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Around this time of year, in any normal year, you might expect to see shops stocking their shelves with supplies of sweets, fancy dress costumes, decorations and more, to get customers prepared for their Halloween celebrations.
It would usually be an opportunity for those in the hospitality and tourism industry to host seasonal events, too, or to run special offers and promotions.
This year, not only are large parties out of the question, but the idea of taking children door-to-door to rummage in various buckets of sweets no longer seems a responsible option.
As a result, it’s looking highly unlikely that this year’s consumer activity around Halloween will continue the upward trend we’ve seen in the UK over the past few years.
And while the level of restrictions we can expect over Christmas and New Year remains uncertain, retailers and hospitality businesses have little to go on as they plan for some of the biggest consumer events of the year.
Adam Driver, founder of PR and marketing consultancy Authentic Communications, says the answer for many businesses lies in a community effort:
“Small business owners often feel like they have to stay in their lane, sticking to what they do, but this year has meant many will need to think further afield.
“Remember, you’re not on your own. Everyone’s going through the same thing this year, so speak to other business owners in your area and see if there are ways you can partner up and help your local community.
“Additionally, you’re helping to raise your profile, and building up loyalty with a wider audience.”
For those who lack the space to host a seasonal event on their own, sharing some outdoor space with other businesses is a great option, Adam says, whether that’s a pop-up market on the village green or a drive-in cinema with local businesses supplying refreshments.
Smaller, independent businesses have in some ways had an advantage over large businesses this year, being quicker to adapt and better able to appeal to a loyal customer base.
If you don’t have access to any outdoor space, or if restrictions mean you’re unable to commit to in-person events in any form, your other options are online.
Grimsby-based Red Herring Games has been selling murder mystery games and hosting events since 2007, but pivoted to digital in response to the pandemic.
“We’re doing 800% more events this year – all online,” says managing director (and ‘chief candlestick wielder’) Jo Smedley. “I think we’ll be continuing virtual events in some form in 2021 too.”
The firm runs regular interactive performances via Zoom, and offers downloadable DIY games that allow customers to host their own virtual parties.
For any business owners who are new to promoting themselves online, Jo says the important thing is not to overthink it:
“Don’t worry about what you’re doing – just do something and make a start to support your customers in some way. It’s how we started out.
“We originally started running pub quizzes and newsletter puzzles just to keep in touch with customers, then with the relationship established we decided to try a murder mystery.
“With the help of our customers, we found out what worked best and adapted and got the confidence we needed to try bigger and better online events.”
Again, there are also opportunities for businesses to work together, hosting jointly-run events that people can engage with from home.
“Don’t be afraid to be creative,” says Adam. “If it doesn’t work, you’ve learned from the experience. There are a number of things you could try, whatever kind of business you run.
“Say you’re a restaurant owner and you know a wine seller nearby – you could host a live cookalong with drinks recommendations. Or you could hold a competition, getting people to send in photos of their cooking, costumes or crafts, and give away some of your products as prizes.
“Be open to trying different things – and if you’re stuck for ideas, there’s plenty of inspiration to be found online, including Pinterest or Instagram.”
As live video content becomes more popular, platforms like Zoom, Instagram and Facebook Live all make it easy to start streaming.
And although the future of viral video-sharing network TikTok has recently been cast into doubt as it could be banned in the US, the launch of TikTok for Businesses this June encouraged more business owners to engage with the app.
Seasonal events lend themselves well to the platform’s ‘branded hashtag challenges’, giving businesses an opportunity to connect with their audience in a fun, interactive way.
And if your audience isn’t fed up with them already, a themed Zoom quiz is always an option.
How are you promoting your business for Halloween and Christmas this year? Share your ideas in the comments below.