Marketing a Seasonal Business All Year 'Round
Make fall a fruitful time even if your business runs hot and cold.
Traditional businesses are ramping up their fall marketing, but what about seasonal businesses for whom summer is the hottest time of year?
That's the case for many retailers, service providers and contractors -- including travel agencies, spas and resorts, summer camps, outdoor restaurants, farmers' markets, landscapers, pool cleaners, roofers and others in the construction trades.
On the flip side, businesses that run hot in the cold-weather months (e.g., snow plow services, ski areas, heating fuel dealers) face a similar, inverse version of the feast-or-famine sales calendar.
Whether your business serves up homemade ice cream or plows homeowners' driveways, you want to keep the memory of positive experiences alive in your customers' minds all year long. That's why your marketing communications can't take a vacation.
So refresh your marketing efforts. Think about redesigning your website, developing new content, combining your e-mail and social media marketing efforts, updating old print collateral, even overhauling your logo and brand image. Now is the time to make those back-burner projects a reality.
To look at your business from a fresh perspective, search for and learn from customer reviews -- positive and negative. Be honest with yourself about what's working and what isn't. Use this down time to develop new strategies, new marketing materials and new relationships.
Here are four more ways to brew up some off-season excitement around your seasonal business.
1. Ask for customer reviews and feedback while the memory is still fresh. When it comes to earning referral business for next season, customer reviews are priceless. Ask for reviews, testimonials and customer success stories from this past sales season to feature in your e-mail newsletter, on your company blog and on social media websites. Make them part of your ongoing story.
- Conduct a customer satisfaction survey to find out where your business excelled and where it needs improvement. Ask if there are other products and services customers would like from you so you can identify opportunities for business growth. You may find a need for a related business in your off season (e.g., a landscaper could start a snow plow business, or a summer farm stand could launch an online gourmet foods shop).
2. Try new marketing tools -- including social media marketing. Seek new customers in places you haven't ventured yet, such as Twitter and Facebook. Research where your customers hang out; that's where you'll want to establish a presence. Think of social media websites as tools to engage customers with your business. But you don't have to use every tool available -- just the right tools to reach your audience.
3. Distribute valuable content across multiple media channels. Take what you've learned about your customers this past season -- their needs, interests, challenges -- speak to those issues, and keep the conversations alive throughout the year and across multiple media outlets. For example, a diving tour charter company could send a newsletter with colorful photos (or links to YouTube videos) of this past season's excursions, along with stories from happy vacationers. The company owner could invite conversation on other diving experiences.
Try to anticipate customers' end-of-season and pre-season needs. For example:
- Send a pre-season reminder to your mailing list before people need your products or services. Offer a discount if they reserve ahead of time.
- A greenhouse could send out a fall e-mail newsletter with advice on how to bed down gardens for the winter, along with a coupon for $10 off a Christmas tree (its side business, or an opportunity for a cross-promotion with another business).
- Create a "tickler file" of article ideas based on your customer interactions, feedback and what they're posting about your type of business on blogs and social media websites. That way, when downtime rolls around, you can write up your content and schedule it for distribution via your e-mail newsletter, blog, website and on social media websites.
4. Hold an event or cross-promotion with a related business. As a seasonal business that hustles to stay afloat, you probably know of others in the same boat. Consider teaming up with complementary businesses and co-marketing an event or promotion with them. For example, a bed-and-breakfast may do a cross-promotion with a restaurant, offering a package deal to each other's customers.
Your marketing communications should keep your seasonal customers engaged no matter what the calendar says. Because when they are ready to buy, you want them to come back to your business.
Gail Goodman is the author of Engagement Marketing: How Small Business Wins In a Socially Connected World (Wiley, 2012) and CEO of Waltham, Mass.-based Constant Contact Inc., a provider of email marketing, event marketing, social media marketing, local deal and online survey tools and services for small businesses, associations and nonprofits.