I live and work in a small, mountain community in Northern California. Every summer, Mount Shasta is inundated with tourists, travelers and visitors who come to experience the bounty of our picturesque region. Winters can also be a big draw for the sporty folks who enjoy coming to play on the mountain, but inconsistent weather patterns have put a damper on our winter tourist season of late.
Suffice to say, many of the clients I serve through BAM! Small Biz Consulting have a customer base that ebbs and flows according to the season. These small business owners are experiencing their busiest time right now, which is great! However, I can practically sense their anxiety as the summer winds down and our little mountain town faces the promise of another long, cold winter ahead.
If you run a seasonal business, how can you even out the typical high/low, feast-or-famine volume of seasonal traffic? The ideal solution includes a three-pronged marketing plan that allows you to continue engaging your audience after they’ve come and gone.
The three essential prongs of your marketing trident include:
The trick is that you must use all these tools together in a consistent and strategic way. Sorry to say, but simply creating a Facebook page doesn’t quite qualify as a “social media strategy.”
Let’s look at each of the tools and how they work together.
1. E-commerce Website – If your customers have to physically be in your store to make a purchase, you are severely limiting your sales opportunities. Allowing customers to shop your products online opens up an entire new stream of revenue that doesn’t exist otherwise.
While e-commerce works best with retail establishments who can ship their product across the country, this still applies if you’re running a service business like a Bed & Breakfast, Mountain Guide Service or Fly Fishing Tours. In that case, you’ll want an online presence that allows prospects and customers to book rooms and tours online. You could also get creative and include the option to purchase customized souvenirs, memorabilia or maps of the area from your website.
E-commerce websites require an investment that’s more than a typical website, but it is an investment that will pay off over time as your audience becomes aware of your online shopping capabilities. Once you do offer online shopping, it is your responsibility to let people know it’s there. Your e-commerce site should be considered your online hub and every other marketing tool utilized should actively drive your audience back to your site. That’s where the next two tools come in.
2. Email Marketing – With fresh and exciting social platforms like Pinterest and Instagram earning all the attention recently, it may be tempting to dismiss stalwart tools like email marketing despite their proven track record. That would be a mistake.
“I’ve been hearing email pronounced dead every year for the last 20 years, but every year its performance stays strong. Email will continue to thrive so long as marketers strive for integration with other channels and a better understanding of the data points. They can effectively message the consumer with the things they care about in the manner and time they expect to be messaged.” –Ed Kats, President, MediaWhiz
Using a robust, user-friendly email marketing solution – not just firing off plain text emails from your Yahoo! account – is still a great way to communicate with your audience and drive them to your site.
As a seasonal business, you need to focus on growing your list while the traffic is high so you can keep in contact during the off-season. Continue to send timely, relevant promotions and communications over the course of the year so you are top of mind when your customer is ready to buy. Be sure to include a strong call to action in your newsletters and announcements that will drive readers back to your site. The more time customers spend on your site, the more likely they are to make a purchase.
3. Social Media – Your social strategy could include a presence on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google Plus, the aforementioned Pinterest and possibly niche sites that appeal to your target audience such as CafeMom.
“Social media is not a fad. It is a powerful, global communication revolution that requires new approaches for all businesses.” –Robert Safian, Editor, FastCompany
Everyone says that social media is free, which is not quite true. While there’s no cost to set up profiles on the various networks, you still need to spend time building relationships and engaging your audience on whatever platforms you are using–and, as an entrepreneur, your time is valuable. Therefore it’s important to have some sort of strategy so you’re not simply getting stuck in the time-sucking vortex of inane posts that can exist on any platform.
Sticking to our theme of engaging your seasonal visitors, you want to post a balanced mixture of promotional posts – new products, contests, sales, or exclusive deals – that will drive traffic to your website, and personalized posts that allow your audience to glimpse the human element existing behind the brand.
While there are surely additional marketing tools you could employ to stay connected with your seasonal customers throughout the year, the three-pronged marketing trident outlined here includes proven, effective and familiar platforms that will help you build and maintain ongoing relationships with your audience during every season.
Then, should your visitors return to your area in the future, they will surely make it a point to visit your business again and again.
How are you building relationships with your seasonal customers?