Thomas Alva Edison patented 1,093 inventions in his lifetime. Even though most of us marketers may not come up with even one patented invention, we do a lot of inventing as marketers.

We create campaigns, brands and even ideas. We should thank those who have made our jobs easier: William Parry, Nikola Tesla, Philip Downing, Johannes Gutenberg and Philo T. Farnsworth, inventors of the postmarking machine, modern radio, public mailbox, Gutenberg printing press and dissector tube (the starting point of electronic television), respectively.

These inventors and many others have provided marketers with outlets for spreading our messages. Thankfully, the world of marketing invention is usually safe, unlike when ole Ben Franklin flew his kite to get struck by lightning.... While brainstorming is a great (and harmless) tool for creativity, it can mean many things. Inventions often consist of a series of inventions, or take many steps to get to the outcome. When you need to invent a brand, what's the best way to go about it?

Not dreaming of being the next Alexander Graham Bell or Marie Curie? Or does one of your inventions need fixing? Our village of 200,000 "MarketingProfs Today" readers combine their ingenious ideas to solve your problem. Share a marketing challenge and receive a complimentary copy of our book, A Marketer's Guide to e-Newsletter Publishing.

This Week's Dilemma

Innovation and invention in marketing

One of our companies is looking to expand its product line, while another is starting up a line. When inventing brands, what works and what doesn't?

—Salma K., operations manager

Previous Dilemma

Marketing worth celebrating

I'm a small service-oriented business, and I've read many articles suggesting sending cards and whatnot for holidays other than Christmas. I'd like to do something like this as a way to stay in touch with clients and potential clients. What approaches for holiday campaigns work? Are some holidays better than others to reach customers and prospects?

—Nathan, principal

Summary of Advice Received

The end of the year holidays means lots of marketing activity. Christmas sales, Thanksgiving specials and New Year's campaigns are plentiful. Such activity makes it tough for a small business to stand out. Instead of competing with so many year-end campaigns, you may want to create other campaigns throughout the year:

  1. Celebrate on the customers' special days.
  2. Match your business with the holidays

1. Celebrate on the customers' special days

Have you ever gotten a postcard with a coupon or freebie for your birthday? One grocery store sent us a coupon for a free birthday cake when our child celebrated his first birthday. The store's cake surprised us, and we bought the same cake from that store again.

James Timberlake, head of DM with Billington Cartmell, provides creative ways to personalize a marketing campaign to the customer:

A great way to drive responses is to target the male of a relationship with ready-made, quick-purchase holiday solutions for birthdays and anniversaries. Ask customers to register their anniversaries and special dates while getting them to opt into receiving e-mails from you, and your company can use those dates throughout the year. Send a "don't get caught" message to husbands reminding them of their wives' special days.

This puts the focus on the customer and personalizes the experience. While folks don't like to give out much personal information, it can't hurt to ask for it instead of requiring it on forms: if asked, some people will share their information.

When using online forms for opt-ins or registration, remember not to overwhelm the customer with too many fields, or at least put the important ones in the beginning of the form and the lesser important/optional questions at the end.

2. Match your business with the holiday

Are you in the food business? Almost every holiday celebrates with food. What cuisine do you sell? Some don't sell as well on certain holidays, whereas others have people lining up out the door.

Pizza Marketing Quarterly says that Christmas, Thanksgiving, Mother's Day, Father's Day and Easter are the slowest for pizza. If you're in the finance business, right before tax day, April 15, may be a winner.

Brian Arnold, marketing manager with Oxford Learning Centres, Inc., recommends advertising during other times of the year:

Because there can be so much additional advertising traffic during holidays, I would recommend not advertising then. Invent your own holiday as something that relates to your service, rather than straining to make your service fit a pre-existing holiday. You should be advertising when your business needs it, not because there's a holiday on the calendar. Sending a Christmas card is fine, but unless your service is something readers need during the holidays, they're probably too busy doing other holiday stuff to respond.

Also look beyond the typical holidays for special days like Super Bowl weekend, Oscar night, Earth Day, Administrative Professional's Day and Women's History Month. There are oh so many holidays that few people know about. If there isn't a holiday that fits with your business, like Brian Arnold said: make one up!

One of the more famous jokes on Seinfeld was George's dad's made-up holiday called Festivus Day. It started in the episode called "The Strike":

Frank: Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had—but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way.

Kramer: What happened to the doll?

Frank: It was destroyed. But out of that, a new holiday was born—a Festivus for the rest of us!

Ben and Jerry's got into the game and created a Special Edition Festivus ice cream. Newspaper ads have appeared declaring sales for the holiday.

Of course, if you go the Festivus route, pay attention to your audience, because they could be too young to know Seinfeld or otherwise not in the age group that watched it.

We're reaching the end of, as the NCAA basketball tournament is affectionately called, March Madness. The Final Four have a big weekend ahead of them. Have you seen advertisements related to the tournament? What types of businesses are advertising? Where?

Keep your eyes open for special days and see what businesses do, especially those in your industry, to take advantage of that day.

For a creative twist on a marketing campaign, personalize it by remembering the customer's special day or match a holiday based on your business and its target market.

Finding new ways to do things or solving problem is always in season, and 200,000 handy MarketingProfs readers have their thinking caps on ready to deliver inspiration.

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Hank Stroll ( is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.