Running a seasonal business comes with a wide variety of challenges, from cash flow to staffing and inventory management. Excess inventory, finding good help, and staying afloat in the off-season are all very real concerns that get business owners’ attention. 

Yet, one issue that isn’t discussed enough is marketing a seasonal business. How do you inform potential customers you’re in business or remind past customers that you still exist? 

How to Succeed at Email Marketing in a Seasonal Business

Inventory, staffing, and cash flow are all critical components of a business, but without customers, it’s all meaningless. For a seasonal business to succeed, it not only needs to generate a following but sustain it during the off-season. This is especially true for small businesses that rely on seasonal spikes to generate a major portion of their yearly revenue.

One of the most effective and affordable solutions is email marketing. In fact, studies show that email marketing yields an average return on investment of 4,300%.  

With a return like that, you can’t afford not to utilize email as a part of your overall marketing strategy. With that in mind, here’s how to succeed at email marketing in a seasonal business.

Timing Is Everything

First of all, it’s crucial to have a thorough understanding of your season – when it starts, when it ends, and everything in between. Figuring it out shouldn’t involve guesswork, either. It should be based on data, trends, and research.

As email is one of the best e-commerce strategies, you need to understand your audience and product seasonality. When do the first customers purchase your product/service? Take a holiday lighting company, for example. When do people first start hanging lights? Especially festive folks are likely getting lights up prior to Thanksgiving, meaning your email marketing campaign shouldn’t wait until December – it should start in early November or even October.

On the other end of the spectrum, when do the last customers purchase your product/service? There are always those who wait until Christmas Eve to do their shopping or put lights up. Maybe they’ve been busy, or maybe they’ve been out of town. Regardless, there are people paying for holiday lights all the way up to the holidays, so naturally, your email marketing campaign shouldn’t let up until then.

If you’ve got records showing first and last purchases each year, then you may already have all the data you need to determine start and end dates. If not, try using Google Trends to get a good feel for when your first campaign should go out.

Example of This in Action:

For instance, the Christmas light installation business season on Google Trends shows it kicks off the last week in October. It peaks the third week of November through December first, and slowly falls from there to a non-existent line by the new year.

How to Succeed at Email Marketing in a Seasonal Business

Screenshot: Google Trends

Master the Art of Email Design

Next up, you want to make sure the emails you send are effective. If you’re great at graphic design, this shouldn’t be a problem. If not, you’ll need to go another route.

One option is to use a service like Benchmark Email Designer that takes the technical work out of designing email templates. Rather than learning to code, you can simply drag and drop graphics within a template until you have the look you want. Once you have designed your template, use the MailTag’s Gmail browser extension for email tracking, scheduling, and auto follow-up.

While you’re at it, make sure your emails are fully optimized to maximize opens and clicks back to your website. Using a short and personal subject line, writing a killer opening sentence, and ending on a strong call-to-action can significantly boost your email marketing results. Have you checked how it looks on mobile? You better — for most sites today, the majority of traffic is on mobile devices. 

And don’t feel like you have to be an expert overnight. Mastering cold email is a skill that takes time to develop and fine-tune.

Example of This in Action:

To Chris Bram, vice president of the hotel and hospitality marketing company Cendyn, anyone still designing email for desktop is missing opportunities. A full 80% of those who find a difficult-to-use design will drop out.

Among his solutions:

  • Automatically swap out hero images or buttons that look swell on desktop but become unusable when shrunk to mobile size. 
  • Keep your call to action clear and concise, since you have only seconds to grab the reader’s attention.
  • Agonize over your pre-header text. It’s usually bigger than the subject line and the first thing the reader sees.

Prioritize the Follow-Up 

Once again, timing is everything. You have a small window of opportunity to get as many customers as possible before the season ends, so you can’t afford not to follow up with potential and current customers and leads.

This is especially important considering that follow-up emails often get a better response rate than the initial email. One study saw an 18% response rate to the first email, 13% to the 4th, and 27% to the 6th. Another study saw a 30% response rate to the first email and 14% to the 4th. Even the 10th email in the sequence got a 7% response rate. That’s huge.

This may sound like a lot of work – and depending on the size of your business, it definitely can be. That’s why it’s wise to automate this process as much as possible. 

Example of This in Action:

Allyn Hane, the successful lawn product marketer known as the Lawn Care Nut, offers a free sample of his lawn care guides before growing season, then follows up with a chatty email with links to other products. He illustrates it with a cigar-chomping photo of himself, on point with his slightly off-center brand.

Deploy Email Segmentation

With any seasonal business, you’re going to have a mix of customers with different motivations, demographics, and funnel positions. To maximize the effectiveness of your email marketing campaigns, it’s a good idea to implement email segmentation. Here are some ways you can segment:

  • Past customer or current prospect
  • Discount-driven or quality-driven
  • Different lead sources

Past customer campaigns might include loyalty discounts, while new prospects might need an entirely different incentive. You might also consider reaching out before the season begins to offer early-bird discounts. Perhaps you got some leads from a charity fundraiser you sponsored. You could send a blast out to this group explaining that a certain percentage of each purchase will be donated to charity.

Example of This in Action:

When the popular Alamo Drafthouse movie theater chain sees the Christmas holiday approaching, it targets its loyalty club segment, Alamo Victory, with a special offer of last-minute gift cards, sweetened with a bonus of free movie snacks. 

Focus on Growth In-Season

It’s tempting to let lead generation take a backseat and focus only on this year’s customers, but during your season is the prime time to capture prospects’ email addresses. 

Start by having a lead capture device on your website and at the point of sale, and don’t forget to ask for referrals. You could also consider starting an email campaign asking for reviews. Reviews can be a great way to enhance marketing efforts – you can use them on your website, in marketing materials, and in your future email campaigns.

Even with its challenges, operating a seasonal business can be fun and extremely rewarding, especially if you find the right balance between budget, staff, inventory, and marketing. 

Email marketing has the power to create lasting connections with your customers and keep them coming back year after year. Step one is to prioritize capturing as many email addresses as you can during the hot season. Then, create the perfect email marketing campaign. If you do this far enough in advance, you’ll have time to test the campaigns. Make sure they look good across all devices and are value-rich to keep customers coming back for more.

Next, segment your lists to offer a more personalized message to your different audiences. Finally, don’t forget to follow up. Keep testing different subject lines, different calls-to-action, and sending at different times on different days.  Additionally, be sure to test out upselling your customers while you’re in the heat of the buying season. Eventually, you’ll find the sweet spot and reap all the rewards email marketing has to offer.

Example of This in Action:

“In general, we’ve found that focusing on growth in-season helps our emails KPI a lot,” said Derek Leung, growth marketer at the AI travel site, Snaptravel. “It’s like a rising tide, and we’re catching the wave just as it’s coming up. We generally send users emails a few weeks out just before key events in the hospitality calendar. Ski lodging around January when rooms begin to get booked up, romantic cities early in February when everyone’s looking for ideas, ideas on where to party for Spring Break early March, etc.”

He adds, “We also throw in a healthy dose of emojis and puns to up the engagement and make it more fun. We find that the relaxed tone does a lot better than very salesy emails. That helps with the open rates, slightly higher clickthrough, and lowers unsubscribe rates too!”

 Author – Sujan Patel

Sujan Patel is a partner at Ramp Ventures & co-founder Mailshake. He has over 15 years of marketing experience and has led the digital marketing strategy for companies like Salesforce, Mint, Intuit and many other Fortune 500 caliber companies.

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