Time you got promoted

Why sales promotion is tactical gold

Sales promotion is one of the most impactful tactics for generating increased sales and revenue. But it’s not just one tactic, it’s a whole catalogue of approaches.

I use the word ‘tactics’ advisedly, because one of the great benefits of sales promotions is that they can be used to address specific and focussed issues. Unlike other marketing tools, promotions can be time-sensitive and short term. And as such they are targetable and measurable.

Here are a few tasks that sales promotions are ideal for, and most can be used on or off-line, or in combination.

  • Move excess stock
  • Take advantage of sudden weather changes
  • Increase footfall seasonally
  • Promote sampling of new products or services
  • Target specific geographic opportunities
  • Stimulate advocacy
  • Reward loyalty

Let’s consider the major types of promotions that you could use, tomorrow.


Perhaps the simplest promotion – money off. But there are lots of subtle ways to use it. Discounts can be very effective when used with strict time limitations – accelerate sales when you need them. Good for liquidating stock or services when you have a new offer coming along.


Premiums are special offers, prizes or gifts a consumer receives when buying a product or service. They have the advantage of not discounting your standard pricing. Infinitely flexible – they can require single or multiple purchases, and can be stacked or repeated to build loyalty. The offers can be your own products or services or bought in from others. BOGOF’s are examples of simple premiums.

On-pack or in-pack offers

For product sellers. Classic in-store retail offers, they can stimulate purchase at the point of sale. Ideal for making products stand out from competitors on the shelf. Equally effective for ecommerce selling – with the advantage that you don’t need to produce special packs. Just create images for your site.

You can limit the offers to specific outlets or platforms. Turn your offers into trade promotions at the same time by offering only to selected retailers.


These have been around since marketing was invented – and earlier. The range of applications is limitless. They are equally effective for service or product based businesses. Promotional giveaways are ideal for brand building and prompting recall; they can be anything from the ubiquitous branded pen, to clothing, umbrellas, bags, bottles – use your imagination!

On-line giveaways are great tools for building mailing lists and promoting sampling. Add some gamification and fun.

Free samples

A form of giveaway, but you are offering some of your product or service for free. If you have some great merchandise, or provide a unique service – why not let a potential buyer try it? You can give away product in-store or on the street, or let prospects try your service for a limited time, or with perhaps restricted features.

On-line time-limited offers are a great way to let potential buyers find out how good your product is – but also allows you to engage and start a dialogue. If they’re not persuaded to buy at the end of the time, you can offer special deals or discounts to close the sale.


Coupons can be redeemed, usually against product in store, but also for travel, accommodation, meals and most kinds of service. They can range from any amount up to 100% (free). There are many means of getting coupons into customers’ hands. Door drops, press ads, or in-store, are traditional means, but digital coupons and email vouchers allow online promotions to link to bricks and mortar outlets. A great benefit of coupons is that that can be identified with the delivery channel, allowing testing and measuring of promotional tactics.

Free draws

Free draws and sweepstakes bring excitement. Linked with attractive promotion, perhaps in broadcast media or online, they can be really magnetic. Not only for attracting new customers, but free draws are effective for building loyalty with current customers – perhaps introducing new products or services. 

A word of warning – note the word ‘FREE’. In the UK, you can’t ask for payment to enter a draw – that’s an illegal lottery if you don’t have a licence. If in doubt, take advice.


As well as being fun, you can create competitions that also build customers’ product knowledge. What makes competitions distinct from draws, is that they must rely to a significant extent on skill and judgement. But with that in place, you can make purchase necessary for entry.

Prizes can be your own goods or services, which means they can have a perceived value far higher than the cost to you. You can offer bought-in goods or prizes. This means the choice to have many lower value prizes, with a high chance of winning, or one stunning high-value prize. The total prize fund to you can be the same.

Loyalty rewards

If you want customers to keep coming back – reward them. Examples vary from store cards to coffee-shop stamp cards. Apparently random gifts or offers can stimulate loyalty from customers – everyone is delighted to receive an unexpected bonus. The mechanics can be very simple or intricately structured systems to build upon layers of loyalty.

Cross product promotions

These can often be deal-clinchers where, if you buy one product or service you have the opportunity to get a related one, free or at a discount. Buy a bicycle and get a 50% discount on insurance – your bike store seals a deal, and the insurance company gets a new customer. Sign up for a web-design course and get free hosting for a year. The possibilities are endless.

To solve tactical marketing problems, all you need is a promotions toolbox, and a little imagination.

Need to clear excess inventory?

Consider: discounts, premiums, coupons, competitions, cross promotions

Want to grow your mailing list?

Consider: giveaways, free draws, competitions

Need to quickly respond to aggressive competition?

Consider: discounts, premiums, on-pack offers, free draws, free samples, giveaways

Want to increase footfall just at selected outlets?

Consider: coupons, instore free samples or free draws

Want to launch a new product or service with impact?

Consider: discounts, premiums, coupons, free draws, competitions

Need recommendation, want to turn current customers into advocates?

Consider: coupons, free draws, loyalty rewards, cross promotions

The Institute of Promotional Marketing (formerly the Institute of sales Promotion) is a really useful resource and guide.


Ian West
dangerous ideas

Subscribe for news and more dangerous ideas

Join our mailing list to receive the latest brand news and updates straight to your mailbox.

You have Successfully Subscribed!