February is upon us. Winter has settled in and the shortest month of the year usually means gray skies, cold temperatures and lots of snow to shovel. But February is also the time for the Super Bowl, Mardi Gras and of course, Saint Valentine’s Day. Most of us succumb to the pressures of Cupid and his arrows every year as we try to find the perfect heart-shaped card, bouquet of roses or that hard-to-get restaurant reservation. But we often fail to capitalize on the opportunities that Valentine’s Day presents to our own small business.
Fun Fact: Cupid is the Roman god of love. He was originally depicted as a young man that sharpened his arrows on a grindstone whetted with blood from an infant. To make Valentine’s Day more palatable for their customers, business owners changed Cupid into a cute, chubby baby.
Whether you’re a fan of Valentine’s or not (there are plenty who are not), the commercial spending is good for our struggling economy. The average adult will spend around $125 this year, ranking it third for holiday spending. Is your small business capitalizing on Valentine’s Day? If not, maybe you should rethink your marketing plan.
Fun Fact: Valentine’s Day originally shared February 14th with the observance of Groundhog Day. Boyfriends who picked the wrong card to send were probably not boyfriends for long.
There’s a misconception that the holiday was created by the major greeting card companies like Hallmark. And although roughly one billion Valentine cards are exchanged each year (second only to Christmas), the fact is, St. Valentine’s Day has been around a lot longer than that.
Fun Fact: The oldest recorded Valentine was sent in 1415 by the English duke of Orleans from his jail cell in the Tower of London.
A BRIEF HISTORY
So how did St. Valentine’s Day become synonymous with love and romance? The truth is no one really knows for sure. Pope Gelasius first declared February 14th to be St. Valentine’s Day in 498 AD, however the beginnings of the holiday started back even further.
The Catholic Church recognizes several saints named Valentine. It’s anyone’s guess whether any of these saints were actually responsible for the romantic aspects of the day, however one of the more compelling legends centers on a third century Roman bishop with the name of Valentine.
Fun Fact: Saint Valentine is the patron saint of engaged couples and lovers. He’s also the patron sating of bee keepers, epilepsy and plagues.
When Emperor Claudius II decided to ban marriage for young men, thinking single men made better soldiers than married men; Valentine disagreed and wed young couples in secret. Like most covert actions, word eventually got out and Claudius ordered the bishop to be executed.
While in prison, the legend says the bishop fell in love with the jailor’s daughter, who frequently visited him. Just before his death, he wrote the girl a letter and signed it “from your Valentine”. The facts of the legend may be debatable but the story has all the makings of a classic tale, including intrigue, danger, romance and a sympathetic lead character. Whoever the real St. Valentine is, he couldn’t have ever imagined the affect he’d have on love and romance throughout the years.
Fun Fact: March is the #1 month for sales of home pregnancy tests.
It’s also unclear if St. Valentine’s Day originated to commemorate his death (Some claim Valentine was executed on February 14th, 270 AD) or to Christianize the pagan festival of Lupercalia which took place on February 15th. Lupercalia was a fertility festival where young males would run around town, slapping women with strips of goat hides dipped in blood. Thinking that the goatskins would make them more fertile, women welcomed these slaps from the boys.
Fun Fact: These goat strips were called februa, which is how we got the word ‘February’.
Once the goatskin slap fest was over, the young women would write down their names and place them in a big urn. The single men would then draw a name and be ‘paired’ with that woman for the coming year. Later, this ‘lottery’ was outlawed because it was un-Christian.
In the Middle Ages, the link between Valentine’s Day and romance became stronger in countries like England and France because it was the start of the mating season for birds, which happened each year around February 14th. St. Valentine’s wasn’t considered an official holiday until King Henry VIII of England declared it so in 1537.
By the 17th century in countries like Great Britain and America, Valentine’s Day was gaining in popularity. The 18th century saw notes and small gifts being exchanged by all social classes. Esther A. Howland is credited for selling the first mass-produced Valentine’s Cards in America. Before Henry Ford was credited for creating the assembly line, Esther created a mass production line for her handmade cards. Her business thrived, taking in $100,000 a year, and was later sold to the Whitney Company. She was given the moniker “The Mother of the American Valentine” after her death in 1904.
Fun Fact: Teachers receive more Valentines than anyone else.
Now, Valentine’s Day is a multi-billion dollar business and is celebrated by many people from many different religions. Young and old, everyone has been affected by the pressures of consumer advertising into buying cards, flowers, jewelry, chocolates and other gifts for their significant other.
Fun Fact: About 15% of the U.S. women who receive Valentines flowers actually send the flowers to themselves.
VALENTINE’S DAY & YOUR BUSINESS
Just because your company isn't a floral shop, jewelry store or restaurant doesn’t mean you have to miss out on opportunities created by Valentine’s Day. There’s enough love (and money) to go around. So this year, prepare for February 14th by using a little creativity and marketing savvy; and fine tune your strategy this season.
Here are a few ideas to generate some creative thinking for your business:
Make it a Heart-Shaped World
Do you make pizza, donuts, burgers, etc.? How about making your food product into the shape of a heart and offering a special? The more non-traditional type of Valentine’s Day food it is, the more unique it will be. Use your imagination, offer a special too good to pass up and then get the word out. Don’t forget to let the media know as well. You just might get on the evening news or mentioned in the features section of your local newspaper, which could make you very busy on Valentine’s Day.
This type of out-of-the-box thinking can apply to products other than food too. How about a heart-shaped picture frame or a heart shaped box containing clothing or any other type of small product. A heart box doesn't have to be just for chocolates.
Use Social Media
Social sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others can be used for brand awareness, but they should also be used to develop an online presence. Valentine’s Day is a great time to make your presence known. Consider posting some Valentine’s Day trivia or sharing articles like this one (hint, hint). You might want to change your social avatar (profile picture) to a Valentine’s Day theme or to a charitable cause you are supporting.
You can also offer exclusive, Valentine-themed coupons to your social media followers. Plus, depending on your business, you can build goodwill by offering Valentine shout-outs to your best customers or supporting vendors. Everyone loves recognition and it puts you in a positive light by doing so.
Send your Customers a Valentine
You are used to getting cards from loved ones, but how many times do you get a Valentine from businesses you've supported? If you’re like most of us, you probably won’t receive any at all. As a small business owner, this is something you can take advantage of. Send Valentines to your customers with a “We appreciate your business!” message inside. You can include a special offer, however it should be something they will really use and want – otherwise the card will feel like an advertisement and not an appreciation card. If in doubt, leave the offer out and just send the card.
Sell to Women
Nearly everyone focuses on marketing to men for Valentine’s Day. Males do spend more (approx. $168) than their counterparts, but women spend money on their guys too. In fact, on average, they’ll spend around $80. Creating some Valentine promotions that women would love to buy for their men could wind up being profitable for your business and it’s a competitive marketplace too.
Sort Lists for Email Marketing
Valentine’s Day appeals to many, but the content of the message can differ between male and female, young and old. Males might respond better to a humorous email, while women prefer a more sincere approach. Men might also appreciate a reminder about the actual date while women would most likely be insulted by telling them that February 14th is Valentine’s Day. And your tone might be different towards your young, single buyers than your married customers in their 60s. So break down your email list and avoid sending out the same generic message to your entire customer base.
Find Strategic Partners
People think less linearly than before, so teaming up with another business to cross-market often makes good sense, even if the businesses don’t have a lot in common. For instance, if you own a tire store, teaming up with a florist might seem like an odd marketing combo. Your marketing ad might go something like this: “Get ready to roll in style this February 14th with Joe’s Wheels’ Valentine’s Day Special. Buy four new tires to impress that special someone with and receive a floral bouquet from Sarah’s Flowers absolutely free.”
Men especially like to ‘fill two needs with one deed’. Make their lives easier, especially on Valentine’s Day when a lot of men are lost on what to buy.
Wrap it Up
If you sell a product, offer to put it in a special Valentine’s wrapping or offer a special delivery service. People, especially men, will appreciate the idea of a product being professionally wrapped and delivered.
Don’t Forget the Pets
This year, over nine million pet owners will buy their pet a gift for Valentine’s Day. Don’t leave Fido out of the picture. If you can tie in a pet theme for your Valentine promotion, your customers just might consider you the top dog.
Join the Anti-Valentine Movement
Not everyone celebrates Valentine’s Day. Maybe your product or service lends itself to those who denounce the holiday. Some celebrate ‘Quirkyalone Day’. Others observe Single Awareness Day (S.A.D.). Market to a growing anti-Valentine crowd could prove to be a hit if it’s marketed right.
While some people still cling to the time-honored tradition of flowers, cards & chocolates, many are looking for new, refreshing experiences. This is a time to let your imagination run wild and think out of the box. People enjoy giving, and receiving, creative and thoughtful gifts. Make your brand a memorable experience and you just might create a loyal customer for life.
Is your business offering any specials or creative promotions for Valentine’s Day? Let our readers know and promote your business by commenting below. We want to hear from you!