Tax professionals are fond of saying that tax planning and preparation should be a year-round concern, not just on April 15.
Similarly, a seasonal business that hopes to do well during its peak season needs to find ways to stay uppermost in the minds of its customers and prospects during the inevitable off-peak times.
Business owners and marketers are availing themselves of a range of strategies today to do just that—from traditional offline meet-and-greets to pointed online communications.
All of these marketing channels have elements in common that boost their effectiveness. Among them: knowing target customers, capturing data about them, and then segmenting it very carefully.
"This really helps you focus your marketing efforts," says Caron Beesley, owner of April Marketing, a Virginia-based marketing communications firm.
Different customers, different offers
A prospect who requests information about your product or service for the first time could get one type of marketing message; for example, an invitation to register for your newsletter. On the other hand, you might send a loyal customer a special preseason offer.
"You have to be careful that you don't cannibalize your offer," she says. A clear, direct email program with a message such as "Book now for the season" or "Get ahead of the crowd" raises the awareness of customers and preserves the value of your product or service at the same time.
Customers also respond to, and get involved with, email campaigns that offer genuinely valuable, intriguing, or even amusing information sent in the off-season.
Jeanne Rossomme, a blogger for SCORE and founder of RoadMap Marketing, her own Washington, DC-based marketing company, recalls a woman who runs an educational camp during the summer, but sends target-specific emails to her customers throughout the year with a math theme.
For example, on March 14, she'll send an email devoted to discussing the value of pi (3.14).
"It's really just a simple email saying, what are some ways you can celebrate pi with your kids?" Rossomme says. "Or, what are some ways you can get your preschoolers to learn about fractions?" Things like that are applicable to the woman's audience, she explains.
The tactic must work: the woman says that the emails are read by a large number of recipients. Newsletters, case studies, and white papers are other forms of content marketing that succeed.
Get to know the top guns
Another technique Rossomme favors is harnessing the power of social media. This, she explains, can expand your company's presence by identifying and nurturing the top "influencers" in your particular area, such as bloggers or distributors.
Then, follow them and try to establish some kind of connection, whether by responding to a blog post or answering a question. In short, make yourself known early as having the information they need, when they need it.
"[Once] you have that connection, you can reach out to that person because they already know who you are," Rossomme says. "[Then] they're more willing to advertise or talk about your product."
The off-season is also an ideal time to prepare some of your content—such as Facebook posts or articles—and to come up with a schedule for distributing it at the proper time.
"You basically have this engine running with everything teed up in advance," Rossomme says. "Your time isn't spent during your crazy busy season writing content. Instead, that's already been done and you're able to respond quickly to any inquiries you get."
Face-to-face selling that pays off
While the Internet may have turned us into a global community where everyone is a potential customer, generating support in your own backyard also keeps your pipeline filled. Grassroots efforts should not be overlooked.
When Steve White started a gourmet cheese store in the popular summertime destination of Cape May, New Jersey, he opened his doors at admittedly the worst time of year—the middle of winter. Yet, ironically, it turned out to be beneficial.
"Even though that was our slow month, we got familiar with our product, how to sell it, and how to take care of it," says White, co-owner and co-manager of the Seaside Cheese Company with his wife Barbara. "When the summer hit, we had all the kinks worked out."
During their off-season, the couple went door-to-door, introducing themselves to the motels, B&Bs, and restaurants in the area. Their low-key, soft sell approach allowed them to work out package deals and spread news about their store by word-of-mouth.
Still, they haven't abandoned online marketing altogether. Their Facebook page gets updated a few times a week with cheese facts, upcoming cheese releases, and a new macaroni and cheese dish that they offer every Friday—again, content targeted to their particular audience.
Setting up stalls at the regional farmers' market, advertising in the top spot on a local sightseeing map, and adding to their product line to better serve their customers, have also raised their visibility.
The efforts are obviously paying off: White says they've enlarged their store twice and received glowing comments on the consumer rating site Yelp. Starting Memorial Day, they will expand their hours of operation year-round.
"I know Cape May is a seasonal town, but even if one person walks through the door, they'll know we're open," White says. "You've always got to keep doing different stuff."
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