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Just as there are peak sales, there are slow seasons. eCommerce brands see the most traffic during Black Friday but may see sluggish sales in January.
Every business sees seasonality. With the coronavirus crisis around the world, some businesses are seeing a slowdown.
What can brands do in the meantime? We reached out to 24 experts to gather their advice for you. We also created a companion piece on marketing tactics for small businesses during the slow season.
But first, we asked the experts: what do they do during their slow season?
Marketing Tactics for Small Businesses during the Slow Season: Experts Roundup
What The Experts Do during a Slow Season
Each of the experts offered their solutions to how they addressed periods of slow sales for their company. We tallied their recommendations as a proportion of the experts.
Referrals, Inbound and Long-Term Plays make up the majority
Use Referral Programs to Bring In New Customers.
Six experts relied on a referral program to boost sales during slow months. Derric Haynie of eCommerceTech had success with driving new signups with ingenious use of referral program incentives.
We created a referral program where both the referee and referrer get an extra product for free when they sign up. This proved to work really well, driving thousands of referrals a month.
Lesley Vos, SEO for Bid4Papers came up with a great idea:
We launched a worldwide essay contest to hook a target audience and grow the number of our referrals. With email outreach and active promo on social media, it has gained significant distribution, with wide coverage over .edu websites and media publications wrote about it (read: backlinks and mentions!).
We got over a thousand entries. More than half were not our current clients - meaning they were new prospects for our services - and we got a boost to SEO and Facebook metrics as well!”
Invest in Inbound
Jonas Sickler, of Terakeet had an insight about inbound marketing:
If you're the Marketing Director for a large garden center, you'll notice that important top-of-the-funnel searches begin to spike in February, search terms like
Customers aren't quite ready to buy, but they will be in a month or two. So create content that fills the top of your ecommerce funnel, and invest in SEO early enough so you rank for these important keywords just as search volume begins to spike!”
Ian Reynolds of OnCourse Automation had a similar long-term view.
We look at digital marketing like a portfolio. Some items are going to be hot when others are cold. We can't exactly buy low and sell high in all instances but we can double down on items with a longer payoff period in the slow seasons.
There is a tendency to focus on channels that payoff right away. These larger-scale efforts help reduce that variability after you've gone through enough cycles of this.”
Play the Long Game
Jeilan Devanesan of Venngage describes the mindset for long-term play:
We know when our slow seasons typically come up - but of course, global events, or national events, can have a major (and unexpected) impact. That’s why we always distribute, distribute, distribute our content. We focus on our best content, hustle to maintain our SERPs standings, share content over social, run ads, etc. It might look we're scrambling and doing a bunch of things reactively.
When you've got multiple growth channels, you're far better off than if you've got the one and it's taking a huge hit. You never want to be in a position where you're experimenting with new processes during a slow season because you'd have to work twice as hard to see a fraction of the results.”
Allison Chaney of BootCampDigital agrees:
We use a tool to manage "team brainstorms" and we dedicate time each quarter to one project from the brainstorms. This keeps us actively filling the funnel at all times so even in lulls, there is always something coming down the pipeline.
Another thing we did to boost sales in a slow season is run a big sale on our online trainings. It was a 75% discount and only for 1 week. The sense of urgency drove action, and we amplified the message across Facebook to drive awareness and action.”
When The Season Gets Slow: SEO
No fewer than 7 of our experts - more than a quarter - recommended SEO & Inbound content as something to build up for the slower season. Here's what they said:
Diversify your distribution channels with a focus on what works
By Jeilan Devanesan, Venngage
From a content marketing approach, focusing on distribution for your best content will help minimize the impact of a slow season.
I'm using distribution as a catch-all - but really, I mean how your content is shared across channels (ads, backlinks, social, blog), and the various forms it takes (infographics, webinars, eBooks, marketing tool kits).
This accomplishes a couple of things for you. First, you're accessing multiple audiences from different places which help to soften the blow of a slow season. For example, if organic traffic takes a bit of hit, social traffic or ad traffic help to compensate. Second, you maintain your SERPS standings for any content that's ranking well. So your biggest drivers of content can continue to do what they do. And at the very least, you're not losing out to your competitors because traffic is dropping off. Finally, you maintain your authority and continue to engage a wide range of audiences by varying the way you package content - circulating infographics, publishing video content, hosting webinars, etc).
Turn "slow" to "grow" with original data and research
By Christian Carere, Digital Ducats Inc
Whenever there is a lull in sales it's the perfect time to work on the growth of your business by engaging in the content marketing projects that would otherwise be difficult to put time and effort into making. The type of content that has the most impact on a business is original research and data. Dedicate the time to survey your customers and potential clients and get a better understanding of your target audience. Do a case study that provides some definitive results that can be published and linked to by others in your industry. Make the results of your study newsworthy content that will be picked up by journalists in a press release and increase your brand awareness. Take the opportunity to turn "slow season" into "grow season"
Focus on Inbound Marketing
By Aida Kubatova, Growave
“Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.” - Seth Godin. One of the best marketing strategies, that in my personal opinion is extremely important in 2020, is inbound marketing. And the slow season is a great time to focus on creating valuable content to attract new and existing customers, as, during the busy sales season, you probably don’t have enough time to engage with your audience, expand your brand’s name and grow your reputation in multiple groups of people.
The best thing you can do is create a promotional or explainer video, as half of a billion people watch videos on social media every day and soon video traffic will represent 80% of all consumer online traffic. Spend more time on your social media and either create informative or just fun and viral content. Also, forums are a great channel to reach your audience. You can answer questions related to your products on Quora or talk about your industry on Reddit. Show your knowledge and people will trust you and your brand more, and this will lead to better sales later.
Build brand awareness with top-of-funnel content.
By Jonas Sickler, Terakeet
Build brand trust through top-of-the-funnel content during off-season months so customers are familiar with you when they're ready to buy.
Customers do a lot of research before making a purchase, so check Google Trends to see when the seasonal spike in search volume actually occurs for your products or services. Your sales may not pick up until May, but your customers might begin searching for solutions in March. So if you want to be found in Google, you need to launch an eCommerce SEO strategy in September.
Require employees to contribute or be excused from the firm
By Ian Reynolds, OnCourse Automation
Have your entire team contribute to marketing, make it a requirement. Hubspot famously did this - everyone probably didn’t like it but it was the right thing to do. The company got disproportionate amounts of content created because of this process.
Build up your social media presence!
By Kas Andz, Kas Andz
Build your online presence and give value back to your customers. This ensures you stay top of mind, and improves chances of them being ready to buy when the season comes back around.
Along with that, positioning yourself as the authority in your niche by using social media, won’t only bring leads in - it’ll also improve the quality of those leads.
The point behind your social strategy should be to show your customers you are more than your business, you’re also an asset in their toolbox of life!
Increase Social Media Content
By Andre Oentoro, Breadnbeyond
You can basically find anyone on social media. That’s why social media can always be your year-round virtual storefront. So, during the slow season, one of the wise ways you have at your disposal is leveraging your social media content.
By getting more present in social media, you can remind people when they need your product or service. You can take more time and effort to post the trend that everyone is excited for, re-purpose your most high-performing content, or promote the special offers (if you have any).
Even if they don’t make a purchase instantly in this slow month, at least they remember your brand. And by remembering your brand, they’re more likely to buy it when they feel like they need it.
Look to the Long Term
Linked to the idea of investing in inbound is to take the time to invest in longer-term marketing projects, like customer loyalty or referral programs. PS We promise, they mentioned referrals all by themselves!
Reward Your Loyal Customers
By Leigh-Anne Truitt, BigCommerce
During the slow periods, small businesses need to implement a loyalty program. A customer loyalty program helps push loyalty by providing rewards to customers that frequently patronize the business’ products and services. Through the loyalty program, the customers may be given: Discounts and rebates, rewards, free merchandise, coupons, access to unreleased products. When the slow period is around the corner, small businesses should begin a loyalty campaign that incentivizes customers to make purchases during the time when sales are traditionally lower.
Also, identify customers who have already shown their long-term support. Recognize those long-standing customers during the low season with a special treat, whether it be a discount on several products or free gifts with a purchase of a specific item, make your most loyal customers feel loved! Additionally, complement the loyalty program with rewards-for-referrals to encourage customers to recommend the business to friends and family. A rewards-for-referrals program is a great opportunity to not only recognize your current customer base but also reach new customers.
Reflect on the past. Plan for the future. And keep the brand relationship with power users strong.
By Derric Haynie, Ecommercetech.io
Slow season is typically a great time to invest in optimizing business processes, gathering your data, and reflecting on what worked well in the last season. Bring the team together to brainstorm on what worked well from last season and what was underutilized. Plan out your growth plan for the next 12 months, and make sure you stay on track. As far as marketing campaigns during the slow season, I would work hard on building customer loyalty and referrals within my existing customer base. Identify your power users and influencers and keep in close contact with them. Do small workshops in local cities perhaps. Do things that don't scale but keep the core audience warm. Then as you move into a busier time of year, cash in on that brand relationship with a major campaign.
Ask for Referrals from Existing Customers
By Maksym Babych, SpdLoad
Ask for referrals from existing customers - it’s always great to do during the slow season. Be careful, don’t just come right out and ask your customers for referrals. Make a friendly call, talk about their family or sport, remind them of how much they’ve enjoyed working with you, and ask them if they can do you a favor in a mutually beneficial way. Offer referral bonuses to your customers for referring new business to you. It could be an immediate money bonus or some of your service/product for free. Think about what a new sales lead is really worth, especially if it’s a well-qualified “warm” sales lead referred by a well-trusted customer. Depend on these calculations give a bonus.
Work on your Referral Game
By James Davis, Messagely
Hopefully, you will have developed a comprehensive list of your previous customers. The off-season is the perfect time to reach out to these people and ask for referrals. As opposed to some other off-season tactics, this one can unlock hidden in-season sales potential.
For one, even if your off-season strategy proves unfruitful at first, pursuing referrals during this downtime could translate into a more brisk pace during your high-sales season. Simply reminding your customers of your presence can bring them back when the season starts.
You can also take the opportunity to offer returning-customer discounts or institute a loyalty program. With 81 percent of North American consumers stating these programs increase their chances of choosing a brand, using them as an icebreaker to request referrals just makes good sense.
Execute on Big Ideas You Had No Time For
By Allison Chaney, Boot Camp Digital
Take advantage of the slow months. Every industry ebbs and flows, and this can be leveraged to your advantage. Think about when you are super busy and you have an amazing big idea but no time to execute? Well, the slow months are your time to pull those ideas off the shelf and take action! Keep a log of big ideas that you have throughout the year - big ideas that will have a significant impact on your business results. Then, when you hit a lull, take a look at those big ideas and pick the one to focus on that is likely to have the biggest impact for the lowest effort.
Focus on uncovering insights that would make your product/service even better.
By Jack Huang, Truly Experiences
Slow months have the added benefit of giving companies a bit more headspace. And for most companies/teams, headspace is rare and comes at a premium. So use it wisely.
Most companies would perform more marketing (often at a further loss or discounts) to smooth out the revenue curve. But for us, marketing is not just about acquisition, it’s also about customer insights. So we try to run experiments that would uncover new insights that would make our product better, more engaging. Our view is that Experiments + Insights ==> Growth.
Invest in Customer Retention
Tapping on existing customer relationships, making the most of existing customer relationships, and upselling. Four experts offered their view on how to build customer retention.
Retain your customers with an Omnichannel approach
By Ieva Dauderyte, Getfirepush.com
While it’s tempting to focus your efforts on attracting more new customers, we recommend paying close attention to the ones you’ve already got. New customer acquisition can be costly (up to five times more expensive than retaining existing customers). At a time when sales are sluggish, it can be bad for your business to plow all of your marketing budgets into online advertising networks.
Increasing your existing customers’ lifetime value is a smart and savvy move. Even if you sell products where repeat purchases are hard to come by (this can be the case for fashion and apparel stores), it’s definitely possible to achieve this.
Ivory Ella is an awesome example. This is a Shopify Plus store that’s used push notifications as part of its customer retention strategy, generating more than $1 million in revenue so far. Push notifications are always used by this store whenever its advertising budget is running low.
You can retarget past buyers using multiple marketing channels like web push notifications, SMS messages, email, and Messenger. One big upside to using multiple channels and tools that offer retargeting opportunities is that this strategy can be much less costly than the likes of Facebook and Google Ads.
Remarket to free trial customers
By Carsten, crowdy.ai
If the season is slow and there are no new customers or anyone to market to, the best solution is to apply the old tactic of remarketing to free trial users. Any brand has a number of people who took an interest in their product but never converted to paid customers. Companies can send them a new email sequence and push out targeted paid ads, all for the purpose of returning them back.
Upsell customers with a seasonal product
By Max Benz, remote-job.net
One of the easiest and most effective ways to improve slumping off-season sales is to make sure you are offering your customers the things they already want. Expensive seasonal sporting goods, for example, often need a case for storage. What about a cleaning kit or similar products?
A great place to find these products: customer reviews. More than 90 percent of modern consumers trust these reviews, so they are a good source for gauging all sorts of metrics. You could also simply ask customers via an after-purchase questionnaire.
No matter what products you offer, there are likely companion products you don’t. However, you find them, upselling these add-on products can help boost profits in the off-season.
Create value through customer retention
By Lisa Dietrich, Let's be crazy
Your sales from repeat customers could be triple what they are for a first-time purchase. You may need new CRM software to cope with the extra volume during your B2C season, but the extra effort will be worth it for your year-end bottom line.
Double down on providing more customer value
By Matt Janaway, MarketingLabs
Even during a slow season, consumers still spend their money (albeit more wisely!). The trick to getting them to spend it with you is in the ability to offer more than just the product or service they are purchasing. Doubling down on adding customer value could simply be extending your returns policy or offering a faster delivery service. It could however be more complicated such as creating targeted resources for a specific customer group, improving your product or service, starting a referral program, or offering extra technical support. However you add more value, it's important to ask the question: why should consumers spend their money with us? In a period of economic downturn, those businesses which survive always go above and beyond to 'give' just as much as they 'get'.
Discovering New Markets & other ideas
First, experts shared their idea of exploring new untapped markets, then other sundry ideas including creating FOMO, building customer relationships, and more.
Focus on New Markets
By Joe Robison, Green Flag Digital
When things are slow, instead of doubling down on discounts and promos, think about new target markets you can focus on to expand the business, or just keep things humming along. For example, if you run a travel business, the winter months may be slow for consumers, but can be a boon for business and industry conferences. Shift marketing towards these groups, or develop them as new opportunities, in order to balance out the decreased traffic from your typical base.
Instead of your marketing language coming off as desperate with discounting, you can confidently create new messaging and campaigns targeting these groups. You may even see some overlap of business from current customers who perceive your business in a new light.
Think about further geo markets and demographics
By Will Cannon, UpLead
The thing about seasons on Earth is that they differ, depending on where you are. If your business caters to summer athletes, for example, remember that it is summer in the southern hemisphere when it is winter in the north.
Our borderless e-commerce landscape makes your own geography practically irrelevant, so why not expand your geographic reach?
Expanding your target demographics is a different story, but it is a change that can lift off-season sales. Of course, target-demographic changes can have their pitfalls. But these seasonal demographic shifts shouldn’t require a total restructuring of messaging. These should be customers who already want what you sell, but just don’t know about you.
- Hold a contest (or giveaway)! (from Lesley Vos, Bid4Papers.com): Contests and giveaways are your chance to improve brand awareness and SEO, grow your email list for the upcoming busy season, and gain exposure on social media.
- Chase Media Trends to gain free awareness (from Nathan Resnick, Sourcify): If a viral story pops up, can your team make a limited edition product that follows this trend? You'll probably gain a ton of press and engagement for following a trend! For example, during the Area 51 madness, I saw many brands release limited edition Area 51 products that went viral!
- Grow your SMS Subscribers list (By Mihail Stoychev, SMSBump): Collect SMS subscribers during the peak seasons, like with social media or QR codes. Text message marketing can help you build up a store of customers to market to.
- Create custom pieces and limited editions (By Vanhishikha Bhargava, Appikon): Use FOMO like "Til Stocks Last" to pull shoppers in with scarcity & urgency. No millennial consumer wants to miss out on a good deal or an exclusive, limited edition product - the FOMO is real and you need to max out on it when you see seasonal shopping drop!
- Retention Marketing tactics (By Ash Ome, Motif): Segment your most loyal customers into a VIP segment and make a lucrative offer. Then, reach out to high-level customers who haven't bought anything in a while. This can help generate lucrative sales.
- Leverage new audiences (By Michał Gaweł, VoluumDSP): For those who want to leverage a new audience in a less promotional way, native ads are among the best options. The technology allows you to select the sites on which you want to show your ads, to ensure that your content is perfectly matching the site’s audience. To get the most out of your native advertising campaign, make sure that your promoted content has lead magnets to capture users who want to learn more about your service or product. Last but not least, with programmatic tools like VoluumDSP, you can get access to more than 20 native ad networks, including Outbrain, Taboola, WordPress, Revcontent, Nativo, and more. Thanks to the native DSP platform from Voluum you could easily buy, track, and scale your advertising network.
Now you've heard from all our experts.
Let us know what you think in the comments below, or check out more from our experts' roundup section!