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Idea: The Marketing Lesson of Small Business Saturday

In addition to Thanksgiving, there’s another event this weekend: Small Business Saturday. We’ve been close observers of the promotion since its creation six years ago.

Hammock has been fortunate to work with several major marketers whose audience is small business decision makers. We also own or manage several web properties and channels (SmallBusiness.com, @SmallBusiness, the SmallBusiness.com WIKI), with which we constantly research the ways small business owners and managers use web content and media to solve problems and create relationships with products, services and brands.

With such a ringside seat, we have been able to observe the evolution of Small Business Saturday and to study how its creator and primary sponsor, American Express, has used new media and traditional marketing to execute a classic marketing strategy of “push” and “pull.”

Launched in 2009, Small Business Saturday’s message has publicly focused on the importance of balancing the emphasis of big-box retailers’ Black Friday sales with a reminder to shoppers that small merchants also have great gift ideas and play an important role in their communities.

For the last six years, American Express has invested heavily in promoting the event with major advertising support (including a Super Bowl ad) and, until this year, by providing its cardholders with three $10 coupons they could use at three stores or restaurants that accept American Express.

How is Small Business Saturday “push” and “pull” marketing?

Push is the part of the event you don’t see: It’s the role the event plays in supporting cold-calling salespeople, whose job is to get small merchants and restaurants to accept American Express. Without Small Business Saturday, American Express is known to small businesses as the credit card with high transaction fees—so high, many small businesses won’t accept it.

Driving traffic into stores that accept American Express cards (with promotional support and those $10 coupons) is the pull that provides American Express the opportunity to display the added value of accepting the Amex card.

Small Business Saturday has no doubt helped American Express grow its merchant network while gaining immeasurable goodwill in the marketplace of small businesses.

But long term, the success of the day will be determined when it outgrows its parent. When Small Business Saturday becomes, with no help from American Express, a day to support the local merchants who make our communities unique and special and keep our local economies strong—Only then can we measure the real success of Small Business Saturday for small businesses.

Happy Thanksgiving and a Merry Small Business Saturday.

(Our traditional Thanksgiving Idea Email message: “The Most Powerful Word in Marketing“)
Photo: Chestnut Hill Business Association