Small business owners rely on sales promotions to communicate product information to customers in a target market. A sales promotion is an element of the marketing mix that differentiates a product from competing products in the mind of a potential customer. For example, a small business can promote a product using advertisements, press releases and trade fairs. Planning a sales promotion program begins by defining objectives based on marketing opportunities and ends with the creation of budgets and timetables.

Assess Communication Opportunities

To understand marketing communication opportunities, you must profile your target market and identify the likely benefits of your product to current potential customers. Determine the target market's economic and cultural characteristics, such as potential customers' income level and ethnicity, which will determine the effectiveness of your sales promotion. Also, pinpoint current and potential customers who are the market's “deciders” and “influencers.” A decider has the power and financial resources to purchase your product and an influencer is a buyer or third party, such as a journalist or industry analyst, that sways the purchase decisions of others.

Select Communication Channels

You use information about the target market, your products and business environment to decide the channels -- personal or non-personal -- you'll use to launch the promotional campaign. A personal channel uses two-way communication to deliver a marketing message and receive customer feedback. Such communication may occur face to face, over the telephone, through the mail or email. A sales promotion for a tablet computer might involve a sales representative, a system expert and a satisfied customer. The tablet computer manufacturer might also choose non-personal communication channels, such as television broadcasts, mobile billboards or transit advertising.

Select Objectives

The next step is establishing the desired effect of your promotional communication. If promoting a new product, you'll seek product awareness. After you achieve awareness, your promotion program can focus on conveying your product's benefits to deciders and influencers to establish brand acceptance. Customers must then become convinced they prefer your brand and that they want to own your product, which is brand insistence. Finally, the sales promotion should convince the buyer to take action, such as brand trial or purchase, and confirm the customers are satisfied with the purchase.

Determine Promotion Mix

After establishing promotion objectives, determine how to allocate company resources to achieve sales goals. For example, decide to use advertisements, publicity or personal selling to promote your product. A manufacturer of tablet computers might rely on incentives including coupons, contests and trade shows to promote sales. In turn, the manufacturer might rely on advertisements to inform potential customers of the tablet's benefits, persuade individuals to buy the tablet and inform the public of purchase locations. Primary communication channels might include print and electronic media and press releases.

Develop Message

In developing the promotional message, you focus on the message content, its format and likely appeal. The appeal, which is the reason the potential customer will purchase a product, affects the relative position of your product in the market. In turn, the message structure may or may not draw a conclusion for the customer regarding the desirability of your product. For example, an advertisement regarding a laptop might refer to its relative size or processing speed. You must also consider the message format, the script, sound and camera angle for an electronic message or the headline, copy, color and illustrations for a print advertisement.

Develop Promotion Program Budget

The budget is prepared after the promotion campaign planned. As the budget is created, you break down the costs by territory and the individual promotion mix elements, such as advertising. In creating the budget, allot money to the program based on probable amounts spent by competitors, a percent of anticipated sales revenues or the estimated cost of each program element.

Determine Program Effectiveness

The final step to create a sales promotion program is to create a formal sales-promotion program document. Include in the document a situation analysis, copy strategy -- which describes the theme of an advertisement campaign -- and a timetable that references both the elements of the promotion mix and the marketing mix. Also include a means to evaluate the program, such as the use of a focus group, to determine if an advertising message is memorable, the message's selling points are recognizable and how individuals feel about the message, product and company.