A Matter of Timing: Seasonal Marketing Strategies for SMBs
It makes sense to watch the calendar when putting together a marketing plan. Holidays, seasons and events, after all, drive sales.
"There's good reason to ride the coattails of seasonal events and holidays," Shannon Byrne, marketing coordinator at BlueGlass Interactive, told the E-Commerce Times. "When done right, it provides fresh ideas, generates buzz, and improves SEO. Although evergreen stories are always important to have on file [in a] content marketing arsenal, seasonal marketing presents an opportunity to exercise creativity in drawing your target audience's attention to your content rather than being distracted by someone else's."
The best seasonal marketing, however, goes beyond sizzlin' summer sales and Presidents' Day specials. Rather, it needs to be in tune with the time-based interests and needs of customers and clients.
"Be as authentic as you can be," marketing consultant Hamilton Wallace told the E-Commerce Times. "One of the things I see is these pained attempts to have a sale at Thanksgiving. Why would you have a Thanksgiving sale? We try to help our clients to be authentic and be real."
Sometimes, in fact, a seasonal marketing plan too reliant on holiday sales can backfire.
"Over the last two holiday seasons, we've witnessed retailers racing toward the most aggressive discounting possible to [encourage] purchases," Bill Tancer, general manager of global research at Experian Marketing Services, told the E-Commerce Times. "While a certain amount of discounting is necessary from a competitive standpoint, retailers should explore ways to differentiate their business from others in value-added services."
Everyone knows about the big holidays, but those aren't the only ones that matter in effective seasonal marketing. Non-holiday calendar-based events can sometimes be even more important than holidays. Thus, for instance, a business writing consultant might market her services at the end of the fiscal year by saying "Do you have money left in your corporate budget for training? Consider hiring me to teach your employees to write."
"You need to be in sync with what's going on in your customer's world," explained Wallace. "I'm a huge proponent of being close to your customers, since the closer you are, the more in sync you are, and the more you're able to offer solutions."
Understanding how customers think at any given time is central to being able to sell them what they want, when they want it.
"Know who your target audience is, but also understand their motivations," said Byrne. "For example, a person searching for candles in June likely has different motivations than someone searching for candles in February."
Similarly, businesses need to understand how their customer demographic itself changes with the seasons.
"We've identified certain online buyers that only visit online toy stores during the holidays, [and] these buyers tend to skew older and are most likely grandparents seeking to purchase gifts for their grandchildren," said Tancer. "To be effective, marketers must understand how this holiday-only online toy buyer is different from their year-round buyer, understand what triggers will increase the likelihood of purchase and then implement a targeted program to that segment of visitors to their online store."
Social media outlets, with their blurring of professional, personal, and familial realms, lend themselves particularly well to seasonal marketing.
"Holidays are about connecting with people, sharing traditions, and building memories," explained Byrne. "It's only natural that social media have become an integral part of the holiday season. Because seasonal content is, by definition, only of temporary interest, social media campaigns that can move quickly and capitalize on rising trends are ideal for promotion."
Social media, in short, can deliver the broad, deep audience that seasonal marketing requires.
"Make the reach of the seasonal campaign wide enough," Dana VanDen Heuvel, founder of MarketingSavant, told the E-Commerce Times. "You need to tell people about it. People still do like interesting and novel things, but we see organizations that dismiss that and don't really expand the reach of what they're doing."
Make a Date
Planning far in advance is key to an effective seasonal marketing campaign, since timing can make or break these campaigns.
"Plan on launching your campaign just before the peak of any given seasonal spike so you're among the leaders, not following the pack, but don't jump in too early or you won't catch the wave of interest" advised Byrne. "How soon you want to start publishing your content depends on how steep the rise in interest is. Some topics have gradual spikes, meaning you can begin earlier. Some are very abrupt, so you should position yourself close to the event date. On average, it's best to publish about two weeks ahead for maximum visibility."
That planning needs to take into account a business's overall marketing strategy, with consistent branding and messaging before, during, and after holidays and special events.
"Don't look at seasonal marketing as an episodic thing," said Wallace. "Connect it to an overall marketing strategy."