The sales and marketing campaign that led to €500,000 in gift card sales

Introduced by Sligo BID in 2022, the Love Sligo Gift Card achieved €500,000 in sales in 5 months. Mark Cunningham is the Love Sligo Programme Coordinator and told us how they onboarded businesses and led a marketing campaign to encourage consumer and corporate sales.

Why did Sligo BID introduce the Love Sligo Gift Card?

“Sligo BID identified a major gap in the market for a zero commission gift card that would give back, rather than take, from retailers and also provide real, tangible support for the businesses, reinforcing Sligo BID’s commitment to its members.”

How did you onboard businesses 

“When I joined Sligo BID, there were 58 businesses registered to accept the card. I was tasked by the BID to gain 100 new local businesses. I started off by highlighting the business owners that I had a personal relationship with where I could get direct access to the decision maker. With a strong background in Sligo’s retail sector, I had already secured a level of trust within the business community, which really helped to get the face to face meetings. During my visit, I explained what the card was about, how it would benefit the business, and that it was friction free with zero cost in set up and zero cost in accepting the card. 

“Because of merchants’ previous experiences with competing multi-store gift cards with high commissions and charges they wouldn’t have been made aware of when they signed up, I felt there was the need for education around how the Love Sligo Gift Card was different. Almost every business owner asked ‘what’s the catch?’ Business owners are clued in people and are rightly protective of their business. I quickly realised how important the education aspect would be and the need to get myself in front of the decision maker in order to explain that the Love Sligo Gift Card was something new and something positive that would benefit businesses, protect jobs  and support the local economy overall.”

Do you have any advice around onboarding

“Onboarding the businesses took the biggest chunk of time and project effort but getting the list of participating businesses to a high level contributed hugely to the success we had overall. I onboarded 164 businesses and other than Smyths, TK Maxx and Aldi, who were onboarded by Miconex at a national level, each of those businesses were onboarded after at least one face to face visit. I think the face to face element contributed massively to the success of the onboarding, compared to email or telephone. I would recommend in person for onboarding, where possible, for any town or city. When it comes to the meeting with the business owner, use the time well, know your key selling points, and highlight how it will benefit them. Business owners really want to know one thing, what’s it going to cost them, which in the case of the Love Sligo Gift Card, is nothing. 

“It’s also useful to have an understanding and realisation that onboarding businesses might take more than one visit. With the larger multinationals I was dealing with a staff member who would then have to pass information on to a line manager or regional manager. Having a self-motivated sales background really helped and for BIDs or Chambers choosing someone to manage their onboarding, I think sales skills or retail knowledge is really valuable.”

How did you market the Love Sligo Gift Card?

“95% of the campaign was social media, largely organic. I was given access to Sligo BID’s Instagram and Facebook with 4k followers across the two platforms. I realised that I was going to have to handpick retailers in Sligo that had a strong following on their social platforms, and get them to post about the gift card on their platform to create interest and conversation. We had a banner printed and the impact it had was amazing. It wasn't the sign, it was the people who were holding the sign, pulling on the heartstrings of local people supporting Sligo. I sat down one night and came up with 9 core benefits of the card for consumers and corporate businesses, and these formed the basis of the social media messages. 

“Once people became familiar with the Love Sligo Gift Card, and the benefits, the focus changed to driving sales from corporate businesses as I knew it would bring in the bulk of the sales. A couple of well known businesses ordered their gift cards for their staff as early as the end of October. The Riverside Hotel said that they were more than happy for us to promote that they’d chosen the Love Sligo Gift Card over the multi-store card they’d used in previous years and they were happy for us to highlight the amount at €25,000. I knew that if the message was delivered in the right manner online, focusing on the shop local aspect and that the amount was now directly locked into Sligo as a result of The Riverside Hotel’s decision to support local, it would generate huge interest, and it did.

“A lot of people picked up on the fact that The Riverside Hotel asked staff what they preferred as a Christmas reward, the Love Sligo Gift Card or the previous multi-store gift card, and the Love Sligo Gift Card won overwhelmingly. It really kicked things off on a corporate level. Abbots, a local employer, interacted on that post on Facebook and within a few days we had direct contact from them enquiring about the Love Sligo Gift Card.  With Abbots being such a well known and respected firm in the local area, it snowballed from there with huge inbound interest from employers. It was still a new product and we had many questions to answer but the social media activity generated a wave of positivity and awareness.”

Did you do any paid social media activity?

“As organic momentum built, we had a 30 second advert on a local radio station over a 5 week period at a cost of €1750. For the last two weeks, we had a budget of around €600 for boosted Facebook and Instagram posts and the lion’s share of the budget went on promoting the two physical locations to buy the card plus grab and load cards and online purchasing. For towns and cities who have a budget to spend on social media advertising, I’d suggest picking your 2-3 core messages and focusing on those. As a new product, where to buy the card was absolutely key for us as we couldn’t assume that people would know the physical purchase locations.”

What benefits have you seen from the Love Sligo Gift Card?

“Business owners were so caught up in the Christmas rush that I think it’s only post Christmas where the impact of the card is really hitting home for businesses. We headed into the New Year, a traditionally quieter period, with €500,000 of gift cards ready to be spent in Sligo. Footfall is the key to success in any business or town and thanks to the card, we’ve put consumers on the streets with increased spending power. If someone goes into town to spend their Love Sligo Gift Card, they’ll probably get a coffee or pop into another shop that they hadn’t planned on, so it’s driving footfall all the time. 

“Another huge benefit for businesses is that the card takes nothing out of the business owners’ pockets. If you apply a typical 10% commission that most business owners would pay on many multi-store cards, that is €50,000 that will now continue to circulate and remain in the local Sligo economy. You don’t get a much better benefit than that. 

“People also really like the friction free aspect of the card; the feedback has been incredibly positive from both businesses and consumers. People receive the card, and they spend it, easily, and that isn’t always the case with competing cards. From a retailer perspective, if a customer comes in with the Love Sligo Gift Card and isn’t sure of their balance, they can open the camera app on their phone and check the balance in seconds. That is a massive benefit for a busy retailer and it is a feature that we hear positive feedback about on an almost daily basis.” 

Do you have any advice for other towns or cities introducing their own gift card?

“From an onboarding perspective, I’d suggest recruiting the right person who is happy to carry out the face to face visits and is patient and persistent. As with any product, it’s vital to know what you’re selling. Make sure your knowledge of the product is 100%. When I was onboarding businesses in the early stages, I would take notes of questions that were frequently occuring in my notes folder on my phone, as well as noting selling points that were hitting home. Finding those key selling points that were really capturing attention helped to hone the approach and messaging. For someone who is carrying out a similar role, I would highly recommend using the Your Notes app to record things like social media ideas, slogans, website observations, feedback and remaining registrations. 

“I think you almost have to approach the conversation with the local small to medium sized businesses differently to the multinationals. For small to medium businesses, the key selling points were how it would benefit the town as a whole and the zero percent commision. With the large multinationals they weren’t as overly concerned initially with the zero percent commission, they wanted to know how it would benefit them as a brand, primarily sales revenue.

“From a marketing perspective, my advice would be not to overthink it and simplify your message as much as possible, particularly when it’s a new product. Sometimes you have to ask the question ‘does it pass the granny test’ - would your granny understand it? And if the answer is ‘no’, simplify it even more. I think the largely organic nature of the social media strategy encouraged us to really drill down on the messages. We literally had a 6ft x 2ft banner printed and the first two weeks of the campaign we featured business owners with the banner, backing up the posts with the key, positive messages of what the card would bring to the local economy. It wasn’t rocket science but it worked for us.”


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