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Updated: Dec 13, 2019
Valentine’s Day is a strange holiday. It shares history with a Bronze Age pagan Roman celebration called Lupercalia, on which day youths were made to smear blood on their foreheads and run through the village wearing wolfskins. Many years later, in 496 AD, Pope Gelasius replaced it with a holiday feast commemorating the martyrdom of two saints, both named Valentine, though it still didn’t have anything to do with romance. It appears not to have picked up a romantic connotation until Chaucer wrote a poem in the 14th century about a bunch of birds pairing up to mate, which happened to take place on ‘seynt valentynes day’.
In any case, Hallmark has done their part to remove any lingering wolves blood or ornithological associations. That’s fortunate for you, as plain old fashioned love is typically an easier sell than bloody ancient pagan rituals or zoological reproductive esoterica. Valentine’s Day is a perfect opportunity to do a bit of holiday marketing for your small business.
The most important things are to be creative and be authentic. Don’t try to shoehorn a concept that doesn’t align with your business just to fit a theme. Your customers will recognize a contrived approach. If you think creatively, you’ll be able to find a fun approach that fits.
Leverage what you know about your customers. Don’t rely on anecdotal evidence, if you have meaningful data to look at, check it. Are your customers mostly male or female? What age range or income bracket are they in? What other brands do they like and identify with? It goes without saying that your Valentine’s Day marketing efforts will be counterproductive if you aren’t guided by a realistic portrait of who your customers really are.
Whether you want to offer a discount, or a special service like gift wrapping, use the run up to Valentine’s Day as a reason to reach out to your customers. Use your email list, use social media, write something in your window. Use a holiday themed call to action to get people buying in the days before February 14th. Don’t overthink it. Asking them to do something in conjunction with Valentine’s Day is a lot easier than celebrating any other random day of the week. This is a shopping holiday.
Set aside a small bit of room in your retail space and offer a selection of curated, holiday-appropriate items. The emphasis here is not on making a profit; it’s about providing something valuable to your customers in a surprising way. Buy or make a few cool pieces that showcase your personal identity. Whether you want to get naughty and offer something a little bit intimate, or keep it cute and sell something playful, few people will expect to leave a coffee shop or restaurant or other unexpected storefront with just the right small gift for that special someone.
OK, so maybe you like the idea of a pop-up shop, but you don’t have the budget — how about a gift guide? Pick from among your favorite romantic-themed items available around the city or online, and suggest them to your customers. Make it a snappy little microsite, a PDF, an Instagram video or Snapchat story, or just an email. Express your brand by aligning yourself with products your customers will love.
Who loves your customers more than you do? Ok, well, most of them anyway. What can you offer them on Valentine’s Day to show them that you care? It could be as simple as candy or chocolate hearts, or maybe custom printed Valentines that you give away with every purchase. Print an earnest note of your appreciation and sign it by hand. You can make the Valentine a coupon for future service, or you can feature a tasteful call to action. This would also work with some simple store bought Valentine’s like you used to get in grade school.
There’s no reason that the above Valentine’s Day marketing suggestions wouldn’t work for a B2B business as well as they would for a B2C business, and a contest is no exception. Offer a gift card to a restaurant or a couple’s massage. This is a no-brainer for some businesses, but there’s nothing stopping you from dipping into your favorite romantic spot and picking up a prize to offer to your customers.
You can do this on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Use a hashtag or solicit entries via email. This is a great opportunity to ask users to make user generated content and get people talking about your brand.
Maybe you think Valentine’s Day sucks. Cater your Valentine’s Day marketing to the singles and non-cornballs of the world, and show them where they can stick their consumerized played out holiday crap. Offer a special deal to singles, or Tweet out funny #singlelife quips. Along the lines of a contest, offer a prize to the saddest, loneliest singles photo your customers can create on Instagram. You can use the holiday as a platform for railing against the status quo, and have fun doing it.
Michael Jones is a Senior Editor for Funding Circle, specializing in small business loans. He holds a degree in International Business and Economics from Boston University's Questrom School of Business. Prior to Funding Circle, Michael was the Head of Content for Bond Street, a venture-backed FinTech company specializing in small business loans. He has written extensively about small business loans, entrepreneurship, and marketing.