Whether or not you’ve already set the foundation for your holiday marketing campaigns, you’re likely thinking about how you’ll make the most of the (traditionally) lucrative shopping season.

The six weeks from late November through the end of December can account for anywhere between 20 to 40 percent of your annual revenue, according to the National Retail Federation. And let’s not forget the 2010 holiday season, where online sales reached $32.6 billion — marking an all-time record, according to data from comScore.

While it’s fun to start crafting your holiday taglines and thinking about the campaigns that will drive traffic to your business, don’t lose sight of the importance of connecting with your customers throughout the year.

When you’ve established a good rapport with your customers on an on-going basis, your marketing messages will break through the holiday noise they’re hearing from your competition. It will also help you make the most of your campaigns regardless of the season.

With this in mind, here are three actions you can put in place today to establish a foundation that will make the most of the 2011 holiday shopping season and build stronger customer relationships throughout the year.

1. Engage
You should consider every customer interaction an opportunity to build a lifetime customer relationship. So when a customer visits your business, whether it’s online or in person, do all you can to engage them and personalize the experience.

Make them feel like a VIP, regardless of how much they spend, and not just another cash register transaction. Also, determine if your products and services really are an appropriate match for their needs. If not, be forthcoming in redirecting them to a more suitable vendor. This action will payoff in terms of strengthening your reputation.

These long-standing relationships save your marketing dollars because, as you know, it’s easier and less expensive to reach existing customers than acquire new ones. But even more important in today’s world of social media—where getting recommendations from your friends, their friends, and a bunch of people you may not even know is as easy as posting a question on Facebook or checking out a reviews site—is the benefit of word-of-mouth marketing.

2. Entice
Regardless of whether a customer made a purchase today, entice them to return to your business. Essentially, make it worthwhile, and easy, for a customer to become part of your inner circle. You do this by giving them something they want and can’t easily find elsewhere such as freely sharing your expertise and providing information that’s relevant to them.

Along with relevant content, offer them a coupon, an invitation to a special event, or special offers and discounts that are only given to those who register to receive e-mails and newsletters from you. When you lead your conversations with the customer benefits, you will inevitably entice customers to stay connected to you, strengthening your brand and your bottom line.

Want to learn what the third action is? Click here to read the full article on American Express’ OPEN Forum.

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