How to Succeed at Email Marketing in Seasonal Businesses
Seasonal businesses are a tough beast to manage. If you’re running a seasonal business, you’re used to the ups and downs, and the challenges related to managing cash-flow, hiring seasonal labor, and prepping for the swing of things.
As if those things weren’t enough, seasonality throws a wrench into the works when it comes to email marketing, for some reasons, including:
- all metrics vary based on your season,
- customers subscribe to your list for different reasons at different times of the year,
- a great email during the upswing may make no sense during the downturn,
- your competitors are also trying to make the most of the busy season.
Here are a few tips on using seasonality to your advantage in your email marketing.
1. Get an in-depth understanding of your seasonality.
If you are in a seasonal business, you need to have an in-depth understanding of the seasonality, both quantitatively and qualitatively.
You can start by looking at Google trends. What are the main terms people use to describe your product?
Typically, there is a clear trend. I’m in the landscaping industry, which people also describe as ‘lawn care’ and ‘lawn service.’ Looking at the past five years, there’s a pretty clear trend.
If you’ve been in business for awhile, your revenue graphs will probably align. But your job has just begun. You need to learn much more about your seasonality to beat out your competitors.
Start by talking to your past customers and try and understand their buying process. Ask them questions such as:
● Why did you buy [X]?
● What caused you to buy [X]?
● When did you first hear about [X]? Why did you buy when you did?
Here your goal is to get into the mind of your consumers, searching for tidbits of insight that you might be able to use.
Here’s a lucrative tidbit I learned at LawnStarter. We talked to customers and found that many of them had hired (or tried to hire) a contractor to perform spring cleanups a month or two before mowing the lawn. The natural response? Over winter, we send emails to past customers who may not be looking for lawn mowing, but could probably use yard cleanups. These emails not only get an insanely high conversion rate, but our customers thank us for them.
2. Understand differences in key metrics.
If you’re in a seasonal business, you can bet key metrics will vary with the seasonality.
Take travel for example. Henry Shi, co-founder and CTO of SnapTravel, says “Christmas week has really poor conversion because ppl are at home with their families, and while they may browse they won’t book. And right after Jan 1, conversion shoots up as people think about their summer travels.”
Mark Lindquist, a marketing strategist at Milkshake, has seen a similar trend in the B2B SaaS space. “December is always our worst month, and January is always our best. Same goes for a lot of the B2B SaaS businesses I’ve worked with. People just aren’t ready to purchase in December for the following year, but as they start the new year with a fresh budget and big plans for new business initiatives, they start pulling the trigger.”
No two verticals are alike, so be sure to calculate your metrics for your businesses.
In email marketing, there only five metrics that matter:
● Open Rate
● Click Through Rate
● Conversion Rate
● Revenue / Conversion
● Unsubscribe Rate
If you don’t have the data, you can make educated guesses around how these will vary, assuming you understand your seasonality. For example, it’s logical that open rate would drop for an ecommerce site on Black Friday.
However, it’s important to actually look at the data when you have it, and plan accordingly.
3. Be mindful of time-based drip campaigns.
Most drip campaigns are time-based, meaning that they start on day 0 (when a person subscribes), send the next email on day 1, the next on day 3 and so on.
Drip campaigns are great because they are low maintenance–you make them once, and they run forever.
In a seasonal business, this can come back to bite you. If you’re Walmart, you wouldn’t want to send the same drip campaigns during the holiday season as back to school season.
You have a variety of solutions here. For one, you can do broadcast emails only, where everyone gets the same email regardless of when they joined. Or, you might choose to setup several different drip sequences. You might even get real fancy and put prospects on different drips depending on the time of the season.
4. Test custom broadcast emails for the season.
High open rates require you to stand out in your subscribers’ ever-crowded inbox. One way to stand out is to put an interesting twist on something relevant to the season, such as a current event.
Here’s one from Handy themed around Valentines Day.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that this tactic will work–that’s why we test things.
5. Offer useful content pre-season.
Remember when we asked our customers all those questions about what caused them to buy? Well, chances are there was some sort of research they did ahead of time.
One way to stand out from the competition is to offer your subscribers value-add content when you know they are in the buying process.
Bellhops, a startup that makes moving easy, creates city guides and other moving-related content that they distribute via email. They know that people only move at most once per year, usually around summer, but they can establish brand reputation and credibility long before the move.
Tracking the ROI of these emails isn’t as straightforward as tracking ROI on transactional emails. However, there are some content marketing analytics best practices that you can use to triangulate whether this tactic is working or not.
6. Pay attention to segmentation.
Email segmentation can be extremely powerful. In fact, Ascend2 ranked it as the 2nd most email marketing call to action.
There are already some ways your business can segment your email base, including:
- where the subscriber is in a sales funnel,
- how often the subscriber interacts with your emails,
- how big of a purchaser the subscriber is,
- what pages your subscribers visit.
And while the list goes on, the effectiveness of your segmentation typically diminishes the more nitty gritty you get. So make sure to stick to the segmentation that you think will drive the most results.
In a seasonal business, a powerful segment can be what time of year that subscriber joined. Or, what did that subscriber purchase at the start of last season? Are there pages your subscribers are visiting that signal pre-purchase intent?
William Griggs is the founder of VirtualRealityRental.co – a startup that allows event organizers to the book include virtual reality gear at events. He found segmenting his subscriber base by geographic region to be highly impactful.
He says, “The seasonality of our business is on a market-by-market basis. “In the summer event professionals look for cooler climates to host their events. On the flipside, in the winter event professionals look for warmer climates to host their events.” For Griggs, segmentation is simply a matter of creating cold and warm segments and emailing
Come up with a few hypotheses and test them, without getting so overcomplicated that it’s too much to manage.
7. Plan everything ahead of time.
More important than any single tactic, is to plan your campaigns far in advance.
Why? Simply put, things get crazy during the season. When seasonal businesses are in full swing, you should be in full execution mode. You should not plan on doing customer discovery or brainstorming new tactics during the rush of things.
Far ahead of your season’s start, you should make sure to layout all tasks you need to do to be ready. Things to get done ahead of time include, but are not limited to:
- A/B tests to run
- Revenue forecasts
- Monitoring plans
- High, low and fairway scenarios
Estimate how much time all of these will take, add a healthy 30% buffer, and back out to when you need to start planning. That way you can focus 100% of your effort on execution when things ramp up.