A version of this post originally appeared in AdExchanger.
When Christmas Tree Shops opened in the 50s, the Massachusetts-based store sold Christmas merchandise in the months of July and August. It played holiday music and wished confused customers a Merry Christmas. Eventually, the owners went into bankruptcy.
It took a visionary entrepreneur, Charles Bilezikian, to realize the idea’s potential, recasting the chain as a sort of dollar store emphasizing bargains, albeit with a seasonal bent. He sold the chain to Bed, Bath and Beyond for $200 million in 2003, proving that you can make viable year-round business even if it’s nominally focused on one day of the year.
Not every business is as extreme as that, but generally speaking there are two types of businesses – seasonal and non-seasonal. For seasonal marketers, the question is, how can I lay the groundwork for a specific buying season? For non-seasonal marketers, the question is, how can I keep momentum for demand year-round? Even in the midst of this holiday season, there’s always opportunity to course correct and reassess seasonal and non-seasonal marketing strategies.
Fortunately, both problems are solvable. Let’s look at seasonal marketers first. Businesses that post the bulk of their sales within a quarter or even a month might assume that the best marketing approach is to heavy up on advertising right before that period and lay low the rest of the year.
The problem is the consumer awareness phase of the customer decision journey happens over months, not weeks. It generally takes a long period of engagement before consumers convert. Think of marketing a seasonal business as analogous to farming. You need to plant crops and water them and fertilize them throughout the year before you harvest them. If you just harvest them with an empty field, you won’t get the same returns.
For instance, a gift retailer we work with has the bulk of their sales from Thanksgiving through Valentine’s Day, a.k.a. “engagement season.” However, it’s safe to say that consumers who are planning to take part in the season are usually mulling their purchase months beforehand. Roughly half of seasonal converters were engaged with the brand long before making a purchase, even several months out. This included receiving multiple impressions, and visiting the retailer’s website. Over 10% of them even made multiple purchases over the holiday season.
In this respect, retargeting advertising aimed at consumers who had sought information about engagement rings acted like a harvester machine for the retailer, drawing in consumers who might have otherwise drifted away. Such a seasonal campaign occurs in phases in which the brand builds awareness, but then at a certain point the messages switch to conversion. It also makes sense to continue to advertise towards converters to a limited extent, rather than simply exclude them. Even when retail sales slow in January, it can be effective to focus on them rather than find new customers.
For 2016 seasonal marketers, your eventual holiday customers are mostly those being reached today. If you have not already increased your reach and exposure rate, your upcoming marketing efforts will not be as impactful as possible.
If marketing a seasonal business is like farming, then marketing a non-seasonal business is more like driving a locomotive. That is, lacking a prime season for purchasing, the idea is to continue to ratchet up momentum. If you’re trying to build sales, you need to have the engines going for a long time before you hit top speed.
When it comes to targeting individual consumers, meanwhile, the same rule applies: purchases tend to come after a long period of engagement. For a financial services advertiser we work with for example, it can take nine months or more of engagement before there’s an actual conversion. In practice, this means essentially applying the seasonal approach on an individual level but taking seasonality out of the equation. The challenge is identifying who is at which stage in order to tailor both campaign messaging and targeting accordingly.
One of the advantages that programmatic advertising offers is that the wealth of data available can help identify and engage likely future converters long in advance. For example, someone shopping for auto parts is three as likely to be shopping for both a new car and insurance in the next few months.
It’s also important to look at buying-cycle data. Don’t automatically exclude consumers who just made a purchase, for instance, since the data often shows that consumers convert multiple times.
Listen to the Data
Those, of course, are general answers to a reductionist approach to the business. Many people have preconceived notions about what works for a seasonal or non-seasonal business, but the data allows us to test those notions against reality. The best way to learn is to dive in.
What’s often the case is that, like the Christmas Tree Shops, businesses find that their “seasonal” business is really a year-round venture. Every step of the customer journey is critical, from awareness, to buying, through loyalty, and data should be informing your strategy at all times.
To learn more about smart data management, see our post on our new Advanced Audience Insights solution.
Founded in 2005, Amobee is an advertising platform that understands how people consume content. Our goal is to optimize outcomes for advertisers and media companies, while providing a better consumer experience. Through our platform, we help customers further their audience development, optimize their cross channel performance across all TV, connected TV, and digital media, and drive new customer growth through detailed analytics and reporting. Amobee is a wholly owned subsidiary of Singtel, one of the largest communications technology companies in the world.
If you’re curious to learn more, watch the on-demand demo or take a deep dive into our Research & Insights section where you can find recent webinars on-demand, media plan insights & activation templates, and more data-driven content. If you’re ready to take the next step into a sustainable, consumer-first advertising future, contact us today.
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