have a loyalty program in place – you also have to promote it, and make it worth customers’ time.

A perfect example here is Costco.

If you’re a Costco member, you’re well aware of the perks – you can shop at the warehouse stores during any regular business hours, use their gas stations and reap a whole host of other advantages (i.e., buying a 20-pack of socks and an industrial size tub of Twizzlers in the same place). And, chances are good that you received some type of gift when you signed up for your membership (in addition to all those free samples).

Costco does let non-members shop during certain hours, but their experience is considerably limited compared to that of a member – so much so that it simply makes sense to sign up and become a member of their exclusive club. While this membership is a bit more than the traditional loyalty program, you can take the same approach with your promotion by offering small bonus gifts when clients become members. In addition, create that exclusive club vibe by providing special offerings, services or other specials just for those in your loyalty program.

3. Hyper-targeted sales and promotions

If offering an upgrade doesn’t work for your business model, fear not. Customers still love sales, discounts and promotions. And in the current age of data-driven personalization, you can take this traditional promotion to the next level.

First, as opposed to simply blanketing your entire audience with non-discriminate sales prices, tailor a promotion just for a certain subset of customers.

Or, better yet, provide individualized discounts for top customers based on their purchasing history and other preferential data.

As Voucherify Co-Founder and CMO Michal Sedzielewski noted, a laser-focused, personalized promotion like this hinges on the business being able to collect, analyze and leverage data at just the right time. But the payoff is considerable.

“This means sending 1:1 personalized coupons to specific segments at the right time, prompting precalculated cart-level discounts to upsell and eventually increase average order value, and rolling out referral and loyalty campaigns using an omnichannel approach,” Sedzielewski said.

If you build it, they will come: Creative event promotion ideas

Supporting loyal customers and boosting sales are critical pursuits both online and off. Today, though, more brands are aiming for deeper connections with their target audience through experiential and event-based marketing. And once you and your team have gone through the work to create your event marketing plan, you need to promote the event and encourage attendees to actually show up.

While strategies like sending out email invitations, posting event details on your various social media channels and traditional ticket sales will certainly help, there are some more unique and creative promotions you can consider including in your event marketing:

4. Play hide and seek with event tickets

This is a really fun one, for you and your marketing team as well as your customers. Leading up to your event, you can hide tickets in the local area (or in your own product packaging a la Willy Wonka). There are a few ways you can do this:

  • Make it a mystery: Promote the fact that tickets are hidden around town, but don’t reveal where they might be. This strategy lends a bit of mystery to the promotion. And, as a bonus, you can publicize when each ticket is found (or have users leverage a hashtag and post on social) to keep the buzz going and maintain attention on your event.
  • Post clues: For a more interactive experience, you can create a scavenger hunt promotion, where you offer up clues for ticket locations.
  • Host social media contests: If playing hide and seek isn’t your brand’s thing, you can also host social media contests (and garner attention with the help of a hashtag) and provide event tickets as the prize. For instance, for its sponsored Timbersports British Championship event last year, tool brand Stihl offered the opportunity for customers to pass a quiz in order to be entered into the prize drawing.

5. Bring a sneak peek performance to the streets

If the event includes a performance element, consider breaking away from the stage and offering a preview, live in the streets, flash mob style. This theatrical approach lets you show off the talent that event attendees will be treated to, while creatively promoting the event itself.

While not a real-world example, one of the best instances to come to mind is The Office character Andy Bernard, and his fellow Sweeney Todd cast members. In this particular episode, showman Andy brings the cast of his upcoming play to (where else) the Dunder Mifflin office.

Nard Dog knows what he’s doing here – as a result of this stunt, nearly every one of his fellow co-workers attends his performance.

Taking a page from Andy’s playbook, you can consider scaling this out to a short performance near the event location, or in a well-populated local commons area that’s popular with your target audience.

6. Tap an influencer

You can also leverage an influencer or brand ambassador partnership to spread the word about your event. This approach comes with the added advantage of dual audiences – not only will your own core audience see this promotion from your chosen brand ambassador, but the influencer’s own group of followers will be exposed to event information as well. In this way, you extend your brand’s reach and improve the chances that event details will get in front of as many eyeballs as possible.

However, as with any influencer partnership, it’s key to choose wisely. An invitation to an event that doesn’t align with the influencer’s brand and the interests of their audience will more than likely flop. As with any marketing and promotional tactic, there are pros and cons here – read more about these and industry experts’ takes here.

When pulled off strategically, an influencer’s stamp of approval on your event could be just what you need to boost ticket sales and attendance. Take the #Revolvefestival from fashion brand Revolve, for instance. Despite being hosted during the very same weekend as Coachella, Revolve has been able to build attendance year after year thanks to the buzz created by brand influencers.

Ring that dinner bell: Restaurant promotion ideas

Boosting sales in the restaurant industry is quite different compared to other traditional business tactics. Much of the customer base relies on the culinary preferences of those in the local area – for instance, a seafood joint in a landlocked area known for its cattle production might raise a few questioning eyebrows.

But with the right attention-grabbing restaurant promotions, you can make customers hungry for exactly what you’re serving up. Take ‘em to flavor town (I’m sorry) with these unique promo ideas:

7. Draw them in from the door – or beyond

This strategy basically takes the flash mob performance approach for event marketing, but with a food-friendly spin. There are a few different ways a promotion like this can go:

Show it off in a sample spread

While many restaurants take the approach of posting their menu in a window or door side display, consider taking this to the next level with a sample spread of actual food. If you’ve ever been in a particular fancy eatery that offers a cheese or dessert cart, you can probably see where I’m going here. It’s pretty difficult to refuse that amazing piece of chocolate cheesecake when it’s right in front of you, after all.

Instead of just showcasing your desserts, consider working with your kitchen to choose dishes that can sit out a while while still looking fresh and delectable. Putting this on display for your patrons to see as they wait for seating, for example, can help your waitstaff move specials or upsell appetizers.

Take it to the streets

Another approach is to take that sample spread to the streets. Don’t be afraid to get creative here – you can even consider having a server walk a tray of prepared entrees or dishes in your restaurant’s local promenade or other nearby areas. The sights and smells of the actual plates customers can enjoy at your eatery might just have diners following your server back to the restaurant.

8. Make a splash with a celebrity diner

One of the best ways to bring people into your eatery is by bringing a celebrity to dine. This promotional strategy, in essence, takes the influencer marketing approach into the real world, and then full circle back to social. After all, snapping a single photo of someone famous eating at your restaurant can be better than a wall full of autographed headshots.

As Toast’s Robert Hale rightly pointed out, though, not every business has the budget for this kind of promotion. In these instances, consider tapping a local celebrity that may be more inclined to help businesses in the area. Or, as Hale suggests, combine the celebrity promo with a charitable cause and donate a portion of the night’s proceeds to the organization of the star’s choosing.

One of the best examples here involves the beloved Bill Murray, who, for a promotional event, tended bar at his son’s Brooklyn restaurant 21 Greenpoint.

Bill Murray at 21 Greenpoint. Photo Credit - Daniel Krieger for The New York Times

9. Make the most of the holidays – while encouraging check-ins

Holidays are some of the biggest sales days for restaurants, especially for customers who’d rather focus on their guests than food prep. These special days also offer the perfect opportunity for a themed promotion tailor-made for social.

Many bars, restaurants and eateries have taken this approach. For instance, you can host a Mother’s Day brunch and encourage guests to snap photos of their eggs benny to post and check-in on social. Halloween is another ideal social-friendly holiday for restaurants and bars to take advantage of. Consider hosting a costume contest where the cost of entry is a post, like and check-in on social.

Promotions like these help you show off your restaurant through the eyes of your customers. And, best of all, user-generated content like social media posts and check-ins are a low-cost and highly effective way to promote your brand and your food and beverage offerings.

10. Support a local cause

Sponsoring or supporting a positive effort in your restaurant’s local community is another fantastic way to get your name out there.

Plus, local sponsorship or donating to a charitable organization is an ideal way to humanize your brand and show that your restaurant is committed to the local community.

This strategy can be as simple as choosing a local sports team and sponsoring the purchase of new jerseys or gear. Your restaurant could also cater a nearby charitable event, or partner with an area school to support students culinary education. Sending a chef into a local institution, or hosting a class at your restaurant can be a low-impact way to support your community – and is also the perfect photo op for social media and beyond.

Boosting sales and creating buzz around your business’s latest offering isn’t always easy, but it certainly doesn’t have to be boring. Build some creativity into your next promotional campaign with these ideas, and you’re sure to make a splash with your customers and your competition.

Jessica Wells is a senior writer and editor at Brafton, working remotely from Hawaii. When she's not writing, Jessica enjoys paddle boarding, snorkeling and enjoying the view (and a cocktail) from her beach chair.