Few things bring a smile as readily as thoughts of summer. Warm days, a relaxed pace, and fun-filled excursions with family and friends help us rejuvenate ourselves and enjoy life more. But summer is also a unique time for small businesses to market, make contact with their hard-to-reach audience, and take stock of goals and progress. In fact, using the hallmarks of the summer season can be a springboard for creative, light-hearted, and surprisingly effective business-building strategies.
Be more social
Some small businesses—both consumer and B-to-B—cut back or refrain completely from marketing in June, July, and August in the mistaken belief that no one is around: clients and prospects are on vacation, other companies may have shortened hours, or buying decisions will be put off until after the season is over.
"The advantage is you can get in and see people and build relationships in the summer differently than you can the rest of the time [precisely] because the pace is a wee bit slower," says Sue Clement, a Vancouver-based marketing strategist. "They're more open to having conversations with you. It's a perfect time to leverage those contacts."
Not just leveraging contacts, but taking advantage of the light-hearted mood, too. For example, taking a client to an outdoor ballgame or a round of golf are typical seasonal activities for strengthening relationships. But Clement urges businesses to look at more playful event marketing, too. "If you're a brick and mortar business, having an ice cream social in your parking lot has a more perky, summery fun feeling to it," she says.
After one of her clients moved to a new industrial complex, he set up a tent with music and hot dogs, and invited all the surrounding businesses, as well as his own clients, for his own little networking event. "It created exposure and visibility for him that let him connect different populations and stand out," Clement explains. "People still ask him if he's going to do it again this year."
Summer is also the time to do inner marketing, Clement says. For example, why not try going to the park or beach to do a mid-year review of your business goals and set new objectives for the rest of the year. Or solicit testimonials from clients to find out what they like about your product or service. "Because it's quieter, you can actually chisel out more time for your business and all those back burner projects that don't get done in the regular fast pace of life," Clement says.
Small businesses that keep their marketing budgets up in the summer will have a decided edge over their less active competitors.
"The amount of messaging people are sending out is lower, so your opportunity to get recognized is equal to or greater than other times of the year," says Eric Rabinowitz, CEO of New Jersey-based Nurture Marketing, a B-to-B marketing company.
Using seasonal metaphors in marketing messages is a powerful way to capitalize on summer and, at the same time, help to differentiate your products and services, Rabinowitz says. For example, since Nurture does a lot of work with IT companies, they created a campaign that talks about cloud computing—but with a twist that made it especially appropriate for summer.
"We sent a gift box with a very small crystal umbrella on a piece of cotton as you would see with pearls," Rabinowitz explains. "Our messaging was around cloud computing, the umbrella being the cloud sometimes produces rain. We've been able to hone that into a very positive message."
Gamification—using games and game techniques—seems especially appropriate for the playful summer season, Rabinowitz notes. The games can be elaborate, such as hosting a real treasure hunt for your clients at an outdoor location, or simple, like rewarding them with badges, points, or other exclusive tokens for responding to your direct mail or email messages.
Rabinowitz also tells companies that the end of summer is a great time to plan for their upcoming sales season beginning in the fall. Taking his own advice, he would send a packet of forget-me-not seeds in a direct mail package to Nurture's clients to ask for referrals.
"The message talked about planting seeds and growing relationships, where we can do the same type of work for [referrals] as we do for existing clients," Rabinowitz says. "It was a very effective program."
Target your audience
James Wong, co-founder of Empowered Ideas, a business, marketing and communications consulting firm in North Carolina, believes that segmenting a business's client list and then tailoring a specific message targeted to each segment will reap better results than sending the same message to the entire list. While this is something they recommend year-round, it proved invaluable during a recent summer campaign for Hands on Health, a massage therapy and wellness firm that specializes in medical massage.
"We helped them with campaigns that specifically targeted segments of their clientele—triathletes, athletes, and sports enthusiasts—during the spring and summer season when their clientele is most active," Wong explains. "Right around the spring season, we started promoting massage packages that are targeted to pre-competition training," he notes. "We said how medical massage—not relaxation massage—can help prepare your body in the days before and make a huge impact on your performance. The campaign worked very well for them."
Instead of slacking off on marketing your products or services, summer can be a turning point in the life of your business. But find some time to have fun, too.